A friend's wife suggested recently that they buy a four- wheel-drive pickup truck as their second car. "Fine," he said, "as long as you drive it."
Trouble is, she doesn't want to, either.
Although considered sporty in some circles, pickups bought for personal use tend to exact a price for their practicality in ride, handling and, as my friend points out, the wasted space of an open bed during the 90 percent of the time it's empty. The wife in question thinks the full-sized models are too big and aggressive looking. "They just look like big, mean road machines." The small ones, she says, look too low rent.
This week's tester, the new Chevy Colorado, was no exception in the ride and handling department, but, at almost $32,000 with options, it was anything but low rent.
At this writing, she's wavering, he's not.
But if the concept sounds right for your household -- and you're seeking a compact model -- the new Colorado and similar GMC Canyon are competent entries worth considering. The tester's five-cylinder engine was slightly disappointing, though, for its harsh sound and shortage of torque versus its predecessor.
General Motors says the Colorado and Canyon are almost completely new, sharing virtually no parts with their predecessors. It claims the frames are 250 percent stiffer than their predecessors' and, indeed, the tester seemed very solid over the spring potholes blooming in this part of the country. The cabin was remarkably quiet for a truck.
Wheelbases, track, overall lengths and most key interior dimensions are up by a couple of inches, including cab lengths, which are up by 4 inches for more rear-seat legroom or storage room.
Curtain-type air bags are available for the first time, costing $235 as a stand-alone option.
As with all of GM's and Ford's trucks, the Colorado is offered in wide variety -- a luxury that comes of high sales volumes.
There's a choice of engines -- a four-cylinder and the aforementioned five-cylinder, both new and equipped with four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing.
The five-cylinder engine's 220 hp. output suggests performance that's better than the reality. The problem here is torque, another measure of engine power that, for example, indicates a vehicle's ability to maintain speed uphill without a transmission downshift.
The five-cylinder engine's predecessor, a 4.3-liter V-6, delivered less horsepower -- 190 -- but did it sooner, at 4,400 engine revolutions per minute, versus 5,600 for the new engine.
But the new engine gets better fuel economy -- with an EPA rating of 17 mpg city, 22 highway, compared with 15 and 19 for its predecessor.
The new four-cylinder engine in the Colorado, on the other hand, is significantly larger and more powerful than its predecessor, displacing 2.8 liters and rated at 175 hp. and 185 lbs. ft. of torque.
Prices for the Colorado start at $16,200 with freight, for a rear-drive regular cab version with the four-cylinder engine, five-speed stick shift, a 6-foot bed, air conditioning and antilock brakes. Your basic work truck.
Base prices range from there up to $28,595 with freight for a crew cab model in the higher of two equipment levels, the LS, with the five-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic transmission with four-wheel drive and a 5- foot, 1-inch long bed.
The tester was a crew cab model with satellite radio, leather-upholstered and heated front seats and more. A $1,000 rebate is available to help ease the financial pain, with cut-rate financing as an alternative.
Gauges are large enough and well lit enough to be clearly readable, day or night.
Controls are straightforward and large enough to grasp easily even while wearing gloves and on the move in a jouncy vehicle.
Rear seatbacks fold down in the crew cab, leaving a flat but not very tall load floor. In the extended cab version, the bottom of the rear seat folds up, and the backrest is fixed so that the cargo area's height extends from floor to ceiling.
Competitors for the Colorado and Canyon include Ford's Ranger and similar Mazda B-Series; Toyota's Tacoma and Nissan's Frontier.
The GM pickups outclass the others in their standard engines' power.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.