Holden's updated Colorado tackles Thailand's toughest terrain
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Frankly, there is not a lot of news to relate about the new 2020 Holden Colorados. The alpha-model Holden ute, the nebulously named Z71, gets more areas blacked out, fender flares, extra underbody protection, a soft-drop tail-gate and a durable spray-on covering for the load tray bed all for no change in the $51,490 price.
There’s the new LSX model at $44,490, but it’s mainly a dress-up of the existing LS base model, and just 30 will be built. So why did a group of select motoring media including Driven receive an invite to Thailand to sample these new utes?
Was it the three nights of strange beds in exotic locations? The challenging 4WD climb into the mountains of the Loei hinterland? Meals with a lingering 30-minute aftertaste, thanks to the spices?
All of the above. However, I’ll always jump at the chance to drive a new Colorado no matter how lightly warmed the upgrade. It’s the ute that I’d buy, and here are the reasons.
First: steering. The Holden is the best steer in the pick-up sector because it has the cleverest software guiding the assistance of the electric power steering system. There’s an algorithm embedded in the bits and bytes that activates when the front wheels hit bumps and makes fine steering adjustments without passing those bumps through to the driver’s hands.
Last time I drove a Colorado in New Zealand, it had a 2.7 tonne caravan on the back, and the steering made the journey a lot easier, keeping the big rig tracking straight whatever the road surface or camber.
This time, the same algorithm showed its worth during a rugged climb into the high-altitude territory of the Hmong hill tribe in north-eastern Thailand. The Colorado I drove would hit large obstacles such as rocks, ruts and tree roots, but there wasn’t any of the violent steering wheel movement often seen in some utes.
The Hmong once chose to farm these remote ranges because of the privacy it gave to their main cash-crop — opium. As the Colorados climbed into what was once a battlefield of the war on drugs, it was a nice surprise to see steep fields of cabbages and strawberries instead, plus a forest re-planting programme. But it’s the former use of these savagely uplifted hills that gives some idea of the remote adventures that a capable pick-up truck such as the Holden can motivate.
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It’s little wonder then that utes comprise 70 per cent of the traffic of regional Thailand, given the needs of these remote hill farmers to fertilise and harvest their crops. The utes also often carry huge loads of hay-bales, stacked three times higher than the roof of the vehicle. Which leads nicely to its next great attribute: a big payload afforded by the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) allowance.
Basically, GVM is the total maximum weight of the vehicle once it is loaded with people and payload.
If a ute has a lighter powertrain than many of its rivals, as the Holden does, yet retains a chassis and suspension built for hard work, more of the GVM rating can be allocated to the stuff that the ute can carry. In other words, a Colorado, powered by a four-cylinder diesel and a six-speed automatic gearbox, can cart more load than one powered by a V6 or five-cylinder engine with a heavier 7-, 8-, or 10-speed transmission.
Yet the Holden isn’t short of grunt despite the GVM efficiency permitted by the lighter powertrain. The 2.8l Duramax engine develops a whopping 500Nm with near instant access to that peak. That’s because the shift calibration of the six-speed automatic to the 2.8 is spot on, and a Colorado with two driving pedals always quickly selects a ratio that keeps the turbocharger spooled and boosted. Nowhere is it more apparent than in Thailand, where the 2.5l Colorado has more lag and less-than-stellar gearshift programming. Thank you, Holden Australasia’s engineering input.
I’d love to say that the most challenging part of the Colorado “jungle drive” – the rock-infested, 1500m climb up Pha Tud Hill at a trajectory more associated with aircraft was hard, and involved winches, spades, and the help of a cast of thousands. But it wasn’t, and it didn’t. The Colorados all reached the top without breaking a sweat, helped by the lowness of their low ratios, their firm-but-flexible suspension, and the limited-slip rear differentials that are now a unique selling point in the New Zealand ute sector.
Like many other utes sold here, right-hook Colorados are made in Thailand. And driving them in that domestic-market context offers a new perspective on the Holden ute range. They have to be tough given everything that a Hmong hill farmer will put them through, but an overlay of Australasian engineering expertise takes that toughness and puts it in a tuxedo.