Anyone who has shopped for a midsize truck in the past several years has seen the same thing. Literally. The same automakers have been offering the same trucks, which remained essentially unchanged for the better part of a decade. The Ford Ranger and Ram/Dodge Dakota are gone, and the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are both long in the tooth. After a three-year hiatus, GM has broken that string by introducing an all-new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

Zooming Ahead

The Colorado and Canyon have come a long way. They are now the best-looking trucks in the compact/midsize segment, and are fun to drive, too. Acceleration is very good with the Crew Cab V6 models we drove, and was better than expected in the Extended Cab powered by the 200-horsepower 2.5-liter I4. There's plenty of power from the 305-power 3.6-liter V6, and the 6-speed automatic makes good use of it, giving the truck best-in-class towing of 7,000 pounds. We did notice frequent up- and downshifts from the transmission on grades. We had to work the I4 harder than the V6, but with the smaller engine, the truck felt more spry and agile, and in some ways reminded us more of the good old days of the compact trucks of the 1980s and 1990s. The brakes were responsive, with somewhat less pedal travel in the 4-cylinder truck we tested. The ride was compliant but not mushy.

The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon use the same engines and transmissions, but there are distinct differences between the two trucks. The clearest differentiator is the styling, where you can easily tell which is which with a cursory glance at the nose-the GMC being the truckier of the two. Inside, the Canyon uses more premium materials, such as real aluminum trim, and more soft-touch and leather on the dash and doors. The Colorado is offered in Base, WT, LT and Z71 trims and the Canyon comes in SL, Base, SLE and SLT trims. There is no Canyon Denali, but we wouldn't be surprised to see one in the future. Also in the future (2016) will be a 2.8-liter diesel engine for both the Colorado and Canyon.

Also: The Class of 2015 -- New Vehicles Ready to Roll

Change is Good

The most noticeable way the Colorado and Canyon have passed the competition is refinement. This begins at the frame, which was engineered with the same approach used on the big-brother Silverado and Sierra, making the Colorado and Canyon tougher and stronger as well as greatly improving ride and handling. The cabins--a choice of extended cab or crew cab--use materials that are far better than those of the previous Colorado/Canyon and are arguably best in class. This is the quietest interior of any truck in the segment--by far--thanks in part to triple-sealed doors. These trucks are the first to be available with lane departure warning, electric power steering, an 8-inch touch screen and a tailgate that's designed to be easy to raise and lower. A lot of features come standard, including a back-up camera. You can also have texts read to you, and the truck can serve as a wi-fi hotspot. The end result of all of these changes is that the interior is more like a crossover than a traditional pickup, yet the materials are durable for those who will use the truck for work.

More than just a pickup

GM's decision to give the interior the look and amenities comparable to a crossover but with more toughness, is a wise one. The automaker is looking beyond just getting a slice of the midsize truck pie (12.5 million people currently drive them) by bringing in crossover and sedan owners, customers that may have once driven a compact truck but left when the segment became stagnant.

GM does face a challenge with these trucks. Some buyers are going to see a midsize truck and wonder why they shouldn't just get a full-size instead. But Chevy and GMC know that there are people out there who prefer being able to garage their truck and who like the easy maneuverability that these mid-sizers offer. The models we drove came nicely equipped, closer to top-of-the-line than stripped down. The 4-cylinder Colorado Extended Cab LT cost $27,810 as tested, and the Canyon SLT Crew Cab was $39,500. Both the base price ($20,995) and the top-of-the-line price (a hair over $40,000) fall right between prices for the Frontier and the Tacoma. When comparing the Colorado to a comparably equipped Silverado, the difference in price is about $6,000-$10,000. There will be plenty of people shopping for a Silverado or Sierra, and instead get a well-equipped Colorado or Canyon for a lot less money. There may also be others that have been looking for something to replace their aging Rangers and Dakotas but don't want to get a crossover. All these prospects now have a fresh option.

More Pickup Truck news...

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban Z71, Colorado concept bow

2015 Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon tops in fuel economy

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Elevation Edition unveiled

 

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