If you want a pickup that’s more manageable and maneuverable—and perhaps more fuel-efficient—than a full-size truck, the market is gradually coming back to life. And the recently redesigned Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma are both examples of this trend.
With these two models—as well as the GMC Canyon, which is nearly identical to the Colorado—shoppers now have a set of relatively modern, well-conceived (albeit perhaps closer to mid-size than compact) alternatives to going large. Both models offer a choice of four-cylinder and V-6 engines, and the usual vast menu of cab and bed sizes, trim levels, and equipment packages; but there are some key differences between these two models.
Which should you choose? It depends on why you’re buying a truck, as well as your expectations about features and cabin appointments. These two trucks take very different approaches, and you’ll want to read on to understand some key points.
We choose the Chevrolet Colorado, given its obvious strengths in powertrains and ride comfort, and its unflappable towing and hauling numbers. (Note: our rating system has changed for the 2017 model year.)
Exterior styling is probably the closest place of overlap for these two trucks. Both build on some of the cues of their compact-truck predecessors but also embody something of the taller, blocker, more imposing look of today’s full-size trucks. While the Chevrolet Colorado continues that likeness to full-size trucks inside, the Tacoma takes more of a conservative tack, very closely riffing on previous Tacoma layouts and keeping it simple, almost stark.
Likewise, the clear difference in interior-layout philosophies has resulted in some very different seating and ride-comfort realities in these trucks. The Chevrolet Colorado has great seats that are widely adjustable and have thigh support good enough for all-day drives. Ride comfort tends to be reasonably good, too, and these are very quiet trucks inside. On the other hand, the latest Toyota Tacoma feels a bit like it carried forth with old-style pickup cabin proportions. The driver’s seat doesn’t adjust for height or tilt, and there’s not a whole lot of headroom. Ride comfort definitely tends to be a notch or two on the busy side compared to the Chevy.
What’s under the hood of these trucks is comparable. In each, the flagship models are powered by strong V-6 engines. But at the base level, the Colorado has a four-cylinder engine—a 200-hp, 2.5-liter—that feels far stronger for everyday-driving situations than the 159-hp, 2.7-liter four in the Tacoma.
Go for the V-6 engine and these two trucks are far closer in performance. The Tacoma’s 3.6-liter V-6 makes 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, and is paired only with a six-speed automatic transmission. Meanwhile, the 2016 Toyota Tacoma goes with a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 278 hp and 285 pound-feet and also feels very strong and quick. The Tacoma V-6’s faster-reacting transmission gives a slight edge as we see it, as the automatic in the Colorado doesn’t quite live up to their potential due to slurred shifts.
But the Colorado does have a secret weapon in its pickup war chest: the fuel-efficient pulling power of a new 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that makes a whopping 369 pound-feet of torque at just 2,000 rpm—good for serious tow ratings up to 7,700 pounds (versus 7,000 with the V-6) and near-effortless acceleration with a load, or up grades, often without the neeed for dramatic downshifts.
The Duramax diesel returns up to an EPA-rated 22 mpg city, 31 mpg, which makes that version of the Colorado the most fuel-efficient pickup in the U.S. market. For this reason, it’s also the far better choice for towing, in this competitive set. Four-cylinder, 2WD versions of the Colorado earn a still-impressive 20/27 mpg, while these models both get about 20 mpg combined in V-6 form.
The Tacoma comes closest to offering some of the charm of the old compact trucks, in the form of a base four-cylinder model with rear-wheel drive and a amnual transmission. It also has a strong following among weekend-warrior off-road types who really push the capabilities of their vehicles; and that’s where Toyota really shines with the current Tacoma, which has been tweaked and specially packaged with those enthusiasts in mind. The special TRD Off Road model isn’t cheap at around $35k, but it has a well-matched set of hardward designed to get through some of the most challenging terrain—and it includes a new Multi-Terrain Select system for fine-tunred settings, plus a system that will even automatically ‘pulse’ you out when you’re stuck in sand or mud.
For 2017, the Tacoma is now available in a range-topping TRD Pro trim that sets the bar even higher for off roading. With a 1-inch suspension lift, Fox shocks, beefier skid plates, and all-terrain tires with Kevlar-reinforcement, it is rivaled only by the Jeep Wrangler.
The Colorado’s interior is about the best in its class. Its MyLink infotainment system has Apple CarPlay, for easy mirroring of some iPhone and iPad apps, and it’s one of the most intuitive systems on the market. The Tacoma also has a pretty good touch-screen system, with Siri Eyes Free compativility. But you’ll find that many items that are trickling down to mid-size trucks—like ventilated or cooled front seats, heated rear seats, seat memory settings, smart cruise control, and forward collision systems—simply aren’t available on any Tacoma. Both of these trucks offer dozens of accessories—although the Tacoma offers a clever standard GoPro mount that’s going to appeal to the active off-road crowd.
There are many, many differences in these trucks; but to us it mostly comes down to this, we think: If you place your emphasis on off-road ability, longevity, and/or loyalty to the Toyota brand, the Tacoma is the one you should get. But if you truly expect your mid-size truck to emulate full-size trucks from inside the cabin—and not have glaring sacrifices in comfort or packaging—then the Chevrolet Colorado is definitely the way to go.
Follow The Car Connection on Facebook and Twitter.