Sometimes a few days behind the wheel of a car isn’t enough to put it to a genuine test. At EFTM we decided that was the case for the all new Holden Colorado, so we sent Chris Bowen to outback NSW on a several thousand kilometre road trip.
For years now I’ve seized every opportunity possible to indulge in my favourite pasttime with my mates, “The Road Trip”. From a Sydney base, expeditions have forged a path to far flung destinations such as Adelaide, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Broken Hill and everywhere in between.
For these adventures, an ’89 Honda Prelude or my own highly unreliable Audi 90 crammed with three blokes and camping equipment did the job, if only just.
But personally the standout and now legendary drive experience for me involves a biannual pilgrimage to an insignificant spec on the map called Quambone. It’s a small settlement 54km west of Coonamble on the Central Western Plains of NSW. Since 2005 a group of work colleagues and I have been fortunate to be invited onto a 9000 acre combined cattle / wheat property just outside of what we colloquially call “The Bone”.
No ageing 1980’s era relics were used during our numerous visits to The Bone. Way back in 05 a VZ Commodore station wagon performed admirably, except when inexplicably a rear tyre rolled off the rim (EFTM’s very own Trevor Long can explain that one).
Then there was the VZ V6 Holden Adventra (oh how we wish for a VE variant). A burnt Orange Hummer H3 suffered an ungracious blow to its ego one year after playing chicken with a roo.
Then we had the weakest of the bunch in the form of a Captiva Maxx, the supposed sporty flagship of the Captiva range when they launched. Only problem was it was slightly less powerful the model below it. I think they sold four of them.
This year, we found ourselves in the new Holden Colorado. Our test model was the LX 4WD Crew Cab Chassis matched to a 5 speed manual. There’s certainly a Colorado to suit every need, the combinations and choices available are mind boggling.
However don’t expect a petrol model, it’s an all diesel lineup simply because very few opted for the petrol variant in years gone by. Ours was equipped with a snorkel, Holden endorsed aluminium tray, black tinted bonnet shield which really enhanced the stocky front end. Slimline window weather-shields and a tow bar were also thrown in. Essentially, it was the most appropriate package possible for this kind of trip.
So at the crack of dawn, three of us piled into the very basic Colorado cabin while a small load of suitcases, overnight bags and empty esky’s were secured to the primitive tray. The simple but quite firm cloth seats didn’t fill me with confidence given the imminent seven hour trip.
This feeling was amplified when I looked at the dash. Honestly, it looks like it’s been constructed out of Lego. Cheap flimsy plastic is everywhere. Some hidey holes and storage areas either refuse to open or simply detach themselves from their mounts entirely. The pop out drink holders located at either end of the dash are handy but at the expense of obstructing the air vent behind it. Not good during a 38 degree scorcher.
It’s a simple life in the LX spec, with no climate control, a 1980s blue dot matrix display for the stereo system (which surprisingly pumped out some decent sound) and good ole rotary dials to control everything. I’ll go out on a limb here – it made me feel a little nostalgic.
Changing from fresh air to recycle mode involves sliding a lever across and you could actually hear the thud of vents closing or opening deep behind the dash. I wasn’t personally offended by what was presented but Ford and VW have done much better. If you want a little more bling upgrade to the LT or flagship LTX models.
During the 2000 kms I spent behind the wheel, I don’t recall any squeaks or rattles inside the cabin. The rear tray jiggles and moves around aplenty but internally it’s put together well but with materials that are clearly built to a price.
Having said all that GM have spent billions developing this as a global utility, so there are obviously some serious advancements. Today it’s expected a vehicle such as this is equipped with life saving features that rival passenger cars. ESC, airbags all round and passenger side seatbelt reminder are all standard.
Also standard are Bluetooth (no direct streaming), cruise control, USB / AUX ports and wheel mounted controls. Callers to my iPhone using the Bluetooth connection frequently complained about the quality of the sound though. You can adjust the microphone level through the stereo system but this achieved little.
For the 4X4 crowd, selecting 4H is a breeze and can be performed at speed whenever required. Only 4L requires a complete stop and neutral engaged before it’s available.
On the road
From Windsor we took the dubious Bells Line of Road towards Lithgow. It’s a winding and narrow two lane alternate route across the Blue Mountains. Our unfortunate backseat passenger quickly started to lose track of the horizon and the inevitable queasiness set it.
The Colorado bounces and lurches around corners and simply lacks the more refined stability and finesse of the Ford Ranger. In fact it takes very little to produce a howling screeching chorus of protest from the stock Bridgestone Dueler H/T tyres. The leaf sprung rear end definitely benefited from heavier loads in the days to come.
Once we dispatched with the Great Dividing Range things started to settle down a little. Sticking to the Castlereagh Hwy we cruised passed the rolling vineyard covered hills of Mudgee and the amusingly named Dunedoo (actually an Aboriginal name for Swan). After a pit stop at Gilgandra where the Newell, Oxley and Castlereagh Hwy’s meet we then headed off for Coonamble via Gulargambone.
The weathered tin Galah sculptures leading into and out of the township stood as further reminder to one of my mates that we really were “out there”. But we are talking about a bloke who has only been west of Sydney’s ANZAC bridge on a handful of occasions.
After lining our stomachs it was time to hit the final stage of our journey, Quambone Rd. I noted with interest the local council has in recent times decided to paint centre divider line markings, which is probably a good idea. However whoever was given the task must have been drinking as they seem to meander all over the road!
At the heart of the Colorado is a 2.8 litre Duramax turbo-diesel and it’s a fine albeit noisy unit. It’s muscular and very capable with 132kW and 440Nm of torque available. We didn’t have the opportunity to experience the class leading 3.5 tonne towing ability but it’s obvious that’s more then achievable.
Dozens of kilometres were spent with cruise control locked to the posted speed limit. In fifth gear we were able to cover just about all gradients without having to shift down a cog.
Off the mark it lacks the initial V8 like pounce of the Ford Ranger but from second onwards it’s a terrific and efficient engine. Considering the terrain covered, driving style and various loads, which peaked with some serious beverage supplies stacked in the back, our average of 10.2 L/100 km was quite acceptable.
Finally we reached the end of our seven hour journey and that was just about the limit in the comfort stakes. Our unfortunate rear seat passenger was bordering on being in the foetal position while up front we were close to suffering compression sores after enduring the seats.
Increasingly vehicles such as the Colorado are being pitched as “Work and Play” machines. That is use them to earn a quid during the week and then utilise them for domestic duties on weekends, like a vehicle for soccer mums or trips to Bunnings.
I’d be using the Holden for 70 per cent work and 30 per cent play.
On the farm
But I’m no tradie or farmer. So I handed the keys over to our host and a man who has forgotten more then most would know about farming and work vehicles. Let’s call him “Old McDonald” or “Old Mac”.
Old McDonald needed to visit the neighbouring township of Carinda to collect some much needed supplies. So we set off on a 140 km round trip which was mostly via unsealed, unpredictable sandy roads.
I got the impression that Old Mac wasn’t expecting much from GM’s massive investment. Here we had a confirmed Toyotaholic. His preferred mode of transport is a V8 Landcruiser Sahara or a Prado with 400,000 kms on the clock. Around the farm itself, an iconic and enduring 70 series Landcruiser does the hard yakka.
After around 10 minutes into the trip and having crossed numerous narrow cattle grids at freeway speeds Old Mac muttered a few simple observations: “This goes alright” and “Air con is good”. Further along he added, “I’d throw some bigger fair dinkum tyres on” I tried to point out some of its nifty features, like cruise control and the wheel mounted buttons. He didn’t give a rats.
The clincher for Old Mac was the ESC assisted stopping ability of the Colorado. Showing remarkable vision you would usually associate with a Rugby League Five-eighth he was able to anticipate an Emu coming at speed from roadside scrub directly into our path. The words “This will test it out” were heard followed by a right foot induced full emergency stop.
What essentially is a light truck went from 100 kph to 20 kph within seconds in a completely controlled straight and secure manoeuvre on dirt. The poor unsuspecting Emu avoided its untimely end by inches.
On the return trip Old Mac wanted to take the scenic route through the Macquarie Marshes. We soon turned onto yet another dusty barren road but this time there was a plethora of warning signage present such as, “Warning no vehicular access”, “Water over road”, “Inaccessible” and my personal favourite, “Do not go this way you will die”, (maybe I made that last one up).
We continued on as if they were a mirage.
Turns out there had been some significant water releases from miles away in recent months and as a result the Marshes were deluged. I panically reassured myself “No problems we have a snorkel” At the same time I was rehearsing my explanation to Holden.
Thankfully the section of roadway was probably only covered by at most 60 cms of water, so the Colorado was able to easily surge ahead.
When we returned to base Old Mac uttered the immortal words “Tell the internet it goes real good”!
The final say
GM has produced a fantastic workhorse which is a vast improvement over the previous Colorado which has probably even eclipsed the legendary Hilux (for now). The Australian version is built in Thailand and Holden claims to have had a significant say in much of its design. I’m not sure if it’s as unbreakable as the Hilux allegedly is but with a three year/100,000km warranty and capped price servicing for 3 years or 60,000 kms and reasonable pricing I’d expect to see them in plague proportions in 2013.
They look good, are more then capable when the going gets tough but there’s no dispute it can’t quite match the all rounder ability of the Ford Ranger of Volkswagen Amarok.