2016 GMC Canyon Diesel Tows, Camps Like a Champ

Airstream Canyon 3 II

By Aaron Bragman

Ever since GM announced that the midsize Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks would receive a diesel engine, there's really been only one question on my mind: How well will they tow? I mean, we're not talking big, heavy-duty pickups with enormous V-8 diesel engines, dualie axles and jake brakes here. These are smaller, compact trucks that are used more as lifestyle vehicles than big workhorses. And while diesels are common in this style of truck all over the world, we haven't seen one in a smaller American pickup in decades.

When it arrived in 2015, we heaped praise upon the turbocharged 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax diesel, calling a Colorado equipped with the engine "quite possibly the world's perfect pickup truck." The initial press drive of the truck impressed us considerably, but there wasn't much opportunity to test how the diesel truck towed a load — drives with a couple of trailers were brief. So I figured it was time to see just how well the truck handles itself when hauling something from point A to point B over a longer distance.

Most midsize pickup owners don't actually tow with their trucks, according to Honda, which published its own research during the launch of the new 2017 Ridgeline. According to Honda's research, fewer than 3 percent of midsize truck owners tow with their trucks, and of those buyers, fewer than 6 percent tow more than 5,000 pounds. On the other hand, 95 percent of midsize trucks are apparently used for on-road commuting duties. So why not create a truck that can do all of that, even if the market is small?

Enter this hoss, the 2016 GMC Canyon SLT 4x4. It's built to be comfortable, with a luxurious leather interior, fancy multimedia system, all-wheel drive, a forward collision warning system and a Bose stereo. But it's also built to work — my test vehicle was equipped with the turbocharged 2.8-liter Duramax diesel, making just 181 horsepower but a very healthy 369 pounds-feet of torque. That puts it at a horsepower deficit versus the optional 3.6-liter V-6 (181 hp versus 305 hp in the V-6), but it has a big advantage in low-end torque (369 versus 269 pounds-feet for the V-6). That means more grunt off the line, and that means the ability to tow a decent load without sacrificing drivability. With the diesel engine and four-wheel drive, the Canyon can haul 7,600 pounds, easily the weight of a good-sized camper, a racecar on a trailer or a pair of personal watercraft.

The Voyage

Timing smiled upon me, as a friend was celebrating his 40th birthday with a big weekend party at his rural estate in southern Pennsylvania. Guests were invited to stay the weekend in tents on his property. Instead of a tent, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to tow a camper, and arranged to borrow a Sport 22FB travel trailer from recreational vehicle maker Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio.

Airstream Canyon 9 II

I drove the Canyon from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Airstream's headquarters in Jackson Center for a factory tour and to collect my temporary home away from home (read about that here) before heading east to Pennsylvania for four days on a hilltop. The distance from Ann Arbor to Jackson Center was about 170 miles, and the Canyon diesel exhibited its first remarkable feat on our journey: It registered observed fuel economy of 28.8 mpg combined (the EPA rates the 2016 Canyon 4x4 equipped with the 2.8-liter diesel at 20/29/23 mpg city/highway/combined)). Cruise control and air conditioning were employed, and speed was kept to 75 mph or less, but that's still an extraordinary figure for a pickup of any kind.

Once at the Airstream plant, the technicians at the company's service center hooked the Canyon up to a 22-foot shiny aluminum bullet, the Sport 22FB single-axle "Bambi" style camper. Empty, but equipped with a full load of liquefied petroleum gas, it weighed just more than 3,600 pounds. We added 20 gallons of fresh water and the potential for twice that in gray and black water tanks, plus luggage and provisions for the weekend, and that brought the trailer to nearly 4,000 pounds. The pickup itself probably weighed in just under 5000 pounds, and then adding in my own considerable frame and additional supplies, the combined truck and trailer tipped the scales right around 9000 pounds. It must be said: The techs at Airstream did a phenomenal job hooking the trailer to the Canyon. The truck dropped only 1/8-inch at the front wheels and just a 1/4-inch at the rear, which is just about dead level in my book.

Loaded Up and Truckin'

After a few practice stops to adjust the Canyon's integrated trailer-brake controller, I rolled eastbound across Ohio, down around Columbus and east on Interstate 70 toward Pennsylvania. The terrain in this part of eastern Ohio is dead flat, which gave me the chance to test how well the Canyon cruises with a big, albeit streamlined, load dragging it down. Pushing the switch for the Canyon's Tow/Haul mode and setting the cruise control at 70 mph made the entire episode completely uneventful — the Canyon tracks straight and steady, and the plentiful torque from the diesel engine makes acceleration a breeze.

The Canyon's brakes also made short work of stopping the combination, even given the occasional absent-minded "Pokemon Go" playing driver who cut us off in traffic. The Canyon handled crosswinds without any drama, the only funny business coming when passing or being passed by an 18-wheeler. That caused a bit of suction to draw the pickup and trailer in closer as the semitrucks passed. The only issue that could have been addressed with some aftermarket parts was improving visibility — seeing rearward requires some larger tow mirrors, perhaps the kind that strap onto the existing side mirrors. But flat-land towing is easy, it doesn't take a monster motor or specialized rig to do it. The bigger challenge would be West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Springsteen Country

Continuing on I-70 past Morristown, Ohio, put us in some hillier terrain as we approached the Ohio River Valley. This is where real testing of a towing rig happens — when you've got a long grade ahead of you, crazy semis blowing past at 80 mph or more to maintain momentum, and drivers gawping at the scenery that's gone from empty to exquisite in what seems like an eye blink.

Airstream Canyon 5 II

And here, too, the Duramax engine shines. Powering up long grades was no trouble at all. Only on rare occasions did I need to actually put my foot to the floor, and even on those steeper climbs, flooring the accelerator actually produced acceleration. There always seemed to be some torque in reserve when I needed it, and to my eyes, that is the mark of a good towing rig. The Canyon diesel never felt taxed, never felt stressed, never had any issue with the bulky travel trailer it was dragging. It also helps that the Sport 22 was perfectly sized for a towing rig of this type — anything much larger would likely have been a bit more unwieldy, and anything smaller wouldn't have provided any sort of challenge. One could probably go up another couple thousand pounds to a 26-foot dual-axle travel trailer and still not overwork the Canyon diesel.

Special mention should be made of the Duramax engine's exhaust brake — it's not manually engaged, as on larger diesel engines found in heavy-duty pickups. Instead, it's integrated into the Tow/Haul mode. And it works quite well — automatically engaging and slowing the truck-and-trailer assembly on downward grades and especially when coming to a slower speed stop, such as on highway off-ramps where a long, gradual deceleration can be performed.

After a beer-, barbecue- and music-filled weekend on a breezy hilltop in the heart of the southern Pennsylvania steel country, the trek back to Jackson Center provided confirmation of the Canyon diesel's outstanding suitability as a tow rig. And filling up at the gas station next to the Airstream headquarters revealed another benefit. Over 522 miles of mixed-terrain towing, including flat Ohio plains and the hills of Pennsylvania, the Canyon diesel returned an observed fuel economy of 16.0 mpg combined, confirmed by calculations (the Canyon's trip computer was pretty much spot-on). For a towing performance, that's better than respectable. In fact, it's pretty fantastic; the Canyon diesel got nearly 5 to 6 mpg better when towing than the light-duty V-8 pickups managed in our 2015 Light-Duty V-8 Challenge.

It's a shame that only 3 percent of midsize pickup owners tow with their vehicles. I bet that if more of them opted for a Canyon with a Duramax diesel engine, that number would be higher.

Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman


Airstream Canyon 6 II

Airstream Canyon 7 II

Airstream 13 II

Airstream 15 II

Airstream 16 II

Airstream 14 II

Airstream Canyon 10 II

Airstream Canyon 4 II




Total combine weight around 9000 pounds. Ecoboost f150 could pull both and then have some left over. I have rode in the new GMC mid-size truck and there is absolutely no room in back seat. And what was the out the door price? Just saying.

Now that is pretty cool. The real question is though, the diesel can handle the load, but can the truck actually handle it? Groceries are one thing but a camper is another.....

That's $43,960 for those in Realinda. For a midsize truck? Really?

Thank you for an interesting article.

It seems the Canyon diesel makes for a great 1/2 ton alternative if you need to do a little towing.

GM has done some great work with their pickups of late.

Keep up the good work.

@Wild Wily(AKA big AL) actually a true statement in the fact it is an alternative to half ton when you throw a diesel in the mix on this truck, kudos to them for doing that, my only concern is, based on history can the truck actually handle that since we are going to promote towing a 7K + trailer with this little truck.

I wish they would put the Diesel in the SL or WT verision instead of the fully loaded SLT only. There is plenty of room in the back seat of our neighbors Canyon for my wife and I, maybe someone is a little on the "large" side.

F150 eco-boost platnium is well above $50k

I wish they would put the Diesel in the SL or WT verision instead of the fully loaded SLT only. There is plenty of room in the back seat of our neighbors Canyon for my wife and I, maybe someone is a little on the "large" side.

F150 eco-boost platnium is well above $50k

Springsteen Country? Huh? I thought that was the Greater NY/NJ/Philly megalopolis.

The best thing about this truck is the competition will also bring out diesels. Of course the negatives will still be there, upper level trims, higher cost going in, etc. Ford must be working overtime on the Ranger, if not, they should be!

Consider the costs.

If you only do this sort of camping trip once or twice each year, the advantage goes to simply renting a specialized RV on an as-needed basis.

As one of the commenters points out, the over $40k price tag of the diesel SLT 4x4 becomes a bit extravagant unless you need the diesel's performance on a routine basis 365 days a year.

Bragman's report is well done.

The updated 2.8 Duramax 197 hp 369 ft lb torque and 4% fuel improvement with the 8 speed will make this truck preform much better but we probably want see these changes until a competitor brings a diesel to market.

It was good until he made the comparison to the V8 test mpg and then said this truck could tow 7000 lbs easily. The V8 half tons were on a different route and were towing fully loaded 6700 lb horse trailers. This Colorado was only towing a 3600 lb Air Stream. In my exerience small trucks do ok with light trailers but it is a different story when you start towing 7000 lbs and tow long distance and start looking at transmission temperature, oil temp, payload, tongue weight, more passengers (he was a single passenger), GCWR, things like that, then you realize a compact/midsizer is not all its cracked up to be. He should have just let this test stand on its own.

Why would you buy a higher level spec midsize sedan over a lower spec full size sedan for around the same money?

Pickups are now cars, cars come in all different prices and sizes. Why not a pickup?

Do you think an upsized meal is better? Or would you go out and buy a smaller, but better meal for the same money?

Why not have all the creature comforts of this Canyon, rather than driving a lowly spec'd full size for the same amount.

The bonus is added FE, ease of parking, etc, whilst doing more or less what the big boys do in their half ton pickups.

So, do you drive around in the lowest spec'd HD, because it's as cheap or cheaper than a mid spec'd half ton?

I've only just started out on this site and it appears many of the commenter's, comments like yours never add up.

@Big Al

We've had this debate before and you cannot get around the diesel's shortcomings.

Unless you drive a lot, and tow a lot, the diesel is less appealing. Diesel for passenger cars never caught on in American until gasoline became expensive. Diesel's are very efficient (and strong) but they're also expensive to manufacture and don't like short-trip driving.

A $40k midsizer that you buy for the purpose of hauling your camper or boat a few times during the summer is false economy.

As my earlier comment correctly pointed out, you can rent an RV a few times during the summer and not have the expense of owning a specialized towing machine, unless your other uses really call for one.

I would be interested in seeing more details when you weighed the combo. Front and rear axle weight on the truck before the trailer was on. And then trailer axle, rear axle, and front axle weights all hooked up and ready for camping

What is the payload capacity of the truck?

Could you post a picture of the payload sticker and the sticker that shows GAWR and GCWR?

What was the tongue weight of the trailer?

I sure wish you could have a bigger bed and drop the crew cab option.

James Siros

Very informative article.

TFL did a towing test over the Colorado mountains
Not ONLY did it do better than the F-150 5.0 it got better MPG

maybe the F-150 eco-boost can do better

BUT the Canyon Diesel BEAT the F-150 5.0 V8

here's the video how the Canyon Diesel BEATS the F-150 in towing and mpg

@Aaron Bragman
You just summed up the experience of anyone towing in Australia, with a " 1 Tonne" Pickup. In that regard the current Holden Colorado is not that good.Maybe the revised model will be better. See a lot of Ford/Mazda's towing, Isuzu Utes
Real difference is on their payloads compared to the GMC,

@Robt Ryan

Robert you've used a couple of terms interchangeably. Payload and towing capacity really measure different stuff. You knew that, right?

Nice Article, seems like the truck did fine. You don't always need a big fat full sizer especially when people in Europe pull trailers like this with Jetta's.

Damn that's a nice trailer.

Who's Big Al. I was called this previously.

Back to the debate.

You claim a half ton gasser is better than this Canyon. Why?

If like you claim if you tow this infrequently, ie, a couple times a year then you would buy a V6 powered half ton. But then again the V6 gasser Canyon is still better and cheaper.

Did you not read and digest this article. This vehicle is extremely capable of towing the camper trailer?

For similar money what can you buy in a half ton pickup? From a bling perspective there is little between them.

The biggest difference is the Canyon does it a lot easier on the purse with it frugal use of fuel.

I translate your comment into your belief that a midsize is not good at towing, but then again, it appears the Canyon has proven you wrong.

I translate your comment into your belief that a midsize is not good at towing, but then again, it appears the Canyon has proven you wrong.

Posted by: WildWilly | Aug 29, 2016 7:15:43 PM

Actually is hasn't proved that the canyon can tow. This is a small single axle, light weight aerodynamic travel trailer. Hardly what is the norm. I have seen Ford Escapes and Chevy Traverse tow these mini travel trailers. I will quote the article " . It also helps that the Sport 22 was perfectly sized for a towing rig of this type — anything much larger would likely have been a bit more unwieldy, and anything smaller wouldn't have provided any sort of challenge."

So you can fat Albert of Oz ((barfo). This test proved nothing. TFL truck towed a 5K trailer and the story was different. The trailer was much more uncomfortable compared to a full sized truck. The only reason you barfo are even here now because it is a review of a small truck with a diesel. Stick to what you know barfo, mindless bs.

here's the video how the Canyon Diesel BEATS the F-150 in towing and mpg

Posted by: BankruptinPA | Aug 29, 2016 5:37:42 PM

You may want to rewatch the video. They said the F150 was a better tow vehicle. If you want MPG then get the small truck.

I've stipulated it before, Ford's one truck strategy is stronger now with all the investment they've put into Ecoboost, and no more investments in truck specific V8 engines. They won't need Midsize, ie the current more parkable truck, because they only need to work on reducing the front end of the truck, and/or more cab forward design, which is easier now with 2 cylinders removed. Throw in a powerful V6 diesel and that only strengthens the one truck strategy they currently have. They are the only manufacturer leading with a V6 strategy! Ram kind of of led with the V6 strategy, ie Pentastar and Ecodiesel, but they sell too many V8's to alienate V8 die hards, due to what I remember as 50% of their of sales from V8's. Good to see Chevy Midsize diesel because the competition keeps Ford and Ram on their toes which benefits us all. My two bits.

here's the video how the Canyon Diesel BEATS the F-150 in towing and mpg

Posted by: BankruptinPA | Aug 29, 2016 5:37:42 PM

I assume you are related to johnny welfare doe because you live in PA. Please note, Ike Ford 5.0L towing 9K lbs 8min 12 sec. Diesel colorado, 8 min 55 sec towing 5600 lbs.


Good job GM.

I tow a lot at around 5k. daily and in a city. if this truck could double my mileage I currently get in a half ton than it would have been a better buy. The power and size and comfort of my half ton is awesome! I love 8 speeds. a love room. I love v8's. Ford f150 v8 is a hell of a good truck with a 6 speed and 3.73's. The gm 5.3 8 speed is better IMO. Gets extremely good fuel economy highway and has tons of go with an 8 speed towing in the hill ridden city I live in. Fords 5.0 with that 10 speed will be even or better! This tiny diesel is a bit to small IMO. Maybe at 250hp it would jump good but acceleration with 350hp is what is! my eco boost was an animal acceleration with custom tunes but stock for stock I like more gears and v8's. Ford will have one hell of a truck with a v8 and 10 speed that's a fact.

7000 lbs easy!! Yeah right, In your dreams Bragman!!!
That thing would struggle pulling 4000lbs with that mediocre HP.
What people fail to understand is that you need HP as much as you need TQ. That's why the VM Motori sucks at towing.
I don't go over the speed limit when towing but I have to have the HP to get up to speed when I get on the on ramp and up grades.Almost any vehicle can maintain 55-60 mph when towing
But you need HP as well.

lol the VM Motori 3.0 V6 doesn't suck for towing. It's a great engine for pulling. Torque is for pulling ability horse power is for drag racing. Horsepower only matters in towing for YouTube videos.

Military grade aluminum trailer with a Military grade aluminum F150, best combo on the planet.

Looks like the F-150 Cult Members will never change their minds!
They believe all the lies Ford gives them the same way Hillary lies and she's winning in the polls.
So it is to be! Not worried about it cause I don't care what truck they own.
Every story on PUTC that has nothing to do about an F-150 seems to get transformed into a story about the F-150.
I get tired of hearing how wonderful your F-150 is and how bad the other trucks are.
Even if a smaller pickup like the Colorado-Canyon can out perform the F-150 your only reaction is to trash talk the Colorado-Canyon instead of telling us the advantages of the F-150 cause you know there are none.

I gave you a video how wonderful the Canyon Diesel is and your response was to tell us how much more wonderful the F-150 is

I'm so SICK of all the PRO-FORD articles on this site! ...

@papa jim
Yes the Payloads are the big difference between US Midsize and " 1 Tonne"Pickups . 3.5 Tonne towing or 7,700lb, is becoming the accepted norm

@papa jim
Here is the workmate version of the Navara
"In this trim, the Navara has a 1261kg(2774lb) payload (which includes driver and passengers) and even with a modest 250kg of bluestone tiles in the back, the Nissan didn’t seem fazed at all. There’s a 3500kg tow rating as well, plus the drop-side tray was very easy to use and handy to boot."

That's great and towing was rated as number 20 something in level of importance to the midsize/pretend truck buyer/owner in Toyota's market survey.

While this specific model/drive train set up does FINALLY deliver a pretend truck real advantage in mileage it still falls flat compared to full size half tons in so many other ways/capabilities/capacities and especially price.

A very niche vehicle.

Ya know, I'm 71 years old and all I have ever heard is how great/ superior Chevy/GMC is over all others. Yes, I love Fords, but I will pull for a GM product over any foreign brand because I still believe in American branded products. My point is, if you don't like Ford, then DON'T read the articles or this forum. The reason Ford gets coverage is that they are the ones that are bringing innovation to the market.

@Robt Ryan

the quote you've shared borders on being silly.

A Navarra rated at over 2000 lbs is tested by the writer with "250KG" of tile in the back. In other words, the writer put less than one-eighth of the truck's load capacity in the back and pronounced it "unfazed."

Is that supposed to be a joke?

Updated Duramax? Call it what it is, a VM Motori.

And isn't this truck rated to tow upwards of 7000 pounds? I know that that's a decent camper, but I think that's a little bit light compared to most people's towing needs. But that's about typical for GM here lately, Towing around Airstreams that are rather slick pushing through the wind and lightweight.

And I think that's barely better than the 1500 Ram with the diesel....

Remember, you get to change the timing belt on this one at 150,000 miles.

I once saw someone pulling a bigger airstream then this with a Dodge Intrepid that was on I75 in GA

I love the smaller diesels and commend GM for leading the way with these trucks but everyone talks about how much weight will it tow and forget about max tung weight. I believe the max tung weight is 500lbs If you want to tow any larger Airstream the 23 foot is as big as you can go or you will exceed the max tung weight. I am in no way putting down this great truck but its size (will determine tung weight) not power is where you will find its limit.

Robert Ryan
That little Nissan truck truck looks rather nice. That flat bed is awesome, handier than the normal pickup tub.

The interior looks to good for a stripper work truck. It has a good payload and it can tow a reasonable amount.

The fuel usage is fantastic! I worked out the 6.4 litres to miles per US gallon, it's nearly 37 combined. I take that highway and city.

If that is the case it is getting over 40mpg on the highway. Maybe us in the US should look at these little trucks a little closer.

@papa Jim
You did not see the 2,700lb payload. If it had 600lb in the back it should be " unfazed"

10 years ago, this engine was used in the U.S. version of the Jeep Liberty. I had one that had a custom tune in it.

What I saw was pretty much spot-on with this article. I got 14 to 15 MPGs while towing 7,000 lbs. and about 26 MPGs combined when commuting the work during the week.

Really nice engines, but VERY expensive to work on. A thermostat was $110! And if you have a valvetrain or head gasket issue, it's time to dip into the 401K.

We have been towing our 6000 lb Travel trailer all over the mountains of B.C with our Canyon Diesel. It pulls the mountain passes with little effort,descends the hills with great confidence using the exhaust brake and grade braking together allow you to descend with very few applications of the service brakes. All in all i am very impressed with how well the diesel tows a load, the best part is the fuel economy, empty i have been able to exceed 30 mpg AVERAGE. Towing i get better fuel economy than any full size V8 i have had gets empty.

I almost bought one ,but the engine was too noisy
clack clack clack
I use my trucks to go hunting I need silence not a sewing machine noise.

Ford should bring out a Ranger the F150 v6 turbo strategy is not a convincing one. first ecco boost was infested with many problems. but instead of investing time to fix the problems they are dropping the last ecco boost and moving to a new one that will be infested with more problems.

Ok gang here is my take and experience. I traded my 2011 Silverado Z71, 4x4, 5.3, ext cab in on a 2016 Colorado Z71 ext cab V6. I would have like to get a diesel, but you can only get one with a crew cab. I wanted a 6.5' bed though, and the Colorado crew cab with the 6.5' bed is a long as the Silverado was! The second reason I trade in the first place was to be able to use my garage in the winter, so I needed the ext cab Colorado! more than a diesel engine. Now after a full 7 mo., with the gas engine, and towing a 4,000 trailer every week for the summer, I am pleased to say I truly feel the diesel is not needed. The biggest reason why I say that is mostly prices, I was able to get my Colorado ext cab Z71 V6, with nav/Bose radio system, and tow package, out the door for just $30,100!, the same truck with a crew cab 6.5 bed and diesel, at the same dealer, would have been well over 40K, which was the only dealer anywhere near the Boston area that has any discount on the Colorado, but the discount was not on diesels! as he could not get enough of them, and was able to get plenty of gas engine Colorado's. Now with that all said I ave. 18 city, 25 hyw, just the wife and I and some stuff, but with the trailer and a lot of stuff, Harley Sportster in the bed, at 560lbs, all our gear at about 200lbs, and the trailer at 4,000 fully loaded, I have passed over a scale at just over 9,500lbs! on the hyw on the flats I get 14mpg ave. but in the hill country, of N.E. upstate N.Y. I get about 11-13 mpg, fully loaded as stated, so not all that bad considering huh? But here is something else to think about, when talking about the 7,000 towing capacity rating. I have pulled my brothers wooden boat, on his custom boat trailer, that combined weight about 8,000! I know I know it is not legal, but keep in mind the trailer does have brakes, sure they are just surge brakes, as electric brakes on boat trailer is asking for trouble!, but I was able to pull the boat/trailer, and my brother and about 200lbs of equipment, without any real problems, granted we were extra careful, and never went over the speed limit, although it would have been easy, even on some of the hills, and coming down was no problem. So I believe the GM twins have been designed and built to handle what they are rated to, beyond a doubt. I will keep the diesel in mind in the future, but only if GM was to offer it in an ext cab, but for now the gas engine and the truck is fine! Now as far as off road goes, the Z71 I have done very well where I use it off road on the beach! The friends I have with Tacoma's also have no problem running down the beach, but after a few years doing so have created a big rust/rot problem, and four of them in Tacoma's ranging from 2002-2006, have not been able to pass safety inspection due the rust/rot in the frames and cab floors, Toyota, to their credit/support did replace their frames, but the body rust/rot was not in two of the more extreme cases of rust to body panels. the other two I know what was coming and have taken measures to help. One used 3M products (undercoating), and the other traded for a Colorado after riding/driving in mine! Oh he was able to get good money for his Tacoma on the used truck market, to a friend of his that worked in a body shop, cause Toyota has put a brand new frame and rear brake lines and gas lines in! He was able to fix the rest!

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