The GMC Canyon is a midsize pickup truck that provides multi-purpose utility. As with all midsize trucks, its towing capacity and payload fall short of a full-size pickup but its capabilities are often more than sufficient for buyers who want a smaller truck. Compared with the full-size trucks, the midsize pickups are more fuel-efficient, are more agile and take up less parking space.
The GMC Canyon is virtually a twin to the Chevrolet Colorado. Canyon and Colorado were redesigned for 2015, and became the class of the field. They carried over to the 2016 model year mostly unchanged.
The 2016 GMC Canyon is updated with an enhanced IntelliLink system that features Apple CarPlay capability. Also, a sliding rear window is standard on the 2016 GMC Canyon SLT. A new turbodiesel engine is expected to be available for 2016 Canyon models later in the model year.
With its rugged aura, the GMC Canyon suggests strong capabilities. Overall, the Canyon looks more squared off than does the Chevrolet Colorado, and we lean toward the GMC approach. An unusual side-window design incorporates a shoulder line that sweeps upward near the rear pillar.
The GMC Canyon offers a choice of 200-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder or 305-hp 3.6-liter V6. The four-cylinder offers a choice of manual gearbox or automatic. The 3.6-liter V6 comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models are available. The four-wheel-drive system includes an automatic mode. A locking rear differential is available. Chevrolet Colorado offers a more traditional four-wheel-drive system with a low range.
Fabric and vinyl seat upholstery are available, with leather standard in the top-level SLT edition. SLE and SLT models can have an optional All-Terrain off-roading group that includes 17-inch all-terrain tires on aluminum wheels, off-road suspension, and power front seats. Available options also include an E-Z Lift-and-Lower tailgate, CornerStep back bumper, OnStar 4G LTE with wi-fi hot spot, and Siri Eyes Free Mode for iPhone. Forward collision alert and a lane-departure warning also are offered.
Few pickups compete in this midsize category, and the primary ones, the Nissan Frontier is outdated. Canyon and Colorado trounce the Frontier in terms of road manners, as well as economy and performance. They also trounce the outgoing 2015 Toyota Tacoma. An all-new Toyota Tacoma debuts as a 2016 model, replacing a decade-old version.
Six airbags are standard, including side curtains. So are trailer sway control and hill-descent control, along with GM’s StabiliTrak system, a rearview camera, and large side mirrors. Options include lane-departure warning and forward collision alert. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the extended-cab Canyon a four-star overall rating, though the side-impact test was rated five-star.
The GMC Canyon looks traditional and familiar. Nearly all the body lines are crisply horizontal, complementing flared, squared-off wheel arches. We think it is the better-looking truck. The Chevrolet Colorado is designed to appeal to a global audience.
Extended-cab models have rear-hinged doors and the six-foot two-inch cargo bed. Four-door crew cabs have front-hinged back doors, with either cargo bed.
Canyon pickup beds can be just over six feet (74 inches) or just over five feet (62 inches). Many accessories are available for both cargo beds, including bedliners and tie-downs. A soft-drop tailgate and bed step are standard.
Influences from the full-size GMC Sierra are evident inside the GMC Canyon cab, with its hefty steering wheel and a gauge pod right ahead of the driver. The gearshift lever is on the center console. Overall, the Canyon’s cab conveys a down-to-business image.
Well-shaped front seats are nicely bolstered, and the interior nicely detailed, especially compared to the Nissan Frontier or the 2015 Toyota Tacoma. Canyon is a lot more comfortable, too, with a higher hip point and greater headroom. The driving position is more natural than in some competitors. Canyon SLE and SLT models have stitched soft-touch fabrics, complemented by aluminum trim.
As expected, extended-cab models have little space in the rear. Anyone who carries more than two adults or teenagers might be happier with a crew cab, which has considerably more leg space for two occupants. Unfortunately, those back seats have steadfastly upright backrests that fall well short on comfort.
Open and covered bins provide abundant storage. Fit/finish is pretty good considering the price of a Canyon, especially set against the Frontier or 2015 Tacoma.
Though relatively economical, Canyons qualify as capable workhorses. Mating with the rapid-shifting automatic transmission, the four-cylinder is wholly satisfactory for most drivers.
Despite smooth, largely quiet operation, however, the four-cylinder struggles at times. Power is sufficient on the highway, but this engine is more at home around town. There, the four-cylinder Canyon feels fairly spirited.
For more power, the V6 is the way to go. With the V6, a Canyon can tow up to 7,000 pounds, twice the capacity with a four-cylinder. The 6-speed automatic offers a Tow/Haul mode.
Performance with the V6 tops that of some bigger V8 trucks, accelerating briskly while yielding fuel economy not too far removed from the four.
Fuel efficiency is EPA-estimated at: 20/27 mpg City/Highway for the 2.5-liter 2WD automatic; 4WD drops the figures to 19/25 mpg. The 4WD V6 is estimated at 17/24 mpg.
Electric power steering is neatly weighted. Though it’s not so much smaller than GMC’s Sierra, Canyon drives like a more compact pickup.
Despite traditional rear leaf springs, the ride is largely composed. Although the suspension transmits some road commotion into the cabin, it’s generally capably compliant, able to absorb quite a few bumps.
Canyons use a different 4WD system than Chevy’s Colorado. Canyon drivers can choose 4WD manually, or use Auto mode.
Parents who favor safety over privacy can select a Teen Driver system, which lets them set speed and radio volume limit. It can also deliver a driving-behavior report.
For anyone who needs a pickup-truck bed, and especially those who lack the space to park a big pickup, the GMC Canyon may be the answer. Keep in mind Canyon prices, if numerous options are added, can exceed those of a lower-end Sierra.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.