If you bought a compact pickup truck in the last 22 years, there’s a good chance it was a Chevrolet S-10. This tough, reliable, compact truck has been a mainstay to both pickup fans and its builders at Chevrolet. But, you know, nothing lasts forever, even pickups, so Chevrolet is phasing out the S-10 in favor of a new member of the bow-tie truck brigade. It was born in Detroit, but goes by the name Colorado!
And like the wide open spaces of America’s 38th state, the 2004 Chevrolet Colorado is designed to be bigger, bolder, and more rugged than the S-10. The Colorado, and its close kin, the GMC Canyon, also offer buyers a landscape full of choices. Both two- and four-wheel-drive, as well as Regular, 4-door Extended, and 4-door Crew Cabs are available.
The new ladder-style frame measures either a short 111.3-inch Regular Cab wheelbase, or a longer 125.9-inch wheelbase for the Extended and Crew Cabs. All Colorado models are wider and taller than the S-10, with the Extended and Crew Cabs also longer. But the dimensions have grown only sparingly, and fall way short of the mid-size Dodge Dakota pickup. This slightly inflated compact truck chassis is, however, surrounded in fresh, more angular, and very attractive bodywork that strongly favors the full-size Silverado.
The fact that most small trucks are purchased for personal use rather than work is evident in this ‘‘Baby Silverado’‘'s bed lengths. 6-foot for Regular and Extended cabs, or an even shorter 5-foot box for our test LS Crew Cab 4X4. A bed extender is available for longer loads, and all models have a novel two position tailgate with lock.
For motivation, the Colorado’s base engine is a 2.8-liter twin-cam 4-cylinder. It’s 175 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque is a big jump over the S-10’s base 2.2-liter 4.
Our LS is powered by the new Vortec 3500 inline 5-cylinder that’s derived from the well-regarded 4.3-liter straight-6 that powers the TrailBlazer SUV. With output of 220 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque, this 3.5-liter dual-cam 20-valve motor provides real V6 kick. Available with all cab styles, it’s attached to a new 5-speed manual, or our truck’s beefed-up Hydra-Matic 4-speed automatic.
Put it in drive and mash the gas, and the Colorado conquers 60 in 8.7 seconds. The quarter mile runs out in 16.5 seconds at 85 miles-per-hour. More than respectable for any 4,150 pound truck. The inline-5 is strong off the line, a bit soft in the midrange, but then lights up again as the tach passes 5,000 rpm. Contrary to speculation, even with an odd number of cylinders, power delivery is smooth and vibration free. As are the shifts, if also firm with well matched gear ratios to the engine’s power curves. This flexible powertrain also allows for a maximum payload rating of 1,366 pounds, and a maximum towing capacity of 4,000 pounds.
In handling tests, the Colorado is all pickup. There is heavy front plow that, along with minimal steering feedback, slows its progress through corners. Body roll is plentiful, giving it a heavy feel. There is a ZQ8 sport suspension package with 17-inch tires that vastly improves cornering capabilities. But, in typical driving situations, Colorado is far superior to both the S-10 and other compact trucks when it comes to delivering a tight, comfortable ride. It also seems more nimble than rivals with turning diameters between 37 and 43 feet, depending on model.
Our LS delivers off-road as well, with a shift-on-the-fly part-time 4-wheel-drive system with electric engagement, and optional locking rear differential, and a minimum of 8.5-inches of ground clearance. Off-road hobbyists will likely trade up to the Z71 package and more aggressive tires. But otherwise our LS delivered solid traction and excellent control on dirt and gravel.
Back on the blacktop, the ABS-equipped front disc/rear drum brakes delivered 145 foot stops from 60. That’s not short. Yet, chassis stability is first rate, pedal feel is solid, and nose dive minimal.
Like most modern pickups, the Colorado is well-equipped for the ‘‘personal-use’’ role. The interior feels far roomier than the S-10, even if dimensions show only small changes. Both foot wells are now wider and flatter. An important addition are optional side curtain airbags, the only ones in a small truck. Controls are large, intuitive, and easy to reach. That includes our truck’s standard CD stereo. XM satellite radio is an upgrade with OnStar also available Seating is firm, with supportive buckets up front and a 60/40 split folding bench in the surprisingly spacious rear. You really can carry three back here in a pinch.
The affordable price is no surprise, however. Chevy compact trucks have always offered good value for the money. Prices start at $16,200 for a rear-drive 4-cylinder Regular Cab model. Extended Cabs with the 4-cylinder begin at $18,545. If you want a 4-cylinder Crew Cab, pay $21,010, while 5-cylinder models start at $24,170.
With the introduction of the Colorado, Chevy is writing yet another chapter in the bow-tie brigade’s successful truck heritage, and pumping new life into the flagging small pickup segment. After all, not everyone wants or needs a full-size truck. The 2004 Chevrolet Colorado shows how careful engineering can derive more from less than ever before.
Engine: Vortec 3500 Inline 5-Cylinder
Torque: 225 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.7 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.5 Seconds @ 85 MPH
60-0 MPH: 145 Feet
EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 24 MPG Highway