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Reviews

2023 Chevrolet Colorado First Drive Review: Work Smarter, Play Harder

The landscape is changing with electric trucks and smaller car-based pickups populating the market. For Chevrolet then, the Colorado needs to stay modern to stay relevant – and its 2023 makeover makes this mid-size truck a more compelling choice than ever.

The 2023 Chevrolet Colorado is basically brand-new from the ground up. The truck – now available as a crew cab only – sees its wheelbase stretched by 3.1 inches. A new standard four-cylinder engine adds more power. And the rugged Trail Boss trim, a smaller adaptation of the Silverado with the same name, offers an affordable entry point for off-road fun.

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Get To Work

But let’s start with a trim that, really, I wasn’t expecting much from: the 2023 Chevy Colorado WT (Work Truck). Typically these “base” pickups lack styling, they forgo technology, and they almost always skimp on safety equipment. Not here.

The Colorado WT is a refreshing take on the traditional work truck. The front end bears the Colorado’s sharp new look: slimmer headlights, a larger grille, and in this case, hard black plastic bumpers to keep things duty-focused. The 17-inch steel wheels still won’t appeal to a broad audience, granted, but that’s just part of the WT’s charm.

Inside is where employees will be most impressed, as I was, with a standard 11.3-inch touchscreen that has crisp new graphics and offers wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity. It’s a bigger and better screen than even the biggest and best screen in the Nissan Frontier. The Colorado setup also comes with a clever 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster that’s configurable in a few different ways.

A new turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four comes standard on all trims for 2023, and on the Colorado WT, the base unit delivers 237 horsepower and 260 pound-feet. That marks an improvement of 37 hp and 69 lb-ft over the previous base engine. The entry-level motor delivers a modest shove of torque off the line, but it borders on underpowered at higher speeds.

The optional Turbo Plus unit – a modified version of the same 2.7-liter four-cylinder – puts out more power with 310 hp and 391 lb-ft, which should satisfy anyone looking for some shove. And if you really want to get wild, Chevy says a quick flash by your local dealership unlocks maximum output: 310 hp and 430 lb-ft. Those are the same figures found in the ZR2 with the top-end High Output engine, and the most horsepower in the segment alongside the Frontier. It’s also more torque than anything else in the class, including the bygone, diesel-powered Colorado Duramax.

Automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist even come standard on the Colorado WT, and an extra $950 as part of the larger Technology package will get you full adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree camera. I was genuinely impressed at how well-equipped Chevy’s cheapest Colorado was.

Trail Tougher

Because that Work Truck is so competent out of the box, it acts as the base for the off-road–focused Trail Boss. The two trucks even share an obvious visual cue: the plastic-clad front bumper. Chevy says that plastic, as opposed to paint, helps prevent knicks and scratches while out on the trail. And while true, I wish Chevy at least offered a painted bumper here, purely for aesthetics.

The Colorado Trail Boss has subtle, rugged good looks. A simple set of 12-spoke, 18-inch wheels wrapped in 32-inch all-terrain tires complement the 2.0-inch suspension lift perfectly. If you want something bigger, 20- and even 22-inch options are also available.

The near-three-inch–wider track gives the Trail Boss a more aggressive stance, and the signature Chevrolet wordmark remains stamped in the tailgate, joined on either side by shrunken versions of the Silverado’s taillights. The interior is mostly barren with the Work Truck’s hard black plastic and cheapo cloth black seats standard, but at least there’s a faux leather upgrade option.

The Colorado Trail Boss isn’t really suited for long road trips; the steering is vague and there’s a lot of body roll and road noise For everyday driving and longer highway jaunts, you’ll want the Z71.

The Trail Boss excels when the road ends. Just outside of Julian, California, I joined a convoy of journalists for a jaunt up a rugged dirt trail. With standard four-wheel drive and those aforementioned all-terrain tires equipped, the Colorado easily skipped over rocks and mud. And with the Terrain drive mode – basically a one-pedal mode for off-roading – allowed me to traverse a tricky obstacle down the trail that gave our lead Silverado ZR2 a tough time.

Smoother Operator

The Colorado WT and Trail Boss will almost certainly appeal to smaller audiences. The well-equipped Z71 – the fanciest Colorado of the bunch – is the one that ticks the most boxes for buyers. This version has a cleaner exterior design with a fully painted front bumper and two 18- and 20-inch wheel options that give it classic street truck proportions.

It looks great and feels much nicer inside than either of its two less-equipped siblings. Rather than hard black plastic, there are a few metal accents. The door handle is the most obvious upgrade; it has a nice weight and feel in hand. And rather than that same plasticky stuff on the dash, the Z71 introduces higher-quality cloth with red accent stitching, and your choice of cloth-and-faux-leather seats or full-on perforated leather.

And in stark contrast to the uncomfortable Trail Boss, the Z71 is buttery smooth on the highway. It might be the best-driving truck in the segment. By ditching the all-terrain tires and forgoing the 2.0-inch suspension lift, the Z71 is exceptional over long distances. The steering feels more precise with no dead-on-center feeling, the ride is smoother and quieter, and the Turbo Plus engine delivers robust acceleration.

The 310 hp and 391 lb-ft help launch the Colorado Z71 off the line with a generous oomph. The gutlessness of some other V6s in this class can’t compete with the immediate torque of Chevy’s four-cylinder here. And for reference, this engine has more power than the old V6, as well as more torque than the outgoing diesel. And although neither Chevrolet nor the EPA have confirmed fuel economy figures yet, it may come close to its oil-burning predecessor.

$40K Is The New $30K

Chevy prices the Colorado competitively at $30,695 to start with the destination fee included. And again, that’s for the WT trim that comes impressively equipped, though four-wheel drive is a $3,300 option. What will likely be the volume seller of the group, the LT, costs $33,095 in rear-drive form or $36,395 with four-wheel drive. Meanwhile the Trail Boss is $38,495 to start with standard four-wheel drive – much cheaper than the $45,000 Ford Ranger Tremor and competitive with the $38,000 Frontier Pro-4X. And $41,395 will get you into the loaded Z71.

The 2023 Colorado is a huge improvement relative to the truck it replaces. The styling is sharper, the engine is better, and the value is compelling. In a diversifying market, the mid-size Colorado offers a bit more of everything to remain competitive.

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