New King OF THE Mountain

Holden has stripped its Colorado down and put it back together with a heap of new parts, but can it bridge the gap to Fordís mighty Ranger?

WORDS BY FRASER STRONACH PHOTOS PHIL COOPER

DRIVEN COLORADO Z71 V RANGER XLT

Holden has stripped its Colorado down and put it back together with a heap of new parts, but can it bridge the gap to Fordís mighty Ranger?

HOLDEN verses Ford. Itís the classic Australian stoush played out most dramatically at Mount Panorama each October, but more crucially in car showrooms every day. The specific combatants have traditionally been the Commodore and the Falcon, but now thatís changed.

For Ford the Ranger is its best seller, even before Falcon production stopped, while over at Holden the Colorado is second only to the Commodore in sales and looks set to move into the number one spot once Holden closes down local production next year Ė including that of its Commodore-based 4x2 ute, which will no doubt boost Colorado 4x2 sales.

Thatís in the future. What we have right now is Holdenís revised-from-theground- up Colorado taking on Fordís Ranger for the next instalment of ĎKing of the (Dirt) Mountainí.

True Blue

FORD RANGER XLT

Last yearís mid-generation changes have refined and polished the big, tough and blokey Ford Ranger.

THIS is the ute Ford Australia designed and developed for the world. Well, most of the world anyway. The Ranger isnít quite sold everywhere, most notably in the USA and Canada, although this is set to change when Ranger production starts up in Michigan, USA, in 2018.

Meanwhile, our Ranger, like all of the popular utes (bar the VW Amarok) sold here, is built in Thailand.

From its introduction late in 2011 the PX Ranger was a winner, both in what it did and how it sold.

Following its 2015 refresh the Ranger drives and performs ever better and is selling more strongly.

Year-to-date (September í16) Ranger 4x4 sales are less than 100 units (22,438 versus 22,524) behind the once completely dominant Toyota Hilux.

The mid-generational changes brought new frontend styling and a fresh dashboard, but hidden under the bonnet was a smaller, more efficient turbo, new fuel injectors, cylinder head changes and various measures to improve engine NVH. The Ranger also gained electric power steering and enhanced electronic control of the 4x4 system.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

WHAT hasnít changed are the engine basics. Aside from the mechanically similar Mazda BT-50, the relatively big 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine is unique in this class. A little lumpy at idle, but smoothing out nicely with a few revs on board, the Ďbig-fiveí is lazy and relaxed compared to the four-cylinder engines

in competitor utes. It also uses less revs and generally taller gears to go about its business.

Strange as it may sound, an inline-five offers better dynamic balance than an inline-four due to the inline-fourís inherent vibration, which occurs at twice crankshaft speed and is the source of a fourís often Ďbuzzyí feel. This problem is usually addressed through the use of crankshaft-driven (and power-robbing) rotating balance shafts.

Pedal to the metal, the Ranger is an effective match for the Colorado, despite the Coloradoís higher peak torque (500Nm) and slightly trimmer weight.

The 2015 changes have made Fordís 3.2 more responsive at low revs and generally much quieter overall, although thereís still some gruffness about this engine. It is, after all, a commercial-vehicle-derived diesel engine rather than a passenger car diesel, coming as it did from the European Transit van. Still, in terms of refinement, itís up there with the vastly improved Colorado.

As ever the Ford six-speed ZF auto is agreeable and works nicely with the grunty engine; although, on throttle-off descents it isnít as proactive in backshifting as the Coloradoís generally more sportily-tuned GM six-speeder.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

FORD hit the on-road ride, handing and steering sweet spot right from the Rangerís debut in 2011. The mechanically near-identical Mazda BT-50, released weeks later, had a slightly sharper suspension and steering tune than the Ranger, but it wasnít as nice.

Fast forward to today and the Ranger is still towards the head of the ride-and-handling pack, but now has the benefit of much-reduced steering effort at low speeds thanks to its electric power steering. This is more than welcome given the Ranger, along with the BT-50, is the biggest and heaviest vehicle in its class and has the longest wheelbase.

At speed the Rangerís electric steering weighs up nicely and, as ever, ride and handling balance remains hard to criticise. Sure, unladen thereís firmness at the rear, but overall itís composed, stable and surprisingly compliant.

Where it shines against the Colorado is not on good roads, but on bad roads.

FORD RANGER PRICES*

XL $47,565 XL PLUS (auto) $53,235 XLS $48,865 XLT $55,425 WILDTRAK $59,590 *3.2L 4x4 dual-cab pick-up manuals only, unless noted.

EQUIPMENT

ALL Ranger 4x4 dual-cab pickups have a five-star ANCAP safety rating, six airbags, and stability and trailer-sway control. Cruise, Bluetooth, auto headlights and a rear locker are also standard. All Ranger dual-cabs bar the XL Plus also have a 230V outlet in the cabin. The XL Plus gets an aux battery and 17in steelies.

The XLS adds carpet and 17in alloys. The XLT adds satnav in a larger touchscreen, dual-zone climate, a centreconsole cooler, rear parking sensors, auto wipers, tyre pressure sensors, 12V in the tub, a sportsbar, sidesteps and a 3500kg-rated towbar.

Wildtrak adds a reversing camera, front parking sensors, heated front seats, 18in alloys, and a lockable roller cover.

An optional Tech pack for the XLT and Wildtrak includes radar cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and a driver-impairment monitor.

OFF-ROAD

THE Rangerís size can work against it off-road, but thatís about the only entry in the negative column. Most importantly the Rangerís chassis provides generous suspension travel by ute standards Ė certainly more than the Colorado, which is critical in this contest.

If extra wheel travel isnít enough, the Ranger also comes standard with a driverswitched rear diff lock, which is now far more effective than it was prior to the 2015 mid-generation upgrade. Previously, when the driver engaged the rear locker, it cancelled the electronic traction control across both axles. Now, when the rear locker is engaged, the ETC remains active on the front axle, which makes a huge difference and helps put the Ranger with the best when it comes to off-road performance. Itís certainly a good step ahead of the Colorado.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

THE Rangerís size mightnít help when parking or off-road, but the upside is a class-leader when it comes to cabin space.

Along with the BT-50, the Ranger has the longest cabin among the popular utes and is only bettered in width by the Amarok.

On both counts itís ahead of the Colorado, benefitting rear-seat passengers the most.

Up front the Ranger also feels big and spacious and, even if thereís no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, itís a comfortable place to be. Nicer front seats than the Colorado, too.

PRACTICALITIES

OUR recent load and tow test (November 2016) crowned the Ranger as the carrying and towing king. Having a 3500kg towbar, ugly as it is, as standard on the XLT is a bonus, as is the fact that all Ranger dualcab pick-ups have six rather then four tie-downs in the tub. XLT and Wildtrak models also get a 12-volt outlet in the tub.

Under the gas-strutted bonnet thereís room for a small second battery, a highmounted alternator and air intake via the inner guard. The 265/65R17 tyre and wheel spec is also as practical as it comes.

The Rangerís chassis provides generous suspension travel

FORD RANGER*

ENGINE 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel MAX POWER 147kW @ 3000rpm MAX TORQUE 470Nm @ 1500-2750rpm GEARBOX six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range part-time CRAWL RATIO 42.3:1 CONSTRUCTION separate chassis FRONT SUSPENSION independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION live axle/leaf springs KERB WEIGHT 2068kg -2200kg GVM 3200kg PAYLOAD 1000kg -1132kg TOWING CAPACITY 3500kg TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 350kg GCM 6000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 9.2L/100km TEST FUEL USE 12.1L/100km TOURING RANGE 611km** *4x4 dual-cab pick-up autos only.

Fresh start

HOLDEN COLORADO Z71

The Colorado may be a global GM product, but Aussie engineers have played an even greater role in this mid-generation remake.

WHAT we have here is the top-spec Colorado dual-cab 4x4, the Z71. Itís not exactly the Colorado we wanted for this test, but itís not exactly wrong either. What we asked for was a LTZ dual-cab Ė one spec down from the Z71 Ė to compare with the volume-selling Ranger XLT. The good news is that this top-spec Colorado is actually a price match with the upper-mid spec Ranger XLT, which is always a valid starting point for a comparison test. Either way, the Z71 and the LTZ are mechanically identical; the Z71 just adds the rear body kit and leather and heated front seats, among a few details.

The Colorado arrives after a ground-up remake: itís been pulled completely apart and put back together.

This generation Colorado is a GM product and not a re-badged Isuzu, and it emerged in 2012 from a GM design and development program based in Brazil. A year later it was tweaked, and again in 2014, before this major overhaul for 2017.

Most of the latest changes are aimed at improving refinement, with relocated engine balance shafts, revised fuel injection, additional injector soundproofing, a new torque convertor for the auto, shorter final-drive gearing for the manual, new engine and transmission mounts, new body mounts, recalibrated suspension and electric power steering.

Also aimed at refinement are revised roof mouldings, exterior mirror mounts, door seals, sliding glass channels, B-pillar inserts, and a thicker windscreen. So thereís not much that hasnít been worked over.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE engine remains the 2.8-litre four-cylinder from Italian diesel specialist VM Motori, part of the seemingly ever-growing Fiat empire. As before, the engine claims maximums of 147kW and 500Nm, although fuel mapping has been tweaked for better driveability.

What you notice most is how much quieter and more refined this engine is than before, which is a more than welcome change from the generally unpleasant, rough and gruff thing it was before. Itís still no Amarok in terms of noise and running refinement, but itís now a match for the Ranger and may even be a bit quieter. Either way, itís now a very pleasant engine Ė something you couldnít say about it previously.

Thereís plenty of performance from its 2.8 litres and, pedal to the metal, the Colorado matches and can even better the bigger fivecylinder engine in the Ranger, although it does rev harder in the process. Peak power is at 3600rpm compared to the Rangerís 3000.

The Coloradoís cause is helped by what is now a very good auto gearbox, with smoother, quicker and Ďsmarterí shifts than before thanks to the new torque converter and revised shift protocols.

While no smoother than the Rangerís six-speed, itís a more proactive in its shifts, something you notice on demanding, hilly, winding roads.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

AMONG the chassis changes, the new Coloradoís electric power steering is the one you most notice. The benefit is very light steering at parking speeds, combined with more weight and feel at highway speeds.

In practice it works very nicely, and with the front suspension changes that run to softer springs, a thicker sway bar and digressive rather than linear front dampers, it provides a front end with more feel and a generally more compliant and comfortable ride than before. On the downside, the front end also seems to Ďcrashí more on the nasty washouts, potholes and bumps you might find on poorly maintained back roads, when hit at speed.

The rear spring pack, previously only fitted to the Z71 but now common across the range, combines a much softer initial rate and a slightly firmer final rate than the default spring pack fitted to non-Z71 variants before the MY17 update. Itís surprisingly comfortable, even when

HOLDEN COLORADO PRICES*

LS $44,990 LT $46,990 LTZ $50,990 Z71 $54,490 *4x4 dual-cab pick-up manuals only.

EQUIPMENT

ALL Colorado 4x4 dual-cab pick-ups have a five-star ANCAP safety rating, seven airbags, stability and trailersway control, and a reversing camera. Cruise, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, a digital radio and a touchscreen supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The LT adds 17-inch alloys, fogs and sidesteps.

The LTZ then adds 18s, a bigger touchscreen with inbuilt sat-nav, auto wipers, front parking sensors, tyrepressure sensors, electric driverís seat adjustment, a soft tonneau, a sportsbar, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision alert.

The top-spec Z71 adds heated front leather seats, roof rails and a tub-mounted body kit. Holden also offers various accessories for the Colorado including bullbars, underbody protection and allterrain tyres.

unladen. As with the front, the rear now has digressive rather than linear dampers.

Interestingly, of all the popular utes, the Colorado is the only one to run a mechanical rear limited-slip diff in addition to electronic traction control.

The idea is that the limited-slipper takes care of moderate wheelspin so ETC isnít triggered Ė potentially cutting engine power Ė when the driver is entering a moving traffic steam on a wet road and needs maximum acceleration.

OFF-ROAD

THE Coloradoís new electric power steering is a winner off-road in terms of much-reduced steering effort. The softer suspension generally works better for low-range work, while Holden has also worked on the electronic traction control to improve its off-road effectiveness.

The end result is a better ute when the road stops and the tracks start, but the Colorado is still not a front-runner when it comes to vehicle-stopping conditions.

Crucially the chassis doesnít have as much travel as some competitors, the Ranger included. The Colorado also lacks a rear locker, and while all rear lockers fitted to current utes arenít effective as they could be, the one on the Ranger certainly is.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

THEREíS more good news in the Coloradoís cabin, with much improved fit and finish that brings a quality feel lacking in previous Colorados. Thereís more equipment, too, right across the dualcab range.

At Z71 spec the Colorado feels quite luxurious thanks to its heated leather seats, although all Colorados lack tilt-andreach steering wheel adjustment. That said, the driving position is comfortable and provides shorter drivers with good vision over the bonnet and to the sides.

Itís got one of the bigger and better back seats, too, if you need to accommodate three adults Ė even if itís not as roomy as the Ranger.

PRACTICALITIES

ALL Colorado dual-cab 4x4s are rated to carry more than a tonne (1000kg total payload) and tow 3500kg. From our recent tow test we know the Colorado does both with reasonable ease.

Off-road practicalities include two front tie down points Ė but none at the rear Ė a large air filter that draws via the inner mudguard, and a high-mounted alternator.

Unfortunately thereís little room for a second battery.

The Z71 runs on 265/60R18 tyres and, if the 18-inch wheels arenít to your liking, you can always fit the 17s from the LT, which will open up a wider choice of allterrain rubber.

The end result is a better ute when the road stops and the tracks start

HOLDEN COLORADO*

ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel MAX POWER 147kW @ 3600rpm MAX TORQUE 500Nm @ 2000rpm GEARBOX six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range part-time CRAWL RATIO 36.8:1 CONSTRUCTION separate chassis FRONT SUSPENSION independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION live axle/leaf springs KERB WEIGHT 2065kg to 2143kg GVM 3150kg PAYLOAD 1007kg to 1085kg TOWING CAPACITY 3500kg TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 350kg GCM 6000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 76 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 8.7L/100km TEST FUEL USE 12.7L/100km TOURING RANGE 548km** *4x4 dual-cab pick-up auto only. **Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km Ďsafetyí margin.

The Verdict

HOLDENíS re-engineering of its Colorado for 2017 has been highly successful, propelling it from disappointing tailender to a good thing among the eight popular 4x4 dual-cabs. The Ranger, on the other hand, has always been a good thing, ever since it arrived in 2011, a year before the Colorado. It became a whole lot better thanks to a mid-generation upgrade in 2015.

However, Holden has moved the Colorado on more in this upgrade than Ford did last year with its Ranger. But then again, something special had to be done, given the Colorado was previously so far towards the back of the pack.

The Colorado has improved to the point that in many ways itís now the equal of the Ranger in what it does and doesnít do.

On-road the two are now a close match in terms of refinement, comfort and general driveability. The Coloradoís smaller engine doesnít give it a performance disadvantage, either. In fact, it can even feel a bit sportier than the Ranger thanks to its gearbox tune and higher peak engine torque Ė and being a bit lighter doesnít hurt.

The Coloradoís on-road dynamics, at least on better roads, also have a sporty edge to them compared to the Ranger. It feels a bit smaller and more agile than the slightly longer and bigger Ranger. Thereís generally a nicer steering feel in the Colorado, too.

But things start to go downhill for the Colorado once the roads deteriorate. It doesnít handle the bumps as well as the more compliant and supple Ranger. Things unravel even more compared to the Ranger off-road, thanks to less suspension travel, no rear locker and less effective chassis electronics.

That said, the Colorado will still comfortably do 99 per cent of what most people will ever want to do off-road; itís just that the Ranger, in its post-2015 iteration at least, is a stand-out performer off-road.

Throw in its extra cabin space and towing and load-carrying prowess and you can see why it justifies the extra cost.

HILUX SR5

WE COMPARED the Colorado to the Hilux back in our October edition and you can read the test on our website, but as we had just taken delivery of our new long-term Hilux the week of this test we took it along for the ride.

Our car canít be directly compared with these two as it has a manual gearbox and is loaded with extras, but a few things are obvious when you drive them back-to-back.

The Hilux SR5 feels the better quality car inside with superior fit, finish and refinement. It rides firmer thanks to its stiffer suspension, but that proved its value when we loaded them all up for the tow test last month.

Even though the manual Hilux has less torque than the equivalent auto (and both the Ranger and Colorado) it feels more sprightly thanks to the direct drive and no parasitic loss through a torque converter. The SR5ís manual is clever, too.