Just Enough Bad Attitude

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By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 27, 2005

NEW YORK You need a truck in this city. You need something with a tough suspension, a hard body and a nasty attitude.

It doesn't have to be a big truck. Parking is an expensive hassle here. A compact, short-bed pickup works best in this milieu.

Nor does the truck need eight or six cylinders. Five or four will do just fine, especially considering today's gasoline prices.

But the truck must have the ability to intimidate. I know this sounds awful. But it's just the facts, folks. The only things meaner than this city's rutted, potholed and obstacle-ridden streets are its drivers. Some of them are crazy. Others are just downright rude. Most have received their driver's licenses from The School for Bullies.

And so it was with wondrous peace of mind that I drove the compact four-door 2005 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 LS 4WD pickup truck during media previews at the New York Auto Show here last week. The little truck was painted Yellow Cab yellow, which sent an intimidating message of its own. Potholes did not punish it. Ruts didn't rattle it. And even the city's kamikaze cab drivers gave it respect. I nicknamed it "Little Nasty."

The tested truck was no work of perfection. But it was a darned sight better and a tad larger than its Chevrolet S-10 predecessor, a battered version of which still occupies my driveway in Northern Virginia.

Basic vinyl made up much of Little Nasty's interior -- making it easier to wipe down and keep clean. But not all plastic and vinyl are equal, and the stuff used by Chevrolet in this truck gave it a wrong-side-of-the-tracks aura. The leather-covered seating surfaces weren't a plus. Given the choice between the hard leather used in the tested model and the supple vinyl "leatherette" installed in other vehicles, I'd rather have the vinyl seats.

But, overall, the truck was as solid as a truck should be -- a rigid body supported by a rugged ladder-frame chassis. Little Nasty was an off-road pickup, which means it had a better suspension than the base Colorado, which is equipped with independent coil springs up front and a solid axle with leaf springs in the rear.

Little Nasty substituted torsion bars and heavy-duty shock absorbers up front to help take much of the jolt, rock and roll out of off-road travel, or journeys over city streets that are marginally better than off-road paths. But its traditional rear pickup-truck suspension allowed enough vibration to enter the passenger cabin to remind you that you were indeed in a pickup truck.

I didn't mind the bump and grind. Little Nasty could more than take it, as it did; and there was something about its rough-riding behavior that put me in an aggressive, no-nonsense mood.

It's one thing to be in that state of mind in a wimp-mobile, in which case you wallow in frustration as your fellow mad motorists cut you off, ride your tail, force you to the side of the street with the bigger potholes, and sometimes deliberately block your way. It's quite another to be in that mood when driving a truck that shares your kick-butt karma.

No one blocked Little Nasty's path. No one forced the truck to the more damaged sides of the road. It instead chose those avenues as escape routes -- traversing dips, bumps and ruts to get around vehicles and motorists timidly inching their way along the urban obstacle course.

A few motorists tried the old cut-slash-and-nearly-crash traffic routine only to be stunned by Little Nasty's ability to brake instantly, and just as quickly accelerate out of trouble. I even got a thumbs-up from a cab driver in one such instance on West 43rd Street. At least, I think it was a thumb he was raising. He was smiling in his failed attempt to cut me off.

Ah, yeah, and there also was a woman in a white BMW X3 sport-utility vehicle, a loaner from a New Jersey dealership, who probably is thankful that Little Nasty's front disc/rear drum brakes worked exceptionally well. I assume that the woman was crazy, or maybe just losing it at that moment. But she came roaring out of a parking garage into two lanes of traffic, narrowly avoiding being hit in the lane closest to the garage, and winding up a couple of feet in front of Little Nasty's front bumper as she attempted and failed -- her vehicle stalled -- to turn into the right lane on the opposite side of the street.

Little Nasty's optional 17-inch-diameter tires didn't even screech. But the expression on that woman's face was a real-life rendering of the Edvard Munch painting "The Scream." She re-cranked the X3 and zoomed ahead. Nuts!

I parked Little Nasty for good after that episode. It was a worthy road warrior. But some wars are just plain stupid; and fighting for a share of a potholed road in a city where traffic barely moves anyway has got to be the dumbest fight of all.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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