2017 Holden Colorado: Research & development drive

2017 Holden Colorado: First drive

For its 2017 model updates, engineers from General Motors, including Holden personnel, have pulled the Colorado/Colorado 7 apart and put it back together with revised and new parts from one end to the other.

Some of the changes are global, while others are specific to the Australian-delivered Colorado and upcoming Trailblazer. 4X4 Australia got an exclusive chance to sample the upgrades prior to the car’s launch, which will be in mid-August.

Since its release in 2012 the Colorado has sold reasonably well, though without ever worrying the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger in a highly competitive and ever-growing ute market. The Colorado’s wagon sibling, the Colorado 7 – soon to be renamed the Trailblazer – has been less of a success.

2017 Holden Colorado rearAfter the Commodore, the Colorado is Holden’s best-selling model and will become more significant in Holden’s product mix once local production of the Commodore shuts down, late in 2017. Holden buyers looking for a two-wheel drive ute then won’t be able to buy the Commodore-based ute, which may boost the slow-selling Colorado 4x2s. And if buyers don’t take to the next-generation European-sourced front-drive Commodore in the same numbers as they do the current locally built rear-driver, then the Colorado could well be Holden’s best-selling vehicle.

With this in mind GM’s engineers, including Holden personnel, have pulled the Colorado/Colorado 7 apart and put it back together with revised and new parts from one end to the other. Some of the changes are global, while others are specific to the Australian-delivered Colorado and upcoming Trailblazer. To be frank, the Colorado needed a major overhaul as it fell short of competitor utes – particularly the VW Amarok and the Ford Ranger – in a number of key areas.

CHANGES start with a relocation of the engine’s balance shafts, which are designed to counter the inherent dynamic imbalance of all inline four-cylinder engines.

2017 Holden Colorado driving on a roadIn the case of the Colorado’s 2.8-litre diesel (see Italian Job breakout below) the twin shafts, located in the usual position under the crankshaft, have been moved forward 10cm. This change, along with newly designed engine and transmission mounts, is designed to address the much-criticised harsh feel of the current engine.

On top of this, Australian models get additional engine soundproofing to address the engine’s noise issues, including an injector insulator, metal timing cover and an
oil-pan insulator.

Australian models also get a new torque converter for the six-speed auto that incorporates a centrifugal pendulum absorber, which allows the torque converter to lock up earlier and more often and makes for smoother shifts. Meanwhile, again for Australian models, the way-too-tall gearing of the six-speed auto has been addressed with the final-drive ratio shortened a significant amount from 3.73:1 to 4.1:1.

2017 Holden Colorado sideChassis changes start with the adoption of electric power steering (EPS) in place of the hydraulic power steering, a change that mirrors the Ford Ranger – although Holden says it was working on EPS well before news broke that Ford was working on the same thing for the Ranger.

EPS is becoming popular these days, because not having to use power to drive a hydraulic pump results in marginal fuel savings, and fuel economy is one of the current holy grails of new-car design. EPS also allows the steering weight to be varied almost infinitely so you can enjoy both light and quick steering at parking speeds and slower, weightier steering at highway speeds.

Suspension calibration has been addressed with generally softer springs across the front of all ute variants matched to a beefier front sway bar. The wagon’s front springs and sway bar remain unchanged but, like the ute, there are new dampers all ’round. New OEM Bridgestone tyres bring lower rolling resistance, a softer ride and improved wet-weather performance.

2017 Holden Colorado frontThe chassis control systems for both on- and off-road driving have been recalibrated. In particular, trailer-sway, electronic traction and hill-descent control systems have been tweaked. These changes are aimed at improving off-road performance for 4x4 variants.

As before, the Colorado retains a rear mechanical limited-slip diff in addition to ETC, which Holden says works better in situations such as turning out of a corner on a wet bitumen road. The mechanical limited slipper prevents the inner wheel from spinning, which means the potentially power-robbing ETC is not activated.

Additional changes aimed at improving general running refinement and NVH include a new body-mount system. Compression mounts were previously used on all ute variants and the wagon, but now a mixture of compression and shear mounts are used. Dual-cab utes and the wagon have eight mounts each, while single and extended-cabs have six mounts each.

2017 Holden Colorado rear driving fastRevised roof mouldings, exterior mirror mounts, door seals, sliding glass channels, B-pillar inserts and a thicker windscreen also improve refinement.

New or updated safety features include a driver’s knee airbag, a range-standard reversing camera and high-end active safety features such as collision alert, blind-spot monitoring, plus tyre-pressure monitoring on selected models. Holden’s hoping for a five-star ANCAP rating – currently only applied to dual-cabs and the wagon – across all variants.

The interior and dash have been revised, though we didn’t get to see this or the exterior redesign on this drive. Holden has since released the photos you see here.

2017 Holden Colorado interiorWhat we know is satellite navigation is now embedded, which means you don’t have to rely on a silly phone app for navigation. Some models will also get remote start and auto headlights with LED daytime running lamps. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also part of a revised MyLink infotainment system.

THE sneak preview of Holden’s MY17 Colorado was held over two days, initially at Holden’s proving ground at Lang Lang and then on Victorian country roads and forest trails. Along for the drive was Holden’s engineering team, Jeremy Tassone (vehicle development manager), Amelinda Watt (lead development engineer), Rob Trubiani (vehicle dynamics specialist) and Tony Metaxas (chassis control specialist).

We had access to a MY16 dual-cab for comparison purposes, an ‘integration’ wagon, a ‘pre-production’ dual-cab and a ‘manufacturing validation’ dual-cab, which was the closest of the four to a full-production vehicle.

High speed drivingHighlights at Lang Lang included a violent lane-change at 180km/h on the high-speed bowl and an equally violent ESP ADR validation swerve manoeuvre initiated by robot control. But the real test came on the on- and off-road drive, where the across-the-board changes could be felt.

Most impressive was the new EPS, which is light and quick at slow speed, with a nice on-road feel. The engine is noticeable quieter and smoother and the gearing of the manual much more real-world usable. The ride quality and general refinement, especially at slower speed on rough roads and trails, is also much improved.

Despite now meeting Euro 5 emissions standards (helped by the addition of a diesel particulate filter) the claimed power and torque figures – 147kW/500Nm (auto) and 147kW/440Nm (manual) – remain unchanged.

2017 Holden Colorado carsNot that this is an issue, as the Colorado (at least with the popular six-speed auto) is the fastest accelerating diesel ute in its class, helped in part by being lighter than its key rivals. The manual, despite having less torque than the auto, feels more spritely again – even more so with the shorter final-drive gearing.

That the Colorado is a better thing than before is not in doubt, though the acid test will be how it stacks up against the opposition – namely the best-selling Hilux and Ranger. We will only know how that pans out when we line up the MY17 Colorado in a multi-ute comparison test!

Seismic Shift

Holden colorado red rearWHEN the current-generation Holden Colorado debuted in 2012 it represented a seismic shift in General Motors’ global approach to the light-truck market. No longer would GM look to Japanese manufacturer Isuzu for product in this market sector as it had previously done with vehicles such as the Rodeo and the first generation Colorado. Instead, it would build its own ute.

To this end GM mustered its global resources, including engineers from Holden, and corralled them in its Brazilian division headquarters. And after six years and two-and-a-half million test kilometres carried out in South America and four other continents, Holden produced a ute it would sell around the world.

This change from Isuzu-sourced to in-house development came about due to GM selling the last of its interest in Isuzu in 2006, a company it had held a one-third stake in since 1972 (and a controlling interest from 1999 to 2002). Isuzu was still involved in the development of this new ute but as a junior rather than a senior partner. Indeed, the current Isuzu D-Max shares its basic body shell and chassis with the Colorado but differs in powertrain, suspension details, bodywork and interior fit-out.

Italian Job

Holden colorado uteTHE Colorado ute and its wagon sibling are both powered by 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel from Italian diesel engine specialist VM Motori. Why? Because up until 2013 General Motors had a 50 per cent stake in VM Motori. Since 2013 VM Motori has been 100 per cent owned by Fiat Powertrain Technologies, which in turn is owned by the Fiat Group. The Fiat Group also owns Chrysler, which is why VM Motori diesel engines appear in a number of Jeep models including the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee.

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