It's officially Truck Month but if you’re in the market for a mid-size pickup, the choices are slim these days.
Come fall, that may be a whole other story.
At the Twin Cities Auto Show, the all-new GMC Canyon looked poised to corner the market.
And why shouldn’t it? The Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are aging. The GMC Canyon (along with its Chevy Colorado cousin) needed a long-overdue upgrade, too, so it took a hiatus.
Turns out a few years off was time well spent. GMC went back to its core roots and injected some of the “Professional Grade” DNA from the full-size truck lineup. In contrast to the ’15 Colorado, which was noticeably absent from the display field, the Canyon looks more upscale, emulating the rugged good looks of the full-size Sierra with bolder character lines and prominent styling cues.
What better way to describe the new midsize offering than from the official Canyon webpage: “The all-new GMC Canyon was designed to make a powerful and lasting first impression.”
Indeed it does.
The Twin Cities Auto Show afforded us the first glimpse of a new age in mid-size trucks. And we can’t wait to see more.
Painted in a striking green color, and positioned on a twirling display, the Canyon looked sharp. The most prominent feature is the grill, looking more Sierra-like in its classy chrome accents than something that would be on the smaller Canyon. The LED headlamps and bold grill make for a decidedly distinct look when compared to the sleeker and more subtle Colorado styling. Though not entirely visible, behind said trim, there are Active Aero Grill Shutters in an effort to increase fuel mileage by redirecting airflow.
Evolving with the times, the regular cab configuration is long gone, with an Extended and, on display, a Crew Cab layout. Though it didn't have a window sticker with full details, we suspect it to be a SLT model with the Z71 4x4 suspension. Like its larger brethren, the bumpers have a molded-in step for easy access to the bed and available rear vision cameras. The tailgate features a torsion bar/dampening system that slows or controls the drop. No more unexpected and immediate dents from that trailer ball hitch.
The wheels, available in sizes ranging from 16” to 18”, looked nice and complemented the chrome accent theme. Also noticeable were 4-wheel disc brakes (at last!) that reportedly offer “double the service life,” according to GM.
My first impressions varied somewhere along the lines of describing the Canyon as a blend of a Sierra (chrome laden grill and surrounding trim) and a scaled down Avalanche model, with the bumper steps and C-pillar/rear window area raked slightly. Then, the more I looked, the more I found the Canyon a complete departure from the generations that preceded it.
This mid-size truck has been long overdue.
If you think the outside is a radical departure, wait till you behold the interior. Upon entering (even exiting) the Canyon, the changes are even more dramatic. On interior design alone, which has hints of Camaro, one immediately welcomes the new gut. Though the outgoing 2012 Colorado/Canyon interiors were functional and pleasant, the new design has gone full-on luxurious. We guess the display model is an SLT trim level with information gleamed from a handout by representatives. The Jet Black leather interior looked awesome, possibly the All-Terrain Package listed in the literature. As it stated, “… All-Terrain Package featur[es] exclusive carbon-fiber-inspired accents, unique seat design, dark aluminum instrument panel material and other distinctive appointments.” The leather seats actually looked supportive, though we weren't allowed to sit in the pre-production car (uh, lawyers).
Some critics have panned the center console shifter, which eliminates a third or middle passenger up front. We don’t miss the column shifter, as there’s an 8” Color Touch Sound System with ItelliLink Navigation System in the center stack. The steering wheel (finally) has volume controls, something that’s been standard on full-size trucks for a nearly decade. The display Crew Cab looked inviting and much larger than the outgoing model interiors.
Good things come in small packages
We also weren't allowed to open the hood to check the engine.
Engine choices are the following:
2.5 liter inline-4 with 193 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque (standard)
3.6 liter V6 with 302 HP and 270 lb-ft of torque (optional)
2.8 liter Duramax Turbo-Diesel (set to be introduced in late 2015)
All engines are backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission. For those who like to row their own gears, a 6-speed manual trans is available, but only on base extended cab 4-cylinder models.
While these powertrains are promising, boasting direct injection and variable valve timing to maximize mileage, the V8 is now gone. A Colorado/Canyon previously equipped with a 5.3 liter V8 was only backed by a 4-speed automatic transmission, limiting its efficiency and lagging behind when the Sierra and Silverado were fitted with 6-speed trans, increasing their MPGs.
The new wave of power is coming by way of larger displacement 4-cylinder motors. And now that includes a diesel option, available in 2015. Renowned for providing higher MPGs and torque figures than comparative gas counterparts, turbo-diesels have been stifled by U.S. emissions regulations since, well, forever. In recent years U.S. car manufactures have slowly been making ground in regards to diesel technology efficiency while limiting the amount of pollutants (black soot exhaust) that diesel critics condemn. At the show, we noticed the Chevy Cruze also recently added a turbo diesel to the lineup, with its window sticker sporting 27 city and 46 hwy MPG estimates, for a combined rating of 33 MPGs. If the Canyon’s 2.8 liter diesel can crack mid-to-high-20s in MPGs, you have a winner, in more ways than one.
Think of it: a smaller, yet powerful diesel engine with enough torque to tow and get substantially better mileage. If the window sticker price on the Cruze diesel is any indication (only about $1500 more than a comparably equipped gas engine), then GM’s thinking is sound. Knowing truck pricing and options, we’re hoping GM doesn't price the diesel option out of range from the average consumer.
Full-size vs. mid-size
Sizing is precisely the reason that the Canyon (and Colorado) is positioned to succeed. The problem with full-size trucks is, well, they’re full-sized. Crew Cab Silverado and Sierra trucks don’t fit in too many garages, especially town homes or communities that favor the compact cars so P.C. today. Full-size trucks aren't the easiest vehicle to pilot, let alone find a (full-size) parking spot, either.
The Canyon, on the other hand, follows the downsizing trend for the last decade. There are a growing number of families and single buyers moving back into the cities from the suburbs (less traveling, oil costs, etc), looking for a slightly smaller truck option. Something more versatile yet still with the ability to jet around in, throw some stuff in the bed, and haul occasionally.
Adding a mid-size Canyon that offers everything a Sierra can do on a smaller scale just makes good business sense. GM isn't so much gambling here, more like seizing control of a re-emerging market, a niche that once was a highly productive industry segment. Full-size trucks account for the largest portion of profit for GM, and they will continue that trend for the foreseeable future.
If anything, GM has raised the bar – for all its trucks – by restyling the Sierra and Silverado. It used to be that GM didn't care to mess with a good thing. Well, after the bankruptcy and public bailout, give ‘em some credit: The GM brass are at least thinking strategically and in ways never thought possible. The difference now is GM knows it can’t rest on its laurels. It must be ahead of the curve.
Enter the all-new GMC Canyon.
Consumers have spoken. The sales for small and mid-size pickups have all but dried up. Dodge dropped their once-popular Dakota, the first, true mid-size pickup years ago. The Ford Ranger, while a quality built truck, died a slow gradual death from years of styling neglect. When the S-10 was re-badged the Colorado and the S-15 eventually became the Sonoma, then Canyon, it was a slightly better platform and more stylish, but nowhere near what it should (or could) be.
There were many criticisms of the outgoing models, culminating from years of aging designs. A by-product of the times, plenty of things came to define the small and mid-size genre: Poor reliability, cheap materials, and spotty build quality. But none were more important than pricing. When a smaller truck starts creeping over 30 grand – hitting 40 even – a responsible consumer has to wonder why not look at the better (full-size) buy?
In a sense then, it was worth the wait for the new Canyon.
Sure, if GM had gone this route years ago, perhaps the midsize marketplace would already have been thriving. Or at least continued its pace, as a smaller brother to the more profitable full-size truck lineup.
But we’re taking semantics here.
The truck boom hit its stride in the ‘90s, which roared on into the 2000s with SUVs. Then Crossovers came in vogue. Are mid-size trucks the next big thing?
In other words, is the all-new Canyon… a throwback?
We certainly hope so.
For more information on the autumn 2014 release of the 2015 GMC Canyon, click here: