Road Test: 2004 GMC Canyon
By: Mike Magda, Editor Posted: 07-25-04 21:00 PT
© 2004

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Compact truck sales have fallen over 30 percent since 2000 when well over 1 million units passed through the showrooms. Sales are so sluggish that hardly any automaker wants to sell compact trucks. Now they strive to offer midsize pickups.

Most observers had already been calling the Dodge Dakota a midsize truck, even though it was always lumped in the compact truck category with the Chevy S-10, GMC Sonoma, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series. But late last year, Chevy and GMC released their new fraternal twins, the Colorado and Canyon, respectively, and the marketing machine quickly started calling them midsize pickups.

Later this year, Dodge will release an even bigger Dakota, and Toyota and Nissan will introduce bigger Tacomas and Frontiers, all expected to promote midsize as an adjective more often than compact.

Analysts offer numerous reasons for the slumping sales of small pickups: attractive incentives on full-sized models and no real new product as manufacturers focused on soaring SUV sales. However, with everyone but Ford introducing a brand new truck in the compact category within a year, the competition should be fierce and interesting. There isn’t as much brand loyalty within the compact market as with the full-sized trucks. Here’s where automakers often snag first-time buyers. Cross-shopping is the norm, not the exception. The youth factor—accented up by the price and fun factors—is always addressed by the automakers as evidenced by the advertising.

Now that compact/midsize trucks can have sticker prices over $30,000, the scary thought is that the manufacturers will forget the little guy. Forget where compact trucks trace their roots. Forget about 4-cylinder engines and hose-it-out interiors.

Hardly anyone buys regular cab pickups any more. Industry estimates place the regular cab share of the compact market at under 10 percent. Nissan doesn’t even offer a regular cab, and Dodge is expected to follow suit with the next generation Dakota. Toyota has one model and few options or special trim packages for it. Manufacturers generally keep regular cabs around for low starting-price points and fleet orders. They rarely release regular cab compact trucks to the press pool. Just as most shoppers bypass them, most journalists aren’t interested in testing these unpopular models, either.

But we wanted to test a bargain truck from the new GMC Canyon line. While we couldn’t get the $16,000 truck that GMC advertises as a starting point, maybe we could find out what a $20,000 truck offers. Luckily, there was a 2-wheel-drive, 4-cylinder Extended Cab in the local press pool. Although it had the upscale SLE trim, the truck had the standard Z85 suspension, not the sporty Z71 that gives the truck a pre-runner attitude and increases off-road prowess.

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