Canyon and Colorado ushered in a new breed of midsize pickups. These new trucks boast roomier cabins, and Crew Cab versions whose back seats are quite suitable for adult human beings. More than their competitors, however, Canyon and Colorado are tuned for car-like ride and comfort. Towing capacity was deliberately limited in favor of a smooth ride and good fuel economy.
In short, the GMC Canyon was designed to do what small pickups do most: Carry people and occasionally haul heavy loads in the bed. Even the Z71, the off-road model, seems remarkably civilized; and now there's a ZQ8 Sports model that emphasizes sporty handling. On the highway, the Canyon feels solid and stable.
Yet Canyon is still a serious truck capable of serious duty, thanks in part to a full-frame chassis that's stronger than that of the Sonoma compact pickup that the Canyon replaced. Properly equipped, Canyon is rated to tow 4,000 pounds, enough for transporting ATVs, dirt bikes, personal watercraft, light boats or small camping trailers. Heavy-duty towing should be left to full-size trucks.
The GMC Canyon was launched as an all-new model for 2004, and there are no significant changes for 2006.
GMC Canyon 2WD regular cab W/T ($15,330); 2WD regular cab SL ($15,660); 2WD extended cab SL ($18,035); 2WD extended cab SLE-1 ($20,195); 2WD Crew Cab SLE-2 ($23,810); 4WD regular cab SL ($19,535); 4WD regular cab SLE-1 ($20,385); 4WD extended cab SL ($21,885); 4WD extended cab SLE-1 ($22,925); 4WD Crew Cab SLE-3 ($23,970); 4WD Crew Cab SLE-2 ($26,530)
Overall, the Colorado looks balanced, whether in Regular Cab, Extended Cab, or Crew Cab body styles. All Crew Cab and Extended Cab models ride on a 126-inch wheelbase, while Regular Cab models ride on a 111-inch wheelbase. Overall length is 207 inches for all but Regular Cabs, which are 193 inches.
Regular and Extended Cabs have 6-foot, 1-inch beds. The crew cab has a 5-foot, 1-inch bed in exchange for its larger cabin. Regular and Extended Cab models have steps in the rear fender ahead of the rear wheels, making it easier to reach and load things in the front of the bed. The tailgate can be opened fully (89 degrees) or dropped 57 degrees to provide support (level with the tops of the wheel wells) for a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood. Extended Cabs use rear-hinged back doors with door handles inside the door jam. Crew Cabs have front-hinged rear doors with door handles that are easy to grip and pull open.
Ride height varies by model. The ZQ8 Sport models look slammed with their lower ride height. In fact, they ride 2.9 inches lower in front than the standard 2WD Canyon, with a minimum ground clearance of just 5 inches at the front axle. The standard Canyon has 7.5-7.9 inches of ground clearance, depending on cab style and the number of driven wheels. The Z71 off-road suspension raises the ground clearance to 7.9-9.0 inches, depending on model.
The front seats are chair height, which gives the driver excellent visibility over the hood. Still, our biggest gripe with the Canyon is directed at its seats: The seat bottoms are flat and lack sufficient lateral support, so we always felt like we were sinking to one side or the other.
The Extended Cab is large enough to orient the back seats facing forward, so no one will have to endure the pain of sideways-mounted seats. The rear seats are raised, which improves leg room and comfort for rear-seat passengers. Don't expect them to be comfortable, though. The back seat in the Extended Cab is too cramped for anyone but Munchkins on relatively short jaunts. Better to flip the rear seats down, which opens up space for cargo. With modifications (like a fleece mat), it would work passably for a medium-size dog. (None of the midsize pickups are particularly good for canines.) This area works best as interior cargo space, and the front-hinged doors on both sides of the Extended Cab offer good access to this area.
The base Canyon work truck has a no-fault interior right down to its rubber floor mats, so you can get in with muddy work boots and not feel guilty. The SLE models are more comfortable, with carpeting and more luxurious seat fabrics.
Operating the Canyon is easy. The instruments are easy to read at a glance, with big white numerals on a black background with orange needles. Lighting functions are clustered on the dash to the left of the steering wheel; there are no switches in any remote location. Turning on the dome light requires spinning the small wheel used to dim the instrument lights, and we found this a bit challenging in the dark. Particularly for this reason we liked the map lights integrated into the rear-view mirror on higher-line models.
The center stack, outlined with silver-colored plastic, neatly groups together 4WD, audio, and HVAC functions. The emergency flasher button is high in the center where it's easily seen. The cruise control switches, however, are the same turn-signal-stalk system GM has used since the 1970s, albeit refined. Some people hate it; others are familiar with it and don't seem to mind.
The Canyon features triple seals around the doors, another example of its refinement. The seals not only reduce water and dust intrusion; they also reduce wind noise for a quieter cab.
The 3.5-liter five-cylinder Vortec 3500 is a dual-overhead cam engine with variable valve timing. It's rated at 220 horsepower, and develops 225 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. The latter is important because torque is the twisting force on the tires that propels the truck from a stop and helps it tow heavy loads up long grades. Canyon is admittedly short on peak torque compared to some of its competitors, but at least the torque it does have is spread over a broad rpm range. The all-aluminum engine construction aids in cooling and, because of its lower weight, saves fuel and permits quicker acceleration. The five-cylinder engine is essentially the Vortec 4200 six-cylinder from the GMC Envoy with one cylinder lopped off. The resulting inline-5 idles and cruises quietly, but the uncommon number of cylinders makes a peculiar siren-like sound when accelerating. It doesn't sound bad, just different. Recommended fuel is unleaded regular, another plus for economical operation. (Toyota recommends 91 octane for its V6.) A 2WD, five-cylinder Canyon with manual transmission gets an EPA-rated 19/25 mpg City/Highway.
The 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine is essentially the five-cylinder minus one more cylinder. It's rated 21/27 mpg with manual transmission and 2WD. And that's the combination we prefer for a four-cylinder pickup: manual and 2WD. We found a Canyon with the manual transmission works well, and acceleration performance should be adequate for drivers who favor economy over power.
On the road, the Canyon feels solid, with no rattles or squeaks, and the bed doesn't boom or make any other noise. The standard suspension (Z85) is able to work precisely, without interference from chassis flex, resulting in a controlled ride. Canyon is stable and predictable around curves, and a solid stopper when the binders were applied, aided by ABS on loose surfaces. The Canyon is a truck, however, so it doesn't corner and brake like a car. We found it generally tended toward understeer. We found it handled well on washboard roads and didn't bounce around like smaller pickups often do.
Maximum towing load for a properly equipped Canyon is 4,000 pounds. That looks light when compared with 6,500 pounds for a Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier, and 7,150 pounds for a V8-powered Dodge Dakota, but that may only be an disadvantage on paper. If we were going to pull a 4,000-pound trailer, we'd choose a full-size truck. The Canyon is designed to pull toys: ATVs, personal watercraft, snowmobiles, bass boats.
We were pleased with the operation of the four-wheel-drive system. There's no doubt when it engages: There's a small clunk when it shifts into four-wheel high (which can be done on the fly) and a bigger clunk when it shifts into four-wheel low (requiring the vehicle be stopped and in neutral). No full-time all-wheel drive is available; this is a truck-style part-time four-wheel-drive system and should not be used on dry pavement. We found it worked well in deep mud.
The Z71 suspension package provides maximum ground clearance, with tires designed for off-roading and springs and shocks calibrated for off-road performance without sacrificing too much on-road comfort. We found its ride quality remarkably civilized on the road. The Z71 suspension certainly adds heft to the Canyon, and there's noticeable jiggle from the extra weight of the off-road tires, but not anything like off-road compact pickups of the past. We found it handled rocky hillclimbs and rugged terrain well.
We haven't tried the ZQ8 sport suspension in a Canyon, but it rode well in our Chevrolet Colorado. It comes with low-profile, 50-series 17-inch tires, but they don
The GMC Canyon is ideal for people who need a real pickup but don't need or want the size and cost of a full-size truck. The Canyon is easy to park and is driver-friendly. The Crew Cab can haul home a load of horse manure for the garden, then take the family out for dinner and a movie (after hosing out the bed, that is). In short, the Canyon is an all-around performer, putting GMC in the groove for mid-size pickup performance. GMC's packaging and styling are distinct from those of the mechanically identical Chevrolet Colorado.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Matras filed the original report from rural Pennsylvania, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Southern California.