What’s the oldest production vehicle currently for sale in Canada? The only reason you might not have immediately thought of Nissan’s Frontier pickup truck, is because it’s been so long since the Japanese brand has advertised it. After all, the mid-size model has hardly changed since it was significantly made over 16 years ago, but even that mid-cycle refresh was based on a truck that dated back to 1997. Yah, today’s second-generation Frontier is from the last century, a shocking 24 years old under the skin.
Time for a redesign? Just a bit, but thankfully Nissan will make its all-new third-gen Frontier available for sale later this year, and by first impressions it should cause a splash in the market. To be fair to Nissan, at least it didn’t walk away from the compact/mid-size truck market altogether like Dodge (Ram) did a decade ago when it dropped its Dakota.
The domestic brand (having changed its truck division’s name to Ram well before finding itself under the ownership of Stellantis, a new entity that combines Fiat Chrysler with the PSA Groupe) is reportedly looking to return to this segment like Ford did with its upsized Ranger a few years back (the old compact Ranger was discontinued in 2011), while the Chevrolet/GMCColorado/Canyon twins only suffered from a two-or-so year hiatus between first and second generations. A new Dakota should make sense, especially when considering how well the automaker has done with its Jeep Gladiator, a pickup truck version of the iconic brand’s Wrangler SUV.
Toyota’s Tacoma has long led this class for sales and ownership loyalty, despite what segment-upstart Honda has attempted with its unibody Ridgeline alternative, while Hyundai and Ford will soon try to show there’s still life left in the smaller compact pickup category with their respective Santa Cruz and Maverick models.
Yes, Nissan will have plenty of challengers to go up against when its new Frontier arrives for the 2022 model year, but from what we can see it looks like this truck will be a serious contender right out of the gate. It gets a more angular design that pays a bit of homage to the brand’s old Hardbody pickups of the 1980s and 1990s, but we think the new styling shows more respect to the full-size Titan, particularly its front door window cutouts, which, similar to the Ford F-150, are kinked to help with visibility.
The new Frontier also appears influenced by the aforementioned Canyon, at least before GMC said so long to its arguably more attractive rectangular grille. Any resemblance to the domestic truck shouldn’t be a problem for Nissan enthusiasts, mind you, because the new Frontier looks unique enough, comes across as tough and rugged, plus it shows off plenty of state-of-the-art LED lighting elements.
Modernity in mind, the old Frontier’s interior stays firmly in the past, with Nissan hardly even pulling forward any nods to yesteryear for posterity’s sake. We think is a smart move, because the brand needs to show that this truck has been totally reengineered. Now it looks so refined that Nissan should truly be drawing up a new Xterra to share its underpinnings, especially considering how hot the 4×4-capable SUV market is right now.
Nissan replaces the old model’s rounded dash with a chunkier, blockier design that should go over well with fans of industrial tools. This said everything flows together nicely, in a tastefully conservative way. Details include stitched and padded pliable synthetic bolstering ahead of the front passenger, plus a similar soft-touch application added to the grip-like sides of the lower centre console. We’re guessing the truck shown is a Pro-4X, due to its attractive orangey-red highlights and nicer than expected refinement, so we’ll wait to see how other trims are finished before making any judgements.
Despite this being near top-of-the-line, the primary gauge cluster is mostly analogue, but it incorporates a big colour multi-information display in the middle, de rigueur these days, which will no doubt come filled of useful functions, while a reasonably large standard 8.0-inch touchscreen is placed at the top of the centre stack. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus all of the other expected functions in base form, including a reverse camera. According to Nissan, the Frontier is available with a 360-degree Around View parking camera in upper trims, viewable via an even bigger 9.0-inch touchscreen. Additionally, wireless device charging (albeit without wireless CarPlay) will be an option too, as will a nine-speaker Fender audio system when choosing the Pro-4X.
The Pro-4X is the Frontier’s most capable off-road trim, by the way, and therefore also gets special Bilstein shock absorbers and underfloor skid plates that cover the transmission and fuel tank, while sharp looking red tow hooks are added to the front bumper, and an orangey-red version of Nissan’s new badge gets added to the front, rear and interior.
The 2020 model Frontier (there wasn’t a 2021 model) came in S, SV and Pro-4X trims (and can be had with zero-percent financing right now), plus a Midnight Edition that has yet to be offered for the 2022 model year. A sporty Nismo edition is reported on the way, but for the time being three main trims get the nod. What’s more, Canada gets a simplified lineup that discontinues two-wheel drive variants, other than a fleet-only base King Cab S work truck.
Yes, both King Cab and Crew Cab variants will make a return for 2022, with the former available across the whole model range, and the latter only found in base S trim. Still, a Canadian-spec Frontier can be had in Pro-4X trim with the smaller King Cab, which isn’t available south of the border (or north if you live in Windsor).
The King Cab features a six-foot bed as it always has, leaving the shorter five-foot bed for the Crew Cab, other than with the long-wheelbase SV model, which increases the truck’s wheelbase from 3,200 mm (126 in) to 3,550 mm (140 in).
The US-specification Frontier received a new 3.8-litre V6 and nine-speed automatic a couple of years ago, but our version soldiered on as is. Now our 2022 Frontier gets the upgraded engine, which makes 310 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. It should be powerful enough off the line, plenty potent for highway passing, and particularly good when off-road, making our team excited to get behind the wheel for a full road and trail test.
Hitting the trail in mind, every Frontier sold to retail customers includes Nissan’s part-time shift-on-the-fly 4WD, which provides 2WD, 4HI and 4LO modes, connecting through to an electronically-controlled transfer case. Other features include hill start assist and hill descent control, while Pro-4X models get an electronic locking differential.
Canadian-market Frontiers receive a maximum tow rating of 2,944 kilos (6,500 lbs), which isn’t quite as good as the best possible 3,408-kilogram (7,500-lb) US-spec rating, due to their two-wheel drive model that’s once again not offered here. Just the same, the Frontier’s four-wheel drive tow rating is competitive at 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs).
Also competitive, Nissan will provide all Frontier trims with its suite of Safety Shield 360 advanced driving assistive technologies in Canada, which include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic-braking, high beam assistance, and adaptive cruise control.
Look for the new 2022 Frontier to show up this summer, with pricing and trim details to land just ahead of arrival.
Most auto industry pundits lauded the second-generation Ridgeline’s driveability, refinement and creature comforts when it arrived on the scene in 2017, but not many praised its outward styling. It wasn’t offensive, unless you’re negatively triggered by soft, conservative, blandness, but it wasn’t about to sway Toyota Tacoma owners away from their trusted steeds, or for that matter buyers of Chevy’s Colorado, GMC’s Canyon, Ford’s Ranger or even Nissan’s Frontier (which will soon be updated). Now for 2021, fortunately, Honda has seen the light and made this otherwise impressive mid-size pickup truck a serious looker.
Replacing the outgoing Ridgeline’s aerodynamically effective albeit aesthetically displeasing grille and hood, is a bolder, brasher, more upright grille ahead of a broader, flatter hood featuring a domed centre section for added visual muscle. This is joined by a tougher, more rugged looking lower front fascia and a fresh set of front fenders, all resulting in a much more attractive Ridgeline.
Updates to the 2021 Ridgeline’s side and rear styling are less noticeable, with the former painting the cab’s rearmost extension in black instead of body-colour, and the rear bumper forgoing any metal brightwork trim.
The refreshed 2021 Ridgeline is now available at Honda retailers across Canada from $44,355 plus freight and fees. That base Ridgeline Sport trim features standard all-wheel drive, while a fancier Ridgeline EX-L can be had for $47,355, a Ridgeline Touring for $51,555, and a Ridgeline Black Edition for $53,055.
Pricing in mind, our 2021 Honda Ridgeline Canada Prices page is showing factory leasing and financing rates from 2.49 percent, while CarCostCanada members are averaging savings of $2,050. Those wanting most of the Ridgeline’s goodness without the new styling upgrades can also opt for a 2020 version, which benefited from up to $2,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing. Make sure to download the free CarCostCanada mobile app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store to have access to all the most critical information you’ll need when negotiating your next new vehicle purchase, including otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. Learn more about how CarCostCanada works here.
Before opting for a 2020 model to save money, keep in mind that Honda made yet more updates to the new 2021 Ridgeline, including new standard LED low beam headlamps with reflector beam halogen high beams, plus arguably more attractive 18-inch alloy wheels encircled by more capable looking rubber. These should provide better high-speed stability thanks to 20 mm of extra track width, improving the truck’s visual stance as well.
Despite the second-gen Ridgeline’s cabin being impressive already, Honda updated the instrument panel’s centre stack with a new infotainment touchscreen that adds back a rotating volume knob for quickly adjusting the sound. All 2021 Ridgeline trims receive contrast stitching for the seats as well, while Sport trim gets updated cloth seat inserts, and Sport, EX-L and Touring models feature new dash, steering wheel and centre console accents. The rest of the interior remains unchanged, including its accommodating rear passenger area that boasts a completely flat floor and foldaway 60/40-split rear lower seat cushions.
The 2021 Ridgeline’s 3.5-litre V6 is carryover too. It continues to output 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, while connecting through to a standard nine-speed automatic transmission. This allows for an impressive claimed fuel economy rating of 12.8 L/100km city, 9.9 highway and 11.5 combined.
As noted earlier in this story, Honda’s i-VTM4 torque-vectoring AWD comes standard. The sophisticated design can send up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels when required, while continuously apportioning up to 100 percent of that twist between left and right rear tires when slippage occurs. A standard Intelligent Traction Dynamics System aids power delivery further by attributing engine torque to the wheel with the most grip, whether dealing with wet, snowy, muddy, or sandy conditions.
Optimizing traction benefits safety, of course, as does the new Ridgeline’s standard Honda Sensing suite of driver-assistive features such as Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC).
The Ridgeline does well in U.S. collision safety ratings too, with strong National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ratings. The truck gets “GOOD” marks for all IIHS collision tests, plus a “SUPERIOR” IIHS rating for frontal crash prevention, while its 5-star Overall Vehicle Score in the European NCAP system is impressive as well.
When Honda initially launched the Ridgeline, it made a big deal out of its 5,000 lb (2,267 kg) rating, but most auto journalists in attendance were more surprised at how nimble it handled while towing a fully loaded trailer. Likewise, the unibody truck hauls a heavy load, capable of up to 1,571 lbs (713 kg) on its bed, which still houses a lockable trunk below the load floor. What’s more, the trunk and bed can be accessed via a regular folding tailgate or hinges on the side of the same panel that allow the door to swing sideways.
Now, with its bolder, more appealing styling and other improvements, the 2021 Ridgeline might give some of its rivals a serious run for their money.
The 2021 Car of the Year went to Hyundai’s redesigned Elantra, which might cause pause amongst blue-oval product planners questioning whether or not they might’ve enjoyed a three-way win if the much-lauded European-spec Focus was still offered on our shores.
Interestingly, the Truck of the Year finalists just mentioned were only significantly upgraded trims of models previously available in 2020, making the category-winning F-150 as the only winner to be completely redesigned.
To learn more about these NACTOY-winning vehicles, be sure to click on the associated link. It will send you to the correct CarCostCanada pricing page, where you can find out about any manufacturer incentives, average member savings (when available), special factory leasing and financing rates (when available), manufacturer rebates (when available), and (always available) dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands on your next new vehicle purchase. Find out more about how the CarCostCanada system works, and remember to download our free mobile app at the Google Play Store or Apple Store so you can have access to all of this critical info whenever you need it.
Exactly why Ford chose to offer this fabulous mid-size truck in nearly every other market than Canada and the U.S. for eight years before bringing it here is difficult to surmise, but rather than beat them up for handing their previous lead in this market segment off to competitors like Toyota’s Tacoma and General Motors’ Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, let’s celebrate that Dearborn’s decision makers finally came to their senses.
They’re not alone after all, the powers that be in Auburn Hills still waffling on whether or not to bring back the once class-leading Dakota (it was supposed to be here by now, but crickets). Maybe the final decision is stuck in Fiat’s Turin sede centrale or possibly les bonnes gens du Groupe PSA— Citroën, DS, Peugeot et Vauxhall-Opel—in Rueil-Malmaison), the leadership of semi-domestic automaker having been in regular flux, but either way the Ram Dakota seems to be a no-brainer, while on the other hand Nissan’s 16 year-old Frontier is an automotive zombie that should’ve mercifully been put down or replaced a decade ago.
Despite Nissan trudging along in the mid-size pickup segment during all the years Ford escaped (the Frontier still sells better than Honda’s Ridgeline, which is a sad testament to its Japanese rival), the two automakers actually share similar short-term small truck histories. Two years after Ford killed its then 14-year old third-generation compact Ranger in its domestic market in 2012, and introduced the current third-gen T6 to international buyers in 2011, Nissan offered up a redesigned Navarro to international customers. That attractive model was good enough to serve as the base for Mercedes-Benz’s now-defunct X-Class pickup as well as Renault’s Alaskan (not to mention Dongfeng’s oddly named Rich 6), but for some reason Nissan’s North American operations couldn’t figure out a way to bring it here, and alas they’ve been marginalized out of contention.
Nissan and its Frontier don’t have anywhere near the name brand recognition, marketing clout, or dealership real estate to relaunch a new small truck, whereas Ford had unwittingly built up an army of ready and willing loyalists that quickly pushed the 2019 Ranger into high volume Canadian sales of 6,603 units, slotting into third place after the Tacoma that managed 12,536 deliveries throughout calendar year 2019, and the Colorado with 8,531 (when GM’s Chevy and GMC sales are combined it was number one with 14,067 units down the road last year. That’s pretty decent for its first year (and a partial-year at that), boding well for even greater future success.
It also says a lot for the truck’s initial design. After all, it’s no spring chicken, having arrived on international markets nine years ago and only undergoing a refresh for last year’s introduction. Compare this to the full-size F-150, which probably gets more updates than any other model in Ford’s lineup, plus trim levels and special editions infinitum, and the Ranger’s initial showing on 2019’s sales charts is pretty impressive (although it has a long way to go before nudging the F-Series off its top pedestal that saw 145,210 examples delivered in 2019). Even both GM trucks couldn’t touch that (they totaled 94,683 units), just barely passing Ram’s 89,593-unit pickup total.
The new Ranger fits into the mid-size pickup truck segment ideally, being that it’s quite a bit larger than the old compact version and significantly smaller than the F-150. By the numbers, the 2020 F-150 SuperCab 4×4 with its 6.5-foot box is 536 mm (21.1 in) longer with 462 mm (18.2 in) more wheelbase, plus 167 mm (6.6 in) wider, and about 155 mm (6.1 in) taller than a similarly optioned 2020 Ranger SuperCab 4×4, whereas the F-150 SuperCrew is a whole lot bigger.
Specifically, the Ranger is 5,354 mm (210.8 in) long with a 3,221-mm (126.8-in) wheelbase, 1,862 mm (73.3 in) wide (without mirrors), and 1,806 or 1,816 mm (71.1 or 71.5 in) tall for the SuperCab or SuperCrew, which makes it slightly shorter than the aforementioned Tacoma (and much shorter than the long-wheelbase Toyota), while its also narrower and a smidge taller.
My tester was in XLT SuperCrew 4×4 trim and attractive Lightning Blue paint, which when combined with an available Sport Appearance package and FX4 Off-Road package, looked great, if not as ruggedly handsome as the Ranger Wildtrak if first saw in Asia, and the newer international-spec Ranger Raptor I’ve only seen in celluloid form (and hopefully here at some point in the near future).
The domestic-market Sport Appearance package includes a darker grille surround and Magnetic-Painted (dark-grey) 17-inch alloys, as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. Power-folding side mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror are included too, with the latter two also part of the 302A package, while a Bed Utility package adds a drop-in bedliner and 12-volt in-bed power adaptor, and the FX4 package provided my tester’s stylish red and grey/black decals to the rear corners of the box.
There’s quite a bit more to the FX4 package than two decals, like uniquely tuned off-road monotube shocks, tough 265/56 Hankook Dynapro AT-M tires, an electronically locking rear differential, Trail Control that allows you to set a given speed between 1 and 30 km/h to crawl over rugged terrain via throttle and brake management, and a Terrain Management System that, via Grass, Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, or Sand settings, utilizes the Ranger’s many off-road technologies to lay waste to all types of trails, from light-duty to extreme. What’s more, the FX4 package features a steel front bash plate under the front bumper, and skid plates covering the electric power steering system, transfer case, and fuel tank. Finally, the FX4 package provides pitch, roll and steering angle monitoring from the driver’s seat.
Unlike some 4x4s, setting the Ranger’s high/low gearing ratios requires no tugging on secondary shift levers, but rather only needs the subtle twist of a rotating dial on the lower console next to the shift lever. When set to its most capable off-road setting, you shouldn’t have any problem overcoming all types of rocks, roots and what-have-you, thanks to 226 mm (8.9 inches) of ground clearance, plus approach and departure angles equalling 28.7 and 25.4 degrees. For reference, the Tacoma offers more ground clearance at 239 mm (9.4 in), while its approach/departure angles range from 29 or 32 degrees up front to 23 degrees in back.
The Ranger’s generous suspension travel provides a comfortable ride for a truck, and I must admit it felt quite good through high-speed corners too, within reason. Even better, the new Ranger’s powertrain is really fun to dig your right foot into, and the 10-speed gearbox (with more forward speeds than any competitor) was plenty smooth and quick shifting, even providing a rocker switch on the side of the shift knob for flicking through the gears manually.
If things are sounding sporty, that wasn’t by accident. Ford increases performance further via a Sport setting that allows the engine’s revs to rise higher between shifts, while the transmission even holds onto a given gear when the engine arrives at redline, welcomingly unusual.
Helping add to that sporty feeling through corners, plus improving at-the-limit safety, Ford utilizes Curve Control for detecting when a driver enters a curve too quickly, and then makes automatic adjustments to the Ranger’s speed by lowering engine torque, adding braking power, and increasing the stability control function.
Along with that easy-going ride I spoke of a moment ago, my Ranger XLT 4×4 tester provided good comfort and sizeable cabin space from front to rear. The SuperCrew cab is the Ranger’s largest, and features regular front-hinged doors in back, plus additional rear legroom than the smaller base SuperCab model. Both configurations are available in XL and XLT trims, while the top-line Lariat is only offered as a SuperCrew.
The base SuperCab body style includes a longer six-foot bed, while my SuperCrew tester had a shorter five-foot bed. The Ranger is good for 707 kilos (1,560 lbs) of payload too, which is considerably better than the Tacoma’s 425- to 520-kg (937- to 1,146-lb) payload maximum. This same scenario plays out for towing capacity as well, with the Ranger capable of 7,500 lbs (3,402 kg) of trailer compared to the Toyota’s 502-kg (1,107-lb) rating. Trailer sway control is standard with the Ranger, too.
Without a trailer in tow, and being mindful of your right foot it’s possible to achieve a class-leading fuel economy rating of 11.8 L/100km in the city, 9.8 on the highway and 10.9 combined, this partially thanks to standard auto start-stop that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling.
The base Ranger XL SuperCab starts at $32,159, by the way, plus freight and fees of course, which makes it $1,090 pricier than the same model last year, while the XLT SuperCab now starts at $36,529. The as-tested XLT SuperCrew sees an increase of $890 since last year for a new price of $38,329, while the top-line Lariat SuperCrew only goes up by $230 for a new price of $42,619.
As for features, the 2020 Ranger Lariat adds more chrome detailing to the exterior, plus LED headlamps, front parking sensors (to the rear sensors already on the XLT), proximity-sensing entry, pushbutton start/stop, illuminated vanity mirrors, a universal remote, three-way heatable front seats with eight-way powered adjustment, leather upholstery, and more.
Yet unmentioned features on the XLT include 17-inch alloys (instead of the 16-inch steel wheels found on the base XL model), fog lamps, carpeting and carpeted floor mats (the base truck gets rubber flooring), a six-speaker stereo, automatic high beams, lane keep assist, plus more, while you can add a Technology package featuring a navigation system and adaptive cruise control.
Finally, the base XL includes auto on/off headlamps, a four-speaker audio system, a USB charging port, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, a capless fuel filler, and a pre-collision system that includes automatic emergency braking along with blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Although my Ranger XLT test model was only a mid-range offering, it was nicely finished inside and well-constructed. The seat and armrest upholstery was a nice woven black cloth with creamy-grey contrast stitching for a sporty effect, while interior trim included the usual assortment of brushed and bright metallic surfaces, but no padded soft-touch synthetics.
The front seats are comfortable, with the driver’s featuring two-way power lumbar support that fit the small of my back nicely, while I found my XLT’s driving position good due to plenty of reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column. The steering wheel gets a comfortably soft leather-wrapped rim, and all interior controls were within easy reach. s
The Ranger’s instrument cluster is mostly analogue with nicely backlit needles and indices, the former sporting an attractive aqua-blue colour for dramatic effect, while a full-colour, high-resolution 4.2-inch multi-information display is more advanced than the majority of Ford’s competitors.
The just-noted gauge cluster needles match up with the sky-blue background of Ford’s 8.0-inch Sync 3 centre touchscreen nicely, this upgraded system coming standard in XLT and Lariat trims. While this system has been on the market for many years, it’s still a good-looking layout that works well. It even includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus loads of audio features including satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming, while my tester featured an accurate navigation system, as well as XM travel link, a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and a backup camera with active guidelines.
Looking rearward, my Ranger SuperCrew tester’s rear bench seat was plenty spacious and adequately comfortable, particularly in the outboard positions, but it didn’t include the types of features I expected to see, not even rear air vents. XLT and Lariat buyers can expect two USB-A charge ports on the backside of the front centre console, as well as a convenient 110-volt household-style power outlet.
The Ranger is devoid of those handy integrated bumper steps found on GM trucks, that are really useful for climbing up on the bed, but fortunately my test model featured a kick-down step from Ford’s accessories catalogue that worked very well.
All in all, I really like Ford’s new Ranger. It looks good and comes across as a rugged, well-made mid-size truck. Its cabin is roomy and comfortable, includes very good electronics, and it’s really fun to drive. Ford should start offering some higher priced trim levels to compete with the Tacoma’s Limited, for instance, not to mention bring us the aforementioned Ranger Raptor that could go head-to-head with the Tacoma TRD Pro and Colorado ZR2. Even now, however, the Ranger’s three trim levels offer a lot of variety with competitive pricing, and should do even better on the sales charts as would-be buyers learn about their availability.
Trying to guess which car, SUV and pickup will win their respective categories in the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards program can be more difficult some years than others, but most folks that keep their ear to the road had the 2020 lineup of winners picked out long before the big announcement this week.
The true name of the award is North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), in spite of having a third category covering SUVs added in 2017. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994.
A total of 50 automotive journalists made up the NACTOY jury this year, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the U.S. and Canada, with the nine finalists (three per category) presented in the fall and the eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. This year’s announcement changed to a separate event at the TCF Center (previously called Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) in Detroit, however, due to the NAIAS rescheduling to June 7-20, 2020.
Notably, each year nominated vehicles need be completely new, totally redesigned, or significantly refreshed, or in other words the vehicle being nominated must be something most buyers would consider entirely new or wholly different from its predecessor. Additionally, each finalist earned its top-three placement via judgment of its segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction, and dollar value.
This year’s selection process began in June of 2019, with vehicle eligibility chosen after three voting rounds. NACTOY chose the independent accounting firm of Deloitte LLP for tallying up all votes and then kept them secret until the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell unsealed the envelopes on stage.
Finalists in this year’s “Car” category included Chevrolet’s Corvette, Hyundai’s Sonata and Toyota’s Supra, with the winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a completely reimagined car that will totally upend the premium sports car segment. Of note, it has been six years since a sports car won the Car category, so hats off to General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and its Corvette team for designing something so sensational that it couldn’t be overlooked, while both Toyota and Hyundai should also be recognized for their superb finalists.
“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said The Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne.
“Utility Vehicle” finalists were all entirely new to the SUV market, and included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator. Most industry commentators seemed to believe that one of the two Hyundai Motor Group entries would win (the Palisade and Telluride are basically the same SUV below the metal), and as many guessed the Kia Telluride took home the honours.
“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” commented Cox Automotive Executive Publisher Karl Brauer. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”
Finally, this year’s “Truck” of the year finalists included the Ford Ranger (new to us yet available in Asian markets for years), the completely new Jeep Gladiator, and the redesigned Ram HD (Heavy Duty)2500 and 3500, with the winner being the impressive new Gladiator. We’d have to look way back to 1999 in order to find a Jeep that won its category, incidentally, with that model being the Grand Cherokee.
“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said John Voelcker, an experienced automotive journalist. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”
NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, for your information, run by elected officers and funded by dues-paying journalist members.
Learn about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Jeep Gladiator right here on CarCostCanada, where you can access trim, package and individual option pricing, plus rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands during negotiations with your local retailer. Although info about the new Corvette is not available yet, at the time of writing you could get up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new Kia Telluride, or factory leasing and financing rates from 4.09 percent for the new Jeep Gladiator.
The Colorado ZR2 is one wicked looking pickup truck. Chevrolet got the design just right, and together with its beefy styling and rugged suspension, GM’s most popular brand has brought one impressive off-road race replica to market.
To be clear, Chevy wasn’t first to this market sector and certainly won’t be the final entry. While there are probably others I should mentioned, Dodge’s Power Wagon was one of the street-capable off-road race truck initiators, although today’s 4×4 fans will likely point to the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor as first on the scene, as far as OEM custom off-roaders go.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Ram brand has tried to answer back with its 2016 to present 1500 Rebel, which is much like previous Power Wagons with bolder frontal styling, while Toyota arrived a few years ago with its Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro packages, the latter recently adding a snorkel-style air intake that makes it appear like it can swim across rivers, through mud holes, or any other deep, liquid barrier.
Right about now I should also draw your attention to the fresh new 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which when suited up in Rubicon trim might be the most credible 4×4 in the mid-size pickup category (it’s definitely has good roots), while delivering payload and trailering capacities that compete well too.
While I’m covering all of these trail-rated cargo (and family) haulers I need to mention Chevrolet’s recently re-skinned Silverado that can be specified in new Trail Boss trim with a two-inch lift kit, improving off-road capability over its GMC Sierra Elevation cousin, but other than this the Trail Boss is mostly about cosmetics, whereas Nissan offers tough Pro-4X trims on its aging Frontier and more up-to-date Titan half-ton and heavy-half Titan XD models. Lastly, Honda offers its Ridgeline with a Black Edition and… well… it’s no CRF250X, let alone ZR2 rival.
The Gladiator Rubicon and Tacoma TRD Pro are the only mid-size ZR2 competitors capable of whacking through the wilderness (GMC’s Canyon doesn’t provide anything quite as 4×4-worthy), and the Chevy can be made even more capable with its Bison upgrade package, yet all of the above deserve comment (including the 2018 to present Ford Ranger Raptor that’s now getting snapped up by wealthier off-road enthusiasts in Asia).
Obviously size matters, with the North American Raptor, the Rebel (Power Wagon), the Tundra, and the Silverado/Sierra fraternal twins being full-size models, and the Tacoma, Ranger, Frontier, and this Colorado (plus the Canyon) more compact in their mid-size proportions.
Another big differentiator is the powertrains on offer, and being that this review is about a mid-size model I’ll focus on its key rivals, with most incorporating four-cylinder and (when equipped to compete off the beaten path) V6 gasoline-powered engines. The two GM mid-size trucks do likewise, but they also buck tradition by adding a high-torque, fuel-efficient turbo-diesel mill.
So, let’s focus in on the standard and optional ZR2 powertrains and how each measures up when compared to its Jeep and Toyota challengers, and then factor in some of their 4×4-related features. For starters, I spent a week with each engine, starting with a greyish Deepwood Green Metallic painted one that’s in fact a 2018 model (I’ll talk about the differences later in this review). This optional colour was cancelled for 2019, but the superb 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel four-cylinder under its bulging hood remains. It makes 181 horsepower and a best-in-segment 369 lb-ft of torque from a mere 2,000 rpm, and comes paired to a strong six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s fuel-efficient compared to rivals thanks to a 12.5 L/100km city, 10.7 highway and 11.7 combined Transport Canada rating, but whether or not its stingy enough to justify its lofty $4,090 price tag will depend on the number of years and kilometres you plan to employ its service, or if you really want to take advantage of its efficiency for travelling farther into the wild yonder than gasoline-powered 4×4 owners dare go, or if you appreciate the tractability of its massive torque when trekking into said wilderness more than the immediate power its V6 offers.
Behind the blackened grille of the Kinetic Blue Metallic painted (a $495 option) 2019 ZR2 is the standard 3.6-litre V6 that produces 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque from 4,000 rpm. Just like the diesel, the V6 powers the rear axle or both diffs via part-time four-wheel drive, but unlike the diesel the standard engine’s gearbox is an even more economical eight-speed unit. The combo results in an estimated 15.0 L/100km in the city, 13.0 on the highway and 14.1 combined, partly due to cylinder deactivation when less performance is needed, and while decent it’s hardly the GM engine of choice for driving past pumps.
The Gladiator, on the other hand, only comes with FCA’s 3.6-litre V6, which makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That’s off by 23 horsepower and 15 lb-ft when compared to the base ZR2 V6, although it offers up a standard six-speed manual (no such luck with the ZR2) or alternatively an eight-speed auto, plus part-time 4WD, and comes with a Transport Canada rating that ranges between 10.4 and 14.1 L/100km city/highway combined depending on trims and transmissions.
As for the Tacoma TRD Pro, it’s standard with Toyota’s well-proven 3.5-litre V6 that puts out 276 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is down some 32 horsepower and 10 lb-ft of torque on the V6-powered ZR2, and mates up to a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto plus part-time 4WD, while achieving city/highway combined fuel economy ranging from 11.9 to 12.9 L/100km, depending on transmissions and cabs.
All of the above V6s will outrun the Duramax turbo-diesel by significant margins, something I immediately noticed when setting out in the 2019 Colorado, but the advantage of the diesel’s 109, 104 and 94 lb-ft of torque advantage when compared to the Gladiator, Tacoma and ZR2 V6 respectively, gives the diesel big advantages on the trail, plus of course its 11.7 city/highway combined fuel economy that can only be beaten by one single Gladiator trim (and I’d be shocked to witness the FCA V6 winning out in real-world back-to-back tests).
Engine torque is important when off-road, but there are other factors that are even more important when leaving pavement, such as ground clearance, front and rear overhangs, and wheelbase length to name a few. The Tacoma provides the shortest wheelbase at 3,236 mm (127.4 in), but its 5,392-mm (212.3-in) nose-to-tail length means its overhangs are more pronounced, resulting in a truck that won’t hang up as easily when scaling sharp crests or other obstacles, but will probably scrape its front and rear bumpers when approaching a steep incline or levelling off after a radical decline. By comparison, the Colorado’s wheelbase is nearly as short at 3,258 mm (128.3 in), but improves on approach and departure angles with the shortest overall length of 5,347 mm (210.5 in), whereas the Gladiator has the longest wheelbase by far at 3,487 mm (137.3 in), plus it measures a limousine-like 5,537 mm (218.0 in) from front to back (ok, not quite as long as a limo, but you get my drift).
To clarify, I’ve only tested the 2018 and 2019 ZR2 models plus a 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro (it now includes the aforementioned snorkel and a number of other improvements), so I can’t offer a full critique of the latest TRD Pro or the Gladiator. As noted earlier, I had a version of the 2018 ZR2 with the Duramax Turbo-Diesel for a week, plus spent a week with a 2019 V6-powered variant, and mostly drove them around town and within suburban, rural areas on tarmac, but also took both out on the trail, the latter deep diving in hood-high standing water. I tested the previous Tacoma off-road too, and I had no trouble negotiating the chosen trail, but being a different location and a long time ago (two years is eons in vehicle development time), a direct comparo wouldn’t be fair.
On that note I hope to test a Gladiator Rubicon this summer, and you can bet I’ll be getting it as dirty as possible when I do. It features a disconnecting front sway bar to help with articulation (something I first experienced in a Ram Power Wagon, and is now also part of the Ram 1500 Rebel upgrade), plus it uses the Wrangler’s solid front axle that’s considered an improvement over the independent front suspensions used by the ZR2 and most other modern pickup trucks. Of course, I’ll make sure to use experiences from my ZR2 tests as part of my future Gladiator review.
Like the first 2017 Colorado ZR2 and the greenish-grey 2018 turbo-diesel model partially reviewed here, the newest 2019 ZR2 receives the same substantial increase in ride height, and therefore gets the same 50-mm (2.0-inch) increase in ground clearance, while any high-speed handling negatives are offset by 90 mm (3.5 inches) of increased front and rear track, plus stiffer new cast-iron lower front control arms, and a unique set of 8- by 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 31-inch Goodyear Duratrac off-road rubber.
What’s more, a 1.0-inch-diameter solid anti-roll bar replaces the usual 1.5-inch hollow one, improving suspension articulation, while last but hardly least are special Multimatic DSSV Position Sensitive Spool Valve Damping Performance shocks that help cushion the otherwise jarring impacts of rocks, roots and other obstacles you might find along an ungraded back road or trail (the TRD Pro utilizes Fox-sourced shocks, by the way, which are rated highly as well).
The skid plates below and tubular rocker extensions at each side are easier to see, both having been designed to protect vulnerable components beneath as well as low hanging bodywork, but the ZR2’s matte black grille and even more aggressive black domed hood make it even more noticeable to onlookers, not to mention its rugged black bumpers that get abbreviated at each corner to improve approach and departure angles, and extended black fender flares that make room for its all-terrain rubber.
The local 4×4 park chosen is one I test trucks and SUVs on regularly, so I’m familiar with its plentiful obstacles. While difficult for many presumed off-roaders, most of its challenges are a cakewalk for the ZR2, but were still intimidating without a spotting crew to guide me through. During the diesel’s mostly dry afternoon I was able to drag the rear-mounted spare tire over some deep rutted knolls plus up and down some steep terrain, once again finding ground at the rear (but not the front), while I was able to lift the left rear into midair and leave it there spinning (a silly thing some 4×4 fans do for kicks), and while there was a lot more skill remaining in this truck than my dirt playground could not fully extract, I was able to prove that the ZR2 is capable enough for serious off-road duty, yet still plenty comfortable.
The second off-road adventure with the 2019 ZR2 came mid-winter, on a particularly cold and rainy day. Rain means mud at best and massive pools of standing water at worst (or maybe best, depending on how you look at it). The steep grades that were child’s play before required locking both front and rear differentials now (just like with the Gladiator, albeit not so with the Taco TRD Pro that only includes lockers at the rear), but doing so allowed easy control all the way up and all the way down. Even better, partway into a 50-foot puddle my heart started to race when the truck’s front end slipped deeper into a set of ruts, forcing dirty water across the top of the hood and even onto the windshield, but a steady foot on the throttle allowed the meaty tires to keep momentum up, and the ZR2 pulled me to the other side without fanfare (other than my pounding heart). At that point I was wishing I’d had the TRD Pro’s snorkel, but obviously the ZR2 didn’t need it, this time around at least.
The thought of swamping an engine (which would void the warranty) makes the $6,980 need for the ZR2’s Bison package seem cheap. Of course, the Bison package wouldn’t have necessarily helped in this situation (it really should include a snorkel, if not just for style points), and I can’t say I’d want the ZR2 in Red Hot paint (I’d rather have the option of colours), but it gets design points for its bold “CHEVROLET” emblazoned grille (similar to the Raptor’s “FORD” grille replacement), unique AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) front and rear bumpers (the one up front capable of accepting a winch), the beefier black extended fender flares, special 17-inch AEV alloy wheels, fog lights, contoured front and rear floor liners, and about 90 kilograms (200 lbs) of super-strong boron steel AEV skid plates (front, transfer case, fuel tank, and rear differential) to better protect its vital components.
Of course, the ZR2 is still extremely capable without Bison upgrades, and quite a standout in the styling department too. The regular Colorado a bit tame to my eyes, at least when compared to most competitors, specifically the latest Tacoma and new Gladiator, but the ZR2’s bulging domed matte black louvered hood, redesigned matte black front bumpers and rear bumpers, exposed skid plates, robust tubular rocker protectors, and other trim upgrades give it a tougher look. Look beyond the machine-finished 17-inch alloy wheels with black-painted pockets and you’ll be able to see the bright yellow Multimatic dampers, unless they’re covered in dirt.
The ZR2’s lack of side steps might look good and not hang up on protruding trail debris, but it hampers access for shorter folk like me. There aren’t any Corner Steps on the back bumper to provide a leg up to the bed either, these issues being the only complaints I have against this special model.
Once inside I enjoyed the view provided by the aforementioned ride height and the Colorado’s inherently great sightlines in all directions. This helps in traffic, of course, possibly even giving you the edge needed to find your way up to the front of the pack. There’s where you’ll enjoy V6 performance, the larger of the two being a good choice for those wanting power over fuel efficiency. The V6 delivers a decided jump off the line and then keeps up the pace right up to legal highway speeds and beyond, while the diesel only jumps off the line initially, and simply can’t maintain the same level of forward thrust as its revs rise. This will be just find for diesel enthusiasts like me, because the engine helps it feel more like a work truck capably going about its business, and of course it pays big dividends when it comes time to fill up.
Colorado ZR2 buyers won’t have to make a choice about handling, fortunately, because both engines manage corners equally well. Even with its increased suspension, or possibly because of it, the ride is fairly smooth and quite comfortable, unless jumping curbs. Those slightly firmer Multimatic dampers, which work so very well off-road, also help to reduce body roll at higher speeds on pavement, resulting in a truck that’s surprisingly athletic through high-speed serpentine curves, unless you’re attempting to go quicker than anything so top-heavy and obviously 4×4-focused is supposed to go. Braking is pretty good too, but once again we shouldn’t get in over our heads. The ZR2 weighs in at 1,987 kg (4,381 lbs), and more when upgraded with the aforementioned Bison package, so judge stopping distances accordingly.
As per usual I only pushed the ZR2 hard during testing, and no matter the surfaces driven over or the speeds attained, the driver’s seat was comfortable and supportive. I especially appreciated the lateral support provided by its big side bolsters, which stopped me sliding sideways on what could have otherwise been slippery leather.
The upholstery was dyed black as usual, albeit highlighted with a red embroidered “2” as part of the otherwise black “ZR2” insignia on the headrests. The ZR2’s steering wheel receives no such name recognition, but it has a meaty rim that’s wrapped in soft and comfortable leather, with grippy baseball-style stitching in the middle. Other than its four-spoke design it appears more like the type of sport steering wheel you’d find in a performance car, and thanks to the generous reach of its standard tilt and telescoping steering column I fit in perfectly. I was able to sit upright with the steering wheel perfectly positioned for my long-legged, short torso, five-foot-eight, slight-build body, safely and comfortably with my hands at the optimal nine and three o’clock positions, further allowing an easy reach to the pedals below and once again, great visibility all-round.
The rear seating area of this Crew Cab, short box configured ZR2 (the ZR2 can also be had with an Extended Cab and a long box) is roomy for adults (and kids) of all shapes and sizes. When the driver’s seat was positioned for my height, there was still about five inches in front of my knees and more than enough room for my feet, plus I had another three to four inches over my head, and five inches from my shoulders and hips to the door, plus I’d guess you could seat a smaller person comfortably between the two outboard positions. With only two in back, more comfort can be accessed via a wide centre armrest filled with large cupholders that include rubber grips to hold cups or bottles in place. Other handy features include twin rear USB ports and a 12-volt charger.
If you want to keep your gear dry and safe from theft, the rear seat headrests fold forward and the backrests tumble flat so you can lay your belongings on top, or instead you can lift the lower seat cushion up to expose a storage compartment underneath, this complete with every tool you’ll need to lower the spare tire from below the bed and then change the wheel.
Seats and armrests aside, the ZR2 doesn’t offer any soft, pliable composite surface treatments in the rear, but back up front the dash top receives a nice soft paint to absorb sound and make it more appealing to touch, as does much of the instrument panel. It should also be noted this isn’t the priciest trim in Chevy’s Colorado fleet, due to being optimized primarily for off-road purposes, but it was certainly nice enough for this class of truck. On the positive are some attractive metal-like accents around the centre stack and lower console, plus the door handles and armrests. The door handles inside are chromed too, as are the centres of some knobs on the centre stack.
The primary gauge cluster is legible in all lighting conditioned thanks to bright background lighting and good shielding from sunlight. It’s filled with the usual tachometer to the left and speedometer on the right, with a fuel gauge and engine temperature meter topping off a fairly large 4.2-inch high-resolution colour multi-information display just below at centre.
The latter is controlled with a pad of four arrows on the right-side steering wheel spoke, which when pushed provides a bright menu of multicoloured functions including info, audio, phone, navigation, options, and more, while the navigation system provides directions within the gauge cluster’s multi-info display where they can be seen more easily without removing eyes too far from the road ahead, with more detailed mapping shown on the large 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen over on the centre stack (this 8.0-inch display is now standard with all Colorado trims except the base Work Truck or WT that still does ok with its new 7.0-inch touchscreen).
That larger touchscreen includes Chevy’s well laid-out, bright, and colourful HD menu display that seems as if it was inspired by Apple’s iPhone/iPad, which I think is a good thing, but if you want something even more inline with Cupertino you can plug your phone into a specified USB to access the standard Apple CarPlay app, or alternatively Android Auto (although I don’t like it anywhere near was much). I’m glad that Chevy gives us these smartphone connectivity alternatives, while also featuring an audio system that can be easily connected to a phone with Bluetooth wireless streaming, or alternatively you can listen to satellite radio, plus all the classic AM/FM/HD radio stations.
The navigation system worked well, with accurate routing and nicely detailed mapping that was easy enough to sort out. I only wished that it warned me of a turn sooner, but instead it gave instant notice and even then the directions were in black and white and fairly small, making them hard to make out. Larger, brighter and in colour would’ve been ideal, and saying something like “Turn right in 50 meters”. I liked that the infotainment system received text messages and provided a number of stock responses for communicating safely while driving, while other useful apps include OnStar, traffic info, and shopping (not sure about that last one while driving though).
Along with navigation, the ZR2 includes a fabulous high-definition backup camera with active guidelines (but in need to inform you the Gladiator’s reportedly has front and rear trail cams that can even be cleaned via the infotainment system), with some other standard ZR2 features including a phone charging pad placed just in front of the centre armrest (standard with Z71 trim and above), plus a USB port inside the armrest if your phone needs wired power. Chevrolet also provides two more USB ports (one supporting new USB C-type devices) and an aux port, plus an available SD card reader, within another storage bin at the base of the centre stack, allowing you and your devices to be well cared for. Finally, the latest Colorado includes a second microphone mounted closer to the front passenger to improve the voice quality of Bluetooth hands-free connected phones, while a personal favourite had nothing to do with connectivity, but rather the ZR2’s heated steering wheel that warmed my hands on some cold winter mornings, this now standard with all trims above the LT.
Speaking of warmth, standard ZR2 features include GM’s superb heated front seats that not only warm up the lower cushion and backrest together, but can be adjusted to only heat the latter, which is great for people like me who occasionally suffer from lower back pain and just want some temporary relief. This in mind, the ZR2 only includes single-zone automatic climate control, not the expected dual-zone design provided to top-line versions of the Tacoma and Gladiator.
I think most of us could live without such a luxury, but I really appreciate having proximity-sensing entry and a pushbutton ignition system. The ZR2 doesn’t get a sunroof either, which might bother those wowed by Jeep’s removable roof. I appreciated the padded sunglasses holder on the overhead console, and the reading lights were decent enough, but they’re only incandescent lamps, not LEDs. The centre mirror is auto-dimming, however, plus along with OnStar it includes a button for voice activation as well as an “SOS” one to reach out for help when required.
A row of useful switches can be found on the centre stack too, including one for turning off the stability control, plus a bed light, hill descent control, an exhaust brake that’s useful when towing, a hazard light, and finally two individual toggles for the front and rear differential locks noted before.
Trailering in mind, the ZR2’s towing capacity is rated at 2,268 kilos (5,000 lbs) no matter which engine is being used, while its payload is a sizeable 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs) with the four-door short-bed or 528 kg (1,164 lbs) with the extended-cab long-bed. The Tacoma TRD Pro, on the other hand, is capable of a 2,900-kg (6,400-lb) tow rating and a payload of 454 kg (1,000 lbs), whereas the Gladiator Rubicon (the closest to the ZR2) can trailer up to 2,040 kg (4,500 lbs) and haul a payload of up to 544 kg (1,200 lbs) with the manual, or drag 3,175 kg (7,000 lbs) of trailer weight or carry 526 kg (1,160 lbs) on its backside when equipped with its automatic.
You may have noticed that I haven’t covered all of the ZR2’s comfort and convenience features in this review, but take note they’re easily available on the Chevrolet retail website or right here at CarCostCanada, where I sourced all 2019 Colorado pricing info including trims, packages and standalone options, not to mention money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing. Suffice to say it’s well equipped for its $46,100 Extra Cab base price, or $47,600 when opting for the Crew Cab, plus freight and fees of course.
No matter the Colorado ZR2 powertrain you choose, you’ll be getting a well-designed mid-size pickup truck that can overcome nearly any obstacle on or off the road. I’d opt for the diesel with the Bison upgrade and find an aftermarket snorkel, but hey, it’s easy to say that without following through on a payment plan. It’s great that Chevy provides so many options, allowing plenty of opportunity to personalize.