Sometimes I feel like a shitty Texan because I'm not a truck guy. I don't normally have much use for huge trucks and I don't really enjoy driving them. I'd rather do a track day in some hot hatch or cheap sports car than go off-roading. But after two weeks of driving a 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon back to back, I can see the appeal in these new "small" trucks.
(Full disclosure: In an unusual turn of events, GM needed me to drive the new Colorado and Canyon so badly they let me have both of them for a week each. February? More like Truckuary. Too bad I didn't get to keep them into Trarch.)
Of course, I have to use the word "small" in quotes, which is my super clever writer-ish way of telling you that they aren't really that small. We all know this. It's impossible to discuss the Colorado and Canyon without addressing that fact, and I plan on doing so in this review.
But what I did find out is that even if they aren't the tiny trucks we used to get in this country, and still pine for, they are extremely livable if you don't live in the middle of nowhere and require a truck for a job in contracting, heavy industry, farming or some other industry where a truck is a necessity.
If you live in a city, if you live in a neighborhood, and you don't need something massive and capable of towing a small moon, the Colorado and Canyon are pretty damn good in nearly every area.
While my world isn't full of boats to tow or stumps to pull (unfortunately), there's a kind of humble honesty about driving a truck that I like. Unless you're driving some ridiculous, hopped up, leather-lined $70,000 King Ranch land boat, a truck is about the most unpretentious vehicle you can drive. It's also tremendously more useful than a compact or midsize sedan.
A good, simple truck is like that hardworking person who just gets their job done competently and with little fanfare, because that's just what you're supposed to do. Useful when you need it, not a pain in the ass when you don't. That's the kind of truck I like best. For the most part, it's the way I felt after driving the Colorado and Canyon.
My first week was in the red Colorado, a Z71 4x4 crew cab short box model. That means the bed's only about five feet long. Clearly, that makes it kind of tricky if you want to carry big items. Hauling, say, a large amount of lumber, a motorcycle, or the aforementioned couch could prove difficult.
(I asked our truck guru Andrew Collins about the motorcycle thing, and he said he thinks it can with the gate down: "After carrying a moto across South America in the four foot box of the SsangYong, I'm convinced any truck can do anything." So there.)
But with the Colorado, you have to think of the advantages involved here instead of the disadvantages. I'm used to doing two- and three- and sixteen-point turns to park a lot of trucks or back them out of parking spaces. In the Colorado, I was consistently amazed that it could fit anywhere. "A truck I can park on the first try — imagine that!" I would exclaim to my wife in the passenger's seat, who didn't care because she tunes out most things I say.
It's a good-looking truck, too, especially in Colorado form, which I liked better than the Canyon. It's sleek and modern-looking, not overly boxy and masculine as if it exists to amplify its owners' egos as some trucks do. You're also getting a truck that, while small, can haul five people around in relative comfort. Rear leg room is decent, if not great. Predictably you don't get as much as the full-sizers, but it's not bad. And even if carrying a bunch of stuff isn't its thing, the Colorado is still rated to tow up to 7,000 pounds.
Power comes from a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 that puts down 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. It's a good unit that makes its home in a lot of GM vehicles. I was pretty impressed with how it behaved in this truck. It's got good midrange power that provides ample highway passing power and never left me wanting for a V8, at least, any more than I'm always wanting for a V8 in every car I drive. There's also a four-cylinder version with 200 horsepower, but the six is the engine I'd rather have, and I haven't even drive the four-cylinder.
Around town it's comfortable, easy to maneuver on the highway, and with decent enough room in the back. The electric steering is pretty responsive, if a bit numb, and it makes handling a piece of cake. It may be tall, but compared to some trucks it feels more like a big car. The interior is modern and welcoming, and it never feels cheap.
The red truck — basically loaded at the 4x4 Z71 level with OnStar wifi, Bose audio, MyLink infotainment system with navigation, and other options — came in at $36,710. A big step up from the most basic Colorado at $20,995, but that seemed like a reasonable price for a nice, capable truck, especially when compared to some of the ludicrous $50,000 and $60,000 (or more) trucks I've driven in service of Jalopnik.
I found it hard not to like the Colorado, especially after living with it for a week, most of which was spent in normal, around-town driving. But I had to know if all those fancy off-roading badges on it, and the Canyon, actually meant something.
To do so I took the Canyon to Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls, about 50 miles from Austin. It's a sprawling 3,000 acre property with trails of varying levels of difficulty, suitable for everything from basic trucks to ATVs and lifted Wranglers. (Or normal Wranglers. The Wrangler crowd doesn't like being told what they can't do.)
I brought along my buddy Albert, which was a smart move not only because he's good company but also because he's better at reading maps than I am and also more inclined to say "We should not go up that trail because we will almost certainly die." It's good to have someone along like that. You can't see it from these photos, because I was too busy driving to take pics, but we got to scale some a few pretty steep grades out there, and it was a lot of fun.
The Canyon was a long box 4x4 SLE model, which means it gets about an extra foot of bed space over the short box version. It's a little more truckable, a little better at carrying stuff if you need, and probably the one I'd opt for in the end. With all the options the Colorado had, plus the all-terrain package that included BF Goodrich off-road tires, hill descent control, a transfer case shield and some other tweaks, the Canyon came in at $38,915. Now I thought the truck was pushing it a bit, price-wise.
Save for different front ends and interior coloring, the Canyon and Colorado are mechanically identical, though I could have sworn the ride in the GMC was a bit harsher after driving them back to back. Likely it was the off-road tires, or I'm just crazy. Possibly both.
Out on the trail I found the Canyon largely lived up to its all-terrain promise. It's competent and confident whether you're on the dirt or crawling over rocks, and it's still small enough that it's easily maneuvered in tight trails and easy to back up in close quarters. In that setting, it can do things much larger trucks can't.
Having been on not one but two Land Rover press trips, I'm basically God's gift to off-road driving, but I didn't need to be because the GMC's hill descent control does most of the hard stuff. You switch it on, set your descent speed using the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel, take your foot off the brake, and marvel at how the truck climbs down a steep grade all on its own. It almost makes it too easy, but it's hard to screw up.
The Canyon has the option of automatic all-wheel drive, but in normal street driving I kept it in two-wheel drive. I had the truck in 4-High most of the time during our off-road experience because I didn't encounter deep mud all that much. It climbed and descended great in 4-High, and to toggle between the modes you just set a dial on the dash. Like I said, easy.
There's just one problem when it comes to off-roading: lack of ground clearance up front. The big bumper hangs down low, as does the rubber guard beneath it, so I was constantly worried if I was going to scrape the front on the rocks. The rubber thing got kind of jammed up at least once. I would have preferred to take the front bumper off before doing this kind of thing, but the truck didn't belong to me, so I left it in place.
And once we got back on normal roads and switched the Canyon to 2WD, it was just like its Chevy brother: maneuverable, city-friendly and easy to drive, even with the extended bed.
If it sounds like I liked both trucks, it's because I did. There's just one problem: I just wish they were the small trucks we all really want. In both, I absolutely dwarfed the older Rangers, S10s, Toyota T100s and other tiny trucks I'd encounter on the roads.
If anything, the Canyon and Colorado were more in size similar to the Ford F-150s and Dodge Dakotas of the late 90s and early 2000s, and they're not even drastically smaller than a Sierra or a Silverado.
Yes, the small pickup — the truly small pickup — is dead in America.
It's probably because of the chicken tax and because automakers know that people like me who just need to haul a couch or Craigslist car parts every now and again would be happy to buy something S10-sized for $18,000 instead of a loaded GMC Canyon for almost $40,000. And that's a profit margin they probably aren't inclined to mess with.
But while the Canyon and Colorado twins might not be as small as we'd like, they do accomplish their missions of being utilitarian and accessible trucks for people who don't need or want something gigantic. I liked them enough that I'd consider buying one, and that's something I've never really said about any truck before.
We'll just have to see what the 2016 Toyota Tacoma has to say about it.