2016 Chevy Colorado Duramax Review: Diesel Power in a Midsize Suit

wheel-to-wheel new car reviews

Chevy Colorado Duramax Diesel
2016 Chevy Colorado Duramax Diesel | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

For all of their utilitarian, hardcore, and testosterone-invigorating flare, large pickup trucks (like the Nissan Titan XD) are very impractical for many people. Garages have to be a certain height and width, petrol stops are expensive and take an eternity due to fuel tanks the size of ocean liners, and both parallel parking spots and open lot spaces alike never truly seem to fit the bill.

Enter the midsize pickup truck, featuring all of the rugged characteristics truck enthusiasts require, but without the compromises that the larger footprint requires. Take the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Crew Cab for example, a spiritual successor to the classic S-10 of yesteryear that features a bolder stance and more advanced off-road capabilities. In a further departure from its forefathers, our tester came to us outfitted with a 2.8-liter Duramax turbo diesel four-cylinder, which bumped the bottom line up almost four grand but made for a very convincing argument as to why small trucks deserve crude too.

Chevy Colorado Crew Short Box
2016 Chevy Colorado Crew Short Box | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Colorado as we know it has existed internationally prior to its arrival Stateside. So as the version made for America continues to receive critical acclaim, we re-evaluate why it presents itself as an everyman machine both in logical design and workhorse capability. For most Chevy enthusiasts, the Z71 has always been the preferred way to go, and if using a pickup to its full potential is your end game, then going the diesel route makes complete sense in the Colorado.

Chevy Colorado Z71 Off-Road
Chevy Colorado Z71 Off-Road | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


In Red Rock Metallic paint, the Z71 Colorado fits the part it has been chosen to play all too well, and with off-road side steps, a spray-on bed liner, and just the right amount of chrome up front, it looks both sharp and sophisticated. Being a Z71 adds some lighting and grille upgrades, and although proportionally the Crew Cab does look a little loaded toward the center line, the Colorado is a great-looking truck. Toss in some functional tools like corner steps, 13 standard bed tie-downs, remote keyless entry, all-terrain tires, and an EZ Lift tailgate, and you’ve got compact pickup practicality for the masses. 

Crew Cab Truck
Crew Cab Truck | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ A balanced ride height, broadly drawn body lines, and a Crew Cab configuration make the short box model shine, while still maintaining a presence that’s big enough to be taken seriously.

+ Useful tools include integrated corner steps in the rear bumper, tow hooks up front, Kevlar reinforced all-terrain tires, 13 bed tie-downs, an EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate, and a smaller set of alloy wheels for slicing through muddy terrain.

+ Since things like LED running lights, fog lamps, and projector headlights already come standard, there’s room to splurge on add-ons like the $250 trailering package, a spray-on bedliner, and side assist steps.

– Even with the Z71 suspension package installed, vehicle ride height is only moderately higher, so watch out for the front undercarriage air dam if off-road adventures come a calling, along with those assist steps. 

2.8-Liter Duramax Diesel
2.8-Liter Duramax Diesel | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


Built entirely in Thailand, the Colorado’s 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder is a bit of a curveball for traditional diesel enthusiasts. The Duramax sports just 181 horsepower, but it out-powers GM’s own V6s by some 100 pound-feet of torque. Add in 7,600 pounds of towing capacity, highway fuel economy that tops 29 miles per gallon, and the option to either choose 2WD or 4Hi/4Lo settings on the fly, and that additional $4,000 doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Tow Control
2016 Chevy Colorado Tow Control | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ 369 foot-pounds of twist and 7,600 pounds of tow capacity are here to help, all courtesy of a four-banger diesel that gets an estimated 20/29 fuel economy average. 

+ Z71 line is both a fun off-road-ready 4×4 and a workhorse.

+ The Hydra-Matic six-speed auto feels seamless in 2WD mode on the highway, and off-road it feeds flawlessly into an electric, two-speed transfer case that in turn connects to a fully locking automatic rear differential. 

– Small-size diesel issues become instantly apparent on the interstate, where low horsepower numbers and a 5,000 RPM redline gyrate to the sound of the engine over-revving.

Chevy Crew Cab Backseat
Chevy Crew Cab Backseat | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet


Cabin comforts on the Colorado are space saving and practical, and in Z71 trim, Chevy offers things like heated front power seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power sliding rear window. Everything you require in a Crew Cab is here, with a profusion of deep storage pockets, sturdy feeling materials, and ample seat space making a convincing argument as to why buyers will like this pickup.

Chevy Colorado Interior
Chevy Colorado Interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ As Crew Cab models go, this is one of the more well thought-out interiors, with full-size adult space and ample storage spots.

+ Rugged toggle switches, chunky control knobs, an over-sized gear selector and door handles, and a power sliding rear window make daily worksite routines easily conquerable, with or without gloves.

+ Heated power seats in the front, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a driver express power window, an auto dimming rearview mirror, and some snazzy cabin lighting are all nicely done. 

The Colorado’s smaller size shows in the backseat, where a lack of simple amenities like over-sized, Gatorade-ready cupholders and a minimally configurable bench design lose points.

– Rear seat belts are non-adjustable, and can cause passenger discomfort as they may rub on one’s lower neckline depending on the person’s stature.

OnStar 4G LTE Touchscreen
OnStar 4G LTE Touchscreen | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

When compared to something like the tech-focused GMC Sierra Denali, the Colorado takes a more mid-range approach to technology even after the MyLink Bose audio upgrade and navi get piped into the standard 8-inch diagonal touchscreen. Fortunately, GM has very engaging and easy to use screen prompts, so both the driver display in between the gauges and the touchscreen itself make infotainment a joy to jump into at any given moment. Add in some key standard features like a sharply-displayed rear camera, remote start, hill descent control, and GM’s proven Stabilitrak rollover protection and traction system, and you’ve got tools you can use every single day.

Chevy Gauge Cluster
Chevy Gauge Cluster | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ The standard GM sweep of 4G LTE Wi-Fi, OnStar, Apple CarPlay, XM Radio, and Bluetooth are all strong selling points. 

+ Six airbags include head curtains for the backseat, while StabiliTrak keeps rollovers at bay and offers the best possible traction. 

+ All things infotainment are easy to access and use, while the addition of four standard USB ports and full instrument panel connectivity make the Z71 line even more attractive.

– No surround view system, wheel angle camera, or undercarriage monitor like the half-ton Titan.

– The brakes felt overly stiff and required unnecessary force, and since GM’s Safety Package with lane departure warnings and collision alerts can only be had on the LT trim line, opting for the more expensive Z71 can have its drawbacks. 

Chevy Colorado Z71 Off-Road
Chevy Colorado Z71 Off-Road | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

The only elephant in the room that really deserves addressing is the horsepower-to-weight ratio that comes pinned to the four-cylinder Duramax diesel and this particular chassis. For all of its low end grunt, 181 peak horsepower is just barely enough to make passes on the interstate possible. Granted, the Duramax diesel and Hydra-Matic SL50 six-speed auto are still a match made in heaven for anyone wanting towing capacity and smooth shifts, but you’ll also find yourself burying the needle during overtakes since revs top out at 5,000 RPM.

Off-road, the Z71 shines, as its tuned suspension package, electric two-speed transfer case, fully automatic locking rear differential, and Kevlar-reinforced all-terrain tires work in tandem with one another. While we could foresee the assist steps and lower air dam getting in the way of rougher trails, the way in which the Z71 handled itself in both 4×4 modes is impressive since it does not have sand, rock, mud, or snow traction settings.

Electronic assistance from the button clad steering wheel was helpful and kept turns taught, visibility was top-notch thanks to the Crew Cab’s large rear windows, and despite its 4×4 inclinations, the ride quality we experienced was surprisingly smooth. Being smaller of stature, we had no issue taking the Colorado to town and parking it where we pleased, with the only complaint encountered being how firm the brake pedal felt.

Chevy Colorado Duramax Diesel
Chevy Colorado Z71 Pickup | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat

Wrap up and review

Despite coming in hot with a $41,905 sticker price, our little 5-foot-2 baby-boxed Colorado made a very strong argument as to why U.S. News ranks it alongside the all-new Honda Ridgeline for first place as best compact pickup truck on the market today. The Duramax four-cylinder diesel engine alone is a huge selling point, and once outfitted on a Z71 model, buyers will find themselves towing and off-roading like never before.

There really was not a lot to dislike about the Colorado. Despite a few small qualms with sporadically-placed cheap interior materials, high-speed interstate lag, and that firm brake pedal feel, the perks of owning a diesel Colorado are hard to ignore. Buyers don’t have to go with the short box either; a 6-foot-2 bed can be easily opted for if extra payload space is required.

The Colorado Z71 Duramax is one of those evolutionary industry moves that seemingly not everyone knows about yet, and because it stands alone in the segment alongside its GMC Canyon cousin, General Motors retains an upper hand in both towing and efficiency. This leaves other automakers with a decision: Do you follow suit and release your own turbo diesel four-banger pickup, or stick with the V6 and hope that GM’s gamble doesn’t pay off?