The midsize truck segment is going through a bit of a renaissance right now, driven in part by the surge in popularity of all things off-road. Just as its rivals have done, GM is capitalizing on this 4x4 fever with the all-new 2023 Chevrolet Colorado, completely redesigned for its third generation. The redesign and first-ever Colorado Trail Boss clearly cater to the four-wheelin’ crowd, with three out of five Colorado trims optimized for going off-road.
But in 2023, the Colorado is nonetheless clinging to its roots as a work vehicle, the ethos underlying all good trucks. Pickups were traditionally workhorses first and foremost, family vehicles second. Today’s trucks have added “fashion item” to the tally, and the order of those three priorities varies wildly from truck to truck. That much is obvious from their popularity across the U.S., where full-size pickups are perennial best-sellers. And yet, midsizers like the Colorado now hold the baton in the modern truck relay race. The all-new Colorado is the truckiest of trucks from Chevrolet – the epitome of a work vehicle, with a dash of play. Indeed, the 2023 Colorado is all the truck most drivers will ever need.
Full Disclaimer: Chevy invited me to San Diego to drive the all-new Colorado around Torrey Pines and the Cuyamaca Mountains. The company flew me out to California, gave me a room at a golf resort, and even fed me avocado toast. How Californian. The weather was less Cali — unseasonably cold, windy and gray. But that just added to the fun of taking the Trail Boss off-road.
Our drive took us through surface roads, highways, sinewy mountain roads and, finally, off-road along a trail in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The tests took place over two days, and were grouped so we could get wheel time in all Colorado trims — except for the ZR2; that vehicle’s debut is scheduled for later this year. For this engagement, we sampled four varieties: Colorado WT, Colorado LT, Colorado Trail Boss and Colorado Z71.
The first thing you notice about the new Colorado is obviously the new exterior, but the biggest changes are under the hood and in the chassis. The Colorado will only be available as a crew cab, short-bed model, the box measuring five feet two inches long. The new truck’s wheelbase is 3.1 inches longer than the outgoing model, and certain trims will feature a taller, wider stance.
The Colorado will no longer be available with the 3.6-liter V6, nor the 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder. The new truck will only come with one engine, albeit in three variants: A 2.7-liter turbo inline-four, a version of which has been available in the full-size Chevy Silverado since 2019, paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The variant of this engine that debuts in the 2023 Colorado will be carried over to the Silverado for 2024, meaning Colorado owners will get full-size power in a midsize chassis.
That makes for a practical pairing, but it also means that the new truck’s 2.7-liter is less stressed. Chevy powertrain engineer Kevin Luchansky told our group of journalists this specific engine has gained a reputation for durability, and dropping it into the smaller Colorado’s engine bay will only add to its stellar track record. That’s not to say the engine has been declawed and detuned to match the smaller truck. On the contrary.
According to Chevy, this engine takes the best attributes of the outgoing V6 and turbodiesel and blends them together. The 2.7-liter turbo exceeds the performance of both previous engines, with more horsepower than the V6 and more torque than the diesel. The catch is, your truck’s total output depends on which variant of this engine you choose:
- 2.7-liter Turbo: 237 HP, 259 lb-ft of torque
- 2.7-liter Turbo Plus: 310 HP, 390 lb-ft of torque
- 2.7-liter Turbo High-Output: 310 HP, 430 lb-ft of torque
Indeed, the output figures are impressive, but Chevy won’t yet provide fuel efficiency numbers, which are pending official verification from the EPA. Until those numbers are released, we won’t know just how efficient (or not) the new four-cylinder actually is. And that’s a big asterisk looming over the Colorado’s final specifications. After two days of driving, the journalists at the press event I attended were averaging around 15 mpg; when pressed, Chevy representatives said these numbers were skewed down by time spent off-road.
The base 2.7-liter Turbo engine is standard in the Colorado WT and Colorado LT, while the 2.7-liter Turbo Plus is standard in the Colorado Z71 and Trail Boss. The 2.7-liter Turbo High-Output will be standard only on the Colorado ZR2, while the Turbo Plus engine is available as an option on all other trims — yes, including the base-model WT.
There are two caveats to keep in mind. The Colorado ZR2 will have the highest standard power and torque figures, but it will only be rated to tow 6,000 pounds, while other trims with the 2.7-liter Turbo Plus can tow up to 7,700 pounds. That’s not a huge surprise, considering the ZR2's suspension is optimized for off-roading, not towing.
Where things can get a little confusing is in the tuning. Chevy will offer Colorado owners the opportunity to upgrade a 2.7-liter Turbo Plus engine to full High-Output spec with an after-sale reflash. So, for example, a base-model Colorado WT can be optioned with a 2.7-liter Turbo Plus engine and upgraded to High Output spec, in which case it will make ZR2 power and tow significantly more than the ZR2. It’s a bit of a jumble, but the point is, ZR2 power is available to anyone who wants it.
The second caveat is that the base-spec 2.7-liter Turbo engine can’t be tuned to produce High Output power. It’s missing certain components, including piston-cooling oil jets that help the engine manage its thermal loads. Chevy engineers say these high-horsepower upgrades are missing on the base engine on the assumption that owners wouldn’t be interested in upgrading later on. Moreover, the base engine favors efficiency over all else, so any performance parts would have been superfluous.
The new Colorado’s “old” engine is only old in the best way: as a known quantity, and a proven powerplant. It has a stiffer crankshaft than the previous 2.7 in the Silverado, and a fully forged bottom-end borrowed from the outgoing diesel engine. One of the neater tricks up the Colorado’s sleeve is a new electric water pump, operated through software and therefore no longer reliant on engine speed. Even at low RPM, the water pump’s brushless motor can operate at max capacity for increased cooling.
Basically, Chevy has refined this engine to a point where you wonder whether the Colorado’s next evolution will be electrification. On that front, Chevy representatives had nothing to say.
That brings us to the Colorado WT drive, which took place on highways and surface roads between La Jolla and Del Mar. As its name implies, the new Colorado Work Truck makes no pretense to performance. It’s a bone-stock base model with corresponding dynamics. The 2.7-liter Turbo engine in the WT won’t surprise you, for better or worse. That’s not really shocking given the 73-horse, 131 lb-ft disadvantage over the next engine up the range, but the difference was more pronounced than I expected.
I was hoping, perhaps foolishly, that the Colorado WT could be a cheaper alternative to the LT, but it’s not. Not when configured with the base engine, at least. The stripper-spec truck is a perfectly serviceable fleet vehicle, and I assume that’s exactly what the majority of standard WTs will be. If that’s the case, the WT is a comfortable place to spend a work day, and even fleet drivers will enjoy the exterior and interior changes of the new ‘23 Colorado.
The cabin is well-equipped for a fleet vehicle, since the new infotainment system and larger screens are standard across all Colorado models. That means the base WT will have the same infotainment as an upscale Z71, a nice favor for folks who will drive these trucks professionally. Really, the Colorado WT is no frills but not austere. It’s basic — no more, no less. If a blank-canvas Colorado is what you’re after, a WT with the 2.7-liter Turbo Plus is not a bad start.
The 2023 Colorado WT will start at $30,695 (including $1,495 destination) with 2WD and base Turbo engine. The available options hike up the truck’s price fast. The absolute base model will do what you ask of it, but the performance is not impressive. The efficient engine takes some prodding to climb a grade or pull a pass. The braking performance is on par with the engine. The brakes bite earlier than expected, but are linear after that first snap. The WT is predictable. It’s a tool that will fade into the background on the job.
The Colorado WT I drove came with quite a few options, including safety features and a beefy 3.42 rear axle with auto locking differential and 4WD. That WT’s sticker price came out to over $35,000.
I spent most of my time driving the LT; it was the first model I drove, and it may have skewed my perception of the others, because I came away quite impressed. The 2023 Colorado LT I drove had the optional 2.7-liter Turbo Plus and 4WD, as well as a generous number of options from Chevy – including a roughly $3,000 comfort package.
The base price of the Colorado LT is $33,095 (including $1,495 destination), according to Chevrolet, and I would say the Colorado LT with the optional 2.7-liter Turbo Plus is a good value for drivers who don’t want a base-model but don’t want to spend on a ton of options.
The standard equipment on the LT is impressive. I’d say skip the optional amenities, go straight for the Turbo Plus and enjoy. Add the towing package if you regularly pull a trailer and you’re set. Driving the LT with the 2.7-liter Turbo Plus was a joy. The eight-speed auto shifts often, yet unobtrusively when mated to the more powerful engine. Along surface roads and on the highway, the LT excelled at every task. Every merge, every shot ahead, every elevation change was seamless. I can see why Chevy did away with the two extra cylinders of the V6. The middle variant of the 2.7 envies no V6. Acceleration is snappy, and ditto deceleration. The brakes seem better matched to the added HP and torque of the middle engine variant.
Even under all the fancy extras that Chevy threw on this LT — high-definition cameras, larger diameter wheels, piano black grille — the truck’s interior and exterior would have been enough. The truck’s design manager, Sam Zhao, said the team paid close attention to the exterior appearance, doing away with the rounded and dated (if you ask me) design of the prior Colorado.
Most of the trims have a similar overall appearance, but each has something unique – small touches that get more intricate as you climb higher in the lineup. But even the WT and, certainly, the LT share the Colorado’s athletic appearance. The new truck looks meaner, more focused, concentrating on the path directly ahead. Zhao explained that styling the hood a certain way by adding creases was meant to focus the driver’s attention on the road, guiding their vision down the truck’s front end.
Visibility is excellent. The truck rides higher than it appears at first blush, but getting in and out is much easier than in a full-size truck. You don’t have to hop up to get in. Well, I don’t have to hop up: even for me, ingress is more like a skip, and I’m shorter than average. But after messing with the power seat’s settings, outwards visibility in the cabin was fantastic, partly thanks to some trims getting rid of the grab handle on the A-pillar.
Overall, the Colorado LT acquitted itself well on the road and on the highway around San Diego. There was no chance to go offroad in the WT or LT, but the latter had 4WD nonetheless. Both models were a good preview for the following day, when a luxe Z71 would be our ride to the trails, and a Trail Boss would see us through the dirt.
Let me begin by saying full-size trucks have been clawing their way up to luxury car levels for years. That never struck me as the case when it came to midsizers, until I drove the Colorado Z71. Chevy categorizes the WT and LT as the road-going trims of the Colorado, and the Z71, Trail Boss and ZR2 as the off-road trims. But the comfort and refinement of the Z71 would easily fool you into thinking this truck has no business on the trail.
That refinement starts with a 2.7-liter Turbo Plus engine as standard, and touches basically every corner of the Colorado’s interior and exterior. Fit, finish, materials, all of it is leaps and bounds ahead of previous Colorados, not to mention the current crop of Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacomas.
It ought to be, given the Colorado Z71’s starting price of $41,395, destination included. The Z71 that Chevy handed me had an eye watering $49,225 sticker price. I mean, come on. That’s Silverado money. Or it used to be, I suppose. The thing is, the Colorado no longer sits second-chair in its row. It’s not a bargain-priced pickup whose owner looks forward to upgrading to a full-sizer. In my view, unless you need a longer bed or bigger towing capacity, the 2023 Colorado is a viable alternative to a Silverado. The only quibble I have is that even the Colorado Z71 is still not as well put-together as the full-size Silverado. The door panels felt flimsy in places, the plastic on the armrests feeling tacked on.
Still, many (most) people won’t be towing more than 7,700 pounds, anyway. The Colorado is a Silverado you can live with – without adjusting your driving style, without sweating the parking spot.
Every mile driven in the Z71 – from Torrey Pines, past Julian, then onwards to Borrego – was pleasant. The mountain roads were no challenge for the smaller, light-footed Colorado. There was zero body roll through the twists and turns. The chassis felt settled as we swept right and left. The Colorado was comfortably in its lane with enough room to breathe. I can’t say the same about the full-sizers that drove past.
When we finally made it to the trail at Anza-Borrego, I was worried the Z71 would be less adept. It was great on the road, but what about the dirt? You see, the Z71 lacks the higher ground clearance and wider track of the Trail Boss and ZR2. It was also clear as soon as we entered the dirt that Chevy takes a different approach than, say, Toyota, whose Tacoma absorbs the shocks and bumps of the trail. Call the Colorado’s suspension firmer, I suppose. Not harsh. Just firm.
Even so, the Colorado Z71 didn’t struggle on the off-road course. Not that the course was very technical, but it was definitely something that most people would think twice about tackling in a crossover or 2WD truck.
Engaging the Z71’s drive modes (we used Terrain for the most part) was a breeze; same for the rotary knob controlling 2WD, 4 Hi and 4 Lo. One thing that never fails to amaze me is how much capability modern off-roaders have now, right out of the gate. It’s easy to take for granted that modern vehicles can get most people through tough terrain easily. In 2023, the trail has been tamed and the sport made accessible. It’s a beautiful thing that so many drivers can enjoy the off-road, thanks to these trucks, the Colorado Z71 included.
That brings us to the Colorado Trail Boss, which trades the Z71’s refined character for off-road capability. Conceptually, the LT and Z71 are kind of related; the former builds on the latter. And that’s kind of the same deal with the WT and Trail Boss.
You can think of the Trail Boss as a base-model off-roader to the ZR2's top-tier ‘wheeler. Even though it’s pretty pricy starting at $38,495 (including $1,495 destination), it comes with the 2.7-liter Turbo Plus engine standard. I am eager to test the Trail Boss with a tune, by the way, and that will always be an option for Trail Boss buyers.
So, it has the right engine and the proper off-road stance, a Colorado that’s most of the way to a ZR2 for people who don’t need the top-dog truck’s extreme capabilities. The Trail Boss is not a starting point or gateway drug that you’ll be upgrading. It trades the luxury of the Z71 for well-rounded off-road capability.
The Colorado Trail Boss has a 66.2-inch front track, for starters — wider than the Z71's 62.6 and a hair narrower than the ZR2's 66.3 inches. The Trail Boss also has 9.5 inches of ground clearance, courtesy of a 2-inch factory lift. That compares favorably to the clearances of the Z71 at 8.9 and ZR2 at 10.7 inches. Finally, the Trail Boss has an approach angle of 30.5 degrees, departure angle of 22.4 degrees and break-over angle of 21 degrees. Again, that’s more than the Z71 but less than the ZR2 in every metric. It truly is the middle ground.
That wider track and better clearance boosted my confidence on the off-road course. I may have even jolted my passengers, rudely, because I felt no need to slow down through deep ruts and loose washes in the Trail Boss. The only thing I missed from the Z71 when piloting the Trail Boss was the underbody camera system, and maybe the friendlier maneuverability of the Z71 on the road. The Trail Boss is not as comfy or refined as its pavement-oriented stablemate on the road. There is more road noise through the firewall, and the materials are slightly less pleasant to touch. It’s not terrible, and I think the Trail Boss would be easier to wipe down after a day in the dirt, but it’s not as nicely finished as the Z71.
Overall, the theme of the 2023 Chevy Colorado seems to be choice. There are more options here, and yet, at the same time, there are less. There’s only one configuration: crew cab/short bed. There’s only one engine – albeit with three variants. There are two “road-going” trims, Colorado WT and LT. Finally, there are three “off-roader” trims: Colorado Z71, Trail Boss and ZR2.
The base prices range between $30,000 and $40,000, save for the ZR2, which will start at $48,295 including the $1,495 destination charge. And the trucks have more in common than not. Basically, the choices inherent in the new Colorado allow you to fine-tune how much power, luxury, and capability you want. Indeed, compared to its full-size sibling, the midsize 2023 Colorado is a testament to the old maxim: less is more.