2016 Chevrolet Colorado Duramax Diesel First Drive

Oct. 02, 2015 By Josh Burns, Photos by Jay McNally and Josh Burns
We had the chance to drive Chevy's new 2016 Duramax Colorado, including this Trail Boss version, during a press introduction in Solvang, California.

Chevrolet has celebrated great success with its truck line the past few years. It started in 2014 when Chevy launched the all-new Silverado, which was named North American Truck of the Year, among other accolades. The company followed up in 2015 with the launch of an all-new mid-size truck, the Colorado, which won our 2015 Mid-Size Shootout and earned other critical praise throughout the industry. Now, for 2016, Chevy has more new product on tap: an updated full-size Silverado and a diesel-equipped Duramax Colorado. Both new trucks are newsworthy in their own right, but itís the latter that is truly breaking new ground. 

Some would argue it been a long-time coming, but that doesnít take away from Chevyís bold move to offer the industryís first turbo-diesel-powered mid-size truck for the U.S. market. Itís a notion companies have bandied about for some time, but the bow tieís new Duramax Colorado has the honor of being the first truck in the U.S. to feature a small diesel engine in something smaller than a full-size truck.

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As we impatiently sat at the press launch in Solvang, California, waiting to get behind the wheel of the new Duramax Colorado (the morning coffeeís caffeine rush doing no favors in alleviating our anticipation), Chevrolet made sure to bang home one fact during its brief presentation: The Colorado is the fastest-selling truck in the market right now. Sounds like a good marketing line, right? But what exactly does it mean? From the time it leaves the production line, the Colorado is selling in an average of 18 days, making it currently the fastest-selling truck overall. Thatís not to say the Colorado is the best-selling truck, because it isnít, not even in its own segment (Toyota recently had its best sales month for Tacoma ever), but as quickly as Chevrolet is making them, they are selling. Thatís a good sign if you are gunning for the lionís share of a market segment that has been dominated by the same manufacturer for the last 10 years. 

The 2.8-liter Duramax diesel engine is rated to produce 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque

Chevrolet didnít expect to grab the mid-size reigns from Toyota overnight, but it did hope to re-energize the segment. Itís a move thatís clearly working, as mid-size truck sales are up 50 percent overall so far in 2015 (even though itís not just Chevy benefiting from the stimulation). Chevrolet hopes to further expand its footprint with the Duramax Colorado. With Nissan, Ford and Jeep having all been rumored to return to the segment, theyíll no doubt be closely gauging the diesel Coloradoís success. And, the most important question remains whether or not the Duramax Colorado is worth considering by typically non-diesel truck buyers. 

Spooling Up
Born from GMís global turbo-diesel four-cylinder engines, the Coloradoís new 2.8-liter Duramax is rated at 181 horsepower and an impressive 369 lb-ft of torque. It features an iron-cylinder block thatís fitted with an aluminum DOHC cylinder head. For added strength and durability, Chevy uses a forged steel crankshaft along with forged steel connecting rods. Chevrolet also claims that Coloradoís Duramax is the cleanest diesel engine ever produced by GM.

The Duramax Colorado will cost $3,730 more than a comparably equipped V6.

The 2.8L turbo diesel is mated to the same six-speed Hydra-Matic transmission paired with Chevyís gasoline-powered 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 3.6-liter V6 engines. To trim down on noise and vibration, Chevy employed a Centrifugal Pendulum Vibration Absorber (or CPVA) inside the torque converter. Essentially this device is an absorbing damper that helps cancel out the diesel engineís torsional vibration, and this marks the first time GM has ever used it in any of its vehicles. It is also the first time it has been used in the mid-size truck segment.

Unfortunately, we donít have any published fuel economy figures for the Duramax Colorado, as the EPAís testing is not yet complete. We did, however, get the chance to gauge our own figures during testing. After jumping around from vehicle to vehicle throughout the event (Chevy had about 10 different models of the Duramax Colorado on hand), we are pretty confident that highway fuel economy will in the high 20 to low 30 mpg range (31.5 mpg was our best number). With a little more time weíd have more concrete figures, but itís a good initial estimate nonetheless, and we expect to see official numbers soon. 

The Duramax Colorado boasts the same features offered on the gasoline-powered Colorados, including OnStar 4G LTE with WiFi hotspot, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Alert, Chevy MyLink with phone integration technology, as well as standard features such as a CornerStep rear bumper, 13 moveable tie-down locations in the bed, and an available spray-in bedliner and EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate (standard on Z71 but available on the LT). Pricing on the trim levels isnít available yet, though we do know the Duramax will cost $3,730 more than the 3.6-liter V6.

We were impressed with the performance of the 2.8-liter Duramax both on the road and off.

Driving Impressions
We spent time in a few different trim levels over the course of our day in Solvang. When we first fired the 2.8-liter diesel engine to life, it emitted a low purring idle. As you can hear in the video accompanying this story, the Duramax has a traditional diesel rattle to it, but overall itís a relatively quiet and smooth-running engine to the point that it is easy enough to carry on a conversation with someone even when the hood is open. We barely noticed any vibration during all of our time in the trucks, so there is no need to be concerned about a teeth-rattling experience at stoplights.

The Duramax Coloradoís performance didnít bring any surprises. The truck accelerates away a stop just fine but, as expected with the small-displacement diesel, itís not going to win any drag races. Truck owners used to V6 or V8 gasoline engines will notice the engineís lack of displacement during initial acceleration, but it is a whole different story in the midrange. Although the Duramax makes its peak horsepower at 3,400 rpm, it makes peak torque much lower at 2,000 rpm, and it is there, when the engine gets on boost from the turbocharger, that the engine really shines. Thatís when the Duramax feels powerful and lively as it continues to accelerate confidently up to highway speeds. 

Yeah, the Duramax Colorado Trail Boss was a little dirty after hitting the off-road course. The Trail Boss features blacked-out badging, wheels, all-terrain Goodyear tires and a sport bar with LED lights, among other features.

Chevrolet also brought out a Trail Boss version of the Duramax Colorado for us to take on an off-road loop during our intro. This off-road truck, which weíll get to spend more time in next month, is based on the Z71 trim but features additional upgrades such as unique blacked-out wheels, blacked-out badges, all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler DuraTec tires, and an all-new sport bar with LED lighting, among other features. We took the Trail Boss to Chevyís off-road course to get a feel for the diesel engine in the dirt. The off-road course didnít present the most challenging terrain, but it did provide a decent blend of uphill and downhill dirt roads, with rocky, slow-speed parts and some very soft, sandy sections.

A small-displacement, turbo-diesel engine is an interesting proposition off-road, and it prefers a slightly different driving approach than a normally-aspirated gasoline engine. The Duramaxís low-end torque is great for slow-speed crawling and for powering through soft, sandy sections. The part that requires a little change in driving technique is while traversing hills. Staying on the throttle will keep the engine in sweet spot of the powerband, but if, for instance, you completely let off the gas on a downhill section and then need to accelerate again to charge up a hill, there wonít be that immediate rush of power Ė it takes a second for the small-displacement turbo-charged engine to get back on boost. If youíre used to traditional gasoline engine, it just takes a little time to adjust your approach. Overall, we like the performance of the Duramax in off-road terrain, and with more challenging, slow-speed crawling sections we feel it could shine even more.

We didn't get a chance to tow the Corvette, as they wouldn't actually allow us on the streets with it, but we did pull a 4,000-pound trailer and were impressed with the Duramax Colorado's towing performance.

Towing the Line
Chevrolet no doubt looked to highlight the powerful torque produced from the engine by offering towing opportunities during our intro event. The 2016 diesel Colorado has a maximum tow capacity of 7,700 lbs. for the 2WD trucks and 7,600 lbs. for the 4x4s. The Colorado benefits in braking performance thanks to the Duramaxís Smart Diesel exhaust brake system, which, when switched on via the same switch that activates tow/haul mode, uses compression to aid in slowing the truck. The exhaust brake will also aid in slowing a truck while in cruise control. When the system is de-activated, the six-speed transmission also helps aid in slowing the truck while in cruise control.

Chevrolet had a few different trailer setups available for testing, with one trailer containing ATVs (roughly 3150 lbs.), another being an enclosed trailer (roughly 3,865 lbs.), and still another holding a Corvette Z06 (about 5,650 lbs. in total). Since we couldnít take the Corvette outside of its enclosed playpen for fear of someone wadding it up around a corner, we hopped behind the wheel of the Colorado attached to the enclosed trailer. We were impressed with the overall towing performance of the truck as we motored up to highway speed with no signs of struggle and confidently pulled the trailer up steep hill climbs. Granted, the 4,000-pound trailer only represents a little more than half of the 7,700-pound tow capacity for the truck, but it still provided us with a good idea of the truckís towing capabilities. Overall, we give the truck favorable marks in the towing department.

We're very curious to see the final EPA figures for the Duramax Colorado's fuel economy. If it's similar to the figures we saw during testing, the Duramax Colorado will offer the best fuel economy of any pickup truck in the U.S.

Is Diesel a Win for Mid-Size Trucks?
We learned a great deal about Chevyís new Duramax-powered Colorado at our press launch, and what we know so far we like. The engine performs well in pretty much every arena, and we donít have any gripes with its noise level. Even the additional $3,730 cost for the diesel is in line with our expectations.

Although we have a rough idea of what to expect in terms of fuel economy, we will be awaiting those official EPA figures. Weíd be surprised to see a number under 30 mpg for highway travel, and in the end, the fuel economy could decide whether the Duramax Colorado will be a real winner for Chevy. The diesel engineís performance and towing capability are very important for buyers, but thereís no denying that a truly fuel-efficient truck will be a huge selling point in the mid-size market segment.

Chevy took a bold step by re-entering what many thought was a dead segment last year with its all-new Colorado. The plan was certainly not without risk, but this new Duramax diesel could be the companyís biggest gamble to date. If the fuel economy data comes in where we think it will, Chevyís bet could pay off handsomely, and we believe it might be the brandís most serious mid-size truck contender to date.

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