The renaissance of the midsize truck has resulted in a wide spectrum of choices ranging from workaday work rigs to purebred weekend warriors. Falling smack in the centre of the suddenly robust segment is the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Trail Runner, balancing form and function against the practicality of a pickup.
It’s important to point out that the Trail Runner isn’t a purpose-built machine like the Colorado ZR2; instead, it’s a simple add-on package for Z71 models like my tester. Where the ZR2 skews to the extreme – and slightly unnecessary – end of the pickup spectrum, the Trail Runner package delivers a sampling of the style and substance without going overboard.
Since it builds on the Z71, that’s not a bad place to start. Think of it as an off-road lite trim that’s only available with four-wheel drive in Canada and adds beefier suspension bits, an automatic locking rear differential, a skid plate for the transfer case, and hill descent control. Make no mistake: the ZR2 and its adventure-ready equipment – variable dampers, locking differentials, lifted suspension, and badass front bumper – is a fantastic truck. But given how specialized and singularly focused that version of the Colorado is, I’d gladly save the $7,000 or so and stick with the Z71.
That makes the case for the Trail Runner that much more compelling. It borrows the ZR2’s grille to go with extra skid plates and rock rails, as well as chunky 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac tires. None of it’s especially over the top, but it all helps the Colorado Z71 look and feel just a bit more rugged while remaining a practical pickup.
In that way, the crew cab model I tested is best viewed as something of an SUV alternative, with seating for four (or five in a pinch) that happens to have a bed bolted to the back. It’s not as if it’s bad at being a pickup either, though, with more than enough utility, too. This particular crew cab has a maximum towing capacity of 3,175 kg (7,000 lb) and a payload of 704 kg (1,551 lb), both of which are more than adequate for a midsize truck. But more than just moving weight, the short box has high bedsides and enough width between the wheel tubs to stash a sheet of plywood.
There is a long box available that adds a little more than 300 mm to the truck, but unless you plan to stash a dirt bike in the back, the short box and its 1,567 mm (5-foot-2) length will probably do the trick. It also helps make the midsize Colorado that much more manageable around town or out on a trail. Weaving through traffic or trees isn’t especially fun in a truck, but the right-sized dimensions of the one I tested bring the stress down to a liveable level.
Anyone with aspirations of hardcore off-roading – or merely hopes of projecting such an image – will want to skip straight to the Colorado ZR2, but the Z71 version is plenty capable in its own right. The biggest hang-up, both literally and figuratively, is the air-dam that’s suspended from the front bumper, reducing the truck’s approach angle and just begging to be victimized by the first rock it encounters. (The ZR2’s bumper does without the airdam and features tapered corners for improved obstacle-clearing abilities.)
Otherwise, all the trappings of a trail-ready rig are here: the off-road equipment that comes fitted to the Z71 is only enhanced by the Trail Runner package, with the meaty tires in particular coming in handy when the pavement ends. It all combines to make for a sure-footed truck off the beaten path, with selectable four-wheel high and low settings allowing the Colorado to crawl over, around, or through most obstacles.
Driving Feel: 8/10
That ability to traverse trails does nothing to impede this truck’s on-road aptitude, and there’s no other truck out there that handles as much like a car as the Colorado. It still rides like a traditional truck, with uneven surfaces gyrating through the frame, but the steering setup is crisp and responsive, helping the Colorado feel far shorter than its 5,403 mm bumper-to-bumper length would suggest.
While there’s a tiny dead zone in the steering, it’s probably a by-product of the squishy all-terrain tires fitted to my tester more than anything else. Past that point, there’s the kind of resistance that will be familiar to those coming from even a small car or crossover, with no need to fight to keep the Colorado moving in a straight line (I’m looking at you, Jeep Gladiator).
Familiar though the handling may be, the ride quality is certainly an acquired taste that takes some getting used to. There’s a kind of front to back rigidity that can make the Colorado ride like a rocking horse as it see-saws over broken pavement. Getting power down on uneven surfaces can be quite jarring, too, the driveline shuddering as the rear wheels skip across cracks and crevices.
The cabin itself is also a bit cramped, the Colorado’s right-sized exterior dimensions coming at the cost of space to stretch out inside. Beyond the obvious comparison with a full-size truck like the Silverado, even the Chevrolet Blazer midsize SUV has a wider cabin than the Colorado. Guys fitted for a size 40 suit or smaller will likely find the space more than sufficient, but those with frames like refrigerators would be wise to take the Colorado for a spin before getting their hearts set on one.
The seats aren’t especially comfortable either, with thin and firm cushions that don’t take long to cause cramping and fatigue. They come upholstered in a cloth and leatherette combo, though genuine cowhide can be added for an extra $1,095. I’d just as easily keep the cash in my pocket and live with the synthetic stuff, which feels tough enough to withstand the rigours of work or play. Which brings up the final point about the Colorado’s cabin: yes, it’s narrow; no, it’s probably not an ideal family hauler. But when it’s time to pick up two or three friends and toss your bikes in the back to hit up your favourite single-track trail, there’s more than enough space inside.
The truck I tested had a gas-powered V6 under the hood, which probably isn’t the engine I’d get – the 2.8L turbo diesel is more my speed – but there is a lot to like about it. Displacing 3.6L, the naturally aspirated engine generates 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque – ideal output for a truck this size. The Colorado is by no means quick, but the torque is delivered progressively on its way to a 4,000 rpm peak, which is significantly sooner than the same engine in the Blazer (5,000 rpm) or Camaro (5,300 rpm).
It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that usually knows which gear to be in, though it can be caught napping when it’s time to pass on the highway, failing to downshift to provide the revs needed to get the job done. It’s a little more alert when tow/haul mode is engaged, holding gears just a bit longer to stay in the meaty part of the powerband.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
When it comes to fuel consumption, context is everything. The 11.9 L/100 km combined I ended up with after a week of testing isn’t especially impressive – though it is better than the Colorado’s Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rating of 12.2 L/100 km. In fairness, I spent the vast majority of my time with the truck in two-wheel drive cruising around secondary highways north of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
When you look at the V6-powered Colorado compared to competitors like the Gladiator, Ford Ranger, and Toyota Tacoma, fuel consumption is right in the wheelhouse of what’s reasonable for a midsize truck. But if you look at it next to other products powered by the same engine, it’s downright miserly. The Blazer RS I drove just a few weeks prior, for example, barely did better, averaging 11.5 L/100 km over a weeklong test.
Of course, fuel economy probably isn’t leading the list of reasons to buy a pickup truck. Here’s to hoping that’s true of advanced safety features, too, because you won’t find many of them here. Despite being reintroduced only a few years ago, the Colorado just missed the cut on the kind of in-demand equipment that’s offered elsewhere. That means no lane-keeping, automatic braking, or adaptive cruise control.
Instead, lane-departure and forward collision warning systems – along with rear parking sensors – can be added through a safety upgrade package. There’s also a government-mandated back-up camera and six airbags throughout the cabin, as well as electronic traction and stability control systems that come standard.
Crash-testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) yielded mostly positive results, though the Colorado didn’t perform particularly well in the passenger-side small front overlap evaluation. Structure and safety cage integrity rated poorly, with the not-for-profit noting “the passenger’s survival space was not maintained well.”
The Colorado is also a generation old when it comes to interior aesthetics, and it shows in the switchgear found throughout the cabin. The console-mounted gear selector feels flimsy and makes me yearn for a column shifter like a truck should have. There’s also a bunch of childish and chunky controls like the rubberized knobs and plastic toggle switches on the dash that look a little hokey compared to other entries in the class, though I wouldn’t let that sour my view of the Colorado – especially because the rest of it is fairly stylish.
I like the orange hue my tester was finished in, though I’d prefer it on something like the Camaro; seeing it on the Colorado reminds me a bit too much of the CN Rail trucks of a few decades ago. Give it to me in blue or either shade of red and we’re in business, though. And it only looks better with the knobby tires and blacked out grille and rock rails that come with the Trail Runner package.
User Friendliness: 9/10
To deride the interior as dated makes sense from an aesthetic perspective, but the passé styling pays dividends when it comes to usability. Climb inside and the Colorado offers reasonable command and control, with a cabin layout that’s easy to grow accustomed to. The toggle switches and chunky knobs are little more than a glance away, with clear labels identifying their functions.
The eight-inch touchscreen used to operate the infotainment system is crisp and responsive, while the interface is underrated for its simplicity and stylish graphics. Pairing a smartphone to use either Android or iOS interface is as easy as plugging into a USB port and providing a one-time approval. There’s also a pair of USB ports in the back of the centre console for rear-seat occupants to charge their devices.
Since I tested a crew cab model, climbing into the rear seats is made much easier by the second set of conventional doors. Ease of access is a major advantage midsize trucks offer compared to their half-ton counterparts, and that goes for the front seats, too. It still takes a bit more effort to climb into than a car or crossover, but there isn’t a glaring necessity for running boards either.
The standard bumper corner steps make it that much easier to access the bed, too – and they’re usable whether the tailgate’s up or down. There’s also a torsion bar built into the tailgate that makes it easy to open or close one-handed, and it’s lockable with the same key used to start the ignition (in another nod to the Colorado’s age, there’s no push-button start). And, of course, there’s an available spray-in bedliner that protects the painted surfaces inside the box from scuffs and scratches.
The Colorado Z71 crew cab starts at $40,798; $600 more if you opt for the long box. That’s not bad for a truck these days – especially when you take into consideration the V6 engine under the hood. (Picking diesel power, meanwhile, adds an eye-watering $4,585 to the price tag.) A similarly equipped Ford Ranger lands in the same price range but gets its power from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, while the Toyota Tacoma costs considerably more for a model with the same kind of equipment. There’s also the aged Nissan Frontier that dates back to the final season of Friends, for those keeping score at home.
My tester featured $5,385 in optional equipment – that Trail Runner package, the upgraded paint, a spray-in bedliner and a few others – for a final pre-tax price of $48,183. That’s still a good chunk of change, but it’s reasonable considering what it comes with in terms of utility and usability.
A segment that was whittled down to just a couple of options a few short years ago is suddenly teeming with choice – and this Trail Runner version of the Chevy Colorado hits a bit of a sweet spot. Just like most midsize trucks, it’s great for getting around town, with a footprint that should suit most shoppers just fine. But it also doubles as the kind of lifestyle vehicle that’s perfect for tossing your stuff in the back and setting out of the city for a weekend of fun. It’s not without a few flaws – the lack of advanced safety gear puts it a step or two behind the competition – but it makes up for them with a fair price and fantastic usability.
|Peak Horsepower||308 hp @ 6,800 rpm|
|Peak Torque||275 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||14.0/9.9/12.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||62" bed|
|Model Tested||2020 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Crew Cab 4WD|
|Price as Tested||$48,183|
$5,385 – Trail Runner Package, $3,770; Spray-in Bedliner, $550; Crush Paint, $495; Trailering Package, $295; Engine Block Heater, $195; Wheel Locks, $80