The world needs small pickups, at least the Canadian part of the world.
When our neighbours to the south lost interest in compact pickups, the American manufacturers followed suit. Ford held out the longest with the Ranger, but it to fell prey to falling sales in the U.S in 2012, although it was still popular in Canada.
Now General Motors is revisiting the concept with the all-new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, which are twins beneath the skin – and share much of their skin as well.
But let’s be clear from the outset, there is nothing compact about these trucks! They are comparable in size to the full-sized pickups of not too long ago.
Our tester was fully 50-cm longer than the last Ranger. Granted, it was the extended-wheelbase, crew-cab version, but even the regular Canyon is 21-cm longer than the last of the true “compact” pickups.
Mind-boggling array of choices
The Canyon and its Colorado sibling are available in a variety of configurations that include two- and four-wheel drive, short and long-wheelbase, short and long cargo beds, four- and six-cylinder motivation and regular or crew-cab bodies.
All that is before you even get to the three trim levels – SL, SLE and SLT. There is truly something here for everyone.
Our test vehicle was a loaded SLT with the optional All-Terrain package, which added some visual aggression with a unique grille, painted aluminum wheels and rear bumper and tow hooks. The package also includes hill descent control and specific suspension settings.
The Canyon looks like a slightly shrunken Sierra with a similar grille and front-end and projector headlights
It boasts a raft of thoughtful features that make everyday use easier including an EZ lift-and-lower tailgate that uses a torsion bar and damper to make raising or lowering it a one-handed operation.
There are steps built into the corners of the rear bumper and hand grips in the end of the box sides so you can get up there without a step ladder. And there are more than a dozen tie-down provisions in the cargo bed.
The optional tubular side steps give the truck a tough look but they're actually an impediment to entry and egress for full-size adults. Be prepared to wash or dry-clean trousers frequently, especially in winter.
That said, without them the step-in would be too high for children or smaller adults.
The inside of the Canyon, especially in SLT trim, is a fancy place indeed, loaded with modern-day amenities that include wireless connectivity and colour screens.
Standard equipment, on the base model, includes air conditioning, power windows and locks, rear view camera, power driver’s seat and a tilt steering wheel – but with no telescope provision.
Our tester had a 20-cm colour touch screen, navigation system, Bose audio, a trio of USB ports, heated seats, cruise control, remote keyless entry, tilt and telescope steering wheel, automatic climate control, sliding rear window and leather seating – pretty much everything a luxury car would provide.
The rear seat offers a decent amount of space for adults and there is plenty of head room but knee-room is a bit snug for full-sizers back there. Folding the seats out of the way provides additional dry storage space.
On the down-side, there is no proper dead-pedal, which leaves the driver's left foot unsupported – tiring on long trips.
It also came with IntelliLink, GM’s connectivity system that combines the services available through OnStar integrated with your smartphone. Text messages are read aloud and can be responded to with a variety of pre-recorded answers.
Apple iPhone users can use Siri to respond to text messages, place calls or control music.
But the slickest part of the system is the 4G LE built-in Wi-Fi hotspot allowing anyone in the vehicle to stay connected to the web through the vehicle’s built-in antennae.
Real truck capability
With all its comfort and convenience amenities, it is easy to forget this is a truck, and a very capable one at that. It has the ability to carry up to 735 kg (1,620 lb) or tow up to 3175 kg (7,000 lb) – half that much with the four-cylinder engine.
The body on frame design is straight out of the full-size pickup book. The base engine is a 200-horsepower, 2.5-litre four paired with a six-speed manual transmission. The SLT comes with a 3.6-litre V-6 that produces 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. All V-6 engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
GM has just announced that a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel engine also will be available in the 2016 models.
On the Road
On the road, the suspension does a good job of soaking up both major and minor road blemishes. Truly rough patches reveal some abruptness and there is still some head toss over lateral changes and considerable lean should you try to treat it like a sports car.
Generally speaking, however, the highway ride is very comfortable. The cab is quiet and both major and minor controls are easy to reach and decipher. The seats provide long-session comfort thanks to “dual-firmness foam.”
The electric steering provides a modicum of feedback but one needs every bit of available lock to maneuver in tight quarters. While the Canyon is smaller than full-size pickups, it is still a big vehicle with a wide turning circle.
Getting into and out of parking spots often requires some to-and-froing. Get used to making three-point turns!
The V-6 proved capable of decent acceleration and effortless hill climbing and passing. It accelerates from 0-to-100 km/h in slightly more than eight seconds and is smooth and relatively quiet unless provoked.
The transmission delivers smooth shifts – both up and down – and there is very little of the hunting so common in many vehicles. Plus, kick-down is instant and easily available.
Real-world fuel consumption over a week of mixed use averaged 12.3 L/100 km.
The Canyon and Colorado are both selling strongly, suggesting that GM analyzed the market well before returning.
Still, in the form we tested it, the Canyon is compact neither in size or price. The as-tested tag of more than $40,000 puts it well into full-size price territory, so it might pay to look also at a full-size pickup, given all the discounts and special offers being touted in their race for sales supremacy.
Model: 2015 GMC Canyon SLT 4WD Crew Cab
Price: $36,200 base (SLE); $41,810 as tested including freight
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6, 305 horsepower, 269 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drivetrain: Selectable full-time 4WD
Fuel consumption (city/highway): 13.5 / 9.8 L/100 km
Competitors: Chevrolet Colorado, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma
Options on test vehicle: All-Terrain Package $1,440; SLE convenience package, $550; engine block heater, $100; heavy duty trailering package, $275; wheel locks, $60; assist steps, $780; sliding rear window, $85; spray-on bed liner, $525