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2016 GMC Canyon Duramax Diesel: First Drive

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The 2016 GMC Canyon Duramax and 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Duramax represent a pair of hotly anticipated trucks finally coming to market. When put another way, it means the US market finally has a set of what some call “real trucks” (you know, the ones without spark plugs), in a far more manageable package compared to GM’s behemoth Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD trucks. More of an every-day-HD, if you will.

The gasoline engine GMC Canyon was plenty fine to drive (as was the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado Duramax), and remains one of the fastest selling vehicles on the market. Even after a year of production. But the 2.5L four cylinder doesn’t do much for output and the 3.6L V6 engine power band rests in the higher RPMs, which isn’t very fitting for a truck. And until the continued petition for GM to fit the 4.3L V6 into the midsize trucks becomes a reality (if ever), the 2.8L Duramax diesel will hands-down be the engine you’ll want for the GMC Canyon.

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Why? Because torque. Because the sweet sound of a turbo spool. And because fuel economy.

With 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 RPM, the 2016 Canyon Duramax has 100 lb-ft of more twisting force than the 3.6L V6, while churning at 2,000 RPM less, which goes through a standalone six-speed automatic transmission. This low-end power provides sufficient get-up, and is more ideal for towing. Of which, the Canyon D-Max is rated to pull 7,700 pounds in 2WD configuration, and 7,600 pounds with the 4WD configuration. That’s your race car and a trailer. Or your landscaping business. But more than likely, it’s going to feel like the trailer and jet skis that you occasionally use aren’t even there.

The low-end grunt of the 2016 GMC Canyon Duramax gives way to sensations that could only be found in heftier machines until now. Not to mention, the signature Duramax diesel refinement remains true here. The diesel clack is hushed to a minimum, especially in the cabin. The technology options for the truck are class-leading, which include Apple CarPlay and OnStar 4G LTE WiFi. Overall, driving the 2016 Canyon Duramax is a lot like driving the gasoline one. Except there’s more weight on the nose, which is noticeable under braking  Not to say the stopping distance is alarming by any means, but the desires for a slightly tighter front suspension and more robust brakes are there. Minor details.

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Here’s the kicker, though. The 2.8L Duramax engine is a $3,700 option. Not outrageous, but the truck we drove was over $45,000. Yes, it was loaded (yet still not a Denali). But as it currently stands, GMC is only offering crew-cab Canyon Diesel configurations, at least for now. The cheapest you can get a Canyon Duramax for the time being is just over $38,000. That’s well equipped Sierra money. One with a 5.3L V8 and superior power, towing and hauling figures (not to mention content) than its little brother. With an MSRP like that, buyers are going to really have to want it, and we’re sure that plenty of people out there will. That said, we hope that GMC (and Chevrolet) will offer the 2.8L D-Max engine in lesser contented midsize trucks as time passes.

There are some unique selling propositions that remain with the 2016 Canyon compared to the Sierra, regardless of the price. The most obvious of which is the size. Not everybody wants a big truck, nor can everybody store one in their garage (some of you condo owners, you know the struggle). Marginally better fuel economy is another. So, with 40-grand to spare, GMC presents two very strong options for different wants and needs, and it’s hard to go wrong with either one.

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