Since their reintroduction in 2014, the GMC Canyon and the Chevrolet Colorado have reinvigorated a market for mid-size pickups that many industry observers had concluded was dead. U.S. truck buyers, they said, had little interest in pickups in anything less than size XL—or larger.
Some might say that, at 212.4 inches in length and riding on a wheelbase more than 10 feet long, the short-box crew-cab Canyon is pretty big in its own right. (And that’s not the long-bed model, which is a foot longer still.) But despite its length, from behind the wheel this GMC feels much more wieldy than a full-size truck. Peering through the windshield, one looks out over much less hood, and the truck also is considerably narrower than a GMC Sierra, which makes placing it in traffic easier. Nicely weighted steering helps, too.
From 3.6 to 3.6
The optional 3.6-liter V-6 that powered our test truck is the most powerful engine in the Canyon lineup and sits above a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four and a turbo-diesel 2.8-liter four. The V-6 is new for 2017, which may not be immediately apparent since this one displaces the same 3.6 liters as its predecessor. Output is barely changed, inching up by 3 horsepower to 308 and 6 lb-ft of torque to 275. More significantly, the automatic transmission it’s attached to gains two forward gears for a total of eight.
With its new powertrain, our four-wheel-drive Canyon hustled to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, 1.2 seconds quicker than a similar 2015 model with the old V-6 and six-speed auto. The new combo similarly chopped the quarter-mile time by 1.1 seconds, to 14.9, while the trap speed rose from 87 to 94 mph. That performance edges out the Honda Ridgeline, although the GMC’s corporate cousin, the Chevy Colorado, has been quicker still in our testing, at 6.1 seconds to 60 mph and 14.8 through the quarter. The hoarse moan of the 3.6-liter V-6 is uninspiring, but the new eight-speed automatic is adept at serving up the ideal ratio.
The extra gears, however, didn’t move the needle when it comes to fuel economy. The EPA rates this truck at 17 mpg city and 24 highway, same as the previous version. We recorded 22 mpg on our 200-mile, 75-mph highway cruise, and we averaged a distressingly full-size-truck-like 16 mpg overall. That fell short of the 17 mpg we saw in a Canyon with the old powertrain, and it trails far behind the impressive 28 mpg that the Ridgeline managed on our highway fuel-economy test.
Braking from 70 mph took a longish 185 feet, although that’s no worse than average for trucks of this type and better than most full-size pickups. The skidpad number was better: 0.80 g, matching the Honda at the top of the segment. The Denali’s standard wheels were wrapped in generous 255/55R-20 rubber with tall sidewalls that effectively tolerated broken pavement. But the stiff, leaf-sprung rear suspension meant that bigger bumps had this pickup hopping and skipping around when there was nothing in the bed to weigh down its tail. Overall, the Ridgeline provides a much more compliant ride and composed demeanor during daily-driver duties.
A Lower-Altitude Denali
Our test truck was the Denali trim level, the chrome-clad apex of the GMC line and a model that is ostensibly one step beyond what’s available in an otherwise identical Chevrolet Colorado. With a base price under $44,000 it would appear to be accessibly priced for a max-glitz pickup, but this Denali isn’t as glamorous as some other GMCs wearing that badge. The Yukon Denali, for instance, proffers Cadillac Escalade levels of finery, but this Canyon’s list of amenities had some notable omissions, including passive entry and push-button ignition, a 360-degree-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. And its cabin doesn’t approach the hedonism of the fanciest full-size rigs, fitted only with a couple of pieces of plasti-wood and some off-color faux-metal trim that fail to make much of an impression.
Functionally, though, there’s little to fault. The front seats are comfortable, and the simple dash design proves quite logical. The central touchscreen may be unspectacular in size and graphic presentation, but it’s easy to use, and there are plenty of redundant physical buttons and knobs for the audio system and for all climate-control functions. Accommodations in the rear seats are adequate for a six-footer, but don’t expect the expansive, stretch-out space one finds in a full-size crew cab. A narrow rear-door opening also means it takes some contortion for passengers to thread themselves back there. As is common among four-door pickups, the rear seat folds two ways (backrest flopping forward or seat bottom flipping upward) to make way for cargo you’d prefer transporting inside the cab.
One Denali item that we found particularly annoying was the chrome-finished step plates. Even as a four-by-four, this truck isn’t jacked up enough that most people would need them, so they’re not really necessary to ease the climb aboard. And yet they project out far enough that you’re sure to dirty your pant leg as you try to step over them. If this were our truck, we’d unbolt them on day one and toss ’em into the garage.
With that accomplished, the Canyon becomes a very livable pickup—much more so than its bigger brethren, provided your cargo-hauling needs aren’t extra-large in size.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-/all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
PRICE AS TESTED: $44,460 (base price: $36,320)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 223 cu in, 3649 cc
Power: 308 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 275 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 128.3 in
Length: 212.4 in
Width: 74.3 in Height: 70.6 in
Passenger volume: 107 cu ft
Curb weight: 4616 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.3 sec
Zero to 90 mph: 13.5 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.6 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.5 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.8 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.9 sec @ 94 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 99 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 185 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.80 g
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 19/17/24 mpg
C/D observed: 16 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 22 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 460 mi