Midsize trucks are the perfect size for a lot of folks, but they’ve been left to sorta… wither on the vine for a while. Manufacturers have focused on the popular (and profitable) half-ton segment, and Ford and Hyundai have brought new compact models to market. Jeep has the not-for-everyone Gladiator and Nissan updated their Frontier last year, but Ford, GM and Toyota still need to step it up. It’s the midsize’s time to shine, and Chevy invited me to San Diego, California to see their latest, the 2023 Chevrolet Colorado.
The name of Chevy’s game here is simplicity. Gone are the multiple cab and bed configurations and multiple drivetrains. You get one wheelbase, a crew cab, a five-foot bed, and three variations on a 2.7-liter turbo four, and you’re gonna like it dangit. I don’t fault the simplicity – more buyers are picking the crew cab short bed option than ever before, and appetite for smaller cabs and longer beds can be met with the Silverado and other half-tons.
Our two days in San Diego provided enough time for me to sample every variant of engine and most of the five trim levels. The most off-road oriented Colorado ZR2 was not available to be driven yet, though it’ll be out soon.
2023 Colorado Basics
I lied, sort of. “Three variations” is actually “two similar but not identical engines” but that doesn’t read as well, does it? The base Colorado WT and slightly-nicer LT trim levels get the most basic 2.7L turbo four. It’s a variant of the “regular” 2.7 found in other Colorados and the 2019+ Silverado, but with a few things changed to be more value-minded. Piston oil squirters are gone, sound deadening is removed, and a lighter-duty eight-speed automatic is paired that doesn’t have to hold as much torque. This “base” 2.7 produces 237 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque, and while it’s standard on the two lower-tier Colorados, the mid “Turbo Plus” engine is optional.
Standard on Trail Boss and Z71 Colorados is that 2.7 Turbo Plus, making 310 horsepower and 390 lb-ft and bolted to an eight-speed able to support much more torque. The big-boy Colorado ZR2 comes with a “High Output” engine that makes the same horsepower but another 40 lb-ft of torque… but it’s accomplished through a tune. And you can have your dealership install that tune on the Turbo Plus mid-tier engine for $395, if you want it.
Wheelbase is consistent across all trims at 131.4 inches. Any 2023 Colorado with the Turbo Plus or High Output engine is rated to tow 7,700 pounds, while the base engine limits you to 3,500. Payload is pretty consistent across trim levels, between 1,500 and 1,684 pounds based on your trim and options. Obviously, the less equipment you want, the higher payload you may have.
Pricing on the 2023 Colorado starts right around $30,000 for a two-wheel drive WT, and Chevy proudly told us they offer “four trims under $40k” which is pretty spot-on until you consider destination charges. In any case, it’s close, with the four-wheel drive LT just below $37,000, Trail Boss starting just shy of $39,000 and Z71 a touch above $41,000.
Street Driving the 2023 Colorado
Our drive route took us to a mild off-road trail, but as with most trailheads, you have to take some windy roads on the way. I sampled a Colorado Z71 on the way there, and a Trail Boss on the way back. Chevy has different shock tuning for each trim, with the more off-road variants riding a bit softer. But “soft” doesn’t mean “bad” in this case. The 2023 Colorado is remarkably composed for a pickup truck and even on Goodyear all-terrain tires, allowed for some canyon-driving shenanigans. Ride quality was otherwise comfortable, with good body control.
Steering is accurate and direct, with no on-center slop. It’s a bit light, though, and the ratio requires a lot of hand-over-hand for tighter turns. Great for off-road use, not great if driving like a moron in the twisties as I may have – which no sane person will generally attempt anyway.
Power and torque from the two higher-output engines is ample, with minimal turbo lag off the line and strong pull all the way to redline. Though I didn’t drive the base Work Truck nearly as much, I found its 237 horsepower to be plenty perky for many buyers as well. Chevrolet wanted to “make the four-cylinder sound less like a four-cylinder” which resulted in it sounding… a little odd. It’s more noisy than I’d prefer when worked hard.
The transmission is generally well-sorted and grabs the right gears at the right time, able to be shifted or gear-limited manually if you slot the long-throw shifter to “L” first. I didn’t bother, it was smart enough on its own. Brakes, too, offered great pedal feel both on initial application and through the pedal’s travel. Even doing dumb things in the canyons, I found them strong and confidence-inspiring. I suspect this’ll bode well for towing, too.
Off-Roading the 2023 Colorado
Our off-road trail was mostly pretty mild, something you could nurse an Equinox through if you really wanted. But “most” doesn’t mean “all” and there were moments with giant ruts, mogul-y ripples, and The Obstacle to conquer, which had each truck three-wheeling as we put the four-wheel drive and G80 locking rear differential to the (light) test.
Here the slightly softer Trail Boss suspension stepped into the spotlight. While I didn’t find the Z71 (on optional all-terrains, same as Trail Boss) to be uncomfortable, the Trail Boss shrugged off all the more challenging moments with ease. Body control was again impressive here, with the shock absorbers doing the absorbing before the lateral motion made its way to the cabin and our seats.
Steering and brakes were both well calibrated for this kind of driving, and I appreciated the throttle calibration in particular as I could squeeze the pedal to add just a touch more oomph over rough stuff with no jerky power application.
The Radiant Red Z71 I had chosen that morning was “a bit of a unicorn build” according to Chevy’s PR team, in that it included two optional under-body cameras. The $500 option has one camera facing forward and one backward in the center of the truck’s belly. They were a nice addition to the other front and rear cameras, and gave me a better view of things I wanted to avoid on the trail.
The Best Part? I Fit In It
Chevy put a lot of work in to the interior of the Colorado, and it shows. Midsize trucks can be challenging for taller people, and I found myself remarkably comfortable compared to some of the competition. Seats have long-ish cushions that offer good thigh support, and the power drivers’ seat can be adjusted fairly close to the floor. Front passengers will have to make do with less adjustability, though, handled with manual controls.
Space is utilized in a fine manner, though the traditional console shifter takes up a good bit of room. Touch points throughout are acceptable and will be easy to clean. Chevy chose harder plastics – I’m fine with it but some colleagues wanted more soft-touch in a few areas.
Every 2023 Chevy Colorado has the same infotainment system, running on an 11″ screen that is mounted low and out of the way. Visibility overall is good, thanks in part to the screen’s positioning and general low dashboard. Half-tons, take note. Gauge clusters are all digital, and pixels are all used well, something not always guaranteed with the growing popularity of cheap screens replacing artistic physical gauges.
My one complaint is the lack of physical headlight control, a decision Chevy says was made to allow “for future enhancements down the road.” I’m not sure what would be enhanced about an Off/Auto/On light control, but… sure. Lights default to Auto mode, and there is a persistent light icon at the top of the screen for easy one-touch access. I fully recognize that a physical headlight dial merely asks the same computer to control the lights over CAN bus, but this seems like a step too far for “touch screen all the things.” And to be fair, Chevy isn’t the only one playing this game – Tesla and Rivian are, too.
I didn’t get to tow with the 2023 Chevy Colorado and will be making that a priority when they reach our local fleets. Otherwise, though, there is a lot to like here. This new Colorado doesn’t feel groundbreaking, per se, but it doesn’t need to. The truck feels more modern and familial, more like a smaller Silverado than ever before.
I’m a fan of how the new Colorado has been executed. My needs don’t really require a Silverado-sized truck, but I don’t want to feel penalized for picking something physically smaller. Chevy’s efforts are the first I’ve seen in recent years where that wouldn’t be the case.