2016 GMC Canyon Duramax Review

The brand is counting on this turbodiesel.

Todd LassawriterThe Manufacturerphotographer

BEACON, New York -- GMC execs have no worries that their new midsize Duramax diesel-powered pickup truck will earn Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification for sale across the U.S., despite stricter scrutiny in the wake of the Volkswagen 2.0-liter TDI cheater software fiasco. So here we were just north of One World Trade Center Tower, a small group of auto hacks getting a sort of deep dive into GMC's new model year updates and our first crack at driving the 2016 GMC Canyon diesel as the VW scandal rages on. We chose the Canyon diesel among the pickups offered for the 80-mile drive north along the Hudson to bucolic Beacon because the truck is not as tall and wide as the others. It's manageable in Manhattan.

Here's what you need to know about the new Duramax powerplant, considering current events: Warren, Michigan-based engineers for the 2016 GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado diesel began with a 2.5-liter four designed by VM Motori and used in foreign-market versions of the Chevy pickup. The North American Duramax four is 2.8 liters, rated 181 horsepower at 3,400 rpm and a healthy 369 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. Two-wheel-drive versions will tow up to 7,700 pounds and four-wheel-drive versions are limited to 7,600, while the 3.6-liter gas V-6 stops at 7,000 pounds.

Making it clean

The North American 2016 GMC Canyon diesel features a urea aftertreatment system, which must be checked and filled at each 7,500-mile service interval. The engine also has a diesel regeneration system, which means that when particulate soot accumulates upstream from the filter trap, a dedicated fuel injector sprays the accumulation with fuel so as to burn the soot off the catalyst. The North American 2.8-liter engines are built alongside the 2.5-liter fours at GM's plant in Thailand.

What's the efficiency payoff? We have to wait for that EPA certification. Fuel economy numbers aren't out yet, though one of the other two Canyon Duramaxes driven north along the Hudson River to Beacon breached 30 mpg, as indicated on the dash. We only managed 26.7 mpg with our 4WD diesel crew cab. With the bigger Ram 1500 2WD diesel scoring 29 mpg highway, it's clear GMC (and Chevy) expect 30-plus mpg, at least in two-wheel-drive form. (Four-cylinder Canyons are rated 19-20/26-27 mpg with 2WD; 19-25 with 4WD.) Don't be surprised if the Duramax manages 32 or 33 mpg on the highway.

It's all torque

The engine is sufficiently quiet, especially from inside the Canyon crew cab. Power application is smoother than many turbodiesels, though you'll still feel a bit of a kick at 2,000 rpm, when the turbo boost kicks in (redline -- actually, the highest number on the tachometer -- is 5,000 rpm). This turbodiesel is neither an alt-fuel hot rod nor a slouch, and it delivers enough torque to take over many of the types of jobs that full-size pickups claim to do.

The Canyon Duramax comes with a nifty exhaust brake button, a midsize pickup take on the 18-wheeler "jake brake." It uses backpressure to boost engine braking on steep downhill roads. It will be especially useful if you're towing something, and GMC engineers have made "significant effort to make it smooth" while tuning out the loud engine braking noise that's outlawed in some residential areas.

Acceptable V

The Duramax does reintroduce the V -- vibration -- in NVH, though it's not by any means excessive. Rather, you mostly feel the steady diesel thrum come through the steering wheel and pedals when idling at a stoplight. The Duramax is only available with the 6L50 transmission, the gas-powered model's six-speed automatic, but with a centrifugal pendulum vibration absorber added to reduce powertrain noise and vibration.

There's also a bit of induction rattle at low rpm. None of this will concern a traditional pickup buyer, and it won't turn off families who are trading in midsize four-cylinder sedans for this truck. Add the $3,700 diesel engine option to your GMC Canyon, and you'll get a comfortable, smooth, modern pickup with fuel economy that might rival your old midsize sedan.

A $35k entry point

Ours was a 2016 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLT. Base price with destination is $38,375, or $42,105 with just the Duramax option. The bottom line was $44,885 as tested. The cheapest '16 Canyon Duramax, a long-box 2WD SLE crew cab, should start at $35,030.

GMC marketing execs are trying to push the brand into a "premium" truck space. At a design forum held in a hip Manhattan location the night before the drive, GMC pointed out that Denali models make up a full 26 percent of the brand's volume, and distinguish themselves from "base" GMCs (and more so, from Chevy trucks) with use of real wood and aluminum interior trim; there are no "King Ranch"-style suburban cowboy leather trim packages. In essence, Denali is to GMC as Range Rover is to Land Rover.

And so the $3,700 2.8-liter Duramax option would seem better suited to the GMC Canyon than the Chevy Colorado. Not so. GMC expects about a 10 percent take rate, about the same as for the Colorado. Still, once the new diesel gets its EPA certification, and survives any of the stringent spot-testing the EPA promises, we'd like to think the Duramax is a natural fit for GMC and its "Professional Grade" marketing hype.

2016 GMC Canyon 4WD Crew Cab SLT Specifications

  • On Sale: Fall 2015
  • Price: $33,375/$44,885 (base/as-tested)
  • Engine: 2.8L turbo DOHC 16-valve diesel I-4, 181 hp @ 4,000 rpm/369 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger front-engine, 4WD truck
  • EPA Mileage: N/A
  • Suspension F/R: Independent coil-over-shock, twin-tube shocks/solid axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, twin-tube shocks
  • Brakes F/R: 266/60R-18 Goodyear Wrangler
  • Tires F/R: 266/60R-18 Goodyear Wrangler
  • L x W x H: 212.4 x 74.3 x 70.7 in
  • Wheelbase: 128.3 in
  • Headroom: 41.4/38.3 in (front/second row)
  • Legroom: 45.0/35.8 in (front/second row)
  • Shoulder Room: 57.5/56.2 in (front/second row)
  • Cargo Volume: 41.3 cu ft
  • Payload: 1,470 lb
  • Tow Capacity: 7,600 lb
  • Weight: 4,698 lb
  • Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
  • 0-60 mph:

    • N/A
  • 1/4-Mile: N/A
  • Top Speed: N/A

Other models

We also spent some time in Beacon, New York, with 2016 models of the GMC Sierra, Sierra HD, and Terrain. Here are the significant updates:

Sierra: Eight is enough

The 2016 GMC Sierra with the 5.3-liter V-8 now comes with GM's eight-speed automatic transmission. It's smooth, with seamless upshifts and downshifts, like the 6.2-liter-powered GMC Sierra Denali and with Cadillacs that also have the transmission. EPA fuel economy numbers have not been released. GM and Ford are working on a 10-speed automatic for longitudinal-engine applications, but we have to wonder whether an eight speed represents the sweet spot.

Sierra HD: Real steering

GMC is offering a digital steering assist option on double- and crew-cab variants of the Heavy Duty Sierras (which leaves out fleet models and regular cabs). The system offers speed-variable power assist, road-crown compensation, tow-haul adjustment, and assisted self-centering. That last feature is most important, at least to those of us who don't often drive heavy-duty pickups. It self-centers the hydraulic power steering after a turn, just like a regular car. We wouldn't have noticed it had GMC not offered up a competitive truck that doesn't have it: a 2015 Ford F-Series Super Duty, for which you have to shuffle the steering wheel back to the center after completing a turn, much like with a semi-truck. The Sierra HD's self-centering feature is a lot easier on the arms and concentrating on other driving duties.

Terrain mid-cycle refresh

The 2016 GMC Terrain has received a significant refresh, but it's all cosmetic, both inside and out. Taking a quick drive in one reminded us that it's a pretty good CUV, though it doesn't seem like much of a competitor in the red-hot compact crossover segment. The Terrain is a 'tweener; neither compact nor midsize, and the refresh is a reminder of how GMC seems to be missing out with its aged entry, even if sales numbers are strong. We'd like to see how GMC [and Chevrolet, with its Equinox platform sibling] would be doing in this space with a smaller, tighter, more modern competitor.

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