2016 GMC Canyon SLT Duramax Diesel: Efficiency Comes at a Price

Strong points
  • Generous low-rev torque
  • The most fuel-efficient pickup
  • Drives like an SUV
Weak points
  • Diesel engine is expensive and lacks refinement
  • Payload capacity doesn’t improve with diesel engine
  • Still not really more affordable than a full-size pickup
Full report

When General Motors revitalised its small pickup trucks a little more than a year ago, the manufacturer announced the eventual availability of a diesel powertrain, something the market segment hasn’t seen in quite a while.

That engine has arrived, promising fuel economy and generous torque to raise the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon’s already lofty towing capacity. Is it worth the extra expense? Yes and no.

Low-revolution muscle

The 2.8-litre, turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine develops 181 horsepower, but especially 369 lb.-ft. of torque at a low 2000 r/min. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a choice of 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrains. Its emissions control system uses urea injection, allowing it to meet regulations.

Aboard the 2016 GMC Canyon equipped with the Duramax Diesel engine, take-offs are prompt, but not as quick as with the gasoline V6. With the diesel engine under the hood, towing capacity climbs from 7000 to 7600 lbs. (or 3471 kg) in 4WD versions. The Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma can’t pull such a heavy load.

On the other hand, payload drops slightly with the Duramax powertrain, so if we use our pickup mainly for hauling material or equipment in its bed, any one of the three engines offered in the Canyon will do the job. Especially the 3.6L V6.

As for fuel consumption, our Canyon tester ended up being pretty frugal. According to GM, it consumes 12.0 L/100 km in the city and 8.2 on the highway. With a mix of both, we recorded an average of 9.4 L/100 km. For a pickup, that’s not bad at all, although the full-size Ram 1500 EcoDiesel’s fuel economy numbers aren’t very far in addition to offering a tow capacity of 9200 lbs.

What’s disappointing here is that the 2.8L Duramax engine is noisy at startup, and although it hushes once the truck on the road, it remains rough and unrefined. There’s a noticeable difference between it and the Ram’s 3.0L diesel engine.

A pickup that drives like an SUV

For those who would like to purchase a pickup truck, but find them too cumbersome, General Motors succeeded in creating one that’s as enjoyable to drive as a sport-utility vehicle. At least that’s the feeling we have behind the wheel, especially compared to the Colorado and Canyon’s rivals.

Their size and turning radius serve them well, since the Canyon doesn’t feel like an elephant in the shopping mall parking lot. Besides the overall length of the double cab version, it’s easy to park, and backing it up is aided by the rearview camera, which is standard in every trim level.

As expected, interior fit and finish isn’t as good as what’s found in its bigger brother, the GMC Sierra 1500. However, the overall presentation is honest, and the SLT trim even gets contrast stitching on the dashboard, satin metallic trim and leather seats (actually, leatherette).

The IntelliLink infotainment system is easy to operate, with big buttons zones on its touchscreen and a few redundant buttons on the centre stack. The climate control switchgear couldn’t be any simpler, and the front-seat heaters (optional in the SLE, standard in the SLT) can be activated on the seatbacks, or on both the seatback and the cushion.

A good note to GM for equipping virtually all of its models with power-assisted, rear-door child safety locks, which includes a button located near the window switches on the driver’s door. Very practical for temporarily preventing rear-seat occupants from opening their doors.

Playing with numbers

The 2016 GMC Canyon, in base SL 4x2 form, is offered from $22,020, excluding freight and delivery charges. Our SLT 4x4 tester has an MSRP of $39,895, but reaches $47k once all its options are factored in.

One of those options is the Duramax Diesel, which costs $4,390 more than the V6 engine. To justify this lump of money, we must rack up a lot of mileage, as the fuel economy difference between the two engines isn’t all that big, amounting to about 1.5 L/100 km. With today’s fuel prices, we’ll have to drive 30 000 kilometres annually over the course of 10 years before actually saving money with the diesel engine. Will you drive that much?

The Canyon is an excellent small pickup truck. However, the rough character of the Duramax Diesel engine could turn off quite a few potential buyers. If you’re looking for a pickup for leisure and the occasional refrigerator move, and not a work truck that will perform a lot of long-distance hauling, the V6 engine would be a better choice.

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