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Review - 2016 GMC Canyon Diesel 4x4 Crew Cab


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Car & Driver  /  April 2016

Until recently, diesel and pickup were words that went together only for buyers of Detroit-brand medium- and heavy-duty rigs, the ones commonly described as three-quarter-ton or one-ton trucks. Hyper-capable, they’re also huge, stiffly sprung machines that far exceed the needs and pocketbooks of buyers who use their trucks for household chores and recreation. The Nissan Titan XD with its Cummins V-8 engine changed the “Detroit-brand” exclusive on diesel pickups while splitting the difference between light- and medium-duty ratings, but it’s still too much truck for many people who might otherwise appreciate a diesel’s fuel efficiency and torque.

Ram brought diesel to a broader audience for 2014, offering its EcoDiesel in the 1500 series half-ton pickup, and now diesel has trickled down to the mid-size class in the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon with a 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax. We found the GMC promising when we first drove it, and now we’ve run our full test regimen on a Canyon with the new engine offering. It’s not quick, but that’s not why one buys a diesel. It’s the abundance of low-rpm, cargo-hauling, trailer-pulling, off-road hill-climbing torque that appeals—that and the promise of greater fuel economy. Buyers have to pay dearly for those attributes, however, as GMC doesn’t make the engine available on Canyons in the lower-cost trim levels and commands a significant premium for the Duramax.

Diesel sales in the U.S. passenger-car market have fallen off a cliff, tainted by the Volkswagen emissions scandal that has removed the “green” glow of lower CO2 output (directly proportional to fuel economy). In the truck segment, though, diesel sales are hanging tough. Diesel-truck buyers have adapted to the need to periodically add DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), which helps to clean the exhaust, and are generally less motivated by ecological concerns than by capability and fuel efficiency.

We measured a significant fuel-economy advantage in comparison to our previous tests of the gasoline-fueled 2.5-liter four-cylinder and the 3.6-liter V-6 Canyon 4x4s. With those trucks, we recorded an overall average of 18 and 17 mpg, while this diesel returned 23 mpg, right in line with its EPA combined rating. During a 200-mile highway test at a steady 75 mph, we averaged an impressive 28 mpg. With a 21-gallon tank, that makes for a range of nearly 600 miles on a long interstate journey.

When doing fuel-economy comparisons, consider, too, the need to add DEF when the dashboard indicator advises that remaining range is 1000 miles or less. We didn’t need to add DEF in the two weeks this truck spent with us. The 5.4-gallon DEF tank, which you top up through a secondary filler under the same lid as the one for fuel, should last at least as long as a half-dozen tanks of diesel fuel if you’re working it like a borrowed mule, and up to 10,000 miles normally. A 2.5-gallon bottle from Walmart runs about $8; if you have the dealer pour it, the factory stuff will cost much more.

Handling and braking performances at the track were comparable to our measures on other Canyons, cornering at 0.72 g and stopping from 70 mph in 184 feet. All of our tested Canyons were four-by-fours with all-terrain tires, and their figures are competitive—better than we recorded for an off-road-equipped Toyota Tacoma that was slightly smaller and lighter.

Although our drivers complained of poor acceleration in the 200-hp gasoline four-cylinder Canyon 4x4, few griped about the 181-hp diesel’s performance even though its test-track numbers were similar. The diesel we tested was in the Canyon’s biggest, heaviest configuration, a Z71 Crew Cab with the long bed, riding on a 140.5-inch wheelbase and casting a shadow 18.7 feet long; it weighed just shy of 5000 pounds. Getting to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds, this example was 0.2-second slower than the gas four-banger. The diesel beat that truck in the quarter-mile by one-tenth of a second, though. The turbo-diesel’s 369 lb-ft of torque paid off, too, in making it slightly quicker (a tenth of a second) to 30, 40, and 50 mph than the gasoline four-cylinder, even though that one had the advantage of being a shorter extended-cab model and was 783 pounds lighter.

In around-town duty, a poke at the pedal yields a strong, immediate response in situations where the 2.5-liter gas model needs to spool up some rpm and find a lower gear in the six-speed automatic transmission. That makes the gas version feel like it’s working really hard while the diesel model’s 178 lb-ft torque advantage, available at 2400 fewer rpm, seems to shrug off similar challenges.

Your ear has a lot to do with such impressions, and our sound-measuring equipment says the diesel is 4 decibels louder than the gasoline four-cylinder at wide-open throttle, 2 dB louder at idle, but—surprise!—a full 4 decibels quieter at a steady 70 mph cruise. The V-6 was all but inaudible at idle, but it was much louder than the diesel at full song and only 1 decibel quieter at cruise. GM puts extra sound-deadening measures in vehicles equipped with this engine, and the low-rpm torque means you rarely need to mat the accelerator, something we had to do often with the smaller gas engine. This one makes a growly background clatter, not unpleasant but never absent, that’s likely to please the truckers motivated to buy this vehicle for its 7600-pound towing capacity (the rear-drive version has a 7700-pound tow rating). That’s plenty to pull a two-horse trailer, a serious boat, or a camper that would be the pride of your local glampground.

Shoppers with lower towing needs are likely to find the better around-town performance and lower buy-in cost of the V-6 a preferable alternative in a light-duty truck. And those who want a diesel truck for work, towing landscaping equipment or the like, probably would be better off with the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, rated for even tougher duty and available in more-basic trim levels within a few hundred dollars of the $40,735 sticker on the cheapest diesel Canyon. This is because the GMC is offered only in Crew Cab SLE trim and higher. The diesel also will be available in a Denali luxury version for 2017.

The diesel option price of $3730 brings a standard trailer-brake controller and an exhaust-brake feature and requires that the buyer choose either the Z71 All Terrain Adventure package ($3585 for off-road suspension, hill-descent control, 255/65R-17 all-terrain tires, and a bunch of cosmetic bits) or the Driver Alert package, which is only $395 for lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert. The latter features aren’t available on four-by-fours, however. Choosing either of those further requires another $575 for the SLE Convenience package of automatic climate control, remote start, and a sliding rear window. And $250 more for a mandatory trailering equipment package, minus a $750 discount on the All-Terrain Adventure package when you’ve chosen all of the above. Getting the diesel, then, adds up to some $7,000 on a four-by-four.

Atop those options, our tested truck had a Bose audio upgrade ($500), an 8.0-inch color touchscreen with navigation and Apple CarPlay ability ($495), and Cyber Gray metallic paint ($395), for an option total of $8955 minus the $750 package discount. Despite all this spending on options, our $43,990 Canyon still lacked a full power-adjustable driver’s seat and had just a single zone for its automatic climate control. And this is a lot of money to offset against a 6-mpg improvement in fuel economy. You can do your own math, but it’s pretty clear that there’s reason behind GM’s projection that only one in 10 buyers of its mid-size trucks will opt for the turbo-diesel. That’s still a decent number of folks who will be able to enjoy the advantages the engine offers without having to deal with a truck so large it might not fit in your garage. Still, if you’re looking for outright capability, you’re probably better off with a full-size rig.


Photo gallery - http://www.caranddriver.com/photo-gallery/2016-gmc-canyon-diesel-4x4-crew-cab-instrumented-test

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