I’m typing an email on a laptop from the driver’s seat of a Chevy Colorado truck, in the parking lot of an organic grocery store in Nyack, New York. This is remarkable for a few reasons: One, a single parking space is enough to accommodate the truck, so I’m not getting the stink eye from the kale-smoothie set; and two, despite the fact that the Colorado is a midsize pickup — a category where technology has been an afterthought — it features gadgetry like 4G WiFi, making this dispatch possible.
Despite their real-world utility — they’re easier to maneuver and cheaper to fuel than full-size trucks — midsize pickups have languished in the U.S. We used to dig them: In 1999 alone, Ford sold nearly 350,000 Rangers. But in the supersize decade that followed, folks who would have considered a small truck for lugging bikes and the occasional 4×8 either went for showier full-size ones or opted for a booming array of SUVs and crossovers. In 2011, Ford nixed the Ranger, and Dodge killed off its Dakota. Nissan soldiered on with its Frontier, and Toyota with its soon-to-be-updated Tacoma, but they’ve been left to ride out the better part of the decade with geriatric power trains, rudimentary tech, and cabins that make a ski gondola seem plush.
The addition of GM’s tech-loaded trucks — the Chevy Colorado and the GMC Canyon, near identical stablemates built on the same Missouri assembly line — is making the midsize market interesting. GM seems to be betting that buyers are ready to stop equating size with value, and that maybe they don’t need a towing capacity robust enough to haul Michael Moore’s mansion across Michigan. Or maybe someone in Dearborn picked up an issue of Modern Farmer and discovered there’s a new wave of urban transplants who lust after pickups but don’t want to give up the creature comforts of their Lexus.
Whatever the case, the twin trucks should be a hit. Over four days wending through New York’s Hudson Valley, I found the Colorado remarkably stress-free to pilot, whether in the aforementioned parking lot, where its shortened 41-foot turning radius beats some full-size models’ by 10 feet, or on the harrowing Taconic State Parkway, where its lively steering communicated more like a crossover’s. Manners aside, these are serious trucks: Their 3.6-liter V-6s yield 305 horsepower each, with torque (269 lb-ft) smoothly delivered via an unflappable six-speed automatic. With the V-6, the Colorado and the Canyon can tow a 7,000-pound boat — nearly what a full-size Silverado could manage a decade ago. Both are also available with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder (191 lb-ft), with a turbodiesel coming later this year.
They’re not lacking in polish, either. Both trucks boast refinements that were previously available only on bigger, pricier pickups.
Triple-sealed doors make the cabin so quiet you can almost hear Howard Stern lick his lips over satellite radio. Cameras are employed to warn of lane departures or impending collisions — and can assist you in backing up to a trailer. An optional eight-inch touchscreen lets you send texts by talking to Siri. And if you choose to pay for it, there’s that 4G WiFi connection, which uses a big antenna to nab a faster data pipeline in more extreme places than your cellphone can.
So while they might classify as “lifestyle” trucks, the Colorado and the Canyon are the most capable examples ever. In other words, there’s no longer shame in the smaller pickup.