Here in America, “diesel pickup truck” means world-lapping longevity and enough torque to nurple Paul Bunyan. Most everywhere else, diesel trucks are simply designed for economy. The 2016 Chevy Colorado Duramax is a little bit of both, and a whole lot of awesome.
(Full disclosure: General Motors needed me to drive the diesel Colorado so badly they flew me out to California, paid for all my food and booze and were kind enough to answer all my Volkswagen-related questions. A lovely time was had by all.)
The new, new Colorado is not the cheap compact pickup you remember driving 20 years ago. But it is much safer and more efficient, more capable and way comfier. And of course, it’s more refined than even its current competitors, the aging Nissan Frontier and the just-adequate Toyota Tacoma.
This is about the point where the hardcore bros scroll down to our comments and snort, “if I wanted refinement I’d skip the truck and borrow my wife’s jewelry box, I mean crossover.”
If you really feel that way you know you’re never going to be satisfied with a brand-new vehicle. You’ll just have to pull your next truck off-pool man duty for $2,000 on Craigslist, slap a lift on it, and beat your chest all the way to the dunes of Glamis dunes.
But those in the market for a $35,000 pickup truck, who the good folks at General Motors built this vehicle for, might be hard pressed to find one with a better balance of capability and efficiency. And then there’s the sound.
“The Diesel Experience”
Walk around the Colorado Duramax and that little badge on the wing fender is the only hint that you’re in the presence of a beast. (Maybe the one Chevy locked in a steel cage?) Kick it in the guts and the growl is glorious. Inoffensive, but unmistakable.
Men will nod. Boys will bow their heads in reverence. You wife will ask what’s wrong with the truck. And now you’re ready to pull stumps and smoke tires, big fella. Welcome to the world of diesel.
We’ve already spent plenty of pages talking about the Colorado’s dimensions, build quality, and ride (which you should read!). But since you’ve all been waiting over a year to hear what the truck’s like to drive with a diesel, let’s cut to the D’s details.
The Duramax engine is a direct-injection DOHC with four cylinders, one turbocharger and 2.8 liters of displacement. GM has actually had this engine in service around the world since 2011, and although I originally thought it was developed with Isuzu GM’s powertrain communications chief has corrected me; “this engine is 100% GM design.”
The American-spec version we’ll be getting has a unique emissions setup, which GM promises is really totally EPA-legal, and makes 181 horsepower at 3,400 RPM. and a hearty 369 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 RPM.
And apparently yes, you can run B20 biodiesel.
A six-speed automatic Hydra-Matic 6L50 is the only transmission option. Connected to that is a Centrifugal Pendulum Vibration Absorber, which is not something I made up but actually calms the diesel’s rumbly rage, so to speak.
Starting is simple, no need to plug the thing in overnight or wait for glow plugs like in your grandma’s first Mercedes.
Despite the Duramax’s low-peaking torque you won’t feel any jolty lurches around the parking lot. The throttle is really intuitively weighted for the vehicle’s power. Driving around town at the speed limit feels just like driving a gasoline truck, or really it’s more like a small crossover because the interior seems so much skinner than a Silverado’s.
Boot the throttle and the truck steams ahead like a locomotive; feels powerful but takes its time to pick up the pace. It doesn’t surge like heavy-duty diesel truck does when the bed’s empty.
Ride & Handling
Road manners are pretty much the same smooth and gentle experience you get in the gas-powered Colorado; it’s much closer to a car than even its mid-sized rivals let alone a full-sized truck. Steering weight on the light side, reasonable body roll, smooth as butter through bumps.
GM’s engineers told me the Duramax weighs about 200 pounds more than the V6 gas engine option, but since the truck was designed to be a diesel from the first sketches the extra heft is hard to notice.
Slightly heavier front springs were fitted to compensate for the extra weight, but otherwise there are no architectural differences between the differently-powered Colorados.
The Colorado diesel can tow 7,700 pounds or haul about 1,400 in the bed. That means you could easily lug a car, boat, or horses off the hitch or two dirt bikes in the bed.
An exhaust brake is standard equipment, which helps supplement the regular brakes to hold the truck’s speed back. Comes in handy when you’re carrying significant loads and theoretically reduces wear on your brake pads substantially.
An exhaust brake is basically a baffle that closes off exiting exhaust gases, causing backpressure in the cylinders and keeping the engine’s speed lower. This technology is commonplace in large diesel vehicles. Specifically in the Colorado, a “smart” system is in place to modulate the function to the vehicle’s current load and speed as well as work with the truck’s cruise control. You can switch it on and off with a toggle switch on the dash.
I won’t blame you if you scrolled straight here; the first thing I wanted to find out about the Colorado diesel was how much juice it drinks. Fuel economy of course is one of the most exciting things about diesel pickups. Thanks to the magic and wizardry of physics and combustion, diesel is what makes it possible for an enormous vehicle to have great cargo capacities, godawful aerodynamics, and still get decent gas, er, diesel mileage.
I grabbed a 2WD Colorado with a tonneau cover over the bed to maximize aerodynamics and minimize weight. In my first 25 miles of driving I averaged 25.3 MPG according to the truck’s trip computer. With a featherfoot on the highway, I squeezed out a 33.5 MPG run over another 25 miles with a max of 35.1.
On a 55.1 mile mixed loop, with about 50 percent highway, 40 percent backroad, 10 percent city conditions I ended up at 29.5 MPG. Pretty impressive for a pickup truck that can pass a modern crash test, carry four adults in comfort, and tow just about any toy in your garage no sweat.
“So what’s this thing going to set me back?”
The diesel engine option adds $3,700 over whatever Colorado you want it in, and you can only have it on the full four-door. So right now it looks like the lowest MSRP you could get a new Colorado Duramx to is just shy of $30,000.
But you want four-wheel drive, don’t you? And maybe that sweet 7 inch screen? Floor mats? For that stuff you have to move up off the base. My dream Colorado, in LT trim with a few options, Summit White paint, a long bed and a transfer case rings up at $39,295.
“But can I tune it?”
Aftermarket support for the Colorado is already starting to bubble. You can get good lift kits from a few outfits and GM’s already starting to expand their factory accessory line with a “Trail Boss” kit that includes a cool light bar and meaty tires.
You can get knobbier tires and “off-road tuned” shocks (whatever that means) with the Z71 package, but if you want to take your Colorado into the rough stuff I’d spec the $320 automatically locking rear differential and just get a lift from somebody else.
A GM rep told me they’d love to offer an off-the-shelf lift kit, but the lawyers weren’t into it. Maybe that will change now that Jeep’s already a few months into sales of their own OEM lift.
But anyway, diesel engines are known for being able to make stupid power at the turn of a knob with a little fuel map tuning and maybe a little more boost. I’m sure that option is around the corner for those who don’t mind turning some of this truck’s sweet, sweet efficiency into powahhh.
Before this test I regarded the Colorado as great to drive, with a useful and usable size and a pleasant interior. I wasn’t crazy about the manual transmission, the four-cylinder gas engine is frustratingly slow, and I kept wishing the bigger V6 just did a little better on fuel.
Now enter the diesel: not swift, but plenty of power for truck work and off-roading. Great fuel economy for a pickup anywhere, downright awesome MPGs if you don’t mind cruising below the speed limit. And did I mention that sweet, sweet rumble?
The Colorado won’t be the perfect truck for everybody, but if you want a balanced ride with a set of balls to be proud of polishing, this new Duramax is just the ticket.
Images by the author, GM
Andrew is the truck guy at Jalopnik. Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org.