Bauxite is an age-toughened rock or gravel that can be turned into metal (aluminium). But it is so tough it can just as easily turn metal into gravel.
Pounding the gravel trails outside of Perth in the Darling Escarpment in Holden's latest Colorado ute is no walk in the hills. The bauxite-rich rock bites and cuts at the tyres and the residual gravel forms a ball-bearing surface that, years after WA stopped hosting Rally Australia, still makes former drivers and navigators wake in fright.
Other than its ability to become aluminium and its durable surface for outback roads, it's not a redeeming material. But, along with beach sand and mud, it's a medium that really tests a 4WD. Which is why Carsguide sent the Holden Colorado to Bullsbrook, tracing orange rock and gravel trails through valleys alongside the Avon River.
Explore the 2012 Holden Colorado range
Problem Number One is that there are eight damn good dual-cab 4WD utes in the dual-cab market. They're all capable, all priced about the same, technically similar and on features, practically identical. Hard choice. Basically, you won't go wrong with the Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado, Isuzu D-Max, Mazda BT-50, Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux or Volkswagen Amarok.
The Colorado is still related to the Isuzu D-Max in body design, chassis engineering and some components. The Colorado has nothing to do with Daewoo - it's made in General Motors’ plant in Thailand, not Korea - and is an evolution of the previous Colorado and its predecessor, the Rodeo. But though this may imply cost savings to be passed onto the customer, forget it.
The top-line LTZ 4WD auto tested here is $51,990. It has an expected amount of equipment you'd find in a $25,000 Holden Cruze - please call me a cynic - and while the 4WD ute market demands a tough machine, it's difficult to see the value in a big four-cylinder ute.
If you took away the badges, 95 per cent of Australians wouldn't be able to name its manufacturer. Such is the 4WD dual-cab market. The Colorado is heavy-nosed and this bulk tends to make the wheels look too small. But it's not alone.
The styling is near-identical to its rivals simply because it's hard to find a new design language for a ute. The cabin's fold-down rear seat is handy for carting heavy or dirty loads within the safety and security. Holden has fitted six child restraint anchors behind this seat.
There's excellent legroom and headroom. But the hard, black plastic dashboard is grim and follows the workhorse theme of the Ford Ranger. A balance - such as in the Mazda - would please both families and workers.
Welcome features are the big door pockets with bottle holders, four extra cupholders, two gloveboxes and a big lidded centre storage area. The tonneau cover is neat but has a slip-clip plastic retaining system that is hard on sensitive, fluorescent-tanned office hands like mine. It's also used in the Holden Ute, primarily - I guess - for looks because it's not the easiest system to use.
The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is new to the Colorado - it previously used the Isuzu 3-litre - and is the only power unit in the Colorado 4WD ute range. There is a 2.5-litre version but that's only for the 2WD ute model.
The engine is assembled in Thailand but is actually a VM Motori design and also used in the Jeep Wrangler/Liberty. GM owns 50 per cent of VM with Fiat. The six-speed auto is the shining light of the drivetrain.
It's car-like smoothness and ability to be used manually adds to the ability of the Colorado in the dirt and civilises it for suburban duties. Low-range function is by an electric engagement controlled by a twist knob on the centre console. It deactivates the stability control when in 4WD High or Low.
Suspension is standard issue leaf-springs at the rear and independent double wishbones at the front. The Colorado 2.8 can tow 3.5 tonnes and has a 1-tonne payload, beating the Ranger/Mazda tow rating of 3.35-tonnes.
This is a surprise. The dual-cab Colorado gets a five-star crash rating and has six airbags. It also has the full complement of electronic aids - stability and traction, brakeforce distribution, brake assist and ABS - but though has ventilated disc brakes at the front, uses drum brakes at the rear.
A full-size spare wheel is standard. There is no rear view camera - even as an option - nor automatic headlights.
Don't expect miracles and even the harshest contender becomes acceptable. The Colorado is as good as most. The ride comfort on the bitumen is above average with very good compliance, especially in the rear. When loaded with bales of hay the ride, naturally, improved as the leaf springs has greater movement.
Typical of proper 4WDs - as apart from SUVs - the steering ratio is lazy and there's more turns of the wheel required for suburban tasks. In the dirt it's appreciated bec ause it cushions a lot of suspension and wheel shock. The engine is also a very good unit, winning with strong low-end power and a neat kick around 2000rpm that gives it smart acceleration.
Compared with the Jeep Wrangler with the same engine, the Colorado is quieter though this is attributed to the Holden's extra body sound deadening. The twist-dial engagement from 2WD High to 4WD High and Low is now industry standard. It makes life easy but the tester clunked - actually, the whole ute shook - when the dial was moved to 4WD. That's the first time I've felt that since a similar less-than-encouraging noise from a Great Wall V240.
Together with the six-speed auto's spread of ratios and the engine's low-speed lugging ability, the Colorado could be held and then walked up the steep, gravel-riddled trails overlooking the Avon River. It inspired a lot of confidence especially as it barely hinted at slipping - a limited slip diff in the rear helps - while keeping engine revs down about 1500rpm.