There’s a new pick-up truck coming to town, and it’s the Chevrolet Colorado. The new Colorado was first previewed at the Bangkok Motor Show earlier this year in “Show Truck” guise, and had its world debut in September, appearing largely unchanged from the show car.

This will be General Motors’ first jab at the Malaysian pick-up truck market, but the previous gen Colorado has been selling for some time in Thailand now, where it’s made at the US company’s Rayong plant for local consumption and export.

We told you earlier that the Colorado will be launched by local distributor Naza Quest in December, but that’s been delayed due to the major floods that hit Thailand. The car hub of Rayong is dry, as are GM’s plant and adjacent new diesel engine facility, but various vendors haven’t been so lucky. No parts, no trucks!

Colorado Show Truck at the 2011 Bangkok Motor Show. Looks have been largely maintained

So it should be coming here next year, although no one knows exactly when in 2012. GM ASEAN boss Martin Apfel gives us examples of vendors with their entire factories submerged – some have send divers to retrieve GM moulds while others have had tools flown out by balloon! It’s clearly too early to tell when production be back running.

And bear in mind that this is for a company that’s relatively lightly hit by the disaster – when we were there late October to be the first international media group to test the Colorado in Chiang Rai, GM was one of only two companies still churning out cars in Thailand (the other is Mercedes) according to Apfel.

Continue reading the report after the jump.

But one thing’s for certain – the new Colorado WILL make it here, so let’s see what we can look forward to. This is an all new Colorado, unrelated to the previous model that was a sister to the Isuzu D-Max. As to questions whether this Colorado is “a clone” of the new D-Max, also recently released, GM says that they do share “basic underpinnings” but GM went its own direction very early in the day, and this is very much a GM product.

GM execs say that they have at disposal a very strong truck heritage and unique styling, and one shouldn’t mistake the Colorado for anything other than a Chevrolet truck. In any case, Isuzu is a truck expert as well, so there’s nothing substandard here.

I chanced on this photo of the new and old Colorados side by side, and it’s obvious that the new truck has grown in size by quite a bit.

This is not so much of a luxury but a necessity, since newer rivals such as the Mitsubishi Triton and the market leading Toyota Hilux have introduced us to larger rear quarters, making old timers like the current Ford Ranger and old D-Max/Colorado feel cramped at the back and with poor rear door access for double cabs.

Thailand will have the largest number of configurations that allows for various engine (new 2.5 and 2.8 Duramax diesels), transmission (5MT/6AT), driven wheels (2WD/4WD), stance (high/low) and body style (single, extended, crew) combos, but only the extended cab (some call it king cab, only Nissan sells it in Malaysia) were available in the media test drive.

This is because the extended cab is the first body style lined up for production, to be followed by the double cab. Then came the flood…

However, GM had a prototype crew cab (double cab) unit driven by the staff, and I sneaked into that car for a stint as rear passenger, since only the double cab will be coming to Malaysia. Space and comfort were impressive and far better than the old Colorado. Legroom is generous while headroom is adequate and the seat back is not too uncomfortably upright.

I also noticed that the seat height is not set too low, which can be the case when trying to maximise headroom. Ride comfort was also impressive, gone is the boat-like floaty ride of the old Colorado and D-Max. If all these were previously below par, the new Colorado is now up there with the best in the segment.

The 400 km route chosen by GM was very challenging and it was by far my most extensive and interesting drive in Thailand so far. We started at Chiang Rai airport, where I hopped into a 2.8L 2WD Manual high stance Colorado. Biggest engine, rear wheels only and stick shift proved to be highly entertaining in the snaky mountain roads that border Burma.

From the airport, we headed north on the main road in the direction of Mae Sai, turning left and up the mountains to have a lunch break at Doi Chang Moob. Up here, the Thai and Myanmar soldiers manning the posts play sepak takraw daily, overlooking what seemed like endless rolling hills on the Burmese side.

We also passed the Doi Tung Royal Villa and stopped for coffee and pretty little cakes at Sweet Mae Salong, situated in an ethnic Chinese town on the mountain range. After that it was down, up, down and up the hills again before the day ended at Phu Chaisai Resort. Great roads and great sights.

It was a very steep climb up the first leg, Genting style, but some hairpins were so steep that first gear was needed. It was hot and dry, but I was told that the Thai media had a harder time getting up there earlier – apparently it was fogging heavily and the Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts didn’t have enough purchase on the wet slopes.

Anyway, the new Duramax diesel engine pushes out 180 hp and 470 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm for the auto and 440 Nm for the manual. That’s a lot of twist to play with, enough to make it the strongest truck in Malaysia when it arrives.

I know it sounds anti social and hooliganish, but it couldn’t resist kicking out wheelspin in gears one and two, which was incredibly easy to do. The wheels also chirped and screeched around in the bends even though we weren’t pushing it to the max. Good entertainment. Might give some the secret pleasure of “taming a beast” too! :)

Now, I already can imagine some of our more sensible readers shaking their heads in disapproval, but the Colorado is not a truck that threatens to kill you and family in every corner, far from it. The Colorado 2.8 will be coming to Malaysia in top 4WD automatic LTZ spec, which means that Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is standard, the first truck in Malaysia to have the safety net.

The ESP here doesn’t sterilise the experience too much, it’ll only intervene when you’re looking for trouble, i.e. full throttle in mid corner. Good to have a safety net in case one gets too carried away with all that torque on foot. There’s also ABS, Traction Control and Panic Brake Assist.

The Colorado soaks up bumps pretty well, and feels much firmer than before, which is a good thing for both comfort and dynamics. The steering is also improved – more direct and better weighted, but could do with more feel.

The new Duramax engine is not the loudest around and it’s best to just enjoy the low down torque and short shift before 3,000 rpm. It feels quite pointless after that mark, and not very enjoyable too. This doesn’t detract from the overall performance though, it’s a diesel truck engine, not a BMW oil burner. There’s some expected initial lag before the truck powers forward with ahem, plenty of wheelspin if you wish.

Surprisingly, I found the manual only 2.5L Duramax, which puts out 30 hp and 90 Nm less at 150 hp/350 Nm no less enjoyable. Perhaps the initial surge isn’t so forceful, but there’s still more than enough go. It’s also harder to tell apart from the 2.8 as you’d expect, given the big on-paper difference. Plus, it’s smoother revving when extended and feels more balanced somewhat.

So it’s a pity that the 2.5 is exclusively paired to the five-speed manual, limiting the number of people that can enjoy it in Malaysia. The stick shift itself is decent to use although not best in class for feel – the gates are well defined but the throw is quite long and I found fifth to be quite tricky to find.

The six-speed automatic is very smooth and seamless in operation, although not the quickest in response, much like the ‘box in the Cruze. For this particular truck, my pick is the manual.

As for the cabin, there were some hits and misses, for me at least. No issues ergonomically, and the seats are quite comfy. But the “Camaro style” instruments are so highly stylised that I found the speedo to be quite hard to read at a glance – a combo of thick needle, number placement and small distance between markers see to that.

I also preferred the straight forward three-dial air con controls over the high spec car’s donut ring, which leaves plenty of empty space. It’s unique though, and some might find it cool. Noteworthy is the inclusion of a multi-info display between the dials, although browsing via the right stalk will take your hand off the wheel – not the most thoughtful of designs. Shouldn’t complain really, since it’s a rather exclusive feature in a truck.

The Chevrolet Colorado is a good truck, one that has distinctive style, plenty of kit in Malaysian bound LTZ spec, good comfort and space. We are also told that prices will undercut the market leader (that’s the Hilux, of course) despite the long kit list.

The Chevy will come with plenty of showroom appeal, and will make some rivals look very stingy indeed. However, the higher road tax of the 2.8L variant could be a potential issue, and since the 2.5L doesn’t come with an auto ‘box, Naza Quest can’t make it their star variant. It’s also a new segment for the brand in Malaysia, up against established players, so it won’t be a walk in the park.

Selamat datang Colorado! We’re also due to welcome the new Ford Ranger next year, so the pick-up truck segment is bound to get interesting in 2012!