At the recent LA Auto Show the GMC brand revealed 2017 Canyon Denali midsize pickup. While I’m clearly a fan of the Canyon and of the Denali sub-brand, the newest Denali model really feels like a step down the peak from other recent Denali models. The fact I just spent at week with a Yukon XL Denali isn’t helping matters, so let me explain.
The Denali sub-brand originally started out as a fancy trim level at GMC. The formula was fairly straightforward; throw chrome DENALI badging on, throw in some grey-looking plastic wood inside and by all means photograph it in black. Then strange things started to happen. Denali started to gain brand equity in its own right, all the way to the point that some Denali buyers are more affluent than Cadillac owners! Blasphemy!
Not really. The Denali experiment has been successful because they’ve managed to do two things correctly that the likes of Cadillac have not. The “Professional Grade” marketing message surrounding the entire GMC brand has been consistent for years and GMC has consistently stepped up their game with the execution of Denali models. There’s a common link between those two attributes: consistency. Yes, it matters.
Arguably the pinnacle of the Denali sub-brand is the latest generation of the Yukon, like the one I just spent time with. This generation Yukon Denali is hardly just a Yukon with more chrome and badging. This one has real wood trim, a bigger engine and a boat load of standard features that make it a formidable luxury SUV. Plus, GMC’s obsession with black painted Denali’s is over as the Yukon Denali looks absolutely stunning in Midnight Amethyst and they know it.
Back to the Canyon. As previously mentioned, it’s a fantastic little truck in nearly every regard. Critic acclaim and sales are proving this to be a fact. But the Denali treatment to this little truck feels half-baked.
Essentially GMC has reverted back to the original Denali formula (again) with the Canyon. There’s some fake plastic wood thrown in (which is found on the Canyon SLT as well), contrast stitching and more chrome outside. However, the truck doesn’t even look like a luxury trim level, which is even more disappointing. Canyon’s All-Terrain trim level actually appears to have more differentiation than the new Denali version! It’s just underwhelming in comparison to other recent efforts.
I can’t say that I’m all that surprised by the Canyon Denali execution. In GM’s defense, they’re entering into a market segment that was in the back of the closet, covered in dust. It was a huge gamble building the Colorado and Canyon in any trim, however no OEM has ever executed a luxury midsize truck. Naturally, GMC is playing it safe by not over-extending the price tag on the Denali version. At least that’s my assumption. Though I would contend that if you’re going to roll the dice with an entire new midsize truck lineup, what’s a little risk in creating a proper luxury midsizer?
GMC has gotten one thing completely correct with the Canyon Denali…buyers will be able to opt for the new 2.8-liter Duramax diesel engine. This will mark the only GMC Denali model with a diesel engine outside of the huge Sierra HD. Suffice to say, I look forward to trying out the Canyon Denali diesel (not to mention seeing the price tag…), however at first glance this isn’t the Denali treatment I had in my mind for this truck.