Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2015 Chevrolet Colorado or GMC Canyon

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What’s new for 2015?

Everything. Originally developed for overseas markets, these new trucks join GM’s U.S. lineup for model-year 2015 to augment the larger, more expensive full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. They’re pitched as more fuel-efficient, more maneuverable alternatives for those who don’t need or want a big pickup. Colorado and Canyon are larger than pickups of the same name last sold here for model-year 2012.They compete with the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier in the so-called midsize-pickup class. Differing primarily in cosmetic trim, Colorado and Canyon are otherwise the same truck. Each offers two cab styles — a four-passenger extended-cab with small rear-hinged back doors and a five-seat crew cab with four conventional doors — and a choice of regular and long cargo beds.

How much do they cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Base-price range is $20,995-$$35,290 for the Colorado and $23,575-$38,175 for the Canyon. Base prices include the manufacturer’s destination fee, here, $875 for the Chevy and $925 for the GMC. Those different fees account for some of the base-price gap between the two trucks. So does a marginally higher level of standard equipment included with the Canyon: for example, alloy wheels instead of steel, a power driver’s seat, and fancier lighting. Also in play is GMC’s market positioning as more prestigious and upscale than Chevrolet. In reality, there’s virtually nothing of substance offered on Canyon that’s unavailable on Colorado. But GMC has established a certain cachet, and if that resonates with you, you won’t mind paying for it. With these heavily promoted new trucks just hitting showrooms, factory incentives will likely be rare or nonexistent through model-year 2015, but dealers should be willing to negotiate. In early calendar ’15, the average transaction price was around $35,500 for a Colorado and around $37,300 for a Canyon.

When will the next big change be?

Model-year 2016, when these will become the first non-full-size pickups to offer a diesel engine. It would augment the current four- and six-cylinder gas engines and likely be a 2.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 181 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Celebrated for their low-speed muscle, or torque, durability, and efficiency, diesels are of particular appeal to truck owners. However, diesel engines cost more initially than their gas counterparts. And diesel fuel typically carries a price premium over gasoline. Still, lots of truck fans are thrilled at the prospect of a midsize diesel pickup. And some reports suggest GM may replace the current six-speed automatic transmission with an eight-speed automatic within the next few model years. As for other changes, Colorado and Canyon should continue in their present form for several years before getting minor cosmetic changes. Their next full redesign would be a number of model years after that.

What options or trim level is best for me?

GM envisions potential customers as less the super-hard-core truck faithful and more people who’d own a truck if it were the right size and offered refinement and technology on par with a crossover SUV. So while you certainly can outfit a Colorado or Canyon for farming or trade duty, much of the focus is on comfort, style and convenience. The Chevy comes in four trim levels: Base, Work Truck (W/T), upscale LT, and off-road-oriented Z71. GMC offers three: Base, SLE, and upscale SLT, with the SLE’s optional All-Terrain package mirroring the Z71 kit. If you plan to carry more than two people, you’ll want the crew cab; the two seats in the cramped rear of the extended cab are little more than cushioned slabs. Extended Cabs come only with a 6-foot-2-inch bed. Crews offer that, plus a 5-foot-2-inch box, and this configuration is the best compromise between hauling ability and maneuverability. Shot-bed crews are the same overall length as an Extended Cab but a handy 12 inches shorter than a Crew Cab long-bed. See below for our powertrain recommendations, but a desirable Colorado would have aggressive Z71 trim with its exclusive cosmetic details, all-terrain tires, and automatic locking rear differential at a $33,380 base price for a 4wd extended-cab V-6. A 4wd Canyon Crew Cab long-bed in dressy SLT form, with its standard leather upholstery, heated front seats, and 18-inch polished alloy wheels would be attractive starting at $38,175. Every one of these trucks comes with air conditioning, power windows, a rearview camera, USB port, and a back bumper with built-in steps. Beyond that, standard or optional is leather upholstery, a navigation system, GM’s OnStar assistance with 4G LTE connectivity and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, forward-collision and lane-departure alerts, remote start, and a factory spray-in bedliner. Standard or optional on all but the base Colorado is GM’s counter-sprung EZLift-and-Lower locking tailgate.

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What engine do you recommend?

Base engine for both trucks is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. In 2wd Base and W/T extended-cabs, it’s available with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. All other powertrain combos use the automatic. Standard on the Canyon SLT and available throughout both lineups is a 3.6-liter V-6 with 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. It adds $1,235 or $960 to the base price, depending on trim. Its extra muscle is well worth it in acceleration, and at 7,000 pounds, it has double the towing capacity of the four-cylinder. These trucks are most versatile in 4wd form, and here the two brands have an important distinction. Colorado uses a “part-time” 4wd system, Canyon GM’s AutoTrac “full-time” system. Both can be set two 2wd and both include low-range gearing. But AutoTrac has a “Auto” mode that allows you to leave it in 4wd on any surface without fear of harming drivetrain components. It’s a major convenience over a part-time system, especially on damp pavement, where extra traction to the front tires is a major defense against the fishtailing that can afflict pickups with unloaded or lightly loaded beds.

How is the fuel economy?

Better than the full-size trucks, but still not as good as crossover SUVs of this general size. The good news is that there isn’t much difference in EPA ratings as you climb the powertrain ladder. Four-cylinder versions with 2wd rate 22 mpg combined city-highway with both manual and automatic transmission and 21 mpg combined with 4wd and the automatic. Six-cylinder editions rate 21 mpg combined with 2wd and 20 with 4wd. That’s up to 3 mpg better than the 2015 Tacoma, which dominates this class in sales. In testament to GM’s strides in fuel-efficiency, though, a Chevy Silverado with its 285-horsepower V-6 rates 20 mpg combined with 2wd and 19 mpg combined with 4wd. With its 355-horse V-8 it rates19 and 18 mpg, respectively.

How do the Colorado and Canyon handle?

Ok, for real trucks, though not as well as a lighter-weight and more carlike crossover of comparable size. They’re relatively slow to react to steering inputs and copious body lean and tire scrubbing encourages modest cornering speeds. But highway stability is fine, and maneuverability around town and in close quarters on- and off-road is better than with any full-size pickup. These are still big vehicles; a Crew Cab long-bed is as long as a Chevy Suburban and just six-inches shorter than a Silverado Crew Cab. But their turning radius is tighter. And significantly, they are some six-inches narrower than the full-size pickups. They’re roughly five inches lower, too, and up to 1,000 pounds lighter. So they feel far less bulky. You get a better view of nearby objects, and you can thread openings you can’t with a bigger truck.

Are the controls easy to use?

Yes. The shared dashboard is modern and straightforward and most controls are of a scale appropriate to truck duty, though dials for the 4wd system and the headlamps are undersized and buried to the left the steering column. We found the console-mounted automatic-transmission shifter positioned too far rearward, forcing some awkward wrist action. And taking advantage of the automatic’s manual-type gear selection would be easier with a separate gate instead of the small rocker thumb-switch on the side of the shift handle. Toggle-type switches for auxiliary controls just above the center console are a neat touch. Lower-trim models come with a 4.2-inch central dashboard screen. Upper trims get an 8-inch touchscreen with bright graphics and intuitive icons. Cabin materials skew toward hard plastic, but much of it has rich graining and an upscale, matte finish. The main instruments would look classier with a color scheme other than red, white, and turquoise.

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Are they comfortable?

That’s relative. These are pickup trucks, built for tough duty, with fully boxed frames and a solid rear axle supported by leaf springs. If you value ride comfort, stick with the 16-inch wheels and tires on the lower-trim models or the 17s on the Colorado LT and Canyon SLE. The Z71 and All-Terrain Package suspensions are off-road stiff, and, along with the Canyon SLT’s 18-inch tires, can make for abrupt jostling on potholes and bumps. Wind rush and mechanical noise is well-muffled, making these fairly pleasant highway cruisers. Cabin space can’t match a full-size pickup’s. But the front seats are comfortable and roomy. Rear-seat accommodations in the crew cabs equate roughly to those of a compact car, with limited leg room and, as an added demerit, rather upright seatbacks. The extended-cab bodies look sporty, but their rear seating is difficult to access, is without much usable adult legroom, and has backrests that are little more than padded sections of the bulkhead.

What about safety?

As of this review, the ’15 Colorado and Canyon had not been tested under the federal government’s five-star crash-test protocol or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which includes estimates of occupant protection in demanding front-corner collisions. Historically, small pickup trucks have among the highest real-world fatality rates of any vehicle category. Blame their relatively narrow tracks and high centers of gravity and also that they’re often driven by young males, among the riskiest of driver demographics. In particular, incidents of single-vehicle rollover crashes are very high among small pickups. In addition to the aforementioned available collision-warning systems, every Colorado and Canyon comes with a comprehensive set of safety features, including traction and antiskid stability control, antilock four-wheel disc brakes, head-protecting side curtain airbags, and front- and rear-seat torso-protecting side airbags.

How’s the reliability and resale value?

These trucks are too new to have established a record for reliability, although both the Chevrolet and GMC brands are rated above the industry average in overall dependability as measured by vehicle-owner-survey firm J.D. Power. In general, pickup trucks tend to retain a significant portion of their value, partly because they’re built for the long haul and they sustain an appeal to multiple buyer groups as they age. Indeed, the ’15 Canyon is already rated in the highest, five-star category for resale value by the residual-tracking firm ALG. Also earning five stars are the Tacoma and Frontier. ALG rates the ’15 Colorado in the four-star category.

Is it better than the competition?

Colorado and Canyon hold an edge over the competition because they’re newer designs and benefit from more up-to-date engineering and features availability. They may not retain those advantages for long, though. Both Tacoma and Frontier will be redesigned for model-year 2016 with updated interiors and exteriors. The Toyota will get a new, more powerful V-6 and improved transmissions, but won’t be appreciably larger, so accommodations should mirror those of the GM products. Same goes for the Frontier, size-wise. Nissan, however, is reportedly considering offering a diesel engine to counter the coming GM option. And while Colorado and Canyon do cost thousands less than comparable versions of full-size pickups, nicely equipped examples easily top $35,000, putting lower-content versions of the big pickups within their competitive price set. It’s partly down to what role size plays in your pickup preference.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]