Del Mar, Calif. — Remember mid-size trucks? In recent years anything smaller than a massive full-size truck has been about as rare as a new Oldsmobile. If fact the only new mid-size trucks available were the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, but they were both introduced nine years ago and were designed when you could still buy a new Oldsmobile.
It’s been a couple of years since General Motors dropped out of the mid-size market, but they obviously hadn’t forgotten about it because they just rolled out all new versions of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon for 2015.
Like twins who make individual fashion statements, the Chevrolet and GMC trucks are alike in structure, but very different on the surface, each taking on strong family characteristics of their brand. Everyone I talked to during the California introduction seemed to have a favorite. The GMC Canyon has a more muscular look, or as GMC calls it – Professional Grade, while the Chevrolet Colorado is a sleeker, smoother design — I’m in the corner of the Chevrolet Colorado.
The General Motors mid-size trucks come in three sizes, with two engines, two transmissions and rear- or four-wheel drive. There is an Extended Cab version, with a six-foot, two-inch box; a Crew Cab with five-foot, two-inch box and a Crew Cab with the six-foot, two-inch box. A six-foot, two-inch bed is long enough to carry an eight-foot cargo without it hanging over the end. Both cab sizes serve a need with the Extended Cab rear area best suited for cargo and maybe an occasional passenger. The Crew Cab can easily carry a family or workers.
The GM trucks have some nice extra features like steps on the rear corners to make access to the bed much easier and a tailgate designed to open softly without dropping and easier to raise. It can be easily removed and locked. There is also an available spray-in bed liner for protection against scratching and rust. In addition, the tops surfaces of the box edge have extra protection against scratching and denting.
I had a chance to drive trucks with both of the engines. The 200-hp 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder produces good acceleration, but tends to be a little noisy under full-throttle, however at highway speeds it’s mute. This is a very good engine for most driving, and with light loads. It has a 3,500-pound towing capacity in all the configurations. Fuel economy is 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the two-wheel drive version and slightly less with four-wheel drive.
The 305-hp, 3.6-liter DOHC V-6 is significantly more powerful, less noisy under full throttle acceleration and equally quiet on the highway. In fact, all the models I drove were surprisingly quiet, more like a luxury sedan than truck. The V-6 engine also has a 3,500-lb. towing capacity, but it increases to 7,000 pounds when equipped with the Z82 trailering package. Fuel economy is 18/26 mpg for the two-wheel drive and 17/24 mpg for the FWD.
The 2016 model will be offered with a 2.8-liter Duramax turbo diesel option and unofficially is expected to break the 30 mpg fuel economy level.
The four-cylinder version of the two-wheel drive extended cab is available with a six-speed manual transmission. All other configurations have a six-speed automatic. The automatic transmission is equipped with auto grade braking which automatically downshifts during deceleration to take advantage of engine braking.
Engineers have designed in several aerodynamic features to help improve fuel economy including active aero shutters behind the grille to send air flowing around the truck when it’s not needed for cooling. They also included a deep front air dam, which can be easily removed for off road driving. There are several other air flow tweaks around the wheels, on the rear tailgate and in body gaps.
I spent time in the rear seat of the crew cab and there is a generous space with room enough for three adults. There’s actually more space in the rear seat of the Crew Cab than in the rear seat of a Chevy Impala. The seat back is split and can be folded to create more interior cargo space, plus the seat cushion hides an under seat storage space.
The instrument panel on the trucks is a simple two-pod design with fuel and temperature gauges toward the top and a digital screen below between the tachometer and speedometer. I especially like the layout of the center stack. It’s mounted high with simple climate control dials and buttons below and the audio controls and a large screen mounted high for easy visibility. The available eight-inch MyLink touch screen is at home on the top of the well-defined center stack. The high position on the dash not only makes it easy to see with a sideways glance, it’s also easy to reach to make changes in audio entertainment, communications, vehicle settings or navigation. All trim levels are equipped with a backup camera which displays on the same screen. The MyLink system has Bluetooth, gesture recognition, natural voice recognition, Siri Eyes Free, text message alerts and other apps like Pandora.
Both trucks have an available cutting edge OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot system which allows up to seven tablets, computers or other devices to be connected to the Internet through the truck Wi-Fi. The system has a range of about 50 feet around the truck when it’s running or on accessory mode. It uses a more powerful antenna than a smartphone and, of course, doesn’t suck all the power out of your smartphone. The system supports video streaming and is 10 times faster than 3G.
The pricing of the Chevrolet Colorado starts at $21,870, including the destination charge, for the two-wheel drive Extended Cab Work Truck trim, four-cylinder engine, manual transmission. The prices go as high as $39,610 for a four-wheel drive Crew Cab, long box V-6 with all the available options.
The GMC pricing currently starts at $26,725 for the two-wheel drive Crew Cab Canyon trim and goes to nearly $41,000 for a fully-loaded SLT 4WD. (Prices of the Extended Cab has not been announced at press time.) And if someone wants the ultimate there’s a Denali version in the works.
The two mid-size General Motors trucks actually caught me off guard. They were much better than I expected, on all counts. I was especially impressed by the design, performance, comfort and quiet cabin. These are sophisticated trucks that do everything very well and the size makes sense.