After years of Chevrolet and GMC trucks that not only were identical beneath the skin but shared just about every interior and exterior panel, the Canyon and the Chevy Colorado have finally diverged. The Canyon looks for all the world like a little cousin of the burlier GMC Sierra, but it has enough rugged bits and a solid enough stance to stand on its own and earn a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
A new Denali variant arrives for 2017 with its own wheels and grille, as well as a few other bolt-on bits that, frankly, don't do a lot for us. We like the simpler look of the SLE and SLT.
The Canyon's front fascia remains in line with GMC’s other trucks, as does the tailgate and rear bumper area; even the flared-and-squared wheel arches are a familiar detail. The Canyon is more conservative than the Colorado, which shares less in common with the Silverado and has a more global look—it's a big seller in southeast Asia.
Look down its side flanks, and the Canyon reminds us that it is a worldwide product. Its shoulder line doesn't remain as blocky as its grille as it wanders up the roof pillar with a more sweeping, modern look that harks to an entire generation of Asian-built small pickup trucks that have never been sold in the U.S.
The Canyon's interior benefits from the same general themes seen in the latest Sierra full-sizer. It's a rugged, stylish treatment that would work just as well in a tall wagon or crossover SUV. A central dash pod contains the primary controls and displays, and the gauges are framed by a beefy steering wheel with its own control buttons.
One notable difference from the full-size Sierra’s layout: the gear shift lever sits in the center console rather than on the column. Otherwise, the Canyon blends in perhaps a slightly greater degree of sedan-like themes in the upholders, bucket seats, and door armrests, but still pulls off its business truck image, with some tasteful glints of aluminum trim and contrasting stitched soft-touch materials on higher end Canyon SLE and SLT trucks. Again, the Denali differs only in some trim bits.
The Canyon looks like a mini-GMC Sierra, which is all right with us.
After launching with two gas engines, the Canyon added a turbodiesel inline-4 last year. It's exactly the engine we've wanted to see in a pickup, and it is a class exclusive—but, boy, is it expensive.
With that in mind, it is worth shopping all three engines and both rear- and four-wheel drive. Which setup you choose should depend heavily on the tasks you demand from it, but overall the Canyon scores a solid 7 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The engine lineup
With the base 2.5-liter inline-4, the Canyon does an acceptable job as an economy car substitute. With 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque, the engine works hard—though it is smooth and relatively quiet—to deliver up to 22 mpg on the EPA's combined cycle, not to mention adequate power for highway driving. It's better in low-speed city driving, where it feels perky even pulling a moderate load. In absolute terms, the base engine's power, acceleration, and economy aren't stellar, but compared to something like a compact crossover, the 4-cylinder Canyon has the enormous advantage of an open bed for cargo. If you're not regularly hauling more than a full bed of rocks or power toys, it's worth a test drive. Truthfully, the 4-cylinder mates best to rear-wheel drive and the 6-speed manual transmission.
The 4-cylinder is the only version available with a manual gearbox, and even then that transmission is restricted to the base model with rear-wheel drive. Almost every Canyon you will find on a dealer's lot will have the 6-speed automatic, which represents parent company GM's usual good shift quality.
Most Canyons will be powered by the new V-6, especially with four-wheel drive. With 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, it's only slightly more powerful than last year's similarly sized 3.6-liter engine. But the new engine features cylinder deactivation designed to seamlessly cut power to two of the six cylinders under low load situations to save fuel. Additionally, it is mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox, a transmission we have liked in other GM products.
It's a robust, strong engine, with good power across the line. The 8-speed, in particular, does an excellent job of keeping things in check, with prompt downshifts and silent upshifts. We wish that the Canyon's transmission lever had a separate gate for manual shifting, however, which is particularly useful when towing in a hilly or mountainous area. Instead, it has a toggle switch on the side of the lever that's not exactly intuitive.
The new V-6 is markedly more refined than the outgoing engine, too, with minimal intrusion from the engine bay. Its cylinder deactivation system is similarly silent, with no obvious effect when two cylinders shut down.
Then there's the turbodiesel inline-4. Don't let its cylinder count fool you; this 2.8-liter engine is rated at 181 hp and, more importantly, 369 lb-ft of torque. The diesel is a charmer, only occasionally displaying any roughness, and it mates well to the standard 6-speed automatic transmission. It's also the towing champ, capable of hauling 7,700 pounds (for a rear-wheel drive model, or 7,600 with four-wheel-drive). That's up to 700 pounds more than the V-6, but the turbodiesel does the job with even less stress.
Payload for the Canyon ranges from 1,450 to 1,620 pounds, which is enough for a bed full of rocks or sand—and it's not that far off of a full-size truck.
Towing and payload figures vary depending on body style and powertrain, of course, as well as by drive configuration. The Canyon comes with either rear- or four-wheel drive, but its system isn't identical to the Colorado, in this case: it is an automatic system badged with GMC's AutoTrac label. Outside of rear-wheel drive mode, Canyon drivers can select four-wheel drive manually, or flip to Auto mode, in order to let the truck detect wheel slip on its own, and to decide how to split torque front to rear. GMC also offers an automatic locking differential on certain trim configurations.
The Canyon's dueling performance personalities complement its almost sedan-level ride and handling setup. It's not in truth that much smaller than a Sierra, but the Canyon certainly drives like it is. Its well-weighted electric power steering and comfortably-tuned, but rather conventional, suspension are to be given applause. The truck's suspension rounds and snubs off bumps nicely, and its steering tracks mostly true, though like any body-on-frame design, the Canyon transmits a fair share of secondary ride motions through to the cabin. If you're moving from a compact crossover to a mid-size truck, you'll notice a difference, but the tall sidewalls on the Canyon's tires certainly quell some ride harshness.
Even the base 4-cylinder is adequate, but the turbodiesel is our powertrain of choie.
No matter which body style, the Canyon does a top-notch job of delivering passenger comfort, far better than the Frontier and Tacoma—and, if it's luxury you're after, the Canyon Denali tops even the otherwise essentially identical Chevy Colorado.
We give the GMC Canyon a 6 out of 10 for quality and comfort. Its second row isn't particularly good, but there's great stretch-out space for the driver and shotgun seat. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Mid-size trucks aren't that much smaller, inside or out, than full-sizers were a few years ago, which may surprise some shoppers who haven't been on the market in a while. For starters, the GM trucks' higher hip point and generous head room give them a more natural driving position than the legs-out seen in some rivals. Even better, the Canyon's front seats are shaped well for a wide variety of passengers with good bolstering.
Fit and finish is acceptable for the price point and the segment, but short of high-end—even in the Denali, which seems like a dubious value. That said, any Canyon trim level will embarrass the comparatively pedestrian Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, although the Honda Ridgeline gives the GMC a serious run for the money.
Behind the Canyon's front seats, buyers can pick between three configurations and two body styles. The extended-cab truck has a pair of rear-hinged doors on either side, and it comes only with a longer 6-foot-2 bed that can be teamed with a bed extender to haul items 8 feet long. The Canyon crew cab has front-hinged rear doors on either side, and offers either that bed, or a shorter 5-foot-2 bed. Four-wheel-drive models sit a little higher off the ground than rear-drive versions, but the step-in height is reasonably low regardless—and running boards are an option.
The extended-cab Canyon isn't a proper passenger hauler, but it can fit a child safety seat or a couple of adults for a short stint. If toting more than two people is important, it's easier for everyone and all their things to slide into the crew cab. It's longer, at 224.6 inches head-to-toe versus 212.4 inches for the extended cab, and the rear seats themselves are bolt-upright, which can be tiring on a long trip. Most owners will use the under-seat storage more than the seats themselves, if we're any example.
Regardless of size, the Canyon's beds include features to make the most of their capacity. The Canyon includes a step integrated into the bumper and an easy-lowering tailgate, plus 17 tie-down spots inside the bed, a choice of a spray-in bedliner or a drop-in one, cargo dividers, a system of racks and carriers dubbed GearOn, cargo nets and tonneau covers, a drop-in toolbox, and, of course, trailer hitches and harnesses.
The Canyon Denali provides some luxurious equipment, but no Canyon feels especially upscale inside or out.
While the NHTSA has tested the extended-cab Canyon, the IIHS has only rated the truck for front-impact crashworthiness. And, despite a price tag that can easily top $40,000, some important safety technology is absent.
In the NHTSA's crash, the Canyon rates an overall four stars. In individual tests, the Canyon earned five stars for side-impact protection and four stars for front-crash protection. Based on that data, we can only give the Canyon a 4 out of 10 on our safety scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The IIHS has only rated the truck for front-impact protection, where it merited a "Good" score. It also earns a "Basic" rating for its optional forward collision warning system included in the Driver Alert package that's optional on SLE and SLT but comes standard on the Denali. That package also includes lane departure warning. The IIHS rated the Canyon's headlights with a "Poor" score.
Safety features included as standard in the Canyon include six standard airbags, including head curtain side airbags designed to reduce the risk of occupant ejection in the event of a crash or rollover. A rearview camera is a nice standard feature on all models, as are oversized side mirrors for enhanced rearward visibility.
A trailer sway control system is standard on all models, while a hill descent control system is included on the All Terrain X.
The IIHS hasn't yet rated the Canyon, and federal numbers aren't impressive.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(4/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(3/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Not Tested|
|Roof Strength Test||Not Tested|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Not Tested|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Not Tested|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Not Tested|
GMC offers a wider range of models with its Canyon than any rival—including the Chevy Colorado.
Because of that huge stretch, which can easily double the base model's roughly $22,000 base price on the way up to the range-topping Denali, we award the Canyon 7 out of 10 for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
If it's a work truck you're after, look for the Canyon SL. Only a handful of options are available, but the days of a stripped-out base model are long gone (or relegated to rivals). Power windows, a basic stereo with a USB port, a four-way power driver's seat with manual recline, and air conditioning are all included. The SL can only be ordered with the 4-cylinder gas engine.
The Canyon—with no model signifier—is the base consumer-oriented model, and it is essentially identical to the SL other than that it includes carpet rather than vinyl flooring, and cloth, rather than vinyl, upholstery. Not too many options are available other than cruise control and keyless entry. The 4-cylinder gas engine is standard on the Canyon, but the 3.6-liter V-6 is optional.
GMC targets the Canyon SLE at the bulk of buyers. It adds a host of features—a touchscreen infotainment system with parent company GM's Intellilink infotainment system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel wrapped in leather, and it offers a choice of both gas engines or the turbodiesel. The SLE also offers the new-for-2017 All Terrain X package that builds on last year's standard All Terrain with skid plates, an off road-oriented suspension, Goodyear Duratrac all-terrain tires, an automatic locking rear differential, and a few styling add-ons.
The Canyon SLT returns with dual power seats wrapped in leather and automatic climate control. For 2017, the Denali builds on a loaded-up SLT with 20-inch alloy wheels, a heated steering wheel, heated and air conditioned front seats, standard navigation, and forward collision warning bundled with lane departure warning. SLTs and Denalis are available with either the V-6 or the turbodiesel. Curiously, the Denali combines heated and ventilated seats with a manual backrest adjuster, something we find eyebrow-raising in a vehicle that can top $45,000 with options.
On the technology and features front, the Canyon matches its bigger brethren, with OnStar 4G LTE and built-in wi-fi hot spot available; an 8.0-inch touchscreen; USB inputs; Siri Eyes Free Mode for iPhone users; a “Teen Driver” feature; GMC’s AppShop; and navigation all on the options list.
The Teen Driver system uses the IntelliLink system to set a radio volume limit, and a parent-configurable speed warning that can be set between 40 and 70 mph, as well as a speed limiter. The Teen Driver system also automatically mutes the radio when either front seatbelt is unfastened, and records a driver “report card” measuring distance traveled and wide-open throttle acceleration as well as ABS events, maximum speed, and more.
The GMC Canyon offers the widest range of standard and optional equipment on any mid-size pickup truck.
The mid-size Canyon may hit a sweet spot for many truck buyers in size, but its fuel economy isn't much better than some full-sizers when you opt for a bigger V-6.
GMC Canyon trucks with an inline-4 rate at 20 mpg, 26 highway, 24 combined when equipped with an automatic and rear drive. That's good enough for a 6 out of 10 on our fuel economy scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Opt for a V-6 or all-wheel drive and those numbers dip. The V-6 rear-drive version is rated at 18/25/20 mpg, and four-wheel drive falls further to 17/24/19 mpg. Those figures are actually a tick lower than last year, despite the new 8-speed automatic. That's because the EPA changed the way it tests vehicles; GMC tells us that the Canyon should do a little better in real-world driving.
The diesel-powered version is the lone bright spot, if you're willing to pay for the engine. It's rated at 20/28/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Here's one thing to keep in mind if you're on the fence between a full-size truck and a mid-sizer like the Canyon: At best, the full-size GMC Sierra scores a 24-mpg highway rating in the EPA's testing. The Canyon, meanwhile, tops out as high as 22/30/25 mpg—that's for the rear-wheel drive, diesel-powered model.
Still, the Canyon even bests most rivals. A four-wheel-drive Tacoma crew cab with a V-6 scores 18 mpg combined, while a similarly-equipped Nissan Frontier rates a dismal 17 mpg combined. The Honda Ridgeline, however, with its lighter unibody construction, comes in at 21 mpg combined.
None—other than the Colorado, of course—offer the Canyon's wide range of powertrain choices, however.
The Canyon is fairly frugal for a mid-size pickup—but only if you're willing to shell out money for the diesel version.