When General Motors introduced their new 2.8L Duramax diesel engine for the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon, it was touted as a super-efficient engine with solid working abilities. These two trucks – particularly with this new diesel engine – have won all sorts of awards, but I was curious to see how this small truck with a tiny turbo diesel engine would stand up to my real world tests. After all, with “just” 181 horsepower and 369lb-ft of torque, this is one of the least powerful trucks I have tested, but in the end, I was surprised by how well the diesel Canyon works – and how it got crazy high fuel economy numbers when I wasn’t towing or hauling.
Before getting into my working review of the 2016 GMC Canyon diesel, a quick look at the test truck. I spent the week driving a 4WD Canyon SLT with the Crew Cab and the 5’2” bed –a truck with a base price of $37,450. When you add in the Duramax diesel engine ($3,730), the premium infotainment system ($495), the Bose sound system ($500), the spray-on bedliner ($475), the Driver Alert Package ($395), the Emerald Green paint ($395) and the destination fees ($925), the price as tested for this diesel Canyon came to $44,365. Some might argue that the price is steep for a “small truck”, but when you consider everything that the diesel Canyon can do and everything that is included in that price – this small truck packs big truck qualities for a fraction of the price.
Daily Driving the Small GM Diesel
Like all of my test sessions, my time with the 2016 GMC Canyon Diesel started off with regular daily driving. I cruised around my small town to get a feel for how the 2.8L Duramax diesel moved the small (compared to a half ton) pickup on paved and unpaved roads.
I found that when launching the Canyon from a stop, the diesel engine doesn’t produce the same punch that you get from the 3.6L gasoline V6 that I previously tested in the closely related Chevy Colorado. Once you are moving and the Duramax is making peak power, the Canyon pulls very well through the midrange and it will comfortably allow you to get up to speeds greater than any posted speed limit in America. In other words, while the diesel Canyon doesn’t feel anywhere near as quick from a stop when compared to the gasoline V6, it pulls just as well through the midrange and at higher speeds. If 0-60 times are a key concern when shopping for a new midsized pickup, the Canyon’s gas V6 is going to be the better option, but in every other type of driving – the 4-cylinder Duramax diesel feels great.
In pretty much every other way, the diesel Canyon drove just like the gasoline powered version, with the biggest difference being the sound of the engine. While some automakers have worked to disguise their diesel engines – particularly in the area of engine noise – the new 2.8L Duramax has the distinct tone of a diesel engine at idle and when driving around town. Once you are out on the highway, you cannot hear the engine over the wind and the sound of other vehicles on the road, but when you are driving around a small town at lower speeds, there is no question that this is a diesel. Mind you, it isn’t as loud as the bigger Duramax diesel engines in the GMC Sierra Heavy Duty, but it most certainly announces itself as a diesel engine in a quiet environment. It should be noted that while the 2.8L Duramax in my Canyon test truck sounds like a proper diesel, it doesn’t spew soot or any kind of smoke – for those wondering if all diesel engines are like that. They’re not, and if not for the sound, most drivers would be hard pressed to recognize the differences between the 3.6L V6 and the 2.8L Duramax in normal driving conditions…and that is a good thing considering the negative reputation of diesel engines in the US being dirty, noise factories that you can hear a mile away and smell a few minutes after the truck passes.
More importantly, the leather-clad cabin of the Canyon, especially with the upgraded infotainment and sound system, made for a very comfortable environment for me and my family during our daily routine. The back seat is a shade tighter than your average half ton truck, but there is still ample room for a teenage child and with careful adjustment of the front seats, you can comfortably fit four adults in the Canyon.
Ultimately, the only complaint that I had with the 2016 GMC Canyon diesel during my normal driving situations is that it isn’t quite as quick as the V6 gasoline engine, but this new engine is superior to the gas V6 in enough areas that I am able to overlook the 0-60 times.
Incredible Fuel Economy
According to FuelEconomy.gov, the GMC Canyon and the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado with the Duramax diesel engine are the most efficient four wheel drive trucks sold in America for the current model year. With EPA ratings of 20mpg around town, 29mpg on the highway and 23mpg combined, the diesel Canyon is better than the next closest competitor – the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – in every category. However, we all know very well that real world fuel economy numbers can differ greatly from the EPA numbers and in the case of the Duramax-powered Canyon, there is a huge difference in the EPA numbers and my real world numbers.
As I generally do with vehicles slated as high efficiency vehicles, I made a drive to a local business center to see what kind of fuel economy I could get on what would be a normal daily drive for someone who lives in my area. I picked a location roughly 20 miles away, with 3 miles of driving here in town, 16 miles driven on the highway and another mile or two of city driving before reaching my destination. I then drove the same route home to account for hills and wind, which would also be typical of someone in my area making the daily drive to work. On the highway, I was traveling at or just over the 70mph speed limit and around town, I was traveling at the speed limit, which varies from 45-55mph on this route.
Since my drive was highway-heavy, I expected to get better than the combined EPA figure, but I didn’t expect to blow away the EPA highway numbers during the course of my 40.2 mile drive. On my “daily drive test”, which covered 40+ miles in 85 degree weather with what I could call average Metro Detroit traffic, I averaged 32.7 miles per gallon. That is 32.7 miles per gallon over the course of roughly 8 miles of city driving and 32 miles of highway driving, and I exceeded the EPA highway number by almost 4mpg.
After that planned route, I spent the day driving another 50 or so mile, most of which was in city traffic, and my average fuel economy number for the day only dropped to 28.2 miles per gallon – still well above the EPA combined average of 23mpg. Furthermore, on the 370 miles I put on the diesel Canyon before loading up the bed or hooking up the trailer, I averaged 24.6 miles per gallon with a pretty steady 50/50 mix of town and highway driving.
In fact, the only time that I was able to drive my total average fuel economy number below the expected EPA average was when I pulled the 5,000 test trailer around for 100+ miles.
Without any sort of special driving techniques I was able to average more than 32mpg over the course of a normal 40 mile daily drive and over 370 miles with plenty of stop-and-go driving, I still averaged almost 2mpg better than the expected numbers. I believe that someone who spends a great deal of time driving on the highway with the diesel Canyon in a similarly flat setting would have no problem getting better than 30mpg.
In short, the claims that the diesel Canyon is the most fuel efficient pickup truck sold in America is a legitimate one when put to the test in the real world.
Towing and Hauling
After spending a few days driving the 2016 GMC Canyon diesel around the area for simple daily errands, the time came to see how this little Duramax could handle my working tests. If you have not read one of my “working reviews” before, I should explain that my wife and I run a horse boarding stable. Part of our weekly routine includes picking up thousands of pounds of bagged horse feed and pulling my 2-horse trailer (which weighs right around 5,000lbs) to events around Michigan. Every test vehicle that I have received in the past five years which had a payload capacity of at least 1,000lbs and a towing capacity of at least 5,000lbs has been submitted to these two tests, as have my personally owned trucks.
Included in the list of vehicles I have tested in the past few years was the Chevrolet Colorado with the 3.6L V6 and I had no real complaints with the small gas-powered Chevy truck, but I had greater expectations for the new 4-cylinder Duramax diesel. After all, diesel engines are made to work, so I expected that this fuel-sipping Canyon would out-work the V6 Chevy – and I was right.
First up for the diesel GMC Canyon was the grain test. 1,000lbs of bagged horse grain was loaded into the short bed and I headed out to deliver the food to our 50 hungry show horses. The extra weight was slightly evident when pulling away from a stop hard enough to make the load shift, but I should point out that most people hauling accelerate gently enough to prevent the load from shifting. Because of that, low end acceleration usually isn’t a huge concern of truck owners who work their vehicles, but while I could feel the weight back there – the truck certainly didn’t labor under load. As was the case when unloaded, the diesel Canyon pulled well through the midrange with the bed filled and handling wasn’t impacted by that extra weight. In the end, the diesel Canyon handled the grain test without breaking a sweat, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this small GMC pickup for someone who spends a ton of time hauling a load of this size.
Next up was the trailer test, where I hooked up the 2016 GMC Canyon diesel to my 5,000lb 2-horse trailer. This trailer is more than 2,000lbs below the official towing capacity of the diesel Canyon, but for the sake of consistency, I use this trailer and load for all of my truck and SUV tests. The rear view camera made hooking up to the trailer very easy and once hooked up, adjusting the trailer brakes via the integrated brake controller was just as simple.
For those who have never towed horses or some other live animals, there is never any hard acceleration away from a stop as that is very unsafe to the animals. When pulling out as I always do when pulling our show horses, the diesel Canyon provided plenty of power to get the combo moving. The engine may have been working a little harder than more powerful engines, but this small diesel engine never felt like it was straining to move the trailer. When cruising at speed, the Duramax 4-cylinder had no issues keeping up with traffic and the posted speed limit on the open road – even at highway speeds. In situations where I ran into a steep incline, I did have to ask a little harder (more throttle input) than I have with larger trucks, but in terms of midsized pickups, the Duramax Canyon handled my test trailer better overall than anything else I’ve put to work.
When I tested the gasoline V6 Colorado, my only real concern was stopping the truck with the weight of the test trailer out back. It stopped safely and within a reasonable distance, but I could feel the trailer pushing the truck when I was coming down to a stop – which is something that any experienced truck driver will tell you that you don’t want. This was not an issue with the diesel Canyon and I believe the reason to be the engine exhaust brake. As is the case with larger trucks (including tractor trailers), the 2.8L Duramax exhaust brake uses the backpressure from the exhaust to slow the engine, which in turn slows down the vehicle. This is particularly helpful when you are braking while coming down a steep highway grade, but even around town, the exhaust brake helps to slow the combination down with more confidence than stopping strictly with the vehicle brakes and the trailer brakes.
Even though the power ratings seem low by today’s standards, the 2016 GMC Canyon with the 2.8L Duramax diesel engine outperformed all of the midsized trucks I’ve tested (including the gas V6 Chevy Colorado) and honestly, it handled the trailer as well as some half ton trucks I’ve tested over the past five years. The diesel torque made pulling the test trailer a breeze and the exhaust brake improved braking stability in areas where many smaller trucks can be pushed around by a trailer of this size.
The Final Word
If you are in the market for a pickup truck that will haul 1,000lbs, tow 7,000lbs and offer very realistic fuel economy numbers over the 30mpg mark, there are very few options in the current market and there are only two in the midsized truck segment – the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon. The addition of this new Duramax diesel to the GM midsized truck lineup has created a pair of pickups that can easily get better than 30mpg on the highway, but more importantly, these trucks can still carry moderator loads as well as the bigger, more expensive trucks.
At $44,365, some people might try to insist that the 2016 GMC Canyon diesel is expensive as smaller trucks go, but when you consider the working abilities, the real world fuel economy capabilities and the long list of interior goodies that includes heated leather front seats, a premium infotainment system with navigation, a Bose speaker system and real space for four adults – the diesel Canyon is a truck that you can live and work with every day without compromise.
The GMC Canyon with the new 4-cylinder Duramax diesel is the most efficient engine package in the four wheel drive truck segment, but this tough little engine makes this truck more than just a high fuel economy model – with the ability to tow, haul and move passengers in comfort.