There is no question that the introduction of GM’s redesigned midsize pickups made a splash in the segment, attracting customers back to smaller trucks.
Engine: 2.8L four-cylinder diesel with 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city, 31 highway, 25 combined with 2WD.
20 mpg city, 29 highway, 23 combined with 4WD.
Pricing: Starting from $33,520.
And not just GM is benefitting. The entire U.S. midsize pickup segment is up about 49 percent year-over-year in 2015, a kickstart that began when the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon came to town.
But even though GM’s trucks lay claim to segment-best towing, payload and fuel economy numbers, the Colorado and Canyon combined still haven’t outsold the Toyota Tacoma in any single month since they returned. GM is surely hoping that the introduction of the segment’s only small diesel engine will help turn that tide with the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Diesel.
The engine in question is a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel that is built in Thailand and is already fitted in international versions of the truck. It cranks out 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm here in the U.S. That’s more twist than what is found in the Silverado V6 and just 14 lb-ft shy of what’s found in the 5.3-liter V8 from Chevy’s half-tons. It also outclasses its biggest rival, the V6-powered Tacoma, by 104 lb-ft, clearly setting itself apart.
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If you’re interested in my thoughts on the interior, bed or other facets of this truck, check out one of my many reviews on the gas-powered Colorado or Canyon. The reason you’re here is the diesel, so let’s talk diesel.
SEE ALSO: 2015 GMC Canyon Long-Term Review
The Diesel Difference
There are a few differences between the diesel truck and its gas-powered brethren, most of which are geared towards towing. Every single diesel-powered GM midsize comes fitted with the Z82 trailering package, which includes an integrated trailer brake controller, a driver selectable diesel exhaust brake, and a hitch.
Maximum pulling power is capped at 7,700 pounds, a full 700 more than the V6-powered truck.
The Colorado and Canyon have been lauded for their refinement, though a good way to ruin NVH is to introduce a diesel engine. GM knows that North American customers can be sensitive about diesel engine noise and roughness, so it spent extra time here in the U.S. to make sure the powertrain is smooth and the interior is quiet. And it worked.
A centrifugal pendulum absorber, a smart bit of engineering included in the U.S. truck’s six-speed automatic transmission, helps to manage torque fluctuation and keeps the power coming from this little torque-monster nice and smooth. It uses a set of springs to damp the power coming from the driveshaft, giving the transmission a moment to catch up, rather than sending all of its power straight to the wheels all at once.
Interior noise is nicely muted, with only the faintest diesel rumble penetrating the cab. From the exterior, the diesel is clearly pronounced.
Despite a slight weight gain, there is no noticeable difference in the ride and handling of the diesel pickup either, which is a good thing. This small truck continues to be easy to drive, with decent steering feel that errs on the side of comfort, but still lets just enough feedback through to your hands to let you know what the wheels are doing.
The suspension setup remains comfortable, riding pretty smooth over rough roads.
And surprise, surprise; power from this diesel engine is fantastic. With all of the torque coming on at just 2,000 rpm, this little engine pulls with confidence and strength. It does exhibit some typical diesel traits, like losing some power in the top end, but by the time it runs out of juice, you’re already at highway speed. There’s also a slight lag off the line while the turbo spools.
A 3.42 rear axle is fitted to every diesel-powered Colorado and Canyon, a play by GM to pick up some fuel economy numbers. On a trip from Los Angeles to just north of Santa Barbara, a total of about 130 miles, we managed an average of 34 mpg and that includes sitting through dreadful L.A. rush hour. Best of all, with the cruise control set at 65 mph and a flat road, it’s not uncommon to see the readout hit 40 mpg on occasion.
Around town, we were seeing fuel economy in the low 20s, which means that with a good mix of driving, you’d probably manage an average of 30 mpg, setting itself as one of the strongest selling points for this configuration.
Where the fuel economy and the engine really shines is when this engine is under load with a trailer hooked up.
Having pulled a lot of trailers with a Canyon V6, I can tell you that this diesel just owns the weight without breaking a sweat, while the gas engine lives its life in the high revs trying to keep up with big trailers because it makes peak torque right at its redline. The addition of the diesel exhaust brake also helps quite a bit when coming down hills, holding back the weight of trailer. It works in conjunction with tow/haul mode in the truck, so the transmission also keeps itself in an appropriate gear to manage the weight.
That is where the diesel is going to make you money, not to mention the added confidence and capability of this engine.
You can only get the diesel with crew cab trucks that are LT trim or higher on the Colorado, or SLE or higher on the Canyon. That brings the cheapest diesel-trimmed truck to $33,520 for the Chevy and $34,875 for the GMC, which means that the diesel is roughly a $3,730 option.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Toyota Tacoma Review
So let’s do some quick math. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a gallon of gasoline costed $2.322 on Sept. 28, 2015. A gallon of diesel goes for $2.476 (it’s worth mentioning that in a lot of areas, diesel is now cheaper than gas. These numbers are country-wide averages).
If you drive 15,000 miles in a year, and you’re averaging 22 mpg, which is the EPA rating for the most fuel-efficient version of the Colorado, you’ll be spending $1,583. On the other side, averaging 30 mpg with the diesel, you’ll spend $1,238 leaving a $345 gap.
By that math, you’ll need to own the truck for more than 10 years to get your money out of it. But that’s also the most fuel-efficient gas version of the truck, which uses a four-cylinder engine. With the V6 in the real world over the course of a six month test, we averaged 18 mpg. That will run you $1,935 a year, making the gap grow to $697.
That cuts the payback time in half to just about five years.
The Verdict: 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Diesel Review
The gasoline-powered V6 in the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon is just pretty good, though it can leave you wanting more grunt when the work gets really tough.
With this new 2.8-liter diesel, GM has taken its midsize trucks from good to great.
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