Cars

2017 GMC Canyon Review: Solid, Stylish, and Small(ish)

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Overview: The GMC Canyon was revived for a second generation in 2014 alongside its Chevrolet Colorado twin and immediately reinvigorated the moribund mid-size pickup market. Where once these trucks were left to languish for a decade or more without significant changes—or were killed outright—the fresh General Motors duo were quickly joined by an updated Toyota Tacoma and a redesigned Honda Ridgeline, while a new Nissan Frontier and a reborn Ford Ranger should be online within three years or so.

The Canyon offers two cabs (extended and crew) and two bed lengths. Four-wheel drive can be found on most trim levels. Available engines include a 200-hp, 191-lb-ft 2.5-liter four-cylinder in lower trims that’s as slow as it is undesirable. If you can spring for a higher trim where the 308-hp V-6 is standard—or the roughly $1200 to upgrade where it’s not—do it. Crew-cab Canyons can be ordered with an optional diesel engine. The 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder costs $3730 more (except in the 2WD SLE short-bed crew cab, where it runs $4965) and delivers 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, along with up to 7700 pounds of towing capacity. Although if you’re towing anywhere near 7000 pounds with a Canyon—never mind 7700—we suggest you step up to a half-ton truck like GMC’s Sierra 1500.

While pricing for the most part is fairly close between the Chevy and the GMC—the gap widens slightly when moving to the upper trim levels, where the Canyon offers a few additional baubles—the main difference is that the GMC offers the Denali trim at the top of the range for those who desire the fanciest mid-size truck money can buy. The truck we drove for this review was a four-wheel-drive Denali crew cab equipped with the Duramax diesel, and it had all of the luxury and tech appointments one can get in GMC’s smallest pickup, including 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity, Apple CarPlay, lots of USB ports, heated and cooled front seats, a stitched dashtop, and more.

What’s New: For 2017, the Canyon’s V-6 option was upgraded to GM’s latest 3.6-liter model, paired to a new eight-speed automatic. While the displacement remains the same as before, the six-cylinder is substantially revised and adds 3 horsepower and 6 lb-ft of torque over last year’s model. It’s more efficient, too, but only just: city and highway economy are unchanged, but the EPA combined rating has gone up by 1 mpg on both two- and four-wheel-drive models. Perhaps more important is that V-6 Canyons should be quicker; we recently tested a V-6 Colorado with the new hardware and it shaved more than a second off its zero-to-60-mph time.

Two trims are new this year: the Denali and the All Terrain X. The former brings a brash chrome grille, more chrome exterior trim, 20-inch wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, nicer leather upholstery, and a heated steering wheel. The Denali also features the top-level 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation, remote start, and automatic climate control. Oh, and a pile of Denali badges and logos for the door sills, front headrests, steering wheel, doors, tailgate, and floor mats. The Canyon’s All Terrain X package isn’t as badass as the one available for the Sierra 1500, but it does snag off-road tires, all-weather floor mats, side steps, hill-descent control, specific 17-inch wheels, and an off-road-tuned suspension.

What We Like: If you want a diesel engine in a truck that’s somewhat easier to maneuver and park than a full-size rig, your list starts and ends with the Canyon and the Colorado. The diesel engine pulls smartly off the line thanks to its abundant torque, which helps enable the big-for-a-small(er)-truck tow rating. The diesel powertrain is relatively well-behaved in terms of noise, vibration, and harshness, thanks in part to the extra sound-deadening material it gets; while the Duramax isn’t exactly quiet, it never sounds unpleasant. The diesel returns impressive fuel economy, achieving 22 mpg overall in our testing and 28 mpg on our 200-mile highway loop.

The Canyon is easy to wield around town, especially in short-wheelbase form, it’s relatively quiet while cruising, and its ride quality is good even with the larger wheel options. (Broken pavement can introduce a chopping motion at the rear when unladen, but, hey, it’s a leaf-sprung pickup.) The updated V-6 is smooth and powerful and the new eight-speed automatic shifts unobtrusively. The extended-cab versions have adequate rear-seat room, while rear passengers have access to two USB charging ports. Finally, interior ergonomics are solid, and the Canyon looks handsome inside and out.

What We Don’t Like: The Denali has most of the features you’d expect at its price, but the interior appointments disappoint. Even in our approximately $44,000 example, the door panels are topped with hard, shiny plastic—and the pockets in those door panels are exceptionally undersize—while the “wood” trim is obviously plastic playing dress-up. All Canyons and Colorados, including the Denali, come up a bit short in features and amenities, however, including only a single-zone automatic climate control, no full-power seats, and no proximity key entry and push-button start. These faults can be forgiven in some of the lesser trims, but then you dance with the possibility of the four-cylinder engine, which feels wheezy and overtaxed even before you start to put the Canyon to work. Ingress can be a bit of a chore, requiring a hop up through somewhat small door apertures.

The Canyon also can get quite expensive, approaching $50K when fully outfitted—at that point, we’re eyeing any of several excellent and well-equipped full-size pickups, including the $52,505 F-150 Raptor. The Canyon’s biggest problem, however, comes in the form of Honda’s Ridgeline, which offers enough capability for most day-to-day chores while delivering comfort, handling, stowage solutions, and refinement that the better-looking GMC can’t come close to matching.

Verdict: A solid, stylish, and small(ish) truck with a Honda problem.

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