Around the end of the last decade, every American automobile manufacturer abandoned the midsize pickup truck segment. The Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota and Chevrolet Colorado were all cancelled and each brand proclaimed the small truck market dead.
|Engine: 3.6L V6 with 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque or a 2.4L I-4 with 200 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Six-Speed automatic. Six-speed manual available on base model.
Fuel Economy: 4-Cyl. 4WD: 19 mpg city, 26 highway, 21 mpg combined. V6 4WD: 17 mpg city, 24 highway 20 mpg combined.
Price: Colorado ranges from $20,995 to $34,990 for Z71. Canyon starts at $21,880.
Capacities: Max towing is 7,000 lbs. Max payload is 1,590 lbs for Colorado, 1,620 lbs for Canyon.
However, Toyota and Nissan soldiered on with the Tacoma and Frontier, although neither of the two brands has seen the need to significantly update their trucks since then. So anyone who wanted a small pickup had two options: buy an outdated product, or suck it up and get a half-ton. Not anymore.
Now the only company with a three-truck strategy – spanning midsize, half-tons and heavy duties – General Motors offers more choices than any other brand in the truck game. Not only does GM have three different sizes of truck, it also offers workhorses under two different banners: Chevrolet and GMC.
The advent of these new trucks comes a year after GM launched the re-designed Silverado and Sierra and many of the lessons learned on the half-tons are being adopted by the Colorado/Canyon twins. At launch, there will be two different engines available using the same technology to keep fuel consumption down as their larger counterparts: direct injection and variable valve timing.
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Best is Yet to Come
Two engines will be offered initially for both trucks. At the base, an inline four cylinder will take on motivation duty, putting out 200 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque. The big daddy engine currently and the one that GM expects to be in the highest demand is a 3.6-liter V6 that cranks out 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. In 2016, a small 2.8-liter Duramax diesel is on its way, bringing oil-burning propulsion into the world of modern midsize pickups.
Efficiency is a huge part of the appeal of these trucks. After all, why give up the practicality of a larger truck if the benefits aren’t clear? Outfitted with the four-cylinder motor and four-wheel drive, the Colorado is pegged at 19 MPG in the city, 26 on the highway or 21 MPG combined, while the V6 is rated at 17 MPG in the city, 24 on the highway for a combined 20 miles per gallon.
Over the V6-powered Tacoma, the Colorado claims a two-MPG advantage, while the four-cylinder GM trucks beat the Toyota by five MPG on the highway, though the combined rating is identical.
Trouble is, the four-cylinder model only offers marginally better fuel economy and the price difference between it and the V6 isn’t drastic. Despite that, it represents a big gap in output, giving up 105 hp and 78 lb-ft of torque.
The important part of this equation is that the bigger engine costs roughly $1,200 more, making the four banger much less relevant. It will likely be the choice of fleets around the country, but few who regularly tow or haul will want the smaller engine. And that is emphasized by the fact that V6 is just enough for this truck.
Handles Weight, Doesn’t Own It
Unfortunately, our time with the truck was limited, so I didn’t get a chance to sample the four-cylinder version. However, a full day with the V6, including pulling a 5,000 boat around the hills of San Diego, gave me a great sample of the new midsizer.
In every application, the V6 feels like it has enough power, but I never felt like it truly “owns” the weight. The six-cylinder is adequate, but only just and considering that, I’m skeptical of the four-cylinder’s merit.
If I didn’t know the diesel was coming I might have been more disappointed, but because this V6 will effectively serve in the middle of a three-engine lineup, its performance is acceptable.
Size was another worry I had before ever setting foot in a Colorado or Canyon. In the longest configuration there is a full 15 inches of length difference between Colorado and Silverado, but what is instantly apparent is the fact that there is more than a five-inch difference in width.
The maneuverability advantage is obvious while driving and welcome in a world of ever growing trucks. Nicely weighted electronic power steering helps with squeezing into tight spaces and always had the truck feeling planted. Riding in the truck, you still feel about as tall as a half-ton and ground clearance is nearly the same between the midsize trucks and half-tons. But still, my seat-of-the-pants meter indicated that the Colorado feels considerably smaller than the Silverado.
It’s true that the new midsize GM truck twins are ahead of the competition with better powertrains and on-road user friendliness, but not to the degree that GM would have you believe. Despite the Colorado’s decade lead, the Tacoma’s engine still feels roughly as powerful on the road. It loses the most points for cabin isolation and interior quality where GM really trumps its geriatric competition.
Most of the innards have been adopted from the half-tons, which is not a bad thing. Soft touch dashboard materials, touch-screen infotainment systems, digital read outs in the gauge cluster, available 4G LTE WiFi, numerous USB ports and comfortable seats leave the Tacoma looking like a relic. Adding to the premium feel is a wonderful quiet cabin and smooth unloaded driving characteristics. More so than larger trucks, these GM mid-sizers feel like small crossovers or even large sedans thanks to the dialed in suspension. There is some chatter on gravel roads, but pavement, even when cracked or broken, never drew out a rough or unpleasant ride. The Tacoma and Frontier don’t even compete.
The business end of these pickups has moved past its competitors as well thanks to Chevy’s smart ideas like the bumper-integrated step, damped tailgate and new Gear On system. This is a series of cargo hauling accessories that fit directly into the existing tie-down cleats in the bed, which are located high and low and make it easy to secure a load. Many of the Gear On accessories have very specific hauling needs in mind. Racks for bicycles, surf boards and kayaks are just some of the options that can be fitted into the bed, an easy process thanks to the simple engineering of the Gear On setup.
The advantage of offering three truck sizes is clear, giving customers plenty of choices. But they play dangerously close to their bigger half-ton family members and that must have been a huge concern when GM established the pricing structure. The Colorado starts at $20,995 while the Canyon has a base MSRP of $21,880 thanks to a few more premium bits in the interior and some extra chrome on the outside.
The 2015 Silverado carries a base price of $27,300, meaning that the gap is supposed to be $6,000 from base to base. The trouble is that incentives on those half-ton trucks have been at record highs lately, seeing them leave dealerships for much less than the sticker price. If GM has customers walking into dealerships and seeing that the Silverados can be had for a nominal fee over the Colorado, these trucks may be dead before they even get started.
If it were my money, I would probably hold off on buying right away to try the diesel model. I’m convinced that it will be that much better. That isn’t certain, but one thing is for sure.
GM is offering a level of refinement that can’t be found anywhere else in this segment right now, swiftly bringing midsize trucks into the modern era. And when the diesel finally arrives, odds are that this truck will go from good to great.