Chevrolet Colorado Duramax is a thrifty, torquey diesel runabout

With its blend of efficiency, smoothness and strength, the Chevrolet Colorado Duramax has us asking, "What took so long?"

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
5 min read

A third engine option joins the gasoline powerplants beneath the hood of Chevrolet's (and GMC's) mid-sized pickup trucks: a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel engine that I was recently able to test at the heart of the torquey and fairly efficient 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Duramax.

The Duramax is a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and, at 2.8-liters, it's a fairly high displacement for a four-banger. The Duramax is also the only diesel engine currently offered in all of North America's mid-sized pickup truck class, which includes the likes of the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.

With a red line of around 5,000 rpm and just 181 peak horsepower, this engine boasts lower hp than the base 2.5-liter Ecotec gasoline option. It's not a high revver, but it is a strong puller. Peak torque is stated at an impressive 369 pound-feet, significantly more grunt than the Colorado's 3.6-liter gasoline engine's 269 peak pound-feet and available low in the power band at just 2,000 rpm. Additionally, the engine can burn B20 biodiesel.

Though it has less stated horsepower than the base 2.5-liter model, the Duramax has a 100 pound-foot advantage over the larger gasoline V-6. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

That torque works its way to the ground via a Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic transmission and either a rear-wheel or all-wheel drive system. No manual transmission option will be offered with the diesel, nor will any body style aside from the crew cab.

From a handling perspective, the Colorado Duramax rides identically to the gasoline variants of the platform. I like to describe it as a truckish ride with car-like steering. The leaf spring suspension tends to crash over bumps rather than soak them up, particularly when its bed is empty, but the truck never feels unstable and never rattles. I especially like the nimble steering and surprisingly small turning radius.

As you may have guessed from the specs, however, the nature of the Duramax's acceleration is a bit different from the gasoline models. Off the line, the diesel seems to pull harder for the first few miles per hour, but then the truck starts to feel less lively at speed than I remember the gasoline model being. This engine is more of a long distance runner, not a sprinter. It also feels better suited for low-rev cruising and confident towing than high speed thrills and stoplight drag races.

One thing the Duramax and the gasoline V-6 engines have in common is their transmissions' hesitation to downshift and accelerate once settled into a tall cruising gear. The diesel somewhat makes up for the laggard gearbox with pure torque: In many cases, it simply doesn't need to downshift to make a smooth pass.

Chevrolet Colorado Duramax sips diesel, makes 369 lb-ft of torque (pictures)

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With more torque on tap (and a standard towing package for Duramax models) the diesel can pull more weight than a similarly equipped gasoline Colorado V-6. In its 4x2 configuration, the Duramax can heave 7,700 pounds or 7,600 pounds for 4x4 models. That's up to 700 pounds more than the petrol-powered pickup.

The diesel engine, to my ear, seems fairly loud -- the direct injection tick at idle and induction whoosh on acceleration stand out in my memory and my notes -- but Chevy's truck nerds tell me that the sound is not significantly louder from the direct injected V-6. Without a gasoline model on hand to compare with, I'll take their word for it.

No doubt, much of the early hype leading up to the Colorado Duramax launch was to do with its improved efficiency. Typically diesels are good at low-rev cruising and excel in highway efficiency. The Colorado comes to the clean diesel game with tricks like cooled exhaust-gas recirculation, diesel exhaust fluid injection and more in hopes of keeping the miles per gallon high and emissions low.

During my my testing of a few Colorado Duramax models with varying loadouts, I averaged between 27.6 and 31.3 mpg. The tested models included a rear-wheel drive model with a vinyl bed cover and a loaded-up 4x4 Z71 model with Trail Boss off-road upgrades. Interestingly, I got better economy with the 4x4 Trail Boss, but my testing, which included sharing the road with heavy bicycle traffic and some impromptu performance driving, wasn't exactly scientific.

A new Z71 Trail Boss package outfits the Colorado with all-terrain tires, a roll bar and auxiliary LED trail lighting. It looks very boss. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Official economy estimates are not available at time of publication, but my numbers were, more or less, in line with the 30-plus highway mpg ballpark GM expects from EPA at the end of its official evaluation.

The V-6 will do 26 mpg on the highway, which is still pretty good. With gasoline prices as low as they are and diesel fuel often being more expensive per gallon, it ever so slightly dulls the diesel's economic edge. (However, gasoline and diesel prices fluctuate and vary by region, so this may not always be the case.) You will also have to refill the diesel exhaust fluid canister at each oil change to keep the truck emissions-friendly. That's one extra step (and expense) that gasoline drivers won't have to worry about.

One final advantage that the Colorado holds over the heads of its competition is the excellent MyLink infotainment and navigation offerings, and the Duramax is no exception.

The rugged Colorado is no dumb brute. It's outfitted with some of the best tech in the class, including Apple CarPlay and, coming next year, Android Auto. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

There's Apple CarPlay and Siri Eyes Free for iPhone fans. The vehicle also has OnStar 4G LTE data for those who like their tech baked in. There's an excellent and responsive interface with a fairly well fleshed-out driver aid suite, including lane departure alerts, forward collision warning and more. The 2016 Colorado Duramax will also be among the Chevy models to receive an update adding Android Auto connectivity in March 2016, taking its excellent tech to exceptional levels.

At $31,700 to start for the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Duramax, the diesel crew cab carries about a $3,730 premium over an identically equipped gasoline V-6 model. With a significant jump in mpg over the gasoline model, it will likely pay for itself in a few years time. In the meanwhile, Duramax drivers can enjoy that big bump in torque.

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