The diverse midsize pickup segment offers a great selection of vehicles for shoppers who like the utility of a truck but who are wary of committing to a full-size model. Maybe it's because they don't want to try squeezing a large, unwieldy beast of a truck into urban parking lots. Or it could be about the price point or fuel economy since smaller trucks do better on both. But for the best all-around performer in the class, with capabilities to rival its full-size cousin the Silverado, look no farther than the 2021 Chevy Colorado.
The Chevy Colorado has carved out a niche for itself since its revival in 2015. It offers one of the most powerful engines, some of the most refined driving, and one of the lowest price points in the segment. It can also claim best-in-class awards for fuel efficiency and towing capacity thanks to the available 2.8L Duramax diesel engine, which hauls up to 7,700 lbs while making 19 MPG city and 28 MPG highway. Finally, the top-trim ZR2 model is an award-winning off-roader for drivers that like to put a lot of mud on their tires.
Yet, for all of that, the Colorado offers a surprisingly tame and sedan-like driving experience, comparable to the much weaker unibody Honda Ridgeline. The interior is comfortable with intuitive controls and one of the best infotainment systems on the market. Kelly Blue Book named the 2020 model a Best Buy, and 2021 is shaping up to be even better.
Every truck worth its salt has to have a powertrain that can get the job done. Factors like frame construction and suspension design contribute to towing capacity as well, but it takes a strong engine to do the work. Colorado offers you three diverse powertrains to choose from to get the best balance of strength, efficiency, and cost for your needs.
The base engine is just that – a capable starting point. The 2.5L 4-cylinder engine makes 200 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque and can tow up to 3,500 lbs. Crossovers can rival that kind of towing, but for folks without serious towing needs who want the rugged nature and voluminous cargo bed of a truck, it'll do the trick.
The small engine also achieves 19 MPG city and 25 MPG highway, which is quite good for the class. In addition to being more fuel-efficient than most, the engine is inexpensive, allowing the 2021 Chevy Colorado to start at just $25,200 in its base Work Truck trim. Shoppers will be hard-pressed to find a new pickup truck for less.
But if you aren't so worried about costs, then the upgraded 3.6L V6 engine is the best all-around option. 308 hp is about as much power as you can get in this segment, and 275 lb-ft is a solid torque rating. Add in that the engine is paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission that can find more optimal gearing, and the towing capacity of the Colorado is doubled to 7,000 lbs.
Thanks in part to the upgraded transmission, this powertrain doesn't even suffer a big drop in efficiency, making 18 MPG city and 25
MPG highway. That's average for the segment at least and provides satisfying acceleration even at highway speeds. Even drivers without towing demands will likely prefer the way the V6 drives over the base model, and the marginal added cost for this option will easily fall within most budgets.
This is a one of a kind engine in the midsize pickup truck segment. GM's 2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel engine delivers a best-in-class 369 lb-ft of torque at low rpm, resulting in a segment-leading 7,700 lb towing capacity. You literally can't out-tow this thing in any other midsize pickup that is currently available, so if your needs are greater, you should start looking at a full-size truck.
On top of that, the diesel engine is rated at 19 MPG city and 28 MPG highway, providing best-in-class fuel efficiency as well. The only downside to this engine is that its availability is mostly limited to higher-trim crew cab and 4WD models. So while it will save you money at the pump, it will cost you more upfront. But for drivers who need that extra 700 lbs of towing capacity and added range, the diesel option is well worth it.
The highlight of the 2021 Chevy Colorado lineup is the top-trim ZR2 with the Bison package. Unlike most vehicles, the top trim on the Colorado is an off-roading performance machine rather than a luxury model. The 2020 model was Popular Mechanics Editors' Choice for Best Off-Roader and was named Truck of the Year by Overland Journal. Born from a partnership between Chevy and American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), the Bison stands alone in the segment as a rugged, aggressive, purpose-oriented adventurer.
There's a lot going on to make the ZR2 stand above the off-road-oriented Z71 trim. And we mean this literally – the ZR2 comes with a 2" factory lift that makes it tower above the other Colorado trims. IT also looks like it eats the competition for breakfast, with an updated-for-2021 wider and taller grille that features flow-through CHEVROLET markings. Strategically adjusted fenders and front air dams also serve the practical purpose of improving approach angles on top of enhancing the aggressive look of the truck.
Available with a bed-mounted spare tire carrier, sports bars, floodlights, and a new-for-2021 Sand Dune Metallic coat of paint, the ZR2's looks are already awesome, but drivers can add the Bison package from AEV to kick it up a notch. The front bumper gets winch provisions, and the sides gain AEV-designed fender flares and 17" wheels. Fog lights are integrated into the design, and last but not least, skid plates made from hot-stamped boron steel shield critical components such as the differentials and transfer case.
The ZR2 Bison's got the goods to back up its tough looks. Cast-iron control arms will stand up to heavy abuse. Standard electronic locking front and rear differentials allow drivers to optimize the traction achieved by their Bison. However, the best off-road feature on the ZR2 just might be the Multimatic DSSV damping system, which delivers remarkably comfortable and adaptable shock absorption.
The Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve design was the first to use spool valves in shock absorbers for more predictable and accurate speed-dependent damping performance than was otherwise possible. This enables the shocks to be compliant under some conditions and stiff under others, depending on the speed of the compression. Multimatic also made the system position-sensitive by reimagining the positioning of spool valves in the shocks. The outcome is a superb off-road damping system that still handles on-road conditions comfortably.
As a peak level trim, the ZR2 Bison also comes equipped with a full suite of interior comforts like heated front seats and steering wheel, plus wireless charging for compatible smartphones. It's only fitting since the ZR2 starts at $41,600 and the ZR2 Bison at $47,350. Not bad for the best off-roading midsize pickup on the continent.
The highlight of the 2021 Chevy Colorado's interior is the infotainment system. Chevy Infotainment 3 comes standard on all Colorados, and the upgraded Plus version is available on all but the base trim. One of the most intuitive, user-friendly infotainment systems on the market, it also offers more standard features than the competition.
Among these features is universal Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. No Infotainment 3 system has these smartphone integration apps locked behind a trim or package paywall, so every Colorado owner can seamlessly connect their phone to their truck. This brings all of your contacts, music, and select apps onto the 7-inch touchscreen in the center dash.
The Plus version of the system comes with a larger 8-inch screen and enables in-vehicle apps, meaning you don't necessarily need your phone with you. Apps for weather, news, sports, and music are available, as are the myChevrolet App and Marketplace. With the myChevrolet App, you can control some vehicle features from your smartphone or check data such as fuel range or oil life remotely. The Marketplace app allows drivers to use voice commands to place takeout orders, make hotel reservations, and find parking spaces through partnered services available nationwide.
Navigation and simultaneous Bluetooth streaming for two devices are available through the Plus system as well. On top of this, LT trim models and above are 4G Wi-Fi hotspot capable, and can provide streaming for up to seven devices. The Infotainment 3 and Wi-Fi hotspot systems are frequently reviewed as being supremely easy to use, so all drivers can take advantage of the conveniences this awesome package has to offer.