2017 GMC Canyon SLE Diesel Review - Is Duramax The Answer To The Midsize Truck Conundrum?

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
2017 gmc canyon sle diesel review is duramax the answer to the midsize truck

You want a pickup truck.

You want a small pickup truck.

Unfortunately, such a thing no longer exists, at least not north of the Rio Grande. You’ve migrated your desire to the “midsize” sector, a class in which the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline, and two General Motors candidates offer a quintet of possibilities.

Yet a major issue crops up when you begin comparison shopping and discover three full-size issues standing in the way: strong incentives on full-size pickups, full-size truck fuel efficiency comparable to midsize trucks, and full-size capability and interior volume far exceeding that of midsize pickups.

No wonder 85 percent of pickup buyers opt for a full-size truck. Still, 2016 was the best year ever for the Toyota Tacoma and the best year since 2001 for the Nissan Frontier. 2017 is on track to be the Honda Ridgeline’s best year since 2007. The Tacoma has a legendary reputation for toughness. The Frontier is the small-truck traditionalist’s pickup of choice. The Ridgeline is unusual in almost every way.

What unique attribute does GM’s duo manifest? This 2017 GMC Canyon SLE Crew Cab 4×4 has diesel. Diesel fuel in a diesel engine with diesel towing capacity, diesel fuel economy, and a diesel sound owners of decade-old Jetta TDIs will love.

NOBODY EVER SAID TORQUE CORRUPTS


Rated to tow up to 7,600 pounds, 600 more than a V6-engined GMC Canyon, this 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax diesel produces only 181 measly horsepower but a very impressive 369 lb-ft of torque.

Those figures are down by 124 and up by 100, respectively, compared with the Canyon’s 3.6-liter V6, with torque peaking at only 2,000 rpm in the diesel, half the revs needed in the not-so-trucky V6.

Only just off-idle in first gear does the 2.8-liter diesel ever feel wanting for more. In most real-world situations where power is actually needed, such as overtaking on a rural two-lane, GM’s four-cylinder diesel is swift — at least once the six-speed automatic has determined how many gears it wants to drop down.

[Get new and used GMC Canyon pricing here!]

The six-speed is unobtrusive in everyday driving, but it can become confused when you begin to demand quicker progress. “Am I focused on fuel efficiency?” it seems to ask, “or am I responsible for delivering all of this engine’s 369 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels right this very instant?”

Just give me a gear.

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID


Power is only part of the equation. The car-like fuel economy we observed over 840 miles of city, highway, and rural road travels last week is catnip to the GMC Canyon’s target buyer.

After recording 30.2 miles per gallon during the first few days of the 2017 GMC Canyon Diesel’s stay in mostly urban and suburban driving, we completed a 32.7-mpg journey from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island with five aboard.

By the end of the week, with plenty of hard driving across great swathes of Prince Edward Island for our house hunting mission and another 190-mile journey back home, the Canyon’s overall performance wasn’t just better than its 20-mpg EPA city rating. It wasn’t merely better than the 23-mpg combined rating.

We topped the Canyon’s official EPA highway figure, too. Despite the hefty passenger load, loads of urban driving, and rapid point-to-point progress in Prince Edward Island, we averaged 28.7 mpg.

Those kinds of fuel savings — we’ve seen 21.4 mpg and 20.1 in a Canyon V6 and Colorado V6 in the past — would buy many a potato; maybe even tickets to Anne & Gilbert or green fees at Crowbush.

IT’S THE MSRP, MORON


Torque matters. Fuel economy matters. So does the initial outlay demanded by General Motors for the removal of a 3.6-liter V6 and the installation of the 2.8-liter turbocharged diesel.

In the Canyon, the diesel is an option only on crew cabs and not in more basic Canyon SL or Canyon trim levels. The addition of the diesel to the SLE trim level, the most basic of the three trims in which the Duramax is available, also necessitates the addition of the $575 SLE Convenience Package (uni-zone auto climate control, sliding rear window, remote start) and the $395 Driver Alert Package (forward collision alert and lane departure warning).

Thus, a 2017 GMC Canyon SLE Crew Cab 4×4 with the diesel engine starts at $41,270, or $4,950 more than a 2017 GMC Canyon SLE Crew Cab 4×4 with the conventional gas-powered V6.

Granted, that $4,950 premium brings with it more than a 7-mpg advantage. The Canyon diesel also tows more. And unlike the rev-needy V6 in other Canyons, the diesel typically pulls with the kind of response you expect from a truck.

On the other hand, the diesel costs forty-nine-hundred-and-fifty dollars and does not sound like the rumbling, construction site, V8 diesels with which the Duramax name has previously been linked. This 2.8 Duramax sounds like an older German four-cylinder diesel.

Fortunately, the Canyon is distinctly more refined than the Tacoma and Frontier, and GM has eliminated the diesel vibration that could have seeped into the cabin. But you do hear the clatter. Often.

IT’S THE INDIVIDUALISM, IDIOT


As for that full-size pickup truck conundrum, by elevating the MSRP into $40,000+ territory, the GM diesel hasn’t truly resolved the issue. At this price, a GMC Sierra ($44,195 gets a Sierra Crew Cab 4×4 5.3 with appearance, convenience, and trailering packages) offers distinctly better ride quality. Filling five seats for a four-day journey also proved that the Canyon can’t serve as a family car, not in the way a Sierra can. Plus, overall capability is obviously diminished. And power drops off sharply.

But the midsize pickup truck buyer of 2017 isn’t becoming a midsize truck buyer based purely on an objective comparison. The value equation didn’t skew in the Canyon’s direction to begin with. That explains why nearly nine out of every ten pickup truck buyers choose a full-size truck.

Just as the reasons for selecting a generic midsize pickup — downtown maneuverability, garage parking, confidence in one’s manhood — don’t neatly fit into a spreadsheet’s value equation, the GMC Canyon is a left field choice, as well. 92 percent of midsize truck buyers choose something other than the Canyon. Every other truck nameplate generates more sales activity than the midsize GMC.

Selecting a diesel-powered 2017 GMC Canyon, which 89 percent of Canyon buyers neglect, is therefore a third step into the oddball truck market. Step No.1: midsize. Step No.2: Canyon. Step No.3: diesel.

You want a pickup truck. And not just a pickup truck, but a midsize pickup truck. And not just a midsize pickup truck, but a midsize pickup truck other people don’t buy. And not just a midsize pickup truck other people don’t buy, but a midsize pickup truck other people don’t buy with a diesel engine.

The 2017 GMC Canyon Duramax Diesel is your choice. It’s an expensive choice, but not one the midsize diesel truck connoisseur will soon regret.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • Vulpine Vulpine on May 01, 2017

    "Yet a major issue crops up when you begin comparison shopping and discover three full-size issues standing in the way: strong incentives on full-size pickups, full-size truck fuel efficiency comparable to midsize trucks, and full-size capability and interior volume far exceeding that of midsize pickups." Well, y'all got to second base and got thrown out on a pop fly; "full-size capability and volume far exceeding that of midsize pickups" is exactly WHY someone wanting a smaller truck wouldn't even look at a bigger one. That full-sized cab is wasted space if you don't intend on ever carrying 5 people in the cab and they're certainly not interested in full-sized capability if the most they ever carry is 500-800 pounds. Even with the incentives the full-sized truck is simply too expensive for someone wanting a true "small truck." Then you throw in a diesel engine and I'm saying, "What?" Why? A small truck simply doesn't NEED a diesel and we've seen what diesels tend to do to the pocketbook if they ever need repair. A small truck is a combination of pure utility with pure sport and to be quite honest, I don't equate diesel with sport. Add to that diesel fuel, at least where I live, is priced between mid-grade and premium gasoline and you see absolutely no savings in the pocketbook for fuel despite the better fuel economy. What good is better fuel economy when your cost per mile comes out almost identical with the cost per mile of regular gas?

  • Inspector Inspector on May 01, 2017

    I recently picked up a 2016 Z71 4WD Diesel with an MSRP of 42670 , I ended up paying 33900 which included a 1000 discount with my GM Card, yes , I could have gotten a full size truck but did not want the bulk as it would not fit in my garage , I do not tow and was going to get the gasser but couldn't pass this deal up, I do drive about 35 k per year and diesel in my area is approx 14 cents a gallon more , I am more than happy getting 25 on the highway at 75-80 mph, my best was at 30 cruising at 60, would I have paid 42k for this truck , no way but the deal on this was similar in pricing to a 2WD gas with hopefully better resale value.

    • See 1 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on May 02, 2017

      @inspector - that is an impressive discount. The best I've seen from the factory in Canada is 2,500. $10-12k off is routine for full sized trucks here.

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