2023 Chevrolet Colorado First Drive Review: Punchy, Polished, and Mostly Practical

From a ferocious four-cylinder engine to an interior that’s actually nice for once, the new Chevy Colorado is a solid choice—though not without flaws.

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2023 Chevrolet Colorado First Drive Review: Punchy, Polished, and Mostly Practical © 2023 Chevrolet Colorado First Drive Review: Punchy, Polished, and Mostly Practical

Nine long years on the market left Chevy’s midsize pickup truck in dire need of replacement. Now, its relief is here: the new 2023 Chevrolet Colorado, with its total exterior redesign and turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder. It’ll help set expectations for trucks to come, from the related GMC Canyon to the upcoming Ford Ranger and eventual Toyota Tacoma. So, there’s a lot riding on the answer to the question: is it any good, or is the Colorado still a niche afterthought?

To find out, I tried out the meat of the new Colorado range—the Work Truck, Trail Boss, and Z71—both on and off the pavement. Across the whole lineup, the new Colorado is a remarkably refined pickup truck, whose various off-road options don’t sacrifice road manners and whose tasteful styling is a massive step up from its forebear. Admittedly, the truck’s height may complicate ingress and loading its (rather small) bed, and I blame it for on-road handling that isn’t all that confidence-inspiring. In other words, it feels like a truck in the ways people both love and hate.

Even so, the new Chevy Colorado is a respectable contender that holds its own, whether that’s in the cheapest Work Truck trim or the decked-out, do-it-all Z71.

2023 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 in California. <em>James Gilboy</em>
2023 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 in California. James Gilboy

2023 Chevrolet Colorado Specs

    2023 Chevrolet Colorado Work Truck, Z71, and Trail Boss (left to right). James Gilboy

    The 2023 Chevrolet Colorado is a renewal of Chevy’s midsize pickup, now available only in crew-cab form with a 62-inch bed. Like the Nissan Frontier and next-gen Ford Ranger, it’s not a clean-sheet design, with its ladder chassis and eight-speed automatic transmission being derived from the previous model. It switches to the Silverado’s six-lug bolt pattern, expanding the range of wheel options, and adopts the full-size truck’s smallest engine as its sole option: The 2.7-liter turbo four-cylinder.

    Yes, that means no more diesel or six-cylinder options, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with some wheezy little Tacoma engine. It’s a high-boost motor with an offset crankshaft and tricks borrowed from Chevy’s Duramax diesels. That allows it to make more peak torque than the old diesel Colorado on cheapo regular gas. Chevy says it tested it by running it for weeks at a time at full boost—but I digress, I’ll save my deep-dive on this engine for later.

    2023 Chevrolet Colorado bed, engine, on the trail, and with accessories. James Gilboy

    Of similar importance is the Colorado’s design, a sticking point for the old model. It’s less hawkish and more squared-off as is typical of American pickups, and to handsome effect. The fenders bulge out like old-school box flares on all trims, while the tailgate with its raised section—embossed with Chevrolet script—reminds me of a chocolate bar, especially in the available earth-tone paints. They’re available alongside all three primary colors, plus the requisite grayscale for people who aren’t so adventurous.

    The Colorado’s bed has numerous tie-downs, grooves in the front wall to fit bike wheels, and an optional tailgate with a measuring strip, cupholders, and a storage compartment for small stuff you don’t want loose. While both sides of the rear bumper have steps, the truck is tall, which means loading may be tricky.

    Its interior meanwhile is a major step up from the dated last-gen, with a clean design and materials that are finally up to scratch. The infotainment’s interface is simple to navigate, while crucial functions have dedicated physical controls—mostly. The headlights are apparently controlled through the touchscreen, which is straight-up dumb.

    2023 Chevrolet Colorado interior. James Gilboy

    Now, I got only a few hours behind the 2023 Colorado’s wheel, but I had time to experience the base Work Truck trim, off-road essentials-equipped Trail Boss, and all-rounder Z71. (The ZR2 comes later, and I didn’t have time for the LT). But even this sample made clear what the Colorado is about and where it stands because every last one of them was surprisingly refined.

    Base-model trucks and off-roaders don’t tend to be nice on the road, but all had quiet cabins, pliable rides, and comfy seats (even if they were too loosely bolstered). The electric power steering—though it lacked feel—was neither as weighty as the hydraulically steered Nissan nor too light to be satisfying. As the widest and heaviest midsize pickup though, it didn’t embolden me on the road, nor did its roll-prone body or unexceptional visibility.

    That said, the Colorado’s throttle response is excellent, with easy roll-in and no discernible turbo lag. Indeed, any throttle input in the Work Truck made the turbo’s whirr audible, and its output even on the downgraded base model wasn’t lacking. The transmission sometimes held revs too long, but it otherwise shifted smoothly, while the brake pedal’s pleasant firmness up top makes smooth stops easy.

    2023 Chevrolet Colorado out on the road. James Gilboy

    While the trail I tested the Colorado’s off-road prowess on wasn’t the most challenging, it showed even the mildest of off-road trims—the Z71—is ready for more. Its mechanical limited-slip rear axle, high- and low-range four-wheel drive, underbody camera, and off-road drive modes with hill descent control would’ve been overkill had I not set out on fully inflated road tires. When I did, I found the same characteristics that weakened the Colorado on-road made it agile and confident off it.

    It scrambled over ruts in the mountain trail, absorbing bounces with glee as its suspension shrugged off clumsy drops. It then scurried through an obstacle that called for a spotter as the rain mounted. There’s better still to be said for the lifted, widened Trail Boss and eventual range-topping ZR2, though I only got to drive the former, and on the road at that. It couldn’t quite mask the worst of San Diego’s roads, but it was still reasonably comfortable. For the driver, anyway; I as an average-height dude found leg room underwhelming in both front and back when not behind the wheel.

    2023 Chevrolet Colorado playing in the dirt. James Gilboy

    The 2023 Chevy Colorado comes with a standard 11.3-inch infotainment screen, eight bed tie-downs, and 17-inch or larger wheels on all trims. (Again, they use the Silverado’s bolt pattern, so you’ve got options galore.) It’s available with multi-zone climate control with rear AC vents, a sunroof on LT 4WD and up, and wireless phone charging. The bed can be optioned with a 110-volt outlet and a remote-unlocking tailgate complete with a storage compartment, measuring tool, and cupholders. Bed liner is available, as are tailgate audio, off-road assist steps, splash guards, off-road lighting, and more.

    The new Chevy Colorado’s hierarchy spans the lightly equipped Work Truck, the mid-level LT, the self-explanatory Trail Boss, well-balanced Z71, and eventually the hardcore off-road ZR2. It starts at $30,695 for the WT, which shares the cut-power engine with the LT ($33,095) though both can be upgraded to the more powerful tune that’s standard on the Trail Boss ($38,495) and Z71 ($41,435). They both have standard G80 mechanical limited-slip rear differentials, but emphasize different strengths, with the former gaining a two-inch factory lift, a wider stance, and 32-inch all-terrain tires. The Z71 by contrast amps up the tech and on-road refinement, with comforts such as dual-zone climate control.

    2023 Chevrolet Colorado details. James Gilboy

    Being of the current crop of pickup trucks, the 2023 Chevy Colorado’s main competitors are the Nissan Frontier and Jeep Gladiator; the Toyota Tacoma takes a back seat due to its age and the 2023 Ford Ranger is still an unknown quantity. Its base model is the second cheapest (above only the Tacoma), while it’s tied with the Jeep for max towing capacity—and a narrow second for torque. The Trail Boss is about on par with the Frontier Pro-4X and Tacoma TRD Pro while undercutting the base Gladiator by a couple grand. 

    Its main rival is really the Frontier, which is harder to drive, has a slightly lower max payload rating, and rides on stiffer suspension that makes it bouncier off-road (it has a rear sway bar, the Colorado doesn't). The Nissan has a more powerful standard engine, however, plus a more engaging on-road driving experience and a long-bed option. That and the Colorado’s seemingly high bed floor make it tougher to justify as a work truck, despite its bed and tailgate accessories. Also, the Chevy is the tallest, widest, and heaviest of all the midsize trucks, which will probably hurt its gas mileage.

    It also bears mentioning that the Jeep and Toyota offer six-speed manual transmissions where the Chevy doesn’t, and they boast strong aftermarkets and resale value should recouping your off-road mod spending matter.

    While GM is rapidly introducing EVs, the Colorado isn’t a part of that scheme, at least for now. A Chevy spokesperson made clear that it remains a part of the automaker's ICE business, which will carry on for a good while as shown by GM’s investment in a new generation of V8s. They declined to comment on the possibility of a hybrid model, and instead suggested that GM is disinterested in hybrid trucks.

    2023 Chevrolet Colorado on adventures. James Gilboy

    The 2023 Chevrolet Colorado stands out for its full-range refinement, powertrain performance, and affordability, though much of its standout potential remains locked behind options and upper trims. As-is, the Colorado’s value is as the best tow vehicle in its class, with more refinement and more torque in max-tow configuration than the Jeep, at a much lower price to boot. It also makes sense as a softer alternative to the Nissan.

    The 2023 Chevy Colorado makes clear that the standard for midsize pickups is gonna be a lot higher from here on out. It’ll soon have an ally in the fancier 2023 GMC Canyon, too. Ford and Toyota had better take notice because half-measures aren’t gonna cut it against the new Colorado.

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