Dropping off the kids at school in the morning is like driving onto an SUV runway. Usually stressed for time, I hunt for a spot among the sparkly, three-row utility vehicles that line the street.
My mom dropped me off in a minivan years ago, but SUVs and crossovers are the new modern mommy mobile.
On a recent jaunt to the Stagecoach country music festival in Indio, Calif. — without kids — I tried something new. I took the wheel of amidsize pickup for the weekend adventure.
It’s a bit of a drive from Long Beach, Calif., about 130 miles depending on the final destination within the Coachella Valley. But Riverside traffic is a staple.
I raced home from work on a Friday and loaded the truck in a fury. Since my journey required no gear other than toiletries and casual concert threads, I used the back bench to store my weekender. Admittedly the absence of car seats put me in a single-girl state of mind.
I hurriedly drove toward the freeway in the Colorado, a white two-wheel drive LT crew cab with a short box on loan from General Motors. The base price for the truck is $28,815.
The 5-foot bed would fit a short surfboard if I were venturing to the beach. A snowboard and skis would fit too, but I would not take this truck to the snow without four-wheel drive capability.
My Colorado delivered more of an urban experience. It was upgraded with the Redline special edition appearance package, which costs an additional $2,725. It comes with a spray-on bed liner, 18-inch black aluminum wheels with red racing stripes and all-season black-wall tires. The Chevrolet “bowtie” badging is blacked out, and there are red recovery hooks under the grille. The door panels and tailgate have “Colorado” inscribed on them in black and red lettering. It also has sporty off-road step bars.
The Redline option is available on most of Chevrolet’s lineup, including the Camaro. It’s meant to convey an aftermarket-like street appeal, and it does. My favorite aspect was the red detailing throughout, especially the stripes on the wheels. It felt like the truck dressed for the occasion.
The running boards were slightly perplexing. They looked cool, but as a tall person, my foot instinctively stepped over them to the ground. Functionally, they’d be more useful on a full-size truck or large SUV. They aren’t needed on a midsize pickup.
Underneath its jazzy surface, the Colorado was outfitted with a 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel four-cylinder engine that makes 181 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a pricey optional package that nears $5,000.
Such a large investment in a diesel engine will never pay back in fuel savings compared with its gasoline counterpart, but the fuel economy is impressive.
I started the trip with a full tank, which holds approximately 21 gallons of fuel, according to GM. The distance of my adventure totaled 350 miles, which was spent mostly on the highway but also included a light mix of streets and mountain driving. My average mpg for the whole trip was 29.5. When I returned home, more than half a tank of fuel and 250 miles of range remained.
The stop-and-go commute toward the Inland Empire is never pleasant. The pickup comfortably wedged itself into the mix of trucks and SUVs on California 91 and provided adequate visibility for lane changes.
There’s no active driver-assist safety technology — like adaptive cruise control — on the Colorado that eases driver fatigue associated with road congestion. There is a $395 safety package that includes forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning. In my opinion they don’t do much for safety because they’re small car-shaped icons embedded in the bottom of the instrument cluster that require the driver’s eyes to move away from the road.
And they definitely don’t do anything to relieve traffic.
The seats are comfortable enough. I’m not sure how relaxed back-row passengers would be in the bench seat, however. At this point in the drive, my seat was pushed far back, leaving little legroom for any adult riding behind me. I decided the cramped backseat is best used as a purse bench. Perhaps the single girl life is where this truck belongs.
The cupholders also are bafflingly small. The two in the console were tight, but not as teeny as the spares in the door that could only handle a 6.5-ounce– Starbucks double espresso can. I relegated my 34-ounce Smart Water bottle to the purse bench.
The infotainment system was intuitive, typical of the interface in most GM brands. A home button quickly takes the user back to a screen that categorizes music from navigation. Pluses include the truck’s built in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and its Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. That’s all I ever use anymore. A random smattering of country music from my iPhone played over the speakers, readying me for the music festival.
A good test of the truck is the approach to the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm. This well-known windmill-laden “gateway” into the Coachella Valley is one of the windiest spots in Southern California.
The Colorado was mostly unaffected by the forceful gusts of wind encapsulating the truck as it sped down the highway. This, however, is where the truck begged for weight in the bed. It felt rickety as it barreled over cracks in the road.
But on a winding drive up the Palms to Pines scenic byway, the Colorado was a champ. The suspension was less of a concern as I headed south on California 74 and was confronted with an immediate ascent and a series of sharply angled switchbacks. The single-lane road sits right on the edge of the mountain so there’s no room for error.
I was intimidated by the initial climb, but I relaxed as the Colorado drove with confidence. The diesel engine powered steadily up the road. The truck’s steering was responsive, making the twists and turns feel comfortable.
In addition to the Redline package and diesel engine, this Colorado had rear-locking differential and a trailering package. Without four-wheel drive, boulder crawling is out. But the diesel engine coupled with both utility add-ons would make camping an easy option.
It also tows up to 7,700 pounds, providing enough muscle to pull a boat.
Outdoor excursions tend to be dirty. Be wary of the cloth seats the basic Redline package offers. Though they are black, cloth is hard to keep clean. A luxury Redline package with leather-appointed seats is an additional $900.
As configured, the Colorado Redline special edition with the diesel engine costs $39,455. It’s a hefty chunk of change, but affordable to those willing to spring for the versatility the pickup offers.
For a would-be single girl on a whirlwind weekend trip, the Colorado checked all the boxes. It had fashion-forward flair, it got me where I needed to be and it fit all my stuff.
As a mom, everything left over from single life eventually gets swapped out for something bigger. The Colorado would top that list.