BANDERA, Tex. -- Cattle, grazing on a ranch studded with limestone and live oaks in the hills of Texas, give way to a pickup truck as we bump across rough terrain on sandy soil parched from the lack of rain.
To keep the tires tracking through this sand and chat demands a sturdy vehicle that's not only hiked high in the suspension but outfitted with a traction system that applied the engine's strength to all four wheels.
For this task we're steering a four-door crew-cab version of Chevrolet's mid-size truck with a powerful V8 tucked below the boxy front hood and an on-board four-wheel-drive system applying the engine's torque to every wheel.
Chevrolet brands our test truck as the 2012 Colorado.
It comes with seats for five, a pickup box in back over five feet long and so many horses hitched to that big V8.
No need to worry about rocks scraping the undercarriage because this truck's pitched high with a generous ground clearance so it can scoot across objects along the trail.
No need to concern ourselves with tire traction, either, as Colorado's optional four-wheel-drive mechanism has an electronic transfer case with push-button convenience for switching between rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel high and low modes.
All we have to do is steer clear of cattle and keep the throttle fed from a comfortable position in a passenger compartment with luxurious appointments and enough room to haul a crew of ranch hands.
Introduced in 2004, Colorado has always charted a different course in pickup design. Neither full-size, like classic American pickups, nor compact, like itsy-bitsy trucks from Asia, Colorado measures somewhere between those extremes to provide benefits of both.
The 2012 editions ride on a stiff platform in H-shaped pattern with cross bracing.
A welded steel superstructure rises from the rigid chassis bed with body mounts tuned to boost frame stiffness, absorb impacts from vertical movement and isolate noise.
Sheetmetal styling for Colorado employs design elements from the Trailblazer SUV and projects a powerful face dominated by the horizontal strip of chrome splitting in half the grille and corner headlamp clusters.
Overall shape of the truck is rather cubistic with squarish corners but aerodynamic concessions like a sloping front hood and canted windshield.
And there are plenty of ripples in the hood and sides from chiseled body shapes and protective moldings applied to flanks and fenders.
Linear dimensions vary due to the size of the cab and the length of the truck's rear box.
Cabs include a two-door Regular Cab, an Extended Cab with two rear-hinged doors set behind the two front doors, and the Crew Cab with four conventional front-hinged doors.
Colorado's Regular Cab has a bench covered in cloth and divided 60/40, but bucket seats are available.
Colorado Extended Cab gains extra space behind the first row with a flat-load floor. It stocks a pair of jump seats in the rear plus below-seat storage bins.
Colorado Crew Cab installs a rear bench with enough room to house three full-frame adults comfortably. Front seats in the Crew Cab consist of twin buckets clad in cloth fabric or optional leather hides.
The truck box for Colorado Regular Cab and the extended version stretches to 72.8 inches in length, while the box on a Crew Cab lops off 11.7 inches to keep the wheelbase at a reasonable length for easy maneuverability. Despite that abbreviated length, the briefer box maintains the same width as other trucks in the series and there's an optional U-shaped tubular stainless steel brace that flips out to form a bed-extending rail with tailgate folded flat for a floor.
To propel these trucks, Chevrolet offers a choice of three different engines.
Standard plant for the price-leading Colorado Work Truck is a four-cylinder in-line aluminum unit displacing 2.9 liters and equipped with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing (VVT).
It makes 185 hp at 5600 rpm plus 190 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm.
A step up in power leads to the Vortec 3.7-liter in-line five-cylinder plant that runs up to 242 hp at 5600 rpm with torque peaking at 242 lb-ft at 4600 rpm.
Top-dog power option is the Vortec 5.3-liter V8 with VVT. It generates 300 hp at 5200 rpm and torque of 320 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.
Shifters include a five-speed manual transmission by Aisin for the four-cylinder engine or a GM Hydra-Matic 4L60 four-speed automatic.
The four-wheel-drive equipment is available with all three engines.
New for the 2012 Colorado issues, a Power Convenience Package goes to regular and extended cab 1LT models, front bucket seats replace the 60/40 split-bench seat on 2LT models, and an automatic locking rear differential comes on 2LT and 3LT models, as well as the 1LT 4WD Colorado.
Expect MSRP points for various trim editions of the 2012 Colorado to stretch from $19,650 to $28,270.