The Biggest Compact Trucks Just Got Bigger
Mid-size pickups were invented to bridge the gap between the traditional full-size V8-powered half-ton or better trucks and the imported mini-trucks that had been around since the 1960s. The first real mid-size was the 1987 Dodge Dakota, and its success led other automakers to respond by bringing out their own mid-size offerings or growing their mini-trucks to mid-size proportions. Eventually the compact trucks and even the Dakota simply died out, but that’s not the end of the story. [su_pullquote align=”right”]”Eventually the compact trucks and even the Dakota simply died out, but that’s not the end of the story”[/su_pullquote]
For 2015, the only surviving mid-size trucks on the American market are the Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, and the twins from the General: the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Neither the Frontier nor the Tacoma have had a serious refresh in nearly 10 years, which makes this fall’s complete redesign of the Colorado and Canyon all the more significant.
Proven yet Fresh Engine Lineup
The new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are built to take advantage of the fact that the last major work done in this segment happened before anyone had even heard of smart phones. GM has brought everything in their catalog to these compact trucks in order to squash the competition and dominate this market. And they just might succeed.
Start with the heart – the most basic of the new compact trucks offers a 200-horsepower, 191-pound-foot, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. The engine is DOHC, with variable valve timing and direct injection, but it’s still naturally aspirated. This aluminum beauty bears no relation to the old “Iron Duke” 2.5-liter boat anchors in GM’s past – it’s a brand new player with substantial room for the aftermarket to boost power. There’s plenty of space in the truck’s cavernous engine bay to fit that engine with whatever may be developed.
The other engine is an aluminum 3.6-liter V6, also with DOHC, VVT, and direct injection. This one comes in at 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. This is the engine you want for towing, performance
Both these engines have seen prior duty in other vehicles, but have been retuned for the specific needs of the truck market. That’s apparent when you see that even the 4-cylinder models have a basic tow rating of 3,500 pounds. When you add the tow package and the V6, that jumps to an impressive 7,000 pounds.
Flexible Transmission and Driveline Options
Regardless of the engine you choose, expect it to be backed up by GM’s capable Hydra-Matic 6L50 6-speed automatic transmission. The new truck is available with 2WD or 4WD, and it’s a fully automated shift-on-the-fly design. One of the great things that comes along with ordering the Colorado Z71 or Canyon SLT off road trim levels is that you get an automatically locking rear diff. The diff decides when to electronically lock itself up based on wheelspin, but unlike mechanical lockers, doesn’t put any additional drag on the system when it’s not in use. You can order the locking diff separately without the top 4WD trim level, too.
Redesigned Body and Bed
GM has done a bunch of work on these compact trucks to give you a quieter and more SUV-like driving experience, and it has paid off. It starts with the chassis. The new generation uses a fully boxed frame with freshly designed body mounts that keep the cab and the bed in line and isolated from the road. Then they put new triple seals around the doors to keep things quiet inside. Finally, extensive use of adhesives and sealants throughout the build process helps keep the Colorado or Canyon of your choice peaceful and pleasant.
You have your choice of two cab designs – extended or crew. There’s no basic cab any more. But GM isn’t going to put you between a rock and a hard place with a decision about bed space versus cabin capacity, either. You can have the 5-foot 2-inch short box, or a 6-foot 2-inch long box with the crew cab, or just the long box with the extended cab. The extended cab offers the traditional shorty rear-hinged doors for back seat access.
Chevy and GMC are particularly proud of their adaptable bed design in the new compact trucks, and they have a wide range of accessories that let you partition the bed or carry anything from bicycles to boats back there. One feature that deserves mention is the “cornerstep” in the rear bumper. This is a recessed step at each end of the bumper that makes it a lot easier to step up into the bed. Points for convenience. The bed also has an optional EZ-lift and lower system that stops the tailgate from slamming down.
Luxury Interior and Technology Showpiece
The inside of the Colorado or Canyon shows how far the pickup truck market has come from the days of metal dashboards and flat bench seats. The interior treatments are the same that you’d expect to find in an upscale SUV. This is where the Canyon departs from the Colorado. As you’d expect in a GMC, the luxury touches are a cut above Chevy, with soft-touch surfaces and a generally nicer presentation. You can get leather, heated seats, and the whole luxury deal.
Both of these compact trucks are really going to beat on Nissan and Toyota in the technology story. Your new Colorado or Canyon comes with a 4G/LTE receiver and three months of service to hook you so you’ll sign up your truck for its own data plan. You can use that 4G to broadcast a wi-fi signal around the truck for your use. That’s a nifty luxury for families, but could be a critical benefit for work purposes as well.
Everything is controlled through an 8-inch color touch screen. You can play your tunes, get your OnStar navigation and services, and watch your bumper while you’re backing up with the standard tailgate-mounted backup camera. Pair up your iPhone and the screen will give you text message alerts and Siri eyes-free services. You also get 4 standard USB ports on all the trim levels except the base model.
On the safety side, you get all the usual stuff – the trucks are as safe as anything on the road. But you can also order the optional lane departure warning and forward collision alert if this is your kid-hauler. The off-road package gets you hill start assist and hill descent control, and you can have trailer sway control along with the overall Stabilitrak stability control system.
Bottom Line: What’s it Going to Cost?
The literature will tell you that the basic Colorado or Canyon starts at $20,995, plus the usual destination charge. That’s a true statement, but it’s not really real. That truck is only a 4-cylinder, only manual transmission, and has none of the great stuff you really want. Change anything in the configuration – V6, Automatic, Crew Cab – and your price jumps up to the $28,000 range. Add several of those features and you’re already up to $35,000 before you can say “tow package.” Then ponder the fact that the top of the line models are about $40,000. That’s with the leather and the whole option book dumped in. Chevy and GMC have structured the pricing to get you up the option ladder quickly and efficiently, so if you’re going to do it, you might as well go big or go home.
In fact, “go big” might well be the slogan for the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, because they’re about the same size as a classic 1970s C10. On the test drive, we pulled up next to a last-generation Ford Ranger and towered over the poor, frightened compact truck like it was a Prius. A touch of the accelerator and the V6 pulled us away from the light with authority.
The bottom line on the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon is this – they drive like a nice SUV, have plenty of power, and the future looks bright for the aftermarket. If you’re looking for something smaller than a full-size but with a fully modern feature set and design, one of these two options is your truck. There is simply nothing (yet) on the market to touch them.