2015 GMC Canyon Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2015 GMC Canyon

G.R. Whale
© 2015 NewCarTestDrive.com

All-new, the 2015 GMC Canyon is a scaled down Sierra offering two engines, two cabs and two bed lengths. The percentage lower or smaller than the Sierra depends on what you’re measuring and there is overlap between Canyon and Sierra Regular Cab and Double Cab in terms of cost, power, dimensions, and capacity.

Once just a Chevrolet Colorado with ruby red badges, the 2015 GMC Canyon is no longer a duplicate Colorado. Beyond doors and roof it has its own sheetmetal, lamps, wheels and grille. Four-wheel drive versions of the Canyon use Autotrac that allows on-pavement all-wheel drive for inclement weather, which Colorado does not have. Canyon costs more than Colorado because it has standard equipment Colorado doesn’t have, and GMC’s Pro Grade includes routine maintenance.

The 2015 GMC Canyon does everything you expect in a mid-size pickup. It can carry up to 1620 pounds of people or cargo (more than some full-size pickups), tow up to 7,000 pounds and, like competitors, can slide 4×8 building materials into the bed though they’ll hang out the back and won’t lay flat on the floor. Every Canyon except 2WD automatics can be flat-towed as a motorhome dinghy, but no model is rated for snow-plow use.

Basic power is a 200-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, the other choice a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. Unlike competitors and GM full-size pickups that favor torque over horsepower, these engines need lots of revs for full power, but lineage to GM cars like Cadillac means they are fairly refined.

Interiors are quite refined for mid-size trucks and very quiet. Modern voice-control infotainment systems, OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and active safety systems lead the technology list, and almost anything you can get in a family sedan save power reclining seats is available.

The Extended Cab has two-plus-two seating with kid-size rear seats and a 6-foot, 2-inch pickup box. Its clamshell doors make the Extended Cab the easiest for loading awkward items or to have Rover hop in the rear seat.

The Crew Cab has a bench rear seat for three with legroom and headroom similar to mid-cab models of full-size pickups. Crew Cabs uses four conventional doors. Crew Cab comes with 5-foot, 2-inch and 6-foot, 2-inch box lengths.

GMC Canyon SL models are very basic with few options, destined for fleet managers and high-school budgets bent on customizing. Realistically anticipate most trimmed in the high-$20,000 to high-$30,000 range, and capable of exceeding $40,000 without checking too many boxes.

With most GMC Canyon models not far apart from a Sierra V6 Regular Cab or Double Cab in terms of load or towing capacity, maneuverability, fuel economy and how much garage space they need, your decision will come down to seating configurations and whether you prefer to spend your money on bigger-is-better or goodies and gadgets. After all, most full-size half-ton owners don’t use anywhere near their trucks’ maximum load or towing capacity, so if your needs fit into a Canyon, is bigger really better?

Model Lineup

GMC Canyon Extended Cab 2WD SL ($20,955); Canyon Extended Cab 2WD SLE ($26,595); Canyon Crew Cab Short Box 4WD SLT ($36,950); Canyon Crew Cab Long Box 4WD SLE ($34,310); Canyon Crew Cab Long Box 4WD SLT ($37,250)

Walk Around

Unlike its stablemate, the Chevrolet Colorado with which it shares door panels and roof, the GMC Canyon looks very much like the GMC Sierra full-size pickup. Yes, there's more rake to the profile and near-horizontal design elements and the tail lights appear as much Yukon as Sierra, but the rest could have be done on a 3D printer set to copy at 90 percent.

This is the most formal mid-size truck, more ready for a night on the town than a day on the trail. LED running lamps, projector headlamps and a big chrome three-bar grille mirror other GMC vehicles, and the upsweep in panels isn't really apparent until you stand next to the chest-high tailgate.

That tailgate comes with a lock and backup camera as standard, and most have assists that make them easy to close and not drop with a bang when you open them. The bumper has a step in each corner (and a hand grab in the top of the bed rail), and 4- and 7-pin plugs next to license plate if you get the trailer package.

Tailgate opening width is 55 inches so some quads, dirt bikes or small watercraft will fit. It is almost 21 inches deep but most adults can reach over the rail to the bottom. 4×8 sheets won't fit flat on the floor but molded bed panels fit cross-boards to lay some flat over the wheel arches; with the tailgate down in a 6-foot, 2-inch box you won't need a red flag on the end. The bed has four tie-down loops standard and mounts for many more.

Canyon's nose-down stance makes it look smaller than it really is; top wheelbase and length are up roughly a foot from the prior generation. A Canyon Crew cab 6-foot-, 2-inch box is only half-a-foot shorter than a Sierra Double cab with a 6-foot, 6-inch box, so while Canyon is about five inches narrower and lower it is not a small truck.


GMC Canyon cabs are identical from the front seats forward and cover a good portion of the materials range in full-size pickups. Entry-level Canyon SL trucks get vinyl seats and floor, while top SLT trims get leather upholstery and woodgrain trim. There is no ultra-lux package like Platinum or Limited here, but GMC hasn't shown a Denali version of Canyon. In its favor, Canyon offers a beige interior color rather than just the black or black/gray of the Colorado.

Even in vinyl and plastic trim, air conditioning and a power driver seat cushion are standard on the Canyon. Higher levels have power lumbar and passenger side, but all use manual seat recline. The regulation inspired headrest design encourages taller occupants to adjust properly.

Front-seat room is plentiful and ergonomics good. A tilt wheel is standard, telescoping added at SLE level and the seat has lots of travel. Taller individuals that like the seat cushion low for headroom and a better view under the inside mirror may find the center armrest higher than they'd like.

Back seats in the Crew Cab are fine for adults; we got a six-footer in there no problem, but there wouldn't be room in front for a like-sized individual to drive. Extended cab rear seats are individual and upright, best for kids and child seats; a rearward-facing infant carrier may have to go behind the passenger.

Because the doors swing open rearward nearly 90 degrees, fitting child seats or loading long or heavy items into the back seat is easier in an Extended cab. Your dog may also find it easier to clamber in. The clamshell design can be awkward when parked alongside another car or close to a wall, however.

Overall, cubby storage is not as great as in a full-size pickup but should cope with most necessities. There are small storage bins under the Extended Cab rear seats; the rear seats in a Crew Cab fold.

Most of the instrument panel in the Canyon echoes that of the GMC Sierra, or a Chevrolet Colorado with the gauge marks and trim surround lights changed from blue to red. Controls are simple and logically grouped, only the 2WD/4WD switch is obscured behind the steering wheel.

The Canyon steering wheel differs from that of the Colorado in more than just cosmetic design: The instrument data screen is operated through right-spoke steering wheel switches rather than the signal stalk on the Colorado and we prefer the Canyon method.

Center-stack display screens for audio and infotainment functions are 4.2 or 8 inches, the latter part of the IntelliLink system with streaming Bluetooth, Siri eyes free, Pandora radio and so on. It offers voice-control for many phone, audio and navigation functions. If you've used the system in any other GM product it will be familiar. Navigation is optional; choosing it usually means opting for the Bose seven-speaker sound system as well.

What will be new is the AT&T 4G LTE system that turns the Canyon into a Wi-Fi hot spot with the engine running or in accessories mode. Claimed data speeds allow use of phone and data simultaneously and OnStar turn-by-turn directions to be sent 100 times faster.

Driving Impressions

The GMC Canyon drives just like you'd expect a scaled-down Sierra to drive; most of the structure underneath is similar in every respect except size. It's solid and quiet, even in the Extended Cab versions, which have historically been magnets for rattles and squeaks because of doors latching together and the big hole in the side of the cab structure.

The front end is well planted and has plenty of roll stiffness; you'll have to be on a trail before you feel yourself leaning. The rear end has bit of kick to it on sharp impacts with the truck empty, typical for something that weighs 4000 pounds and can carry nearly half that much again. We never had a problem with it skittering about on rough surfaces or losing composure hitting a bump mid-corner.

Steering is electrically assisted, one of the reasons plowing is not recommended. It points Canyon easily, adds effort appropriately and never ran short of assist even wiggling a 21-foot tandem-axle boat trailer through a chicane only a few feet wider than the trailer. Directional changes are what we expect, better than a heavier full-size despite the narrower track but not as crisp as a car.

An All-Terrain package available on Canyon SLE trim uses the same suspension as a Z71 Colorado, and it's our favorite in terms of balance between ride comfort and handling. There are only two potential downsides to it: one, it cannot be combined with the forward collision and lane departure alert system option, and two, it doesn't compare to Tacoma's TRD Pro package suitable for high-speed off-highway travel.

Brake feel is very good, far better than we ever found on this nameplate before. Pedal response is quick, easy to modulate and firm. This is the first time we've gone as far as calling it confidence-inspiring.

The 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 3.6-liter V6 share direct-injection design and rev-happy power curves: Peak torque occurs at 4000 rpm on the V6, peak horsepower at 6800 rpm, higher than any other pickup. You won't need all that power much of the time but when you do expect a lot of revs and some noise to go with it.

Where Canyon uses engines with more horsepower than torque the competitors and Sierra prefer torque over horsepower. Competitors' older engines don't use direct injection so their four-cylinders are down 41-48 horsepower and 11-20 pound-feet of torque compared with Canyon but they either do it lower revs, with a shorter axle ratio, and/or in a lighter truck. Tacoma's 4-liter V6 delivers essentially the same torque as Canyon 3.6 while Frontier's 4-liter delivers more, and both competitors' V6 can be paired with a manual gearbox.

Fuel economy for the price leader Canyon SL rates an EPA-estimated 19/26 mpg City/Highway. The Canyon automatic bumps that to 20/27 mpg with 2WD and 19/25 mpg with 4WD. Take off 2/1 mpg for V6 ratings. We observed everything between 14 (towing) and 23 mpg in drives on varying terrain and traffic. For full-size comparison a Sierra V6 Double Cab (from about $30,500) scores the same city numbers and -2 highway ratings, while a Ram 1500 diesel (from $37,000) is 20/28 in 2WD.

The GMC Canyon has grown up from the first generation. With essentially the same power and capacity to work as the full-size from a decade ago, it lacks only the three-wide front seat and 4-foot-wide box floor. It raises the bar in mid-size comfort, convenience and safety features, and offers a useful alternative when a full-size is just too big.

NewCarTestDrive.com G.R. Whale filed this report after his test drive of Chevrolet Colorado models near Del Mar, California.

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