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Chevy’s sporty Colorado brings a smile on twisty roads

By Bruce W. Smith - Editorial Services LLC

It’s called Tortilla Flat, and for the engineers at General Motor’s Desert Proving Grounds, in Mesa, Arizona, this historical mining town on the edge of the Superstition Mountains just East of Mesa is a welcome treat from the barren 4,500-acre landscape they call home while testing the future generations of GM vehicles.

So it was no surprise that when the opportunity came to let a few journalists flog the daylights out of the new Colorado Sport the “off-site” destination was Tortilla Flats and the five miles of serpentine two-lane road leading from there to where the pavement turns to dirt as it continues on toward Roosevelt Dam some 15 miles farther east.

What the majority of us didn’t know was the first automobile to pass through Tortilla Flats along the “Apache Trail” (Hwy 88)  was a 1905 Knox with a then state-of-the-art 20-horsepower horizontally opposed, air-cooled engine similar to what powered the original VW Beetle. 

Here, a 100 years later, we’re cruising through the three-building town in Chevy Colorados with state-of-the-art 220-horsepower inline five-cylinders. Not only that, but the Colorados we were driving are faster in first gear than the Knox was flat out. 

That in itself made the drive up the narrow, twisting switchbacks along Highway 88, one of America's most beautiful highways, that much more fun.

The Colorados we were driving were the Regular Cab and Extended Cab Sport models that come standard with the low-slung and sporty tuned ZQ8 suspensions, quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, and Conti tires designed specifically for Chevy’s newest and coolest compact pickup and it is not available from GMC.

One of the first things you notice about the Colorado is its stance—low and wide.

The Colorado Sport utilizes Bilstein gas-charged shocks, sport-ratio coil springs in the front, leaf-springs in the rear, and a 21mm anti-sway bar anchoring the solid rear axle housing.

The Sport also comes with fat 50-series Conti skins wrapped around 17x8-inch wheels, and an optional traction control system ($295) that includes a G80 locking differential ($270). (Both are highly recommended items if you like to play on the street or on the slalom courses.)

The next item to catch one’s attention is when you settle into the bucket seats. There’s enough seat adjustment and legroom to make it easy for the six-foot-six driver to be quite comfortable; a feat for a small pickup.

Then there’s that first shift with the new Aisin five-speed. The gates are tight and throw short. This transmission is much more reminiscent of a sports car rather than a truck.

Making that first turn of the steering wheel adds to the pickup’s sportiness. The Sport model has a faster ratio rack-and-pinion, which means fewer turns lock-to-lock.

So it takes very little movement in the hands to make a transition from one lane to the other—or to make a rapid steering correction when one of those infamous decreasing radius hairpin turns out of Tortilla Flats catches you by surprise.

Such turns also makes one appreciate the great brake pedal feel and stopping ability of this mid-sized pickup when the strong pulling power of the inline five-cylinder gets you into a corner quicker than you anticipated.

All that makes the Colorado Sport a lot of fun to drive quickly. It’ll stay on the exhaust tip of the Pontiac Vibe GT and run away from the V-6 Mustangs and a handful of other sporty rides that cost as much or more.

It’ll also stay head-to-head at the gas pump. The optional Vortec 3500 I-5 ($1,000), which we were driving, delivers 220 ponies and an estimated EPA rating of 18 city/22 highway. Coupled with the 19.6-gallon fuel tank and you should be able to run 400 miles before a fill-up.

In dollars-per-pound of fun, the rear-wheel-drive Colorado Sport LS ($19,255-$24,000) is flat out hard to beat. Lest one forget it can carry a half-ton of cargo and tow two-tons of toys. Try that in a Vibe GT or a Mustang.—Bruce W. Smith

Basic Specifications:  2004 Colorado Sport Extended Cab LS

Base Price: $19,255
Price as tested: $24,200 (loaded)
Suspension:  ZQ8 (Sport)
Engine: 220hp DOHC Vortec 3500 I-5  (opt)
Transmission: Aisin 5spd manual (std)
Fuel tank: 19.6 gal
Axle ratio: 3.73:1 w/ G80 (opt) locking diff
Brakes: front disc/rear drum w/ABS
Traction control: yes (opt)
EPA fuel economy:  18 city / 23 hwy
Max Tow rating:  3,600 lbs.
Payload: 1,654 lbs

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