Diesel-powered light-duty trucks are perhaps the best example of build-it-and-they-will-come hopefulness that has ever existed in the auto industry. Following decades of demand from trucking enthusiasts (and a failed stint in the black-smoke '80s) diesel tech is finally here outside of heavy-duty haulers. In fact, General Motors has answered the call by building a pair of turbodiesel mid-size pickups alongside their standard gas offerings.
After having sampled the 2018 GMC Canyon Diesel, however, the real question in my mind is whether buyers are willing to pay up - waaay up - for this particular privilege. While diesels are the most efficient and torquiest pickups in their class, they've also narrowed the price gap between mid-size and full-size trucks to a degree never before seen in Canada.
Feel The Squeeze
If you want to spec the diesel engine with your 2018 GMC Canyon, you won't be able to do it via the base model. While the Canyon might start at around $25k, the most affordable turbodiesel edition will set you back $40,000, which translates into a premium of between $4,400 and $6,100 over a comparably-equipped V6 model. Although you can stick with two-wheel drive, all diesel Canyons require that you shell out for the four-door crew cab body style, and force you to start at the SLE trim level (with the more affordable SL and Canyon trims off the table).
My tester came spec'd as a short-box 'All Terrain' model, which added four-wheel drive, leather upholstery, and a number of off-road enhancements including a more rugged suspension setup, underbody armour, a hill descent control system, and unique 17-inch rims. It also featured navigation, a louder stereo system, and a towing package, which if you include the diesel motor itself heaped more than $8,000 in options onto the $49,815 purchase price (not including $1,795 in destination fees).
That's a considerable amount of money to spend on a truck - and as mentioned earlier, almost identical to what you'd spend for a four-door crew cab edition of the full-size GMC Sierra sitting in the same showroom.
GM has made the case again and again that it doesn't see its mid-size offerings like the Canyon as 'runner-up' trucks purchased by those who can't afford a larger vehicle, but rather lifestyle-oriented vehicles that better fit the needs of certain customers compared to a full-size pickup. The Canyon Diesel's pricing certainly reflects that philosophy - and as an urban dweller who appreciates how much easier it is to navigate and park a smaller platform, I can attest to the fact that these buyers exist.
Still, if you're going to pay $15k over the base model for a diesel pickup - or even double the price if you venture into All-Terrain territory or beyond - then you'd better be getting value for your money. It's here that the Canyon diesel calculus starts to get a little fuzzy.
Efficiency Isn't Everything
Diesel is often touted for its fuel-sipping ways, and the posted 8.3 l/100 km highway for the GMC Canyon's 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine is quite good (although in mixed usage with a heavy city component I saw closer to its 12.1 l/100 km around town rating). Still, you'd have to do a lot of driving - and I'm talking coast-to-coast - before the fuel savings came close to closing the gap on the extra premium paid for the engine.
For that reason I'm liable to view the GMC Canyon Diesel's efficiency as a bonus, and instead focus on what else the drivetrain brings to the table. With 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque on tap from its 2.8-liter four-cylinder, the turbodiesel Canyon isn't particularly quick off of the line, but nor does it ever feel slow, and its ability to shrug off nearly 700 kilos of cargo weight like it isn't even there is a side effect of the truck's low-down power delivery.
In addition, you get 3,500 kilograms of towing capacity with the diesel version of the truck, which is comparable to several larger SUVs and more than double the average trailer weight being towed on Canadian roads. The truck is also seriously smooth, with its engine well-matched to its standard six-speed automatic, and although I didn't have the chance to take the All Terrain off-road I've left the pavement behind in several similarly-equipped diesel pickups from General Motors and been impressed with the ability to parse the rough stuff.
It's worth noting that in these two particular scenarios - off-roading and towing - the diesel's fuel economy is going to make a bigger impression than it will in daily driving. There's nothing like being able to forge dozens of miles further down a trail than your gas-powered companions thanks to the longer range afforded by the diesel four-cylinder.
Bigger Is Not Always Better
Where does this leave the 2018 GMC Canyon Diesel in the final analysis? I'm of the opinion that for the majority of buyers, a mid-size truck offers more than enough practicality to handle most, if not all of the work typically handed off to much larger pickups, especially if you order the longer of the two cargo beds (and go with the four-passenger friendly crew cab). In addition to its improved parkability and more nimble handling, the diesel engine adds a degree of towing prowess and trail range that a gas model won't be able to match.
If any of the above is important to you, the Canyon Diesel is worth a look. If you're still on the fence and eyeing that Sierra parked next to it, do yourself a favour and drive them back-to-back, and then ask yourself which one would be easier to live with on a daily basis. Although marketing has trained us to never pay 'more' for 'less,' whether it's power, features, or in this case, tonnage, you might be surprised at the answer.