Colorado a thoroughly decent family truck

Holden Colorado 7: This kingfisher blue isn't its best colour, but it's a handsome enough beast, in a rugged sort of way.
Holden Colorado 7: This kingfisher blue isn't its best colour, but it's a handsome enough beast, in a rugged sort of way.
Wrap-around rear design: It's a very effective way of turning a work truck into a useful seven-seat family SUV.
Wrap-around rear design: It's a very effective way of turning a work truck into a useful seven-seat family SUV.
Load volume: There is a step when the seats are folded, but the sapce is huge and those seats will take adults quite easily.
Load volume: There is a step when the seats are folded, but the sapce is huge and those seats will take adults quite easily.
Impressive cabin: Some shiny plastics, but the equipment, dash details and quality velour are hard to fault.
Impressive cabin: Some shiny plastics, but the equipment, dash details and quality velour are hard to fault.
Middle row: lots of space and legroom and it belies the Colorado 7's truck origins remarkably well.
Middle row: lots of space and legroom and it belies the Colorado 7's truck origins remarkably well.

Colorado 7 sounds like one of those montage westerns with Steve McQueen, Lee Van Cleef and their mates righting wrongs in the badlands.

Drivetrain: Common rail turbodiesel 2.8-litre DOHC 16v four, six-speed automatic, high-low range, selectable 2/4WD.
Output: Max 132kW at 3800rpm, 470Nm from 2000rpm, 9.4L/100km (8.6L/100km observed), 252g/km CO 2.
Chassis: Front double wishbone suspension, rear five-link live axle setup. 16 inch alloys LT, 18-inch LT.
Safety: Six airbags, ABS with traction control, stability control, and hill descent control, five-start NCAP safety.
Dimensions: L 4878mm, W 2132mm, H 1834-1847mm W/base 2845mm, Ground clearance 219-231mm, F/track 1570mm, R/track 1588mm, weight 2072 to 2098kg, fuel 76L.
Pricing: Colorado LT $62,900, LTZ $66,900.
Hot: Chunky styling; seven-up accommodation; easy driving on and off road; great spec and price.
Not: Clearance difference from LT to LTZ; some diesel noise; low refinement levels.
Verdict: For its purpose, the Colorado 7 is as honest as they come and a thoroughly decent family truck.
 After a few days in Holden's tough new 4x4 wagon, plugging around in places I wouldn't have taken a powder-puff SUV, I felt that, if I found a .44 Peacemaker in the glovebox, I wouldn't have been at all surprised.

It makes you feel a little intrepid from the get-go. It's quite a tall order in terms of getting into it and being a proper full-frame all-wheel-drive SUV makes it a rare bird these days as the crossover/SUV market goes almost wholesale into monocoque designs.

In the United States, the market's strongest performer, the Ford Explorer, has gone that way and this was treated almost as heresy by those who actually use their family trucks to go off road which, unlike Australia and New Zealand, is a tiny percentage.

So much has the market moved in Australia and New Zealand that even market stalwart Holden has done without a serious high/low range SUV off-roader since the Jackaroo - aka Isuzu Trooper - disappeared from showrooms 10 years ago.

With the five- and seven-seater Captivas selling like hot cakes and winning the gong last year as New Zealand's second most popular single car model, I was surprised to see a Holden badge on what GM calls its Colorado 7 - that's 7 for seven-seats - when the South American designed, Thai-built unit was announced last year.

The Colorado 7 is, as you'd imagine, a derivative of the company's new work ute - also launched last year - but with the family or crew-oriented luxury of seven seats, a station wagon body and a degree of comfort and equipment, even without going to the top of the range, that scrubs up very well, considering how good this truck is off road.

I trust Holden will forgive me for calling the 7 a truck, but apart from its extra seating and cleverly contrived wrap-around rear glazed load area, that's what it is.

Which is why I bonded so well with the beast.

It's an honest-to-goodness family/work combination that will do the hard yards as well as the back yards, with a trusty, though slightly noisy, diesel power unit, a decidedly sharp-shifting six-speed automatic with

"active select" manual override and, when you need it, shift on the fly selection of two and all-wheel-drive and the ability to pick between high and low range. There's also a limited slip differential.

Unlike the Jackaroos of old, there's no choice of power unit for the Colorado 7, and that's as it should be.

Diesels provide better lugging ability for off-roading than petrol units and, with modern engine-management systems and six ratios through which to drive the car, its highway performance is flexible, punchy and relaxed enough at less than 2000rpm/100kmh in top, to sip the gas to the tune of 800 kilometres a 76-litre tankful of diesel if you're not too heavy-footed.

Holden quotes around 9.4L/100km in its literature, and I can only suggest that those are Australian figures based on their higher open-road speed limits, for my top-up figure suggested closer to 8.6L/100km overall with open road, off-road work and commuting part of my drive plan.

The diesel used by the Colorado is the larger of the two units employed by its even more working-class cousin, the Colorado ute.

It's a 2.8-litre DOHC 16-valve common-rail turbodiesel four, known impressively as the Duramax, with maximum power of 132kW at 3800rpm and a lusty 470Nm of torque on tap from 2000rpm. The Colorado 7 can easily cope with seven occupants, while Holden rates it as being compatible with towing up to 750kg unbraked and 3000kg braked.

Out there in competitors' showrooms, only the Mitsubishi Challenger and the Nissan Pathfinder offer high-low range selection all-wheel driving in the Colorado 7's sub-$70,000 price slot and, with the Pathfinder going to an all-new transverse front-engined monocoque platform later this year, the Challenger will soon be the 7's only, erm, challenger.

There are two levels of trim for the 7. The entry-point model is the LT which offers plush velour and twill trim, and 16-inch alloy wheels, while the LTZ clads its interior with leather and a few decorative metallic slivers and fronts up with 18-inch alloy wheels which give it 231mm ground clearance compared with the smaller wheeled LT model's 219mm.

A reversing camera with overlaid guidelines on the rear-view mirror is standard on both the LT and LTZ models, as is Bluetooth and USB connectivity and cruise control. A six-speaker stereo system is fitted to the LT while the LTZ has eight speakers and climate-control compared with the base car's simpler manual airconditioning.

Although it's clearly based on the Colorado utility, the chassis of the new 7 has been engineered independently with a bias towards passenger comfort and refinement. There are independent double wishbones up front while at the rear a five-link live axle suspension setup is used.

The chassis is a useful off-road groper, though the independent front-end can lose some clearance in rough going, something that doesn't occur if you have a beam axle at both ends rather than just in the rear, as is the Colorado's case.

However, peer under the car and there's plenty of protection and while you might hear the odd metallic "ting" when scraping around as I did, you won't hurt anything important.

But I would have liked the extra clearance that comes with the heftier-tyred LTZ model for, when the going gets tough, that 12 millimetres would be handy.

But that's grumbling; the willingness of the 2.8-litre diesel and it's flexibility at low revolutions means that difficult off-roading is disarmingly easy. The Colorado will trickle along at idle or just above on steep uphill sections where you don't want to break traction, walking its way slowly in low-range, second-slot with no sign of stalling or running out of momentum. It imbues great confidence and knowing that, in this price bracket and the one above, there's little to compete with this tidy combination of comfort and seriously competent off-road credentials, Holden has inserted its Colorado 7 into a segment that genuinely needs it.

In search of some mud in what has been a very dry spell, I found an area on the Waimakariri in which to give the Holden a burl and, while its flashy Kingfisher blue flanks got very grubby, it managed well on all surfaces. I didn't get to test its wading ability but, making a transverse track along a bank, I could appreciate its traction and feel. It's a good rock-hopper among a raft of pretenders.

Washing down the Colorado 7 after its dirty work, I noted the door seals were tight enough to stop dust and mud from getting any closer to the interior than the sills.

This is just as well as the seven-seat cabin of the LT is clad in mid-grey velour. It's a material that's easy enough to dab clean when muddy and a cinch to vacuum, but it looked so good I didn't want to sully it.

It's easy on tired backsides too and, as facings on seats afforded good shape and support, I couldn't see what benefit the top LTZ model's leather trim would offer. The leather is very pleasant and I like power operation, but the fabric covering prevents sliding when in precarious situations off road and it is warmer to the touch. Maybe the car I want is the LT with the LTZ's wheels - please Mr Holden can you do that for me?

Holden says there are more than 30 storage cubbies around the cabin. I managed to find 24, and it has to be said that you could lose a lot of stuff as a result. But that's good news if you're tidier than me.

Passengers are treated well in all three rows of seats. The two front chairs are obviously built for those blokes who feature in the outsized men's part of the RM Williams catalogue and they're supremely comfortable (I'm that size, see!)

The second row splits and/or tumbles in a 60:40 format for extra load space should you need it, but they can also be made to recline to a nice, restful six degrees and, if there are just two of you sitting there, a central arm with drink slots is there to separate you.

The rear-most row of two seats can take adults, too. They won't be quite as cosy as those five in front of them but, in the industry's third-row pecking order, the Colorado's seats are far better than the padded laptops some makers offer.

The sixth and seventh seat bench splits 50:50 and, when seven people are seated, they leave a relatively small load volume of 235 litres. This increases to 878 litres to seat-top height when the back row is tumbled - they don't fold flat into the floor, sadly, thanks to those chassis rails, while a massive 1780 to 1830 litres of load volume is available if you respectively fold or tumble the second row - again to seat-top level only, not to the ceiling.

Speaking of ceilings, the Holden's rooflining has additional controls and vents for its rear-cabin passengers and it was a real boon in our drought conditions in 30-plus degrees Celsius heat.

On the road, it's unlikely that the Colorado 7's occupants would tell that this is a work truck-based SUV. The tell-tale pitching isn't there, while the beast will traverse road bumps and holes without wrenching the wheelrim from your hands. Also, the car's general ride qualities are surprisingly comfortable and, while you're always aware of its height, it doesn't mind being turned briskly into corners. Braking performance is especially pleasing and the vehicle's demeanour suggests that a different skill set was ordered up for this vehicle than the utility with which it shares its name.

For all that, the diesel engine was always evident, but I don't have a problem with that. It's punchy, likes to yawn along at low revs and doesn't make any more racket at 100kmh than it does at half that, and manages to sprint very healthily to 100kmh in about 10.5 seconds and that's quick enough for me.

The Colorado is a vehicle that you warm to. It's not often that I genuinely regret having to hand a vehicle back to its distributors, but I did with the 7. It does everything it says on the tin, plus a bit more. If there's a way of categorising the car, placed as it is among some pretty useful road-biased soft-roaders, it's that it's the one you pick when there are hard yards to do.

As a mate asked me: "Is it the kind of car you'd loot from the showroom the week before that rapidly closing meteor turns us all into survivalists?"

Well, yes, it probably is.

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