‘Going bush’ is an Aussie term for getting out of the city to go rough it out for a few days in the famous Outback of Australia.
While the Outback may not sound torturous, what with a cozy resto named after it in the Philippines, I kid you not, it is barren, save for saltbushes, small mulga trees and a few other flora species, and totally unforgiving.
We call driving out of pavement as ‘off-road’ in the Philippines but in Australia, the term they use is ‘unsealed’ roads. These are formed roads made up of loose material like sand, stones and dirt, sans any concrete or asphalt. You’ll find many just outside of Coober Pedy, a small town of some 2,000 people just north of Adelaide on the southern tip of Australia, and it stretches as far as the eye can see.
Driving on it kicks up dirt and an unbelievable amount of dust so high it brings visibility down to zero. You better pray the breeze is blowing sideways because any other direction and it stays right there on your windscreen.
Badged as Holdens, after Australian James Alexander Holden whose company initially made horse saddles, then cars before it was bought by Detroit-based General Motors (GM) in 1931, three LTZ Colorados and three LTZ Trailblazers were provided for the drive — all using GM’s Duramax 2.8L engine whose latest iteration puts out class-leading 200-Hp and 500-Nm of torque.
Certain accessories obviously differed from what we have here, but essentially it is the same bang for your buck in terms of what’s under the hood.
It was stacked as safety features go, with Traction Control System, Electronic Stability Control, Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control, all of which are available in the Ph-spec Chevrolet Colorado. To up the challenge on all of the above, plain road tires were used on all the units.
We were on unsealed roads 99.99% of the three days we were in the Outback, which shows you how serious the Holden guys were in proving that the Colorado is just as advertised.
The first event felt easy on the Colorado. It was on an ‘au naturel’ 4x4 track made up of steep dune hills and sharp declines on soft and loose terrain peppered with shallow holes, and descents/ascents to and from abandoned opal mines the town is known for.
Day two was by far the most exciting: a 437-kilometer drive on slippery, unsealed roads of varying surfaces (small siltstones, bulldust, dry rocky riverbeds and even gibber-covered sand) from Coober Pedy to the famous Painted Desert of the Outback all the way to the tiny town of Oonadatta near the middle of Australia with a population of less than 200 people.
With nothing to see and no obstruction for miles around, except for scant vegetation and a few lonely kangaroos, it was a cinch to climb up to 120-130 km/h. Just twist the knob to 4H and stability systems are automatically engaged, which is extremely helpful when your wheels get off the ruts and lose grip during high speeds. Believe it or not, it will happen 99.9% of the time on the Outback.
Each time I slipped on a slope, a gentle and reassuring whirring sound signaled Traction Control was kicking in, and that’s just right before you feel the wheels get grip and push the vehicle forward.
Imagination dictates that under these conditions, it’d be shake, rattle and roll in the cabin, but props to the international collaboration of GM and Holden engineers from Brazil, Australia and Thailand for enhanced features like thicker side glasses, better molding, rigid inserts and primary seal extensions to make the cabin one of the quietest ever, considering the terrain we were on.
All that testing and work done on the suspension and mounts in Australia’s Little Desert in Victoria and the Alps in New South Wales proved its worth as it almost felt sedan-like in the cabin despite the non-stop assault on the chassis.
And even though I was pushing it to the limit, the powertrain barely hummed thanks to the Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber (CPA) torque converter, which was initially only found in premium diesel-powered cars. Aside from suppressing torsional vibrations along the driveline caused by engine noise and vibration, it also increased fuel economy.
Steering gave a more car-like feel as well, light and highly responsive, even on slippery surfaces because of a faster steering track and revised calibration.
When the dust had settled after the eight-hour drive (including stops for photos and lunch), I hardly felt spent.
That’s when it struck me. Despite all the dirt and grime all over this Colorado, this moment is when it shined the most and totally proved its worth. It’s powerful and capable enough to take on some of the worst conditions in the world without taxing the driver. It’ll take the beating so that you’ll have enough left in your tank to do your thing.
“Not all Australians get a chance to explore the Outback the way we did,” said Sean Poppitt, Director of Communications – GM Southeast Asia.
Thank God, we did because it was truly an experience. Me and a plain Colorado with no extra ingredient: the Outback, done and dusted.
By Eric Tipan