In 1994, the compact truck segment was 1.2 million units strong, with the Ford Ranger coming in as top dog with nearly 345,000 sold. For context, 2013 sales for the entire segment shrank to roughly 230,000. Best-seller? Not the Ranger -- it registered a goose egg, given that Ford axed the nameplate in 2011 -- but rather the Toyota Tacoma, which enticed around 160,000 Americans. As you can gather, the Tacoma boasts a sizable 70 percent market share -- only Nissan, whose Frontier had just over 60,000 takers, has stuck around to face off with Toyota. This fall, however, a Rocky Mountain cowboy returns to the gunfight.

The new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado will enter the small-truck segment with what the Bow Tie claims are class-leading engines, fuel economy, towing, payload—you name it. "We're here to win," said GM's Mark Reuss when I spoke with him at the 2015 Colorado's 2013 Los Angeles auto show debut. "We want to have segment leadership. The Colorado leaves the competition in the dust." Them's fightin' words. The Colorado shouldn't have to fight especially hard, since both the Frontier and Tacoma are relative relics whose current generations date back to 2004. Regardless, Nissan and Toyota must be shaking in their boots, right? Wrong. When asked their opinions of the new Colorado, reps at both expressed a similar, welcoming sentiment: We could use the competition.

If the Colorado name sounds familiar, that's because Chevy offered the compact pickup from 2004 to 2012, only to discontinue it after slumping sales (just under 37,000 for 2012). Granted, that truck was on the small side (a comparable four-door 4x4 was 6 inches narrower and nearly 3 inches shorter in height than a Tacoma) and featured an odd-for-the-class inline-five when competitors were touting V-6s. The new Colorado avoids such oddness, instead following the segment's norm of offering an I-4 and a V-6, with the biggest differences being that Chevy's 2.5- and 3.6-liter engines dole out best-in-class power -- around 193 and 302 hp, respectively -- and are backed by a standard six-speed auto. (The Tacoma's I-4 is paired to a 4A, the Frontier's a 5A.) Better yet, for the 2016 model year, Colorado will sport a 2.8-liter turbodiesel I-4 delivering roughly 197 hp and 369 lb-ft, with the latter nearly matching the torque from GM's 5.3-liter V-8 (383).

Read about the Colorado's mechanical twin: 2015 GMC Canyon First Look

So, why the Colorado now, and why the diesel? Per Reuss, "We knew some of our competition were going to do a large-pickup light-weighting strategy. If you do the calculus and look at operating costs and fuel economy, the agility piece of this may come from material substitution, but to get a quantum leap into a place, you really have to do things on a size basis and a powertrain basis to get to that quadrant of efficiency. If you do a size change, you want it to be a little bigger than what's out there today on Tacoma and Frontier, which this is, and you want it to have a powertrain lineup that is matched perfectly. If people really gotta have one of these trucks do a big duty-cycle that approaches a V-8, you can get it with a diesel, but it's still a hell of a lot more efficient. And it's a four-cylinder diesel, which makes it a lot more cost-effective than a big V-6 in a big truck."

And what about an SS version with the Corvette's LT1 V-8? "It'll fit," says Reuss with a smile. He knows, it seems, that the Colorado is poised for the pinnacle.

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