ZR2 Bison, turbodiesel help 2021 Chevrolet Colorado stand out. Is that enough in the compact-pickup arena?

2021 Chevrolet Colorado

What changes will make the 2021 Chevrolet Colorado different?

Likely very little after Chevrolet updated the 2020 version of its compact pickup truck. The 2021 Colorado should carry over those changes, which included discontinuation of some trim levels and revised availability of a few convenience features. Indeed, expect the Colorado to continue with no major revisions to styling, drivetrains, or features until its next redesign, likely for model-year 2022 or 2023.

Today’s Colorado, along with the mechanically similar GMC Canyon, originated as trucks designed for sale primarily in Southeast Asia and South America. It came to North America for model-year 2015 and has since been joined by the rival Ford Ranger (also an immigrant from overseas) and the Jeep Gladiator.

The segment’s undisputed sales leader is the Toyota Tacoma, but the Colorado has remained a healthy No. 2 thanks to a model line with wide appeal, competitive prices, and a laudable balance of performance and comfort.

Note that driving impressions in this review are based on tests of the 2019 Colorado. Changes Chevy made for model-year 2020 were not significant enough to alter our subjective conclusions. In areas where the ’21 might be different, we reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy the 2020?

No reason to wait since the ’21 isn’t apt to improve over the 2020. In fact, we encourage you to consider a 2019 Colorado. Dealers had plenty on hand, even as Chevy started delivering 2020 models. That portends some attractive discounts as dealers look to clear inventories on a 2019 Colorado that’s essentially the same as a 2020 — or even a ‘21.

You’ll want to take advantage of any savings you can because Chevrolet doesn’t incentivize the Colorado as heavily as it does its larger Silverado 1500 pickup. In many cases, the full-size Silverado is cheaper once you factor in those discounts, especially if you pit one against a lavishly equipped Colorado. For many buyers, the smaller pickup better suits their needs, regardless. But this pricing overlap is something to consider. It holds for the Canyon and the full-size GMC Sierra, and even for the Ranger and Ford’s full-size F-150 pickup.

If Colorado is what you need, expect the 2021 lineup to reprise four models: utilitarian Work Truck (WT), fancier LT, and off-road-oriented Z71 and ZR2. Four- and six-cylinder gas engines will return, along with a torquey turbodiesel four-cylinder.

Also back will be two body styles: the two-door extended cab with half-sized rear-hinged back doors and the crew cab with four conventional doors. Extended cabs seat four passengers, crew cabs five. Both will again offer a 6-foot, 2-inch-long cargo bed (Chevy calls it the Long Box). The 2021 Colorado Crew Cab will also remain available with a 5-foot, 2-inch bed (called the Short Box).

You’ll again have a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (4WD). Expect WT, LT, and Z71 models to employ part-time 4WD that isn’t designed to remain engaged on dry pavement. The ’21 ZR2 will return with full-time 4WD that can be left engaged on any surface. Both systems will again feature low range gearing for heavy-duty off-road use.

Will the styling be different?

Not until the redesign. Colorado’s angular forms can seem awkward from some angles, but overall, it might appeal to buyers not so interested in the “truckier” look of rivals like the Gladiator, Ranger, Nissan Frontier, even the GMC Canyon.

The 2021 Colorado Z71 and ZR2 models will retain suspensions elevated to provide more ground clearance; the ZR2 will also have off-road-oriented tires. Colorado’s ultimate go-anywhere version will again be the ZR2 Bison Edition. Expected to again be priced at $5,750, the Bison package includes upfit equipment from American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) in the form of a unique grille and bumpers, specific wheels, protective underbody skid plates for the fuel tank and differentials, and Bison/AEV badging on the exterior and interior.

Dress-up packages for the ZR2 and other 2021 Colorado models are expected to again include the Dusk and Midnight special editions ($3,215 each for 2020) with off-road lights and gloss-black exterior body addenda. The RST and Redline special editions ($2,995 and $2,680, respectively) should again be available on the LT and include similar appearance items.

Unfortunately, the 2021 Colorado’s interior design will remain a mixed bag of strong ergonomics and weedy materials. Grant it points for clear instrumentation, simple climate controls, and an intuitive infotainment system. All grades will again include support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Base and WT versions should return with a 7-inch touchscreen display while all other Colorado models get an 8-inch unit.

Subtract points for surfaces swathed in hard plastics and budget-grade vinyl, for cheap-feeling switchgear, and for a dull overall ambiance. At least the cabin should be easy to clean after a WT puts in a day at the worksite or a ZR2 spends the afternoon on a muddy trail.

In all models, front-seat comfort will again be fine. With accommodations amounting to little more than two jump seats, the rear compartment of the ’21 Colorado extended cab will remain more suited to cargo than people. The crew cab’s bench seat is really only large enough for two adults and even then, room and comfort are commensurate with that of a compact sedan. If you want a compact pickup with an adult-friendly rear seat, look to the Gladiator or to the class leader in this department, the Honda Ridgeline.

Any mechanical changes?

None expected. For 2021, the standard engine for all but the ZR2 will again be a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. It’ll pair with a six-speed automatic transmission (the six-speed manual previously standard was discontinued for 2019). This base drivetrain is sluggish in all scenarios and not worth considering unless you need a pickup and are seriously cash strapped. In that case, a Base grade Colorado with its under-$25,000 starting price makes some sense.

The overwhelming majority of 2021 Colorado buyers will again opt for the available V-6. It’s a 3.6-liter that’ll again produce 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. Power delivery with this engine is strong and very smooth, aided by the sole transmission paired with it, a smartly tuned eight-speed automatic.

Colorado and Canyon are about to lose their compact-pickup-truck monopoly on a diesel engine. Jeep plans to introduce one for the Gladiator, perhaps during model-year 2020, and Ford is reportedly considering a diesel option for the Ranger, maybe for 2021. Meanwhile, the ’21 Colorado will again offer a 2.8-liter turbocharged diesel four-cylinder with 186 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. It’ll again team with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Our most recent Colorado test truck was equipped with the turbodiesel. We appreciated its near-instant torque when accelerating from a stop. And it’s a great fit for severe off-road duty, with more than enough low-speed muscle to climb rocks or power through mud. It also can tow 7,700 pounds.

The diesel doesn’t smoke or smell, but it is very loud at idle and when accelerating. Its ruckus never fully goes away at cruising speeds (it’s actually more audible than the road roar from the Bison’s knobby tires). Still, prodigious torque and excellent fuel economy make it an option worth your consideration.

For the best overall road manners in this segment, look to the Ridgeline, which rides and handles like a unibody crossover SUV, which, essentially, it is. Everything else in the class uses traditional, truck-like body-on-frame construction and among these, the Colorado is the leader for bump absorption and cornering poise. With an empty bed, rough roads still cause the tail to skip and jitter, and fast turns prompt noticeably body lean and noseplow. But that’s true – to an even more pronounced degree – of every other true pickup in this competitive set.

Will fuel economy improve?

Don’t count on it. Being a carryover model, the 2021 Colorado’s EPA ratings should be unchanged from those of the 2020 model.

Among rear-drive models, expect 2021 Colorados with the 2.5-liter engine to rate 20/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined, those with the V-6 to rate 18/25/20, and those with the turbodiesel 20/30/23 mpg.

Non-ZR2 models with 4WD should again rate 19/24/21 mpg with the gas four-cylinder engine, 17/24/19 with the V-6, and 19/21/21 with the diesel.

The 4WD ZR2’s extra height and high-rolling-resistance tires should again lower ratings to 16/18/17 mpg with the V-6 and 18/22/19 with the diesel. In our suburban test loop, however, a diesel ZR2 Bison averaged an outstanding 24.2 mpg.

Gas-powered 2021 Colorados will again use regular-grade 87-octane fuel. The diesel engine employs an exhaust-treatment system with a urea-based fluid that requires periodic replenishment. This can be done by the owner and does not require a trip to the dealer.

Will there be new features?

Unlikely. Chevrolet tweaked the model roster and feature set for 2020, and it’s a safe bet the ’21 will be a carryover.

The rear-wheel drive Z71 version in extended- and crew-cab long box form was discontinued for 2020 and isn’t apt to return. Among other changes expected to carry over, a remote locking tailgate was a new option for the WT and standard equipment on the LT, Z71, and ZR2. Dampening for the tailgate, which makes it easier to raise and lower, became standard on the LT where it had previously been optional.

A Safety Package that includes important driver aids, such as forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning, became available on the Z71 where it was previously optional only on the LT. That’ll continue for 2021.

Chevy should again offer a Base grade intended for fleet buyers in which the sole standout features will again be the 7-inch infotainment screen with CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as cutouts in the corners of the rear bumper to ease access to the bed. Retail-customer models will again begin with the WT and it’ll again add carpet to the floor but will not otherwise be materially different than the Base for standard equipment. It will, however, be available with more factory options.

The 2021 Colorado LT will again have body-color bumpers, mirror caps, and door handles, 8-inch infotainment screen, remote entry, high-resolution rearview camera, and a power driver’s seat. The Z71 will again include an off-road suspension, locking rear differential, specific wheels, automatic climate control, power front-passenger seat, heated steering wheel, remote engine start, and wireless smartphone charging.

The ’21 Colorado ZR2 will return with a unique off-road suspension with an additional 2 inches of ride height, dynamic suspension dampers, additional underbody protection, spray-on bedliner, and leather upholstery with heated front seats.

Will 2021 prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly increase, but probably only marginally. With a wide variety of trim levels and body styles available, we will for reference list base-price ranges for the 2020 Colorado. Including $1,095 destination fee, the lineup spanned $22,395 for the rear-drive Base extended cab to $44,095 for the 4WD crew cab ZR2.

Options can quickly escalate sticker prices. Most features are part of packages. We mentioned some of the appearance items above.

The $1,850 Power Package for V-6 models includes performance air intake and exhaust systems. The turbodiesel engine is a $3,730 option and one that could eventually pay for itself in fuel savings, if our real-world mileage is any indication.

The WT Custom Special Edition ($2,050), which adds body-color exterior bits and 18-inch aluminum wheels. The WT Convenience Package ($530) adds remote entry, cruise control, and dampened tailgate.

Some LT options include the Luxury Package ($1,080), which adds a power front-passenger seat, automatic climate control, and heated steering wheel. The Convenience Package ($685) includes a sliding rear window with defroster and heated exterior mirrors. The Safety Package includes forward collision alert and lane-departure warning. Other driver assists, such as adaptive radar cruise control and autonomous emergency braking are not available on the 2020 and likely will not be so until the next-generation Colorado debuts.

The Z71 has a Trail Runner Special Edition Package ($2,990), which makes the truck look similar to the ZR2 Bison, with the special grille and underbody protection.

When does it come out?

The 2021 Chevrolet Colorado is expected to have a release date in the fall of 2020.

Best competitors

Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Jeep Gladiator, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]