If you looked at a graph of midsized truck sales over the last, say, 30 years or so, you’d notice a big meaty peak of 1.4 million in 1986 followed by a steady, pitiful decline every year thereafter. By 2013 the chart shows only 250,000 for the entire segment which, when compared to the massive, meaty, multimillion-truck full-sized segment qualifies as about a pimple on the keister of the whole truck market. Only the decade-old Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier (yes, they’re still making those) sell in any numbers that register on a sales chart in the midsize truck segment any more. But where others see despair, General Motors sees opportunity. Into this darkness and gnashing of teeth The General drives with two fresh entries: The 2015 Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.
These midsize haulers are smaller and more maneuverable than their full-sized and Heavy Duty big brothers, and Chevy/GMC thinks customers will like that. You can fit these into a garage or a parking space without destroying your mailbox on the way in and they’ll still do much of the stuff you can get done with a full-sized truck, while getting pretty decent gas mileage the whole time.
Both Colorado and Canyon are based on the Global mid-size truck platform currently on sale in Thailand and other markets. But this is not simply a reslathering of Chevy and GMC signage on that truck, though that truck is a fine place to start. The Global mid-sized truck has fully boxed frame rails, for one, which is a solid foundation on which to build. There is extensive sharing of sheet metal, too. But the Chevy and GMC versions get lots of technology not found on the Global truck platform: hydraulic engine mounts; the cab and bed are joined to the frame with rubber mounts that counter both compression and sheer movements; more extensive use of aluminum including steering knuckles, prop shaft and hood; electric power steering; electric shutters in front of the radiators and behind the grille that aid aerodynamics and engine warmup; and extensive noise and acoustic countermeasures not found on the Global truck. The U.S.-model trucks even get an optional OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot, MyLink/Intellilink and access to Siri via steering wheel controls.
In short, the new midsize trucks are ready for U.S. buyers.
GM says Colorado and Canyon are all-new. Except the engines and transmissions.
How do they drive?
We took short hops in rear wheel-drive versions of both the 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 3.6-liter V6-powered trucks over varied terrain and found the noise- and ride isolation to be substantially improved over both the previous models –- discontinued in 2012 -– and the current competition. Both test trucks came mated to six-speed automatics. (The base-model Chevy Work Truck offers a six-speed manual with the four-cylinder engine and extended cab only. We didn’t get to drive that.) Both powertrains are used on other GM products but that’s okay; they both do their jobs here. Up hills, down freeway onramps and over bumps they remained composed despite their truckish solid beam rear axles. The new trucks come with disc brakes all around with the same Duralife rotor technology introduced on the full-sized Chevy and GMC trucks earlier.
Both our drives were in Chevy Colorados, the first in a mid-level LT-trim V6-powered truck with Crew Cab and long box. Apart from some thrashy raspiness up near the top end of the tach, the power delivery was smooth and efficient. The automatic’s shifter had an easy-to-use manual mode that not only held gears and matched revs on downshifts but would have been helpful had there been a trailer hooked up aft. The four-cylinder, meanwhile felt plenty powerful enough for most tasks, including the short haul we used it for.
On the second day we tried out a few more configurations. First was a 4wd SLT Crew-Cab Canyon long box with the 3.6-liter V6. We used this to tow a 4,500-pound boat. No problemo. At low speeds and moderate acceleration you barely notice that there’s a boat back there. Step on the brake and you are quickly reminded. The four-wheel discs stop it all but with a little more distance required to do it. The Canyon hauled the boat up a long hill with relative ease and apart from the nuances of trailer towing that affect all such trips, we wouldn’t hesitate to use the Canyon to haul anything this big and heavy just about anywhere.
The V6 is rated at 7000 pounds of towing capacity while the four can tow 3500. Payloads over the rear dual-stage leaf springs range from 1410 pounds in the base four up to 1590 pounds in the short box crew cab 4x4. The V6 is rated at 18 mpg highway and 26 city in 2wd, 17/24 in 4wd. The four-cylinder gets 19 city and 26 highway with the manual, 20/27 automatic and 19/25 in 4wd utomatic. For comparison, the full-size Chevy Silverado regular cab with 4.3-liter V6 power gets 18 city/24 highway while the 5.3-liter V8 gets 16/23. Not a lot of difference there.
We also drove a 4wd Canyon in SLE trim with the All Terraine package. That had the Z71 off road suspension, auto-locking rear diff, hill descent control and some cosmetic pieces. We didn’t get a chance to go off-road in it but it worked fine on road. Maybe next time.
You can haul a lot in a little truck.
Do I want one?
GM says there are a lot of would-be mid-size truck buyers who are not buying midsize trucks because there’s nothing in the segment they like. That includes potential buyers who still have their old midsize trucks and are waiting for something new in the segment. Many potential buyers don’t want full-size trucks because such beasts are too big for any kind of lifestyle that doesn’t involve owning your own large-size barn. The new models also offer 4G LTE connectivity with improved services. The old system was only 2G.
As with full-size trucks there are a number of configurations available to suit many needs: The crew cab with its full-sized rear seats and rear doors and the extended cab with its shorter rear seats and half-doors; two bed sizes, 5’2” and 6’2”; two- and four wheel-drive; a 200-hp, 191-lb-ft four or 305-hp, 269-lb-ft V6 and numerous trim levels for both Chevy and GMC brands. Prices start as low as $20,995 for the bare-bones Chevy Work Truck and can top $40k for a loaded GMC.
Since GM hasn’t had an entry in this segment for two years, there is nowhere for it to go but up -- that’s where these two entries seem headed.
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