Comparison Test: 2016 Chevrolet Colorado vs GMC Canyon Diesel vs Toyota Tacoma

A few years ago, it wouldn't even have occurred to us to do a comparo like this one. Not only were there very few compact trucks left on the market, what was out there was sadly in need of updating.

A few years ago, it wouldn't even have occurred to us to do a comparo like this one.

It wasn't always so. Thirty years ago, small trucks represented one of the hottest segments on the market, and nearly every large manufacturer had their own contender. The compact designation was somewhat elastic, with sizes ranging from the tiny Ford Rangers and Chevy S10s to the near full-size Dodge Dakota.

Instead of the "one-size-fits-all" approach of a conservative market, there was a truck to suit just about every purpose.

There were off-roaders like the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Jeep Comanche and Ford FX4 Ranger, general purpose trucks like the Chevrolet Colorado and Mazda B2000 and quirky little runabout pickups such as the Dodge Rampage, Subaru Brat and Volkswagen Rabbit Sportruck. Modified street pickup communities thrived, and it wasn't uncommon to see tubbed and blown Chevy S10s square off against the imports at the drag strip.

But by the mid-2000s, most of these had disappeared here thanks to rising fuel costs and better alternatives – although the segment remains strong in the European and Asian markets.

The increasing levels of performance – and luxury – from the ever-more capable sports utility market proved too alluring to the average buyer who didn't really need the full-time use of a pickup.

By 2013, there were only a handful of small trucks available, and woefully dated at that. Tacoma led the market, despite not having seen a refresh since 2005.

When GM announced they were introducing a pair of mid-size pickups that they believed would resurrect the segment, there was more than a little skepticism. After all, nobody was interested in compact trucks anymore. Or were they?

The Chevrolet Colorado and GM Canyon were almost instant hits, and GM claims they're selling as fast as they can build them. Toyota's newly improved Tacoma is gathering rave reviews for its impressive technology and Nissan will introduce a completely revised Navarro-based version of the Frontier sometime next year.

More on Truck King challenge: 2016 Canadian Truck King Challenge

Aside from attending the launches for Canyon and Colorado, and the latest Duramax Diesel-powered versions of GM's compact twins, we were able to pit them back to back against the all-new Tacoma as one of the participating judges of this year's Canadian Truck King Challenge. The comprehensive testing featured on-road drive loops, empty and with payload, towing and an off-road course. Read further to see how we ranked them.

Third Place: 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Access Cab V6 TRD Off-Road

It may have ranked last, but this truck's appeal goes much further than what's on paper. While practicality dictates that the Tacoma isn't the first choice for most people – it had the greatest emotional appeal for me.

The Tacoma is an absolute blast to drive, but it's more of a purpose-built, dedicated rock crawler than all around utility vehicle. It's the very definition of "sport truck" and targets a specific sort of buyer.

It's noisy on-road, moaning and groaning while towing a load, and is a lot less refined than the competitors, inside and out. Where the GM twins have a quiet, comfortable and "mature" cabin, the Tacoma's is playful and modern and probably wouldn't appeal to the older buyer.

Towing capacity for V6 Access Cab models has been raised to 6, 500 lb, but the Tacoma's not meant to be a hauler. Even so, it's perfectly capable of transporting an outdoor enthusiast's snowmobiles, dirt bikes, or boats.

Equipped with the TRD Off-Road package, our tester was a bona fide bushwhacker, with Bilstein shocks, lock-up torque converter, rear differential lock, crawl control and skid plates. It boasts a 32.1 degree approach angle, 23 degrees of departure and 240mm of clearance. If you want to be duly impressed, check out the crawl control demos posted on Youtube – the Tacoma's ability to extricate itself from fender-deep sand is nothing short of astounding.

The power output is scant by comparison, but the lightweight Tacoma scampered over the off-road course with ease.

The Tacoma was mid-pack in fuel economy, with an average 10.59 L/100 km driven empty, 10.21 with 1,000 lb payload, 14.62 while trailering a 4,000 lb load, and an overall average of 11.98 L/100 km.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance

Pricing: 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Access Cab V6 TRD Off-Road
Base Price: $27,995
As Tested: $37,900

Engine: 3.5L V6
Power: 278 hp @ 6,000, 265 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Max Tow Rating: 6,500 lb
Fuel Economy: 13.8/11.7 (City/Hwy)
Rear Axle Ratio: 3:91

Second Place: 2016 Chevrolet Colorado

Equipped with a 3.6L V6, Colorado was a nice little truck, but in the words of one of the judges, was simply "outshone by its diesel-powered Canyon cousin". As with the Canyon, the Colorado boasts plenty of high tech content, including the 4G LTE wifi Hotspot, Apple Carplay and a suite of safety systems. The V6 engine is quiet and refined, but it doesn't come close to the the 2.8L Duramax Diesel in the Canyon when it comes to performance or fuel economy.

The Colorado had the highest fuel consumption rating of the three, with 10.7 L/100 km averaged during the empty drive loops, 10.64 with 1,000 lb payload and 15.25 towing a 4,000 lb trailer. Overall, its combined fuel rating was 12.23 L/100 km.

Equipped thusly, the Colorado has a max tow rating of 7,000 lb, which is more than enough for the owner who tows his boat to the cottage on weekends. But its torque rating lags far behind the Duramax diesel Canyon and the engine labours more under load.

While it managed the off road course without any issues, bushwhacking is not the Colorado's strong suit. But the buyer who wants an all-round truck will be confident in knowing that it's perfectly capable of handling some off-road and snow.

With its comfortable, quiet interior, the Colorado is probably the ideal truck for the former SUV or crossover owner who has occasional need for a truck bed's ability to handle dirty jobs, or towing small boats to the cottage.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/160,000 km powertrain; 6 years/160,000 km corrosion perforation; 5 years/160,000 km roadside assistance

Pricing: 2016 Chevrolet Colorado
Base Price: $36,495
As Tested: $40,525

Engine: 3.6L V6
Power: 305 hp @ 6,800, 269 lb-ft @ 4,000
Transmission: 6 speed automatic
Max Tow Rating: 7,000 lb
Fuel Economy: 13/9.2 (City/Hwy)
Rear Axle Ratio: 3:42

First Place: 2016 GMC Canyon Duramax Diesel

The most usable "all-around" in our test group, the Duramax Diesel equipped Canyon was a favourite among most of the judges.

We were impressed with its "big truck" ability in a small package, and its quiet and refined behaviour even while towing. Such serious working credentials as exhaust brake, tow haul mode and integrated trailer brake controller dispel any "toy truck" misconceptions about the diesel Canyon.

Saving wear and tear on brake components, the exhaust brake is a "smart" system, that holds the vehicle's downhill speed without any brake or throttle application. It may not have been as fun as the nimble Tacoma on the off-road course, but the Canyon got through it with no trouble.

While the initial $4,400 outlay for GM's new 2.8L Duramax Diesel seems a bit steep, it is an impressive performer. The engine's amount of easily accessed torque gives this compact 4x4 the pulling power of many full size trucks. More upscale than its sister truck, the Colorado, the Canyon has leather upholstery and plenty of high tech content, including a 4G LTE wifi hotspot,and Apple Carplay.

Of course, many buyers choose diesel power not only for its strength and durability, but for the added fuel economy. The Canyon delivered, with the best all-around fuel consumption ratings of 9.54 L/100 km empty, 9.84 with payload and 13.76 while towing.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/160,000 km powertrain; 6 years/160,000 km corrosion perforation; 5 years/160,000 km roadside assistance

Pricing: 2016 GMC Canyon Duramax Diesel
Base Price: $40,245
As Tested: $45,705

Engine: 2.8L 4-cylinder diesel
Power: 181 hp @ 3,400 rpm, 369 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 6 speed automatic
Max Tow Rating: 7,600 lb
Fuel Economy: 12.0/8.2L/100 km (City/Hwy)
Rear Axle Ratio: 3:42

A few years ago, it wouldn't even have occurred to us to do a comparo like this one. 1/11/2016 6:31:49 AM
2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Access Cab V6 TRD Off-Road 2016 Chevrolet Colorado 2016 GMC Canyon Duramax Diesel
Base Price $27,995 Base Price $36,495 Base Price $45,705
Optional Equipment Optional Equipment Optional Equipment
A/C Tax A/C Tax A/C Tax
Destination Fee Destination Fee Destination Fee
Price as Tested $37,900 Price as Tested $40,525 Price as Tested
Optional Equipment