Review: 2016 GMC Canyon diesel

Review: 2016 GMC Canyon diesel

Not that long ago pickup truck buyers were forced to pony up for a heavy duty model if they wanted a diesel engine. That presented a problem to the average weekend warrior who didn’t necessarily need the elevated capabilities of a heavy duty model, nor the higher price tag that typically came with it.

Ram offered one solution to that problem in the form of the 1500 EcoDiesel, pairing a light duty pickup truck frame with a torquey and fuel efficient diesel engine. The 1500 EcoDiesel quickly proved to be a solid middle ground for truck buyers, but it didn’t completely solve the price part of the diesel truck equation, as we recently found out.

Enter General Motors and its diesel-powered Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon twins, both of which bring diesel power to the cheaper mid-size segment. Curious to see if The General had designed a better mouse trap, we ordered up a 2016 GMC Canyon for a week-long evaluation.

What is it?

The GMC Canyon diesel is largely based on the gas-powered Canyon that has been with us for a couple of years now. Although larger than the truck of the same name from a few years ago, the modern-day Canyon earns its mid-size tag by slotting beneath its bigger brother, the GMC Sierra.

In place of the four- and six-cylinder gas engines you typically see in this segment, the Canyon diesel uses a 2.8L Duramax turbodiesel four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Although the four-pot’s 181 horsepower isn’t much to write home about, its 369 lb-ft of torque is. Moreover, all of that grunt is available from a low 2,000rpm, making our 4×4 tester capable of towing 7,600 pounds.

Of course fuel efficiency is also a big part of the diesel story, and the Canyon doesn’t disappoint in that aspect, either. According to the EPA the Canyon diesel 4×4 can hit up to 29mpg on the highway, an impressive feat for a pickup truck regardless of class.

What’s it up against?

Like the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the GMC Canyon — and by extension the Chevy Colorado diesel — has carved out a unique niche for itself in the marketplace. If you want to shop for another mid-size diesel you’ll either have to leave the country or wait until one becomes available on these shores.

What’s it look like?

Despite being a kissing cousin to the Chevy Colorado, the GMC Canyon actually has a fairly unique look of its own. The up-scale counterpart to the tough-looking Colorado, the Canyon receives some polished looks inspired by the larger Sierra. LED accented headlights are standard on our SLT tester, as are chrome accents on things like door handles and bumpers.

A power bulge hood with a “Duramax Diesel” badge is a nice touch for the diesel model, but it’s the only hint that there is something special about this Canyon; there isn’t any other diesel badging to speak of.

A slightly sloping roof line and a rising belt line give the Canyon a dose of sport while wide fender flairs at just the right touch of toughness. Our test truck was optioned with 18-inch wheels — the largest on offer for the Canyon.

The rear of the Canyon features a conventional tailgate with a large GMC badge emblazoned in the center. Taillights are of a typical vertical truck design with a mixture of red and clear lenses. A pair of steps are integrated into the Canyon’s rear bumper to help with accessing its bed, which measured 5′ 2″ in our tester’s Crew Cab configuration. A damper system ensures the Canyon’s tailgate doesn’t slam open.

And the inside?

There has to be a catch to the Canyon’s affordable price tag, and that’s obviously the truck’s interior. Although far from low-rent, the cabin of the Canyon simply isn’t as luxurious as those you’ll find in the full-size segment, or even Honda‘s latest Ridgeline.

Our tester did, however, offset cheaper bits like hard plastic door panels with a simulated leather dash with accented stitching. And although rear seat passengers are forced to make do with fake leather upholstery, those in the front buckets get the real deal.

The Canyon uses typical GM truck switchgear with larger buttons and knobs to control just about everything. While that setup is easy to use, it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing. In fact, the Canyon’s center stack looks like it could be from a 2006 model rather than a 2016.

The Canyon’s technology story isn’t stuck in the past though, with the truck offering an eight-inch touchscreen running GMC’s IntelliLink infotainment system. The Canyon is also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. For maximum on the go coverage, the Canyon comes with GM’s OnStar telematics system and 4G LTE connectivity.

The seating position in the Canyon is lower than your average truck, which was also true of its last-generation. The Canyon isn’t exactly car-like, but you also don’t feel as though you’re towering over other vehicles in traffic. Front seat leg and head room is good, with a power driver’s seat offering plenty of adjustability. Rear-seat room is a little more cramped, with both head and leg room at a premium for anyone close to the six-foot mark. A smallish door opening can also make getting into the truck a little tricky.

But does it go?

Torque is a glorious thing, and it makes for a wonderful driving experience in the Canyon.

It doesn’t take long for the turbo four to spool up, and when it does, the Canyon rolls down the road on a wave of power. Moreover, power keeps on flowing throughout the rev range where some diesel can run out of puff. The six-speed auto is well suited to the diesel-four, providing quick up-shifts to ensure the engine keeps its momentum.

Mileage is just as impressive, with our week-long average checking in at nearly 29mpg. That’s far better than the EPA predicted we’d do — the Canyon diesel is officially rated at 20mpg city and 29mpg highway, netting a combined rating of 23mpg.

We weren’t as blown away by the Canyon’s ride, however. The suspension in our Canyon 4WD SLT tester was surprisingly harsh — think sports car on low profile tires stiff. As a result, the Canyon can range from annoying on rougher patches of tarmac to borderline dangerous over larger road imperfections. In one instance, we were bounced half a lane over when we hit a medium-sized pothole at freeway speeds.

The Canyon scored high marks for maneuverability, though, thanks to its smaller footprint and good turning radius. The Canyon is far easier to navigate in parking lots than a full-size truck like the Sierra.

The Canyon can’t top the Honda Ridgeline in terms of overall safety tech, but GMC’s compact is still near the top of the class. The Canyon comes standard with six airbags and a rear view camera, while more advanced features like Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning, as equipped on our tester, are available. The Canyon doesn’t, however, offer adaptive cruise control or lane keep assist in any form.

Leftlane‘s bottom line

The 2016 GMC Canyon Diesel is perhaps the best ‘tweener truck produced to date. More compact than a full-size truck yet capable enough to pull 7,600 pounds, the Canyon diesel seems to hit the untapped sweet spot in the market. Excellent fuel economy only sweetens the deal.

The GMC Canyon isn’t without its faults, however. Ride quality isn’t a strong suit and the Canyon is outgunned it terms of interior quality by the Honda Ridgeline. Still, the GMC Canyon diesel should be on your short list if you need a mid-size truck that can fill full-size shoes.

2016 GMC Canyon 4WD SLT Crew Short Box base price, $37,450. As tested, $44,365.

2.8L Duramax Turbo Diesel, $3,730; Bose premium audio, $500; 8-inch touchscreen with navigation and Intellilink, $495; Spray on bed liner, $475; Copper Red Metallic paint, $395; Driver Alert Package, $395; Destination, $925.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

  • Aesthetics

    B+

  • Technology

    A-

  • Green

    A

  • Drive

    B

  • Value

    B+

  • Score

    B+

Review: 2016 GMC Canyon diesel Reviewed by Drew Johnson on May 24 We sample GMC’s take on the diesel-powered mid-size pickup. Rating: 3.5

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