Need the brawn of a standard pickup but not its bulk? GMC’s Canyon and its new-for-2016 Duramax diesel engine may fit the bill – and even the garage.

The Duramax diesel joins two gas engines offered in GMC’s midsize pickup line-up. The diesel Canyon seemed a whole lot happier towing than the gas 3.6 V6 we sampled last year. The key to the diesel is the torque on tap: 369 lb.-ft. at a usable 2,000 rpm. The payoff? Our 4WD crew cab was rated to tow up to 7,700 pounds, 1,600 pounds more than a comparable base Sierra full-size truck with 5.3-liter V8.

To get the 2.8-liter turbocharged Duramax and its 20 mpg city and 29 highway fuel efficiency, Canyon buyers are required to step up to SLE or range-topping SLT trim. Furthermore, the Duramax, which is paired exclusively with GM’s Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic, is only available in crew cabs. A Canyon SLE 2WD starts at $36,680. Our 4WD SLT short box had an MSRP of $42,860 before options or packages.

The midsize pickup is also offered in Canyon SL and Canyon trim. The Canyon is available with a gas 2.4-liter four cylinder that produces 200 horsepower and 191 lb.-ft. of torque or a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that makes 269 lb.-ft. If a gas engine fits your needs and budget, cab choices come down to either a four-passenger extended cab or a five-passenger crew cab. The crew cabs can be paired with a 5-foot short bed or 6-foot long bed. The extended cab Canyon is only available with the long bed.

The Duramax four’s block is cast iron while the cylinder head is aluminum. The 181-horsepower engine’s crankshaft and connecting rods are forged. The diesel’s extra 100 lb.-ft. of torque and variable-geometry turbocharger help the Canyon move its mass – figure two and a half tons with driver and fuel – in respectable fashion. Motor Trend magazine reported 9.1-second zero to 60 mph sprints and 16.8-second quarter-mile runs.
Stopping power was tailored to the diesel. Durmax Canyons use engine compression to help slow the pickup, taking some of the load off the braking system. The Canyon also has GM’s Duralife brake rotors, which are heated to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to harden and strengthen the discs. The rotors, 12.2 inches and vented in the front, and 12.75 inches in the rear, are also rust resistant.

Then there’s what GM labels automatic grade braking. On downgrades, the 2106 Canyon’s engine and transmission work together to help slow the truck and maximize brake life. If cruise control is in use, the exhaust brake is engaged as necessary, increasing the driver’s ability to rely on cruise mode longer. The turbodiesel Canyons also have an integrated trailer brake controller.

Canyon’s AutoTrac, or automatic four-wheel drive, enables drivers to shift to 4WD manually or opt for automatic engagement. The driver can select four modes: 2WD, Auto, 4WD Hi or 4WD Lo. In auto, the transfer case operates in 2WD but automatically applies traction to the front wheels if wheel slippage is detected. An automatic locking differential is standard on SLT and 4WD SLE models.

For fuel efficiency gains, the Canyon has electric power steering and active aero grille shutters to enhance aerodynamics. An aluminum hood saves some pounds, too. The results are stellar fuel mileage ratings for a truck: 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for the 4WD and 22/31 for the 2WD midsize crew cab pickup. The Canyon’s 21-gallon fuel tank means a comfortable range of up to 550 miles on the open road unladen.

The Canyon SLT’s roster of standard features includes cruise control, automatic climate control, remote vehicle start, leather seats (heated with four-way power in front), 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, outside mirrors with defoggers, rear camera, three USB ports, overhead console and sliding rear window.

The Canyon SLE and SLT are also primed for today’s tech-dependent life and work needs. GM’s standard IntelliLink system features hands-free voice control system, Pandora compatibility, 8-inch color touch screen, six speakers and SiriusXM. Other handy tools are the included OnStar 4G LTE and built-in WiFi hotspot. The Canyon becomes a hub for each occupant’s mobile devices. The system also plays nicely with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, turning the Canyon’s touchscreen into an extension of the driver’s Apple or Android phone or tablet. (The 4G LTE connectivity is complimentary for the first three months or three gigabytes. Trust us, it’s easy to get hooked.) Six months of OnStar guidance and security, including turn-by-turn navigation, are also included.

When our week of foster truck care was up, we were reluctant to hand back the Canyon’s keys. With its stout Duramax heart and quiet, comfortable cabin, it was the pickup equivalent of a Labrador retriever – ready for action but sweet mannered. With more choices in midsize pickups, the consumers win. These smaller pickups handle, turn around and are stored away so easily.

We just want to know how long do will we have to wait before GMC drops the Duramax Canyon’s powertrain into a midsize SUV?
Snapshot

2016 GMC CANYON DIESEL 4WD CREW CAB
TYPE: Midsize pickup
BASE PRICE: $37,450
AS TESTED, INCLUDING DESTINATION: $44,365
MAJOR OPTIONS: Duramax turbodiesel, $3,730; premium Bose audio, $500; 8-inch color touchscreen with navigation; spray-on bed liner, $475; driver alert package, $395
DRIVETRAIN: 2.8-liter four-cylinder; 6-speed auto; 4WD
HORSEPOWER AND TORQUE: 181 hp at 3,400 rpm / 369 lb.-ft. at 2,000 rpm
FUEL: diesel or B20; 21-gallon tank
EPA ESTIMATED MPG: 20 city / 29 highway
CURB WEIGHT: 4,698 lbs.
SAFETY: NHTSA, 4 stars; IIHS, not fully tested
WEB: http://www.gmc.com/canyon-small-pickup-truck.html

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