Until these two new vehicles from General Motors arrived on the scene, people weren’t exactly clamouring for mid-size pickups. In fact, only the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma remained on the market, and these two models had been launched more than a decade ago and had undergone very few modifications since. What’s more, both the Dodge Dakota and Ford Ranger recently disappeared without any hope for a replacement any time soon.
The decision to abandon this segment was based primarily on the fact that the price difference between a regular size pickup and a mid-size at the time was relatively minor, and gas prices weren't so high as to necessitate choosing a smaller vehicle. For a long time these small trucks were kept around for the simple reason that they helped manufacturers more easily respect Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Once progress was made in this regard on full-size models, most manufacturers let their mid-size models fall by the wayside.
But the tide has since turned and with the steady increase of gas prices over the last year - before a substantial decrease recently - buyers have become interested in more economical, environmentally-friendly vehicles. That was reason enough for General Motors to develop these two new contenders, which have simultaneously revived the category. Moreover, GM benefitted from the experience and know-how acquired during the development of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.
Rigidity and comfort
To be able to create an even more competitive, reasonably priced vehicle, the engineers borrowed much of the technology used in the Silverado and Sierra full-size pickups. Thus, they have a ladder chassis that is more rigid than that of the competition due to the use of truss-beams. Note that rigidity has a direct impact on comfort while at the same time ensuring the necessary sturdiness for intense situations.
This rigidity made it possible to use a softer, more comfortable, suspension. With the same goal in mind, the engineers used insulating pads to connect the body to the chassis. Their ability to absorb shocks both in compression and rebound does a fine job of insulating the occupants from whatever jolt the road has in store.
The rear suspension is a solid axle of course, but it employs two-stage elliptical springs. The first stage serves to absorb holes and bumps and ensure predictable handling, while the second stage of compression helps when transporting or towing heavy objects. It’s a reduced version of the suspension used on the manufacturer’s big pickups. The front suspension is a coil-over type with aluminum knuckles. Like any recent vehicle, it has power steering. Note that the limited slip differential comes factory standard in the Colorado Z71 and Canyon SLT. Don’t forget that all-wheel drive is available.
For a couple of years now, General Motors has been equipping its vehicles with Duralife disc brakes that, in addition to being rust-resistant, last longer. Overall, as the most recent models on the market, these pickups have a net advantage when it comes to sophistication of the chassis, suspension and handling in general.
As a general rule, pickup truck buyers, regardless of the category, don’t go for unproven mechanics, and General Motors respected this unwritten rule by using two proven engines. The basic version is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that produces 200 horsepower and 250 lbs.-ft. of torque. It is available only in the extended cab variant and can be paired with a five-speed manual gearbox, but only on the two-wheel drive version. Its towing capacity is 3,500 pounds (1,587 kilos), which means you can tow a small load. The combined highway/city fuel consumption is 10.5 litres/100 km according to the manufacturer.
For those looking for the smoothness of a V6 engine and the ability to tow heavier loads, a 305-horsepower 3.6-litre unit is offered with the six-speed automatic transmission. With the Towing Package, it can pull a weight of 7,000 pounds (3,174 kilos) and the combined fuel consumption is 11.8 litres/100 km.
During the vehicle presentation, I had the opportunity to test both engines. The four-cylinder will be adequate for many, and sufficiently responsive to offer good acceleration. It seemed well adapted to urban driving conditions. As for the V6, it is smoother but it doesn’t react as quickly when accelerating, undoubtedly due to its automatic transmission that shifts more slowly.
Refined cabin, reassuring handling
To summarize, the cab of these pickups is a simplified version of that in the Silverado and Sierra. The main attraction is the eight-inch screen with which you control the climate control, radio and several other settings. The Rear Vision Camera comes factory standard on all versions. What’s more, you can order Wi-Fi, which is unique for the category. Note that the quality of the materials and finish is very good. In the crew cab version, the back seats are sufficiently spacious and comfortable. On the other hand, the extended cab version’s two folding seats are only large enough for children or small adults with a high pain threshold.
The cargo box is 6 feet 2 inches (1,879 mm) long for the extended cab versions. Twin cab buyers can choose between a 5’2” (1,574 mm) or 6’2” (1,879 mm) cargo box. At each end of the rear bumper, there’s a special notch for you foot to facilitate getting in and out of the box. Finally, the rear tailgate is equipped with EZ Lift and Lower that opens it very smoothly and effortlessly.
Regardless of the engine you choose, these pickups handle predictably and the suspension is surprisingly smooth and flexible. I was able to drive all versions on various surfaces, and even without any cargo, the tail end doesn’t bounce on bumpy roads. And after successively driving a Nissan Frontier and a Toyota Tacoma, there’s no denying that the Canyon and Colorado are more refined vehicles that are more fun to drive thanks to their more recent design.