Thursday March 2, 2017
For: Good infotainment set-up, nice automatic, much improved ride and handling.
Against: More catch up than get ahead, no keyless start, no AEB.
By Richard Bosselman
TWENTY 13 was a busy time in ute-dom – everybody was wondering how much of a rev-up three incoming new models would give the roost-ruling Toyota Hilux.
Well, we all know how that went. The Ford Ranger toppled the king, whereas its under-the-skin twin out of Mazda, the BT-50, rose slightly but never came close to replicating the success of its donor. And the Holden Colorado?
The rig that could have, should have, just never quite did. Certainly, this product walked the talk. Colorado, let’s not forget, came about as result of a five-year, $2 billion programme developed across five continents for customers in more than 60 markets worldwide. They claimed the clean-sheet Colorado was designed and engineered to be the company’s toughest, highest-performing and most-refined mid-size pick-up ever and represents “the most-extensive mid-size truck programme in Chevrolet’s 100-year history”.
Yet somehow it didn’t quite touch base. Not, at least, as Ranger has done. In hindsight, could that have been because it lacked a local touch? Whereas Ranger’s upbringing was handled by Ford Australia, GM initially didn’t take the same opportunity with Holden’s vehicle development expertise.
Rather, the Colorado’s development was led by a team of GM engineers from Brazil who lived in Thailand during the development period, learning the highly competitive truck market and observing how Thais use their trucks and the driving conditions. Only with subsequent updates were Holden engineers progressively brought into the programme. This time, though all the work continued out of the original ‘home room’ in Brazil, the Aussies were consulted from the outset. Must be something in the water.
So, anyway, the latest update has renewed Holden’s fighting spirit. At the launch event earlier this year, the brand expressed confidence the 2017 RG brings the right stuff to challenge the Hilux, Ranger and so on.
They point to improvements to design, driveability, safety, refinement, comfort and practicality, while maintaining the value-pricing proposition of its critically panned predecessor.
While Colorado has always done well at fulfilling workhorse duty, increasingly one-tonne traydecks are becoming SUV substitutes, with play a primary directive, especially for the $60,990 LTZ and $64,990 Z71 on test.
COLORADO has been no stranger to change; between this latest update and its initial introduction it underwent two running revisions; one to make it more refined, another update in-cabin smarts.
Nonetheless, what we get now is akin to a major home refurbishment; the basic structure has been left alone, but almost everything within it has been rebuilt or at least refreshed. Is this GM admitting that the original product simply wasn’t quite up to snuff?
Whatever, there’s no doubt a rework that, some conject has come about two years behind schedule (being delayed originally due to the global financial crisis and General Motors’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy), cannot be sniffed at.
While the basic ladder-frame chassis, powertrain, and bodywork from the nose back is as before, there’s a lot of change behind that wholly freshened front fascia.
The interior has been completely overhauled, with a redesigned dashboard featuring noticeably improved materials. Trucks cannot be cars, but – as Ford and Volkswagen have demonstrated with the Ranger and Amarok –effort to make truck cabins more car-like can be beneficial. With its updated door trims, restyled instruments, better padded front seats, a fresh multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the inclusion of available driver-assist safety systems and a reversing camera, the high-end Colorado is not totally worksite-adverse, but it certainly has more school and office run appeal than before.
There’s more. Utes struggle to achieve refinement, but Colorado has generally been the class noise-maker – not brilliant when these days recreational buyers demand a quieter cabin experience.
With the RG rejig, the notoriously growly engine has been quietened a little while the progressive process of increasing the sound-deadening insulation has further stepped up.
With all cavities filled, GM has next-stepped to thickening the glass and trebling the door seals – that’s why they auto-drop then resite when the front doors are being closed. The resultant difference in cabin noise is impressive, but it’s certainly a radical move. Such is the change in air pressure that, without a gap being created, the doors wouldn’t close properly.
A good idea? We like the concept, but would question the execution given that the test Z71 did not always behave properly. It would occasionally drop the passenger side glass then not lift it again, the first time went unnoticed when we locked up. After that, we always double-checked (and twice had to manually remedy). A note in the car suggesting it had previously been blighted by a wet front left seat suggested a previous user had been caught out during rain.
Additionally, there have been improvements in the manufacturing processes, designed to increase quality, panel fit, and overall robustness.
The model range consists of four versions, the LS and LT for work, the LTZ and Z71 being Holden’s respective answers to the popular Ranger XLT and Wildtrak.
Seven airbags, stability control, Hill Start Assist, Trailer Sway Control, and LED daytime running lights are fitted to all variants, helping achieve a five-star ANCAP crash test rating. They also take power windows with remote key-fob operation, cruise control, rear sensors and a reversing camera and auto headlights. From LT up you get alloys, carpet, foglights and side steps.
The LTZ ups the ante with Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and Tyre Pressure Monitoring (all new to Colorado), as well as climate control, front parking radar, larger touchscreen, sat-nav, electric driver’s seat, 18-inch alloys, remote vehicle start on automatic vehicles, sports bar, tonneau cover, and LED tail-lights.
The Z71 establishes visual point of difference with a unique trim and detailing, a hoop behind the cabin and a hardtop decklid. It also offers leather and heated front seats and roof rails. You’ve got to wonder if some LTZ owners seeking lookalike kudos could save dollars by arm-twisting a signwriter to simply copy the graphics pack.
The 2.8-litre four-cylinder common-rail direct-injection VM Motori turbo-diesel delivers the same power and torque outputs as before, meaning 147kW at 3600rpm and 440Nm from 1600-2800rpm in the six-speed manual, or 500Nm from 2000-2200rpm in the six-speed auto, but is now Euro 5 emissions rated, has relocated balance shafts and an engine acoustic pack. Also, the manual’s final drive ratio has increased from 3.73 to 4.1.
Fuel consumption figures average between 7.9 and 8.6 litres per 100km, depending on grade and transmission, which equates to between 210 and 230 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions.
Holden says this engine is now essentially the same as the unit found in the North American-market Colorado, including in the super-beefy Z72 Chevrolet model.
GM deemed that the existing Colorado’s all-wheel-drive system was competitive enough not to receive any major changes. Towing capacity is 3500kg.
Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’ is an epochal song; but you just finding yourself liking Disturbed’s oomphed version all the more?
It’s much the same with this Colorado: A familiar tune made better, for all sorts of reasons. This version is definitely more likeable than its predecessors, that’s for sure.
But is it ready to assume class leadership? I’d say no. Holden has consistently placed third in category sales with the Colorado and, for all sorts of reasons (some that have nothing to do with vehicle quality than simply how deals are done) it’s very probably going to stay there.
As things stand, it’s more likely to rattle the Hilux’s cage than the Ranger’s. Toyota does a fair cabin environment, too, and the Japanese No.1still executes its fit and finish better – though Holden has introduced more soft-touch elements, you can find the old Tupperware plastics in evidence and, also GM’s paint quality in the places where customers might not look (but motoring writers should) is uneven.
Where Colorado gets ahead of the Toyota is where it still falls behind the Ford: In respect to equipment and comfort levels.
Even the fussy among us tend to get annoyed by how easily fingerprint-marked the touchscreen becomes, there is no argument that Holden’s infotainment setup is very well executed and very well provisioned, better even than the key rivals.
Yes, you need to use your smart phone to enable the best features, such as CarPlay and – if you don’t think in the inbuilt sat nav is good enough – Google maps, but the pluses outweigh the data cost negative. Toyota doesn’t do this stuff yet and, while Ford ticks a lot of the same boxes, their set up is probably less intuitive.
Holden’s accident avoidance tech is useful but, while a step up on what it had previously, is still a step behind the sales leader.
The forward collision alert, which sounds when the computer feels you are getting too close to the car in front, is nicely calibrated and not overly cautious, but there’s no compatibility for the automatic emergency braking that Wildtrak provides.
The stability control aids are thoughtfully measured in their interventions, even on the dirt, however.
Comfort can be as subjective as styling; in the Holden’s case, the driving position continues to challenge. The lack of telescopic steering column adjust is an issue blighting all utes, but in Holden’s case the chairs still seem to be set a bit awkwardly for the tall. A pity because they offer good support otherwise. More than the rear bench which, though provisioning good legroom, suffers – again as all utes (save Amarok) do – by having a rear seat that is too upright for long-distance comfort.
The ZR1 trim is obviously a bit fancier than the LTZ’s, but not necessarily superior. Holden’s leather looks to be hard-wearing, but some will argue cloth is always more comfortable. Given the time of the year, please excuse the seat heaters not being tested.
Driving the Colorado at night highlighted one issue. How the centre fascia lights reflect onto the windscreen. The clarity of the reversing camera is also affected with loss of light.
Despite pandering more to car buyers, the Colorado maintains big, meaty controls, which I like: It’s a reminder that this something tougher than an elevated Commodore alternate.
Something of a meaty driving feel also goes with the territory, but an emphasis on improving ride quality and vehicle control really pays dividends. It’s not good enough to get ahead of the best in this business – and to me that’s the Ranger for overall dynamics and the Amarok for ride – but has definitely lifted its game considerably and is probably more satisfying overall than Hilux.
One decent change is a switch to electric power steering (from the same supplier used for VF Commodore). A faster rack and fewer turns lock to lock makes for nimbler, less demanding and more car-like handling. It is also lighter at low speed, though not so much as to leave it devoid of feedback.
The suspension – coils up front, leaf springs in the rear – sees digressive shock absorbers, a fatter anti-roll bar, and revised spring rates. The goals of flatter cornering, better rolling comfort, improved noise isolation and better load management are achieved. A changed tyre compound and tread pattern brings improved low-rolling resistance, wet weather grip, and ride comfort. Being the ‘sports’ truck, you’d think the Z71 might have an edge over the LTZ in this respect, but it doesn’t. They’re both on 18 inch rims and the same tyres, so are very much equals. Another reason, perhaps, to save some dollars.
It’s quieter, too. Revised mounts for the body, engine, and transmission designed to quell noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) pathways do their job.
At launch, Holden talked big about the potentials of Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber torque converter – a segment first, Holden claims – that basically deflects torsional NVH elements via counteracting moving weights. Further time with the vehicles suggests this isn’t just a slick PR snowjob.
The six-speed automatic exhibits much better throttle response and refinement, and moves the Colorado closer to class leaders in this regard. Of course, Colorado here could have gone to the eight-speed auto that provisions in some Chevrolet versions in America. Maybe that’s to come.
While the auto is smooth, is does have two quirks that might not agree with everyone. One is to hold gears too long. Another is the grade braking function that becomes active on any semblance of a descent. It’s a good idea, but is way too aggressive in its interventions.
Near where I live is a hill that I descend daily; most autos will simply drop a cog when I brake. Not the Colorado – even before I’d hit the stopper it had self-decided to send the transmission into a frenzy, dropping down so many gears that the engine almost red-lined and the vehicle almost stood on its nose. On the first occasion of this occurring, my wife demanded to know what I was playing at. At least, I think that’s what she said. It was hard to hear anything over the raucous diesel soundtrack. There is a way of over-riding this fuss, and that’s running the box in its manual setting.
When cruising, the Colorado becomes much more civilised, with road and engine noise very well suppressed. It is barely pulling 2000rpm at 100kmh. Having done a ton of off-roading with these models on the launch, we already knew the capabilities. In a word: Awesome. Torque, good rubber and decent ground clearance are crucial for bashing about and the Colorado has all three.
We used the Z71 for towing and filled the LTZ’s deck; in both cases, neither felt the strain. The LTZ is the more useful model for all-round weekend warrior duty because at least you can get at the deck.
The Z71’s plastic deck cover sums up the pros and cons of such items. On the plus side, it looks good. Against? It restricts deck use – try to fit on anything higher than the deck wall and you either have to lift the lid (not difficult, but it looks odd and you risk damage) or remove it completely (a total pain). The lid offers security through being is lockable. The test truck’s key had gone AWOL and initially I thought it was locked. Turned out it wasn’t. Just that the release was extra stiff.
First decision: LTZ or Z71? For me, it’s easy. Utes appear to be high profit centres and the high-end ‘preen machine’ versions, I suspect, carry the most fat. The Colorado is typical of the breed in that it has a good look. But this is style with too little supporting substance; it has a few extras that I’d like, but none that I’d need. LTZ, then, is the plum choice.
Next decision: Colorado or something else …?
Erm, hard one. Anyone with experience of past versions of this generation Colorado has to surely be impressed by the RG uplift. It’s righted a lot of wrongs. Yet, at the end of it all, the Holden is simply more truck-like than its rivals.
Personally, I don’t mind that, because in my world, a ute would be expected to work. We’d be putting it to toil and would happy with how it went; it’s one tough unit with a fantastically muscular engine. I’d happily off-road in a Colorado, too.
But as a chic street, school run and playtime accessory? Nah, you can still do a little better.