GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado lead latest round in light-duty diesel applications, but not the only action

2016 GMC Canyon 2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel

GM’s 2.8L Duramax turbo-diesel brings diesel power–and torque to the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado. (c) GM Corp

The GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup trucks will be available with an all-new 2.8-liter Duramax diesel for the 2016 model year when they goes on sale this fall. They’re part of a new wave of light-duty pickups available with diesel engines, including the full-size Nissan Titan, all new for 2016, and the Ram 1500, which added a diesel to its engine lineup last year. And Nissan is likely to add a Frontier pickup powered by a Cummins diesel to its lineup. Here’s a look at what’s going on…and what isn’t.

The GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado have had a rousing reception from pickup truck enthusiasts who want a truck but not so much of one, enough so to put on a third shift last fall after the model’s sales debut. Building on strength, GM is adding diesels as part of the original market plan for the Canyon/Colorado. The full-boxed frame was designed not only to fit the new four-cylinder turbodiesel but also handle its 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.

The new small Duramax diesel is built for truck duty, with forged crank and connecting rods, piston-cooling oil jets, and a laminated steel oil pan with upper aluminum section for engine rigidity and quietness. Advanced features include fast acting ceramic glow plugs, a balance shaft that that also drives the oil pump, plus direct oil feed to turbocharger.

Shades of a semi’s jake brake, the Canyon/Colorado diesel engine has an exhaust brake that can help slow the truck in addition to the truck’s main service brakes, or in cruise-control mode, allow the truck to maintain a constant speed on a downhill without having to wear and overheat its brakes. GM promises that it’s quiet, however, which we’ll find out when we drive one.

The 2.8-liter Duramax diesel is civilized by a centrifugal pendulum vibration absorber (CPVA) in the torque converter. The CPVA is an “absorbing damper with a set of secondary spring masses” that counteract vibrations with counteracting vibrations. The standard equipment transmission is GM’s 6L50 six-speed automatic.

Altogether the drivetrain and chassis give the GMC Canyon/Chevrolet Colorado an impressive towing capacity of up to 7,700 lbs. We’ll report on how refined it is after we’ve had a chance to drive it.

Cummins/Nissan 2.8L diesel Diesel Runner

The Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner “concept” is powere by a 2.8-liter Cummins four-cylinder engine. Cummins Engines pciture

Further out is the diesel-powered Nissan Frontier. It was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show as the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner, powered by a Cummins-developed 2.8-liter four-cylinder diesel producing “nearly 200 horsepower” and more than 350 lb-ft. of torque, or in other words, in the same neighborhood as the 2.8-liter Duramax. Towing capacity was said to be about the same as with the current Nissan 4.0-liter gas-fueled V-6—about 6300 lbs with rear-wheel drive—with highway fuel consumption about 30 mpg, based on Nissan’s estimated 35 percent improvement over the gasoline engine.

Nissan reported that the Frontier Diesel Runner received “a ton of interest” at the Chicago show in early February. And while Nissan didn’t have “a set release date,” and “there isn’t an official release date,” and “we’re still not too sure whether or not we will ever see an official Nissan Frontier Cummins Diesel release date,” it seems the lady doth protest too much. Nissan also pointed out that “some modifications would need to be made in order to fit the proposed engine in the nose of the Frontier. If Nissan were to stick with the engine equipped under the hood of the concept—and it’s likely that they would—it would be a 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel.”

So while Nissan isn’t saying anything yet—they’re still busy getting the Nissan Titan launched—they did say “we would have to expect that it would be at least a year down the road as the diesel-powered Frontier would still need some modifications to be able to accommodate the larger engine.” So let’s not argue about “if.” Let discussion begin about “when.”

Diesel’s are attracting attention in the larger full-size pickups as well. Until recently, diesels were limited to heavy-duty pickups, but Ram was the first to introduce a diesel in that market segment with an announcement a year ago that the EcoDiesel-equipped Ram 1500 would go on sale in the first quarter of 2015. We drove an EcoDiesel Ram 1500 and were impressed with its power and smooth operation, along with its 23.3 mpg fuel economy (19/27 city/highway EPA estimate).

The Nissan Titan XD ups the ante against the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel by making a Cummins 5.0 diesel available. The big truck lives up to its big name, splitting the difference between a half-ton and three-quarter-ton pickup in size with what we’ve called “a ridiculous 555 lb-ft of torque” to go with its 310 horsepower. It’s good, says Nissan, for up to 12,000 lbs towing.

The five-liter Cummins is “the first commercial application of the new Cummins M2 two-stage turbo system, which helps reduce traditional turbo-lag through precision balancing between high-pressure and low-pressure turbos.” The turbo V-8 will have Bosch HPCR fuel system that with precise fuel control and multiple injections per combustion stroke, making it more efficient with reduced diesel clatter.

2010 Duramax turbodiesel 4.5L V-8 Turbo

The 4.5-liter Duramax turbodiesel V-8 was slated for the 2010 Chevrolet Cheyenne 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 before GM’s finances got in the way. (c) GM Corp

General Motors has another pickup truck engine on ice…or at least if it’s warming up, they’ve told no one. GM was readying a 4.5-liter Duramax V-8 diesel for the 2010 model year GMC Sierra 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 when the company’s financial crunch hit. The V-8 diesel was a very advanced clean-sheet design, with double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.

Among innovative features of the engine were integral aluminum cylinder head exhaust manifolds and integral cam cover intake manifolds. A narrow V-angle made the engine more compact and as a result lighter. The engine also placed the turbocharger between the banks of the vee, with exhaust exiting from the ports traditionally used for intake, allowing the exhaust an immediate shot at the turbo for improved efficiency and power. The engine was expected to make more than 310 horsepower and 520 lb-ft of torque at a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy versus comparable gasoline engines.

The announcement that the engine would be indefinitely tabled coincided with the visit by President Obama’s Auto Task Force. Though pulling the plug on the engine, General Motors said it “remains optimistic” that the advanced, clean and efficient engine “may be a viable option in its future portfolio.” Maybe as a rival for the Ram EcoDiesel?