In an automotive market where every segment is bloated with a litany of contenders, the midsize pickup segment is an anomaly. Aside from the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma—both of which have been largely untouched for half a decade—the segment lacked innovation. This segment’s story is bizarre given America’s lust for pickups, however GM is attempting to freshen this stale segment with the reincarnated Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. With the Canyon in particular, the company is pushing the segment upmarket to new territory, as demonstrated by our recent Canyon SLT tester.
From the outside, the Canyon cannot deny its lineage. It is, by all accounts, a mini-me of its half-ton brother, the Sierra. In fact, we’d go so far as to call the Canyon adorable because it is a child-like version of the Sierra and Sierra HD. The strong visual ties also mean that the Canyon is a good-looking truck. With scaled down versions of Sierra’s chrome grille, LED accented headlamps and squared-off wheel flares, the Canyon successfully walks the line between rugged and classy.
Inside, it tells a similar story with several design cues that will remind buyers of the GM half-ton pickups. There is a large, pod-shaped instrument panel and most of the same controls and switchgear from the larger pickups. This familiarity is likely intentional on GM’s part and in this case it works well since the layout of the half-ton interiors is generally positive. Like the half-tons, the Canyon’s interior design generally lacks some visual appeal. GM is famous for sticking to their honest truck strategy and it appears not to have deviated from that here. The interior is high on function, low on design.
For example, these trucks actually offer a floor-mounted shifter but the lever itself could have easily been pulled from a 1999 Blazer and is surrounded by obvious fake wood accents. On the flip side, Canyon offers an unexpected soft-touch dash panel with stitching accents and real aluminum trim – so there is a strange mix of impressive and lackluster in this interior.
Another trait that falls on the impressive side is the cabin’s spaciousness. At no point did our crew cab tester feel tight, as it shouldn’t, given these trucks completely dwarf their predecessors from a dimensional perspective. Rear seat passengers are met with plenty of room for average-sized adults, while the short dash panel upfront yields a comfortable space for front passengers. All passengers can surf on the Canyon’s OnStar 4G LTE WiFi in comfort. GMC has also installed a host of cubbyholes; such as a very convenient space behind the gear selector for the “stuff” we all tend to accumulate.
Speaking of “stuff,” the Canyon has plenty of it. While the previous generation truck and most of its current competition are primitive when it comes to gadgetry, the Canyon is not. With a four-inch color driver’s information center and eight-inch color touch radio, this feels like a 21st Century pickup. Of course, with a longer list of distractions, the Canyon also has gadgets to help with safety, such as a standard rear-view camera and optional lane departure and collision alert system.
Anyone who has driven the previous generation Canyon knows that it was not exactly a noteworthy vehicle to pilot (see the previous “primitive” comment). It felt cheap and was powered by lackluster engines. Fortunately, GM has not repeated these mistakes with the new trucks, so they’re actually fun to drive.
During driving, you immediately notice two things about the Canyon – it feels remarkably solid and high quality and it feels like a scaled-down version of GM’s latest half-ton pickups.
Both of the assertions are great news for Canyon buyers, here’s why: this time, Canyon has an electric power steering rack with terrific feel and precision, just like the big trucks. This time, it has triple door seals, hydraulic cab mounts and a host of other engineering tidbits that all boil down to this feeling like a well-put-together pickup. Don’t buy it? Slide a creeper under a new GM half-ton, and then slide one under a new Canyon…from a mechanical perspective the layout of the two is remarkably similar.
The similarities translate to a very gentleman-like attitude from the smaller Canyon. Aside from the quiet cabin, brake feel is consistent and more than adequate for the truck. In general the truck just always inspired confidence in the driver: no frills, no surprises.
Buyers can opt between two powertrains. GM’s familiar 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 200 horsepower and 191 foot-pounds of torque or the well-known 3.6-liter V-6 with 305 horsepower and 269 foot-pounds of torque. In both applications, power flows to a six-speed automatic, though a very limited selection of base Canyons can opt for a six-speed manual with the four-banger.
Our mostly loaded tester had a V-6 and frankly, the engine was a high spot. Make no mistake, the Canyon V-6 is not a fast truck but the 3.6-liter is more than adequate. Off the line acceleration felt acceptable, while mid-range acceleration (say from 30 to 55 mph) felt weak at times. We also noted strange behavior during certain upshifts, almost like there was some slack in the driveline.
The EPA says Canyon V-6 buyers without four-wheel drive can expect 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. In our experience, those ratings are likely achievable in the truck but will require a conscious effort to see consistently. During our week with the truck, we averaged 18.2 mpg based on a mix of about 50-percent highway and 50-percent city driving.
Is the Canyon much better than its predecessor and weak competition or is it a truly great vehicle to purchase? That’s a tough conclusion to draw. After all, our two-wheel drive tester came in at $36,460 – that’s not cheap. Both assertions are true depending on what the buyer seeks. For a buyer wanting a great truck that has the gadgets, does not cost $50,000 and will actually fit in the garage, Canyon is a highly recommended choice.