Resurgence of the mid-size pickup

BY Derek McNaughton. Sep 02 04:00 am

On a harvested Saskatchewan wheat field in 1977, I learned to drive a Chevrolet Scottsdale at age 12. That red pickup had a bench seat, a square hood and a 305-cubic inch V-8. It was a full-size half-ton, as valuable on the farm as a skilled set of ranch hands. The big “Scott” had a wheelbase of about 3,000 millimetres. Some 40 years later, the smallest mid-size pickup that GM builds today has a wheelbase 250 millimetres … longer.

The growth of the full-size pickup means today’s half-tons come with more capability than yesterday’s three-quarter-tons, opening the door to a whole new small-truck segment. Sure the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger and even GM’s Canyon and Colorado cousins occupied the space for some years, but only recently has the mid-size truck market flourished with new models and designs, attracting buyers who drifted to crossovers or full-size trucks because previous offerings were so dated.

The 2016 GMC Canyon is a key player in this resurgence. Looking very much like its larger Sierra sibling with a whopper chrome grille flanked by projector headlamps and beefy front bumper, the Canyon drives more like a mid-size SUV, with easy visibility and a tight, 12.6-metre turning radius. Parallel parking is no more difficult than wedging the family minivan between parked cars. Narrow urban streets can be negotiated without fear of shearing either of the side mirrors. At under six feet tall, the truck will also fit in most underground parking spaces. Less mass equals less work.

And yet there’s still a feeling of heft, of substance, that the Canyon is the Jenny Craig version of the Sierra, weighing 1,941 kilograms.

Heck, even the interiors of the two trucks look similar. They feature the same switches and knobs, same instrumentation, same central touch-screen control unit. Even in the cabin, the same silky quiet of the bigger truck is present in the smaller one, thanks to the door seals, acoustic glass and extra insulation.

Aside from the drive, the only thing noticeably different is how close you sit to your passenger. Let’s hope you like them.

It’s easy to like the 3.6-litre V-6, though. With 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, our 4x4 crew cab with a five-foot-two-inch short bed (with tow package) was rated to tow 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms). While I wouldn’t recommend lugging this much weight — it’s the stopping ability that often matters more — I had no trouble yarding around a 4,200-pound (1,905-kilogram) sport boat and trailer. The bonus was being able to negotiate around trees and rocks and a particularly tight turn that has always been difficult in a regular pickup.

The 3.6-litre engine is standard on crew cab long-box models and crew cab short-box versions with 4X4. GM’s automatic 4WD system is a big plus, acting like AWD and flipping from 2WD to 4WD as needed. While power delivery isn’t as smooth as a V-8, it’s not overly coarse either, and 100 km/h can be reached in about 7.5 seconds — brisk but not blistering.

The six-speed automatic shifts well most of the time, though it got confused on a couple of occasions. And the shift knob is far too big, consuming too much central space that could be better used for interior storage, which the Canyon lacks, especially when compared to the space of full-size trucks.

Back-seat legroom is not that generous either. My right foot also felt too close to the transmission tunnel, and it was disappointing not to get a power rear-sliding window in a truck that cost $42,075 before fees and taxes. Whatever you choose, do not order the off-road assist steps for $785: they make it overly difficult to climb in and out of the Canyon.

The Canyon can still seat five in crew-cab versions or four in extended cabs. The crew cab can be had with either a five-foot-two-inch short bed, or six-foot-two-inch long bed that will carry eight-foot lumber with the tailgate down. The width of the bed is 44.4 inches between the wheel housings and 57.8 at the floor, so 4x8 sheets will have to sit up on the wheel wells.

The Hydra-Matic transmission probably helped return respectable fuel economy, which registered 10.9 L/100 km in 120 km/h highway driving, and 11.7 overall. Full-size pickups with V-8s are usually hard-pressed to break into the 12 range on the highway and 15 overall, so saving on fuel can be an upside to downsizing to a Canyon. An available, 2.5-litre engine with 200 horsepower in 2WD versions might be even more miserly. But even this smaller motor has more horsepower than the 305-cubic inch V-8 in that first truck I drove so long ago on those golden prairies.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

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