The GMC Canyon Diesel is the third and final competitor in the 2016 AutoGuide.com Truck of the Year competition.
Engine: 2.8L four-cylinder diesel
Power: 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.
US Pricing: Starting from $33,520.
Unlike the other two trucks in this test, which are said to be all new, the Canyon hit the market back in 2014, though it was powered exclusively by gasoline. For 2016, GM has decided to fit its new midsize pickups with a diesel engine, becoming the second automaker besides Ram to offer diesel power in a light-duty pickup.
Very little else changed in these trucks for 2016, save for two diesel-specific features including a standard integrated trailer brake controller and a new toggle switch in the center stack for the exhaust brake.
Besides those two small additions, no other changes were made, though that is for a very good reason: nothing had to change. The interior of the Canyon is well thought out and executed, offering not only comfort but also easy use. A great-feeling set of rubber-wrapped buttons sit on the steering wheel, allowing you to control just about every single function of the Intellilink infotainment system with just a single thumb, while radio seek and volume controls are smartly fitted to the back of the steering wheel to save space.
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The Canyon also offers the best proportions in the midsize segment, with a front seat that is easy to find a comfortable seating position, and a back seat that can actually accommodate a full-size adult in relative comfort.
Ride and handling in this truck are more reminiscent of a large crossover than a pickup truck and that is not a bad thing. There’s no overly stiff suspension or jumpy-ness found in the Canyon. It feels nicely planted with a smooth ride, complemented by a quiet cabin, even with the little Duramax diesel clattering away in front of you. From outside the truck, the diesel is fairly pronounced, but the sound deadening on the inside keeps it nice and quiet.
All of the good traits the gas-powered Canyon had before still exist, so how are they complemented by the new diesel? The answer is very well.
This little 2.8-liter Duramax makes 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, nearly the same amount of twist that the 5.3-liter V8 does in the half-ton Silverado. Off the line, this little diesel does have some definite lag to it, taking about 1 to 2 seconds to really wake up, while we found the transmission to also be a little lethargic in downshifting. But once engaged, all of that torque comes on at just 2,000 rpm, pulling with great strength down low.
Hooking a trailer up to the back end of this truck, in our case roughly 5,000 pounds, really shows off where it shines. The little diesel is totally unfazed by weight, hardly noticing the trailer behind it, which is what makes the package so compelling over the gas engine. With the available 3.6-liter gasoline engine, peak torque is made right at redline, which means that engine is constantly working its hardest to motivate weight. Getting a load moving with the diesel truck is a quiet, calm experience, marking this truck clearly as the better tow vehicle of the two. The combination of the diesel exhaust brake and the trailer brake also make a big difference when it comes to stopping, accomplishing the feat with no drama.
There is one area where the Canyon and Colorado fall flat, with both the gas engine and the diesel: off-road. With just 17.3 degrees of approach angle and 22.1 degrees of departure, the Canyon is just too low to the ground for any serious off-roading, not helped by a large plastic air dam which is the first thing to get ripped off if you head out to the trails. Construction sites or gravel roads are about as far as you want to push this truck when the asphalt ends.
It’s also hard not to mention fuel economy with this truck. While it’s officially rated at 22 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway and 23 combined with four-wheel drive, we were beating those numbers during our testing without even trying. And on long highway runs, it’s not abnormal to see mid-30’s or even 40 mpg.
Overall, the Canyon offers a smooth, refined ride that hasn’t been spoiled at all by the diesel under the hood, an engine that provides boatloads of low-end trailer motivation that clearly marks this truck as a tow vehicle. Best of all, it comes in a midsize package, offering many buyers all the truck they’ll ever need.