Ten years ago, a well equipped full-sized pickup would cost you anywhere between $35,000 for a loaded four-wheel drive gas model to $45,000 for a heavy-duty diesel.
These days that loaded $35,000 full-sized truck will cost well over $55,000; while the top-of-the-line $45,000 truck now lands in the upper deck of high prices, with a sticker that can break $70,000 in deluxe models.
Cheap financing, seven year loans, and an insatiable demand for four-door models has priced full-size trucks to shocking levels. Yet mid-sized trucks have not stepped in to fill this modern void due to hefty full-sized truck profits and stringent CAFE regulations.
As a result, mid-sized trucks like the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma have remained largely unchanged in nearly a decade, and compact trucks are all but extinct in North America.
Consequently, a lot of brand loyal truck buyers who need a replacement are now standing in the sidelines waiting for that better truck.
This past weekend we found two of them.
The 2015 mid-sized Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon will likely become in the 2010s what the Ford Explorer was to the SUV in the 1990s: A redefined idea of what passes for a do-it-all family vehicle.
Seven trim levels are offered between the Colorado and Canyon, along with six extended-cab and crew cab configurations, and three rear-suspension designs. Each model offers a little bit of everything from a sports truck with a 7,000 lb. towing capacity, to a refined luxury cruiser that is nearly as quiet on the road as a modern day mid-sized sedan.
Customers who opt for the 3.6-liter V6 will get the same 306 hp variable-valve timing engine that is found in a large part of GM's premium lineup, from the $55,000 Cadillac ATS to the $40,000 Chevy Impala. All two-wheel drive models are rated at a best-in-class 18 city and 26 highway, while four-wheel drive models only decline slightly to 17 city and 24 highway.
Four-cylinder models increased these fuel economy numbers by only 1 to 2 mpg due to the variable-valve timing technology in the V6. However, we found that the four-cylinder engine was far more willing to rev at higher rpms and offered a more sporting pretense than the six-cylinder when it came to daily driving. Those who don't plan on towing more than 3,500 pounds will be perfectly fine with the four-cylinder in virtually all real-world driving scenarios.
While the Chevy Colorado is tuned primarily for sport, the GMC Canyon represents the industry's first luxury mid-sized truck, much like how the Ford Explorer Sport Trak once offered a combination of a pickup utility and SUV comforts. Premium materials and soft touch surfaces adorn nearly everything on the interior of the GMC Canyon from the dashboard to the door panels.
The GMC Canyon also receives a variety of small touches that are unique to the segment. LED headlights in the Canyon provide a more polished and refined SUV-like look to the truck. In person, the GMC Canyon models all look far more upscale than any other midsize pickup — although its prices rise into the $30,000 to $40,000 range.
Most mid-sized truck owners will be stunned at the difference between the current interiors on the long-in-the-tooth Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, and those of the new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. The hard plastic dashboards and easy to scratch black door panels of the competitors lower-end offerings are thankfully nowhere to be found on these two new models.
On the technology front, the Canyon and Colorado offer an optional 8-inch touch screen that provides 4G LTE connectivity and WiFi starting at only $5 a month. The WiFi system can work within a 50-feet range and iPhone users (4S and newer) can connect to a Siri Eyes Free program that lets text messages be read and responded to without having to take their eyes off the road.
A one-touch voice-command system on the steering wheel also allows simple voice command for phone calls and audio controls. All of these technologies worked without error on the Colorado and Canyon models we tested.
Extended bed and Crew Cab models are available with a six-foot two-inch bed that can be converted into an eight foot bed. The addition of this new GearOn System provides modular cargo dividers and tiered storage for large and small items. All models are now also given 13 tie-downs; including the smaller five-foot two-inch bed that is exclusively available for Crew Cab models.
To accommodate the broad spectrum of needs for truck owners, a long list of custom accessories can be special ordered to handle everything from bikes, to jet skis, to general tools and equipment.
GM might not like to hear it, but the Canyon and Colorado not only decimate their mid-size competition, they also offer a comparable alternative to full-size truck owners for anywhere between a $6,000 and $10,000 discount.
As someone who lives in a part of the country where pickups are more common than SUVs, I see the genuine need for a mid-sized truck that offers much of the hauling capabilities of a full-size truck without the heft and super-sized accommodations.
The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon display an intelligent convergence between the comfort and sport of a mid-size SUV, and the work potential of a light-duty full-size pickup. If you are in the market for that type of vehicle, start here.