WARREN, MI – General Motors today unveils the ’15 GMC Canyon, which will combine with the Chevrolet Colorado later this year as the automaker’s one-two punch in a suddenly resuscitated small-pickup market in the U.S.

“There is a lot of dissatisfaction in the (segment’s) current makes,” says Tony DiSalle, vice president-marketing at GMC. “We’ve taken a close look at that and addressed it with our truck.”

Exterior design, value and quality are key reasons people purchase small pickups. But as the market shrunk over the past few years, styling and available options stagnated, fuel economy and performance became imbalanced with outdated powertrains and buyers could get more bang for the buck by purchasing a large pickup.

Large pickups also got quieter and offer more roominess than their smaller siblings.

Automakers sold 244,834 small pickups last year for 1.6% of industry sales, according to WardsAuto data. At its peak in 1986, the segment accounted for 1.5 million sales and 9.1% of the U.S. light-vehicle market.

The downturn in popularity spurred a number of automakers, such as Ford and Chrysler to exit the segment. Honda plans to pull its Ridgeline from the market soon.

GM, which quit making the previous-generation Canyon and Colorado in 2012, thinks with the right product the segment can make a comeback. DiSalle says buyers of the trucks still crave the functionality and “right-sized” attributes of a small pickup, as many of them departed for small CUVs and are ready to return.

“It has a ton of potential for growth,” he says during a sneak peek of the pickup here last month.

Like the Colorado, the redesigned Canyon receives fresh exterior and interior styling, an all-new architecture to underpin the truck, including a more robust and fully boxed frame, a choice of three high-tech powertrains and a long list of equipment options.

Engine choices include an entry-level 2.5L 4-cyl. making an estimated 193 hp and 184 lb.-ft. (253 Nm) of torque, and a 3.6L V-6 rated at 302 hp and 270 lb.-ft. (366 Nm) of torque. Both mate to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

In the ’16 model year, GM will add a 2.8L turbodiesel to the lineup, as well as a 6-speed manual transmission for extended-cab front-wheel-drive models powered by the 2.5L gasoline engine.

Fuel economy estimates will be released closer to the start of production.

“The GMC Canyon is more refined, more efficient and much more capable,” says Jeff Luke, executive engineer-GM trucks. “We think it is going to be a knockout.”

The Canyon borrows a basic frame from its big brother, the redesigned ’14 GMC Sierra large pickup. The fully boxed perimeter frame provides the truck with strong underpinnings, Luke says, contributing to what he expects will be a class-leading payload of at least 1,450 lbs. (657 kg) and maximum trailering rating of at least 6,700 lbs. (3,039 kg).

The frame also provides the Canyon with a smooth, quiet ride, Luke says.

The Canyon uses a coil-over front suspension with lightweight, high-strength aluminum knuckles for improved responsiveness and efficiency. A segment-first electronic power-steering system also boosts fuel economy, replacing less-efficient hydraulic systems used by today’s small pickups.

The Canyon boasts a turning radius of about 41 ft. (12.6 m), giving the pickup the maneuverability buyers in the segment demand, while the 4-wheel disc brakes feature GM’s Duralife rotors that double the service life of the component to reduce ownership costs.

The truck will come with an available automatic locking rear differential for better traction when necessary. The technology will be included on an optional All-Terrain package. Automatic 4-wheel drive will mark another segment-first.

Cargo bed choices are of 5- and 6-ft. (1.5-1.8 m) lengths, depending on the cabin configuration, and include features such as a lightweight tailgate, 2-tier loading that allows the bed to be split into an upper and lower level, 13 reconfigurable and four stationary tie-down locations and a factory-installed spray-in bed liner. A notch in the corner bumper provides a step into the cargo area.

Aluminum wheel sizes are 16, 17 and 18 ins.

Key safety items new to the segment include optional forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning. Six airbags ring the cabin.

The Canyon’s interior targets a connected consumer looking for comfort. It uses an upright instrument panel with large gauges, just like the new Sierra, but a console-mounted gear-shift selector recalls a car or CUV. GM says attention was paid to headroom with the use of a sculpted headliner, while door designs make the cabin quieter and ingress/egress easier.

The center console storage area is big enough for a tablet computer and owners will find extra storage areas under the rear seats and above the glovebox in models without the upper-trim-level sound system.

GM says the seats are designed for “long-haul-comfort,” while key connectivity items include an available 8-in. (20-cm) color touchscreen, multiple USB ports, OnStar 4G LTE with wireless Internet and Siri Eyes Free command capability, navigation and access to infotainment applications.

A new Teen Driver feature will be available, too. It allows parents to set limits for vehicle speed and audio volume, and can compose a PIN-locked “report card” documenting periods of wide-open-throttle, ABS events and other data.

The exterior design of the Canyon uses cues central to the GMC brand, such as the integration of the pickup’s grille, front bumper and fenders, headlamps and hood. The Canyon’s LED projector headlamps also are consistent with the brand’s other vehicles.

“Our main focus was to create a GMC DNA that was unquestionable,” says Rob McMahan, exterior designer on the Canyon. “You can do parts and pieces, but we wanted to be very consistent.”

DiSalle says his marketing team considered changing the name of Canyon because the new model shares nothing with its predecessor, but consumer perception remains high and it imparts the same impressions as other GMC names.

Canyon pricing will be announced closer to production. GM will build the Canyon and Colorado at its Wentzville, MO, assembly plant.

jamend@wardsauto.com