Diesel engines are synonymous with really big pickups — for very good reason. Compared to gas engines, they produce a lot more power and use a lot less fuel while doing it. While that isn’t a big deal when heading through the McDonald’s drive-through, if you’re towing a fifth-wheel RV big enough to qualify for its own zip code, the fuel savings can be substantial enough to offset the diesel engine’s expensive price premium.
2016 Chevrolet Colorado Diesel Review
Photo Credit: General Motors
Diesel Compact Pickups
Today, diesels also are starting to creep into smaller trucks. Ram introduced the half-ton 1500 EcoDiesel a couple of years back, its primary goal to improve fuel economy (though the towing benefits aren’t bad). And now General Motors is introducing diesels into the compact pickup market in the guise of the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado.
Good Fuel Economy
What sets the diesel-powered Colorado apart is that it is designed for both capability and fuel economy. EPA ratings for the diesel Colorado (which comes exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission) are 22 city/31 highway mpg. Compare that to 19/26 with the gas V-6, or even 20/27 for the gasoline four-cylinder, which isn’t good for hauling much more than a couple of passengers. Advantage: diesel.
Photo Credit: General Motors
Max Towing Figures
But the Colorado Diesel is also a worker: It’ll tow 7,700 lb with two-wheel drive and 7,600 lb with four-wheel drive. Compare that to 7,000 lb with the gas V6 and just 3,500 lb with the gas four-banger.
Furthermore, Chevrolet has equipped every diesel Colorado with both an integrated trailer brake controller (needed to use the electric brakes on a trailer) and an exhaust brake, an accessory without which no self-respecting trailer-towing diesel pickup driver should leave home. (Quick explanation: Using the regular brakes to control the speed of a heavy rig can cause them to overheat, fade and possibly fail, so engine braking is the safe way to go. Gasoline engines have good inherent engine-braking characteristics, but diesels don’t, so they need a little help. An exhaust brake restricts exhaust flow to create backpressure that slows the rig down. Exhaust brakes used to be aftermarket accessories, but most diesel pickups now offer them from the factory.)
The engine Chevy is using is-a 2.8 liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel that was developed in conjunction with Italian engine maker VM. (VM and GM used to be partners; VM is now owned by Fiat-Chrysler, but General Motors retained the rights to its version of the engine.) Output is 181 horsepower, and while that may not sound like a whole heck of a lot, it’s the torque that counts: 369 lb-ft, about what you’d get out of a small gasoline V-8.
Despite all that torque on tap, the Colorado doesn’t feel terribly quick. The difference comes when you hitch on a heavy trailer or fill up the bed. While gas engines can struggle under heavy loads, the diesel digs in its hooves and pulls like an ox.
Still, there’s more to towing than engine capacity. The Duramax is still a relatively small truck, and it’s not a rock-solid towing platform like a three-quarter-ton truck. Personally, while I am liberal in my political views, I am a conservative when it comes to towing. I prefer to stay well under max rating and wouldn’t want to tow more than 5,000 lb or so with the Duramax. (One must keep in mind the relatively short wheelbase, which limits stability with a longer trailer.) Still, even with my self-imposed safety cushion, the diesel Duramax would be great for towing moderately sized boats as well as smaller travel and horse trailers. And it would certainly do a better (and more fuel-efficient) job than a small gas truck.
Alone at the Top
For now, the Colorado diesel stands alone in its field: Toyota has just redesigned its Tacoma pickup, and while it will definitely please the Toyota‘s large and loyal fan base, the company has no plans for anything other than conventional gasoline engines. Nissan has hinted at a diesel version of its next-generation Frontier and is in the process of launching the full-size 2016 Titan XD with Cummins diesel power. While a Cummins-powered compact is not out of the question, it would be quite a while before it hits the market.
Great Little Truck
That makes the Colorado the only choice for a small diesel-powered pickup—and the best choice for a small fuel-efficient pickup (though if you’re considering it purely for cost savings, bear in mind that the diesel costs $3,730 more than the gas V6 and up to $4,965 more than the gas four-banger). But I don’t mean to imply that you should buy the Colorado diesel because it’s the only choice. GM should be applauded for addressing both fuel economy and towing capability, and I think the Colorado Diesel is a great little truck.