When Chevrolet announced that the Colorado pickup truck would return to the United States with more power, utility and efficiency than ever, it almost seemed too good to be true. With fuel economy that matched many midsize sedans and up to 7,700 pounds of towing capacity, the Chevy’s midsize truck was a winner even before anyone sat inside the spacious and technology-filled cabin.
Once the Colorado arrived for the 2015 model year the awards began to pour in. It won Motor Trend’s coveted Truck of the Year Award in 2015 and then again in 2016 when Chevy launched the turbodiesel model. The Colorado was also a finalist for the North American Truck of the Year award in 2015, coming in second only to the all-new Ford F-150 with its aluminum construction. If you’re going to come in second, it seems only fitting that it is to a radical redesign of the best-selling vehicle of all time.
The segment’s best-selling Toyota Tacoma is the longtime midsize pickup truck favorite. Known for reliability, excellent utility and great value, the all-new 2016 Tacoma represents excellent value for consumers in the showroom. It also promises decades of relatively trouble-free ownership.
The parallels of the Colorado and Tacoma are almost uncanny. In 2005, Toyota moved the Tacoma upstream, redesigning it as a bigger, more powerful midsize truck. The move was well-received by consumers and the 2005 model was the recipient of Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award.
For 2016, Toyota picked up the gauntlet thrown by Chevy and presented an all-new version of the ever best-selling midsizer. Available in an almost unbelievable 29 configurations, the 2016 Tacoma takes the company’s trusty formula to the next step with a bolder design, added utility and enhanced technology. While it is still a little too early to know if the new model will retain the sales crown, it is of interest that the 2015 Tacoma authoritatively outsold the Chevy Colorado and its GMC Canyon twin even though it was in the last year of a 10-year-old generation. The award-winning and all-new Colorado and Canyon only sold 114,507 units to the aging Tacoma’s 179,562 sales.
In today’s blog we will take a quick look at the two top-selling midsize pickup trucks and see if one has a decided advantage over the other, or if it all boils down to personal preference and applications.
Engine Options and Performance
The 2016 Chevrolet Colorado is offered with two gasoline-powered engines and a new-for-2016 turbodiesel. The base power plant is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. The 2.5-liter inline-four is rated up to 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. When properly equipped, towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma is offered with two different gasoline-powered engines. The Tacoma’s base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet torque. The base Tacoma is rated at 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. Towing capacity is identical to the base Colorado at 3,500 pounds.
Both the Colorado and Tacoma are offered with a V6 engine. The Colorado is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces a healthy 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. When powered by the V6, the Colorado is rated at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway and can tow up to 7,000 pounds.
The Tacoma’s new, 3.5-liter V6 gains a respectable 42 horsepower over the 2015 model’s engine, generating 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. The rear-wheel-drive V6 Tacoma achieves 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The V6-powered Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds.
For 2016, the Colorado is also available with a powerful and fuel-efficient Duramax 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine. Horsepower is rated at 181 and the torque is an outrageous 369 pound-feet, which equates to a best-in-class 7,700 pounds of towing capacity.
Both the Colorado and Tacoma are easy to drive and comfortable on the road. While the Colorado shows the greatest improvement over the outgoing model, both are improved for the new generation. Unlike many full-size pickup trucks, the Colorado and Tacoma are small enough to fit into many normal parking spaces, even parallel parking is relatively easy once you get familiar with each truck. Highway cruising is comfortable and V6 and diesel variants make quick work of passing. Thanks again to the smaller footprint, both trucks are easier to navigate in city traffic than their full-size counterparts.
The Colorado utilizes four-wheel disc brakes while the Tacoma continues to use front disc and rear drum brakes. Still, most tests reveal that the Tacoma takes less time to stop even with the antiquated system. Which leads us to the question that Toyota engineers probably ask themselves regularly, “Why fix what isn’t broken?”
The four-cylinder trucks are typically fleet favorites, or for individuals more interested in crossing long highway stretches than carrying large loads and maximizing towing capabilities. While the Colorado’s numbers eclipse the Tacoma, the two trucks have power that feels about the same on the road and the towing capacities are nearly equal. While the Toyota’s proven 2.7-liter engine is hard to criticize, very few power plants can boast the four-cylinder’s reliability, the 2.5-liter Colorado does beat the Tacoma on the highway by 4 mpg. The increased economy is enough to give the four-cylinder Colorado the win for those looking for a truck capable of tacking on the highway miles.
Whether or not the new Colorado’s engine is as trouble-free as the Tacoma’s remains to be seen, but we do know that the Tacoma is certain to hold its value better. The Tacoma is one of the slowest depreciating vehicles on the road.
The vast majority of Tacomas sold are of the V6 variety, the off-road capability, increased towing capacity and enhanced driving dynamics make the V6-powered Tacoma a compelling purchase. The Tacoma’s 29 different configurations make the choices almost endless. The V6-powered Tacoma Limited Double Cab with a long bed is an excellent option for a family who needs a go-anywhere vehicle that can tow, haul and still feel civilized on the highway. Higher trim models include complex off-road systems like Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control, which take the Tacoma’s off-road prowess to a level that few owners will likely ever need, but it is there if you do and certainly counts as a plus in our shoot-out.
The V6-powered Colorado has a sizeable advantage over the Tacoma in the horsepower category and a slight edge in torque. The Colorado also beats the comparably equipped Tacoma with better fuel economy, but the 1 mpg advantage in city and on the highway isn’t enough to sway a decision one way or the other all by itself. It is important to note that both the new Tacoma and Colorado offer more horsepower and better gas mileage than a comparably equipped Nissan Frontier, although the Nissan beats both with 281 pound-feet of torque. Of course, the Colorado’s 2.8-liter diesel generates a lot more, and opting for the turbodiesel essentially equates to bringing a gun to knife fight.
In real-world applications, the V6-powered Colorado accelerates more quickly, provides a little more towing capacity, is better at highway passing and frankly, feels more disciplined while doing all of these chores. That doesn’t mean that Toyota isn’t a great performer, as its advanced off-road technology makes it a better option for that weekend off-road trek that you’ve been planning with your buddies. Still, everyone is likely going to fight over who can drive and ride in tech-filled Colorado on the way to the off-road adventure.
Comfort and Interior Quality
The cabin of the 2016 Tacoma has been completely redesigned for the new model year. Toyota’s fit and finish are nearly impeccable, and the inside of the Tacoma will likely continue to look great for almost as long as the engine continues to run. There is a good chance that the Tacoma’s interior will make five or six owners quite happy before it is finally retired to the junkyard.
The new Tacoma is quieter than previous models on the road. Both Toyota and Chevy have done an excellent job taming road noise, making either a good choice as a daily driver. The Tacoma’s seating position is a bit odd, while not as low and uncomfortable as previous generations, the new seat height is a bit hit or miss depending on the driver.
While not quite up to the Tacoma’s overall quality, a comparably equipped Colorado’s cabin is bigger than the Tacoma’s in almost every way, including over 3 inches of additional legroom and headroom. Finding a comfortable driving position was easier in the Colorado for me, but others may find the opposite to be true.
Picking a clear winner for the interior is almost impossible. If you are more interested in usable space and a comfortable driving position, the Colorado is a clear choice. However, the Tacoma’s overall fit and finish are in a league all of its own. In truth, neither is luxurious, but both are comfortable and certainly have premium touches.
Midsize Truck Technology
Toyota does an excellent job loading their base level vehicles with standard technology. The SR Tacoma includes a 6.1-inch touch screen, a six-speaker audio system, satellite radio and USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The base Colorado includes a 4.2-inch touch screen with a USB port, but no Bluetooth wireless connectivity. For the base model at least, Toyota has it all over Chevy.
However, moving up into the higher trim levels is where the Colorado separates itself from the Tacoma. The Chevy’s 8-inch touch screen is easy to use and powerful. The system includes support for Apple CarPlay and enhances smartphone capability through a 4G LTE data connection. The Colorado also includes Chevy’s powerful OnStar system that allows you to contact live support 24 hours a day for help with directions, finding a restaurant, booking a hotel and much more.
After spending a week with both the Colorado and Toyota, I found the top-trim Tacoma to feel a little dated when it came to technology. The Colorado’s ample USB ports and Wi-Fi connectivity make the midsize truck a clear favorite with my teenagers and the modern infotainment system won me over time and again.
Colorado and Tacoma Pricing
The base 2016 Toyota Tacoma SR automatic with the extended cab (Access Cab) basically seats two adults and has two smaller foldaway seats in the back. It comes with the four-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission for a starting price of $23,300. Opting for a manual transmission and four-wheel drive raises the price to $24,825.
The base 2016 Chevrolet Colorado extended cab, which has essentially the same layout as the Tacoma Access Cab, starts at $20,100 and comes with the four-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission. The lowest-priced Colorado with four-wheel drive is the WT model, starting at $27,385.
The top-trim Tacoma Limited with four-wheel drive and a five-passenger, four-door Double Cab starts at $38,180. It includes the V6 engine and automatic transmission. The Limited trim includes leather seating, a power moonroof, push-button start, a 7-inch touch-screen JBL audio system, dual-zone climate control, navigation, advanced off-road features and more.
Chevrolet’s top-of-the-line Colorado is a five-passenger, four-door crew cab with the V6, automatic transmission, four-wheel drive and a long bed. So equipped, the Colorado Z71 starts at $36,035. The top-trim Z71 model includes cloth and leatherette seating, the 8-inch infotainment system, OnStar with a 4G LTE data connection, remote start and more.
Picking a value leader is difficult for numerous reasons. The Colorado appears to be the future of the midsize pickup segment with high-end technology, superior power and better interior space. However, the Tacoma has the edge as a long-term investment with a better history of reliability. Further, even though the Chevrolet is priced lower at both the base and top trim levels, pricing does not tell the whole story. The Tacoma’s standard features at the base price are superior and loading up the Colorado with the equivalent features will just about even out the bottom line.
If power, technology and interior space are your top preferences, the Colorado is tough to beat. However, if you’re more interested in a proven powertrain and better interior quality, the Tacoma is the way to go. For an inexpensive entry-level pickup, the low-cost base Colorado is unbeatable and a top-pick winner.
Of course there is the third choice, the Colorado diesel. The diesel beats all the models with fuel economy ratings and towing power and can be loaded up with all kinds of luxury and off-road goodies. Just beware of the cost, adding the turbodiesel tacks $4,155 on to the Colorado Z71’s price tag, but earns the outsider the top prize in our shootout.