FIRST DRIVE

Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon provide viable alternatives to full-sized trucks

'Small' pickups offer impressive towing, hauling abilities

Published: November 02, 2014 09:00 AM

Having a pickup is handy when you need to make a run to the hardware store to pick up big appliances, lumber, or yard supplies—until it comes time to park the large truck at the local home center or refill its huge fuel tank.

That’s why we’ve been wishing for years for a more compelling small-pickup alternative to today’s behemoths. And General Motors has now stepped in with a redesigned Chevrolet Colorado and its twin, the GMC Canyon. So we were excited to try a loaded Canyon SLT at our test track. (The truck was rented from GM for a fee.)

With ever-tightening fuel economy standards, General Motors hopes to siphon some big-pickup buyers into smaller trucks with better gas mileage. To that end, this loaded Canyon weighs 900 pounds less than the Silverado. (In contrast, Ford stopped selling its right-sized Ranger in 2011 and instead developed a new all-aluminum body for the F-150 that’s 700 pounds lighter than the old model. Even loaded with options, this Canyon is 500 pounds lighter than the aluminum F-150 we borrowed a few weeks ago.)

The Canyon is certainly nicer than the ancient Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, both of which were last redesigned in 2005.

Compared to the Silverado, the most notable shrinkage in space comes in the backseat, which is still roomy enough for two, but it doesn’t have lounge space for three as today’s full-sized trucks do. The four-wheel-drive Canyon we tried, with the 305-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic is rated to carry 1,550 pounds and tow up to 7,000 pounds. That’s impressive for a small truck.

A 200-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder is standard, but it comes only with rear-wheel drive. A four-cylinder diesel is due out next year.

And unlike the Frontier or Tacoma, the Canyon is quiet and refined with a more tolerable ride. Handling is responsive by pickup standards. Even better, it offers helpful safety technology that other small trucks don’t, including lane-departure warning and a somewhat over-eager forward-collision alert.

Unfortunately, that’s about where the good news ends. The Colorado’s ride is jittery. The sluggish transmission bogs down when you need more power to accelerate or climb a hill. And several of our drivers found the seats uncomfortable, especially with the cheap-feeling, manual seatback adjuster. Since the seat-bottom tilt can’t be adjusted independent of height, some found they had to sit much higher than they wanted just to keep their knees from being pushed up.

Still, with today's large pickup trucks, the Colorado may offer a better blend of maneuverability and ease of access without sacrificing much utility.

Eric Evarts

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