2016 GMC Canyon Diesel Review

The easiest way to make a sale is to have something to sell that people want but no one else is selling.

Like a diesel pick-up truck, for instance.

There are very few — and only one that isn’t at least a 1500.

It’s the mid-sized GMC Canyon (and its Chevy-badged twin, the Colorado) which is the only truck in its class that’s available with an oil burner.

Which gives this mid-sized truck full-sized truck grunt — 369 ft.-lbs. of torque (almost as much torque as the full-size Silverado 1500’s 5.3 liter V8, but from a 2.8 liter four) and the ability to pull 7,700 pounds — about 1,000 pounds more than the maximum either of its two mid-sized rivals — the Toyota Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier — can handle.
The diesel-powered GMC also averages mid-high 20s… vs. mid-high teens for the comparably powerful (gas V6) versions of the Tacoma and Frontier.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is the diesel’s expensive — and not just for the diesel itself. The way GMC structures it, you have to buy a mid-trim SLE or a top-of-the line SLT trim first — and then buy the diesel. Which adds (depending on the trim and depending on whether you go with 2WD or 4WD) between $3,730-$4,965 to the truck’s price.

Which means the least you’ll spend to buy one of these is around $32k.


The Canyon is the GMC-badged version of GM’s mid-sized pick-up.

And mid-sized trucks are currently the smallest trucks you can buy new — in the United States, anyhow — now that Ford has stopped selling the compact-sized Ranger here (but not in export markets).

Also trending — these mid-sized trucks only come in extended and crew cab versions.

No one currently sells a regular cab mid-sized truck, including GM.

This review will focus on the diesel-powered version of the Canyon, which starts at $32,615 for a 2WD SLE ($28,885 without the diesel; add $3,730 for the diesel) and tops out at $38,065 for a 4WD SLT ($33,100 without the diesel; add $4,965 for the diesel).

Note also that you must buy the crew cab versions of either trim in order to be eligible for the diesel. Extended cab models come only with the gas four-cylinder (standard) or (optionally) a gas V6.


In addition to the diesel engine option for the SLE and SLT trims, the Canyon’s LCD touchscreen has been updated to support Apple CarPlay. These two changes aside, the ’16 Canyon is pretty much the same truck as last year.


Big truck pulling power in a not-too-big truck package.

Uses less fuel than wimpy gas-four version of this truck.

Exhaust brake — just like a big rig!


No modestly priced work truck version.

No regular cab version (and no eight-foot bed version).

The diesel’s only available with the crew cab version (but at least you can still get the “long” 6.2 foot bed, if you like).


The Canyon (and Colorado’s) newly available turbo-diesel is a little diesel — just 2.8 liters — but it makes big torque: 369 ft.-lbs. at 2,000 RPM. This is much more torque — and much sooner — than the Canyon’s also-available 3.6 liter gas V6, which only makes 269 ft.-lbs. of torque at 4,000 RPM, a difference of 100 ft.-lbs. (and 2,000 RPM).

The Duramax diesel also makes 181 hp — which is less than Canyon’s standard (gas) 2.5 liter four (200 hp) and much less than the 3.6 liter V6 (305 hp) but the little diesel’s massive whelp of torque is what you want if you want to pull. Equipped with this engine, the Canyon has a max tow rating of 7,700 pounds (7,000 with the gas V6; 3,500 with the gas four) which beats the Toyota Tacoma (6,800 lbs.) and the Nissan Frontier (6,500 lbs.) by a healthy margin.

Or, push.

This truck would make a great plow truck in winter, too. All that low-end grunt is ideal for such work.

Too bad the rest of the truck is not ideally suited for work (more on that follows).

It’s also not slow.

Stand on it and the diesel Canyon can get to 60 in about 9 seconds flat, quicker than all its gas-engined, four-cylindered rivals and only slightly less quick than the gas-engined, V6-powered versions of its rivals. The V6-equipped Tacoma and Frontier get to 60 in the low-mid eights (the gas V6 Canyon — packing 305 hp — is the hot rod of this bunch, capable of a mid-seven-second run).

The diesel-Canyon’s acceleration is also much better than that delivered by the four-cylinder (gas) Canyon, which — like its (gas) four cylinder-powered rivals — takes 10-plus seconds to achieve 60.

Unlike the gas four and six — which are made of aluminum — the diesel has a cast iron block (more rugged) as well as forged steel connecting rods and crankshaft. It also has a dedicated lube system for the turbo designed to keep it cool — and alive — for a long time.

Another worthy feature of this engine is that it — unlike pretty much all the still-available passenger car diesels, of which there are few, Because Uncle — the Canyon’s diesel is bio-diesel copacetic. You can run B20 without fear of screwing up your warranty or the engine’s emissions controls.

The diesel is paired with a heavy-duty six-speed automatic and (additional coolness) features fast-light ceramic glow plugs and an exhaust brake system, just like the Big Rigs. It’s driver-selectable and when engaged uses engine compression/backpressure to help keep speed in check when descending grades, lessening the need to ride the brakes or gear down.

An electric-adjustable trailer brake is also available.

Official EPA mileage numbers were not available as of early May, when this review was written, but during a weeklong test-drive of 4WD-equipped Canyon, I averaged between 23.5 and 25.2 MPG. This is about as good as the four-cylinder/4WD Canyon manages on the highway (25 city) about 10 MPG better than the gas V6 averages, based on my prior experience with one.


Turn the key (yes, an Old Timey physical key… GMC does not offer push-button start, even with the top-of-the-line SLT trim) and the diesel engine starts as quickly as the gas engines. No waiting for the glow plugs to… glow. They are ceramic-tipped and provide enough instantaneous heat to light things off right away.

Once running, there’s little indication you’ve got a diesel under the hood. It doesn’t rattle like a coffee can full of loose nuts and bolts. Some gas engines (direct-injected) “diesel” as much as this diesel does. Really. Listen for yourself.

The chief obvious Diesel Difference is the power band, which is lower and more accessible. That 369 ft.-lbs. of torque is pretty much right there, right now — no need to rev the engine much to get a reaction. And same goes for the hp. Maximum output is achieved at about half the engine RPM vs. the gas four (3,400 RPM vs. 6,300 RPM).
The gas four’s 200 hp rating is deceptive in terms of how it gets the truck moving vs. the diesel.

Basically, it doesn’t — while the diesel does.

The four is underpowered and not just for towing purposes. This is a 5,400 lb. truck — and that’s the 2WD version with the extended cab. Add 4WD and you’re at 5,600 lbs. before adding the weight of the driver and passengers. That is as uneven a contest as Walter Mondale vs. Ronald Reagan.

But the diesel handles the weight… handily.

The raw numbers don’t convey this adequately. While on paper, the diesel-powered Canyon only gets to 60 about 1 second sooner, the ease with which it gets there vs. the gas four-powered Canyon’s squeal-like-a-pig struggle to do the same is a a study in contrasts. The gas four revs furiously to 6,000-plus RPM before each upshift vs. an almost lazy 3,500 for the diesel — which never feels (or sounds) like it is straining.

The four does.

Because it is.

GMC tries to crutch the power deficit by fitting the four cylinder (gas) truck with a 4.10 rear axle, but that only makes things feel (and sound) busier. The diesel’s rip-tide of torque is such that a much less aggressive 3.42 rear axle ratio is all that’s needed. And this less-aggressive final drive ratio further helps cut the revs at highway speeds. At 80-something, the tach says not quite 2,000 RPM.

See what it says with the gas four at the same road speed. See what happens when you ask it to go faster.

Of course the gas V6 doesn’t suffer from Horsepower ED. But while you’ll see 60 MPH sooner — and have more than enough power to go much faster — you’ll also be stopping to refuel sooner.

On the highway, especially.

The Duramax-powered Canyon can go 500 miles or more on a full (21 gallon) tank. With the gas V6, you’ll probably have to stop about 150 miles sooner than that.


No one offers a regular cab/ long bed mid-sized truck right now(and it’s hard to find a 1500 in that configuration) which is unfortunate for people who don’t need room for more than two people but could absolutely use more room for 2x4s and sheets of drywall.

It’s odd.

Also, that GMC (and Chevy) decided to make the diesel engine available only in the pricier SLE and SLT trims — and only with the crew cab (four full-size doors) body. I suppose the marketing shows that the typical buyer is a rich guy with a boat or horse trailer — not a working guy with a plow blade or contracting business.

At least you can order it with either the 5.2-foot or the 6.2 foot bed (which is 1 inch longer than both the Tacoma’s and the Frontier’s 6.1-inch long bed).

But if you want the diesel, you will have to accept the leather seats and “soft touch” interior materials, the bigger (8-inch) IntelliLink LCD touchscreen, and “EZ lift” tailgate (very metrosexual) embellishments — as well as the MSRP that goes with these things.

Also the four-door body, which is more than a foot longer overall (224.6 inches) than the extended cab version (212 inches) with the 6.2 foot bed.

It’s a pretty big truck.

But then, so are the others. The new (just redesigned) Tacoma is actually slightly bigger — 225.5 inches long overall in Double Cab (crew cab) form. That is longer than a 1970 Buick Electra “deuce and a quarter” (225).

That said, all these trucks are much more manageable than current 1500s — which have bulked up like a circa 1978 Soviet-bloc Olympic weightlifter on steroids and human growth hormone. I am a big guy — 6ft. 3 — and the current 1500s make me feel 12 years-old again. I can barely see what’s in the bed when standing outside the truck.

Let alone get at what’s in the bed.

Most guys are not 6ft. 3 — and dealing with any current 1500 pretty much requires a step-ladder. Literally. Ford actually builds one into the tailgate of the current F-150.


The Canyon is less cod piece-compensatory.

Walking up to it, standing beside it, driving it — and loading/unloading it — is like having a 1500 the way they used to be before the industry went insane right around the time the country did, post 9-11. Remember? People were scared out of their skins and everyone wanted to armor up. The Hummer craze swept the land and bigness became the virtue. Trucks swelled to their current grotesque proportions, especially the too-tall bed walls they’ve all got now. If you prefer something a bit more sane, this could be it.


Diesels go with trucks like big V8s go with muscle cars.

So how come so few trucks offer them?


The government, via increasingly nutty emissions edicts, has made diesels expensive to sell and (lately) more expensive to fuel. Diesel used to cost less than gas because it required less refining. As Inspector Clouseau used to say… not anymore.

Ultra Low Sulfur diesel — the only stuff you can legally put into an on-road diesel-powered vehicle — costs more than gasoline.

And in order to keep emissions within Uncle’s Happy Zone, diesels are tuned for that and not best-case mileage. As good as the Canyon’s MPGs are, they’d be even better absent Uncle.

A bed extender would be nice — but it’s not available. From the factory, anyhow.

SLT trims get a premium version of the IntelliLink system as well as in-car (4G) WiFi through the OnStar, plus two additional USB ports (four total). Also available is what amounts to the better-known Z71 off-road package that’s available with the Chevy-badged Colorado. It includes M/S-rated tires, a locking differential and heavy-duty suspension. However, the new Toyota Tacoma offers significantly more ground clearance (9.4 inches vs 8.4) and its angle of approach (29 degrees standard; 32 with the TRD off-road equipment) is much more rugged-terrain-favorable than the GMC’s 17.1 inch angle of approach.

Ah, but you can’t buy a diesel-powered Tacoma… .


It’d be nice if GMC — or Chevy — would sell you a work truck version of this truck.

The diesel engine in a regular cab (or at least, extended cab) body and how about a long bed to go with it? Without the nice to have but not necessary (for work) stuff the SLE and SLT come standard with, including leather trim and the upgrade 8-inch LCD display.

The base SL extended cab stickers for $20,995 — and comes standard with the things needed for work, like AC and even has standard power windows and a six-speaker stereo with a 4.2 inch LCD display in addition to that. It’s hardly a stripper. Imagine if you could add the diesel to this for say $4,000 or so — about $26k, sticker.

Hell, I’d buy one.

But the way it is, you have to spend at least $32,615 — and that’s the 2WD version.

On the other hand, the next-least-expensive diesel-powered pick-up, the Dodge Ram 1500 (with the optional 3 liter “EcoDiesel” V6) starts at $37,685 — and not everyone needs a full-size Kahuna.

Also in the GMC’s (and Chevy’s) favor is the Biodiesel Option — which is free (my favorite price). No extra charge for this capability and — if you have access to bio-diesel — it’s a potentially huge savings over time on fuel and a way to end-run Uncle, too.

Which — along with the great fuel mileage — mitigates the truck’s somewhat daunting MSRP.

But regardless, where else are you gonna go?

If you want that diesel… .



*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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