If all-around utility is more important than ultimate payload and towing numbers, the 2016 GMC Canyon can replace the full-sizer in your garage.
The GMC Canyon, and its near-twin, the Chevy Colorado, were introduced for the 2015 model year, and both carry over to the 2016 model year with few changes. A new turbodiesel powerplant coming late in 2015 is the most important one—and we've yet to get our hands on one.
If a pickup truck is high on your shopping list—but ultimate towing and payload numbers far down on the priority list—a mid-size truck like the 2016 Canyon should be at the top of your must-drive list.
Even so, we've long decided that the Canyon and Colorado are the only vehicles to shop in this niche, given the outdated designs of the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Both are due to be replaced in coming model years, but for now, the Canyon/Colorado simply overwhelm them with excellent road manners, great packaging, and drivetrains that outpoint them on sheer performance and fuel economy as well.
From the outset, it's worth pointing out that "mid-size" is all in how you approach a truck like the GMC Canyon. It has more than 300 horsepower in V-6 form, and offers a bed up to 6 feet long. That's easily the match for some of the base versions of GMC's own Sierra full-size truck.
That's what makes the Canyon so unwelcome at the party that includes not only the Sierra and the similar Chevy Silverado, but also, and especially, lackluster full-size trucks like the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan. It's more than just a supplement to those trucks roaming the nation’s streets, job sites, and dirt roads. It's also a solid alternative for anyone who might be interested in a mid-size SUV or crossover utility vehicle, but also has a need for an open pickup bed—and might not have the garage space to house a modern big truck that's grown substantially over the past decade.
Like the Sierra, the Canyon has a rugged, burly look that implies capability. The front end is styled in a familiar, traditional way, with crisp lines and an almost universally horizontal set of lines. We like it; it ties this slightly smaller truck to its bigger sibling in a way the Colorado doesn't quite pull off. The rear end is just as tidy and rectilinear, and the squared-off, flared wheel arches fit in neatly with the theme, too. There's a bit of international flair in its side windows, where the shoulder line sweeps up at the rear pillar—it's a small reminder that the Canyon's a global product, and has audiences far-flung outside the U.S.
Inside the Canyon, the Sierra influence continues. A central dash pod houses the primary controls and display unit, while a beefy steering wheel with its own control buttons sits in front of a gauge pod.
Under the hood, the Canyon offers a base 2.5-liter inline-4 or a 3.6-liter V-6. The 200-hp inline-4 should give some shoppers a chance for a much-needed reality check. For anyone that uses their truck more like an economy car with an open backpack, the 4-cylinder's more than adequate, especially combined with GM's quick-shifting automatic. It's smooth, mostly quiet, economical to fill—but no match in towing for the 305-hp V-6, which rumbles and groans more but doesn't give up much in fuel economy.
The V-6 is set up for drivers who tow weekend toys: it's rated at a maximum 7,000 pounds tow capacity, versus 3,500 for the 4-cylinder, and its 6-speed automatic has a dedicated tow/haul mode. All Canyons have nicely weighted electric power steering, a mostly composed ride despite the leaf-spring rear end, and the nifty ability to carry bigger burdens while driving better and "smaller" than the Tacoma and Frontier. Four-wheel drive is an option, and it has an automatic mode and an option for a limited-slip differential.
GMC sells the Canyon as an extended-cab truck, with little room in the back for anything but child safety seats and randomly sized cargo, or a true crew cab, with four front-hinged doors and reasonable seating for four adults. It's better equipped to carry people comfortably, compared to the legs-outstretched driving position of the Nissan or Toyota, and the Canyon's seats are comfortably bolstered (at least in front). The Canyon's 6-foot-2 and 5-foot-2 beds have myriad add-ons beyond the standard bed step and soft-drop tailgate: they can accommodate a spray-in or drop-in bedliner, a total of 17 bed tie-downs, cargo dividers, a tonneau cover, and more.
Safety features included in the 2016 GMC Canyon include six standard airbags, with head curtain side airbags designed to reduce the risk of occupant ejection in the event of a crash or rollover. A rearview camera is also standard, as are oversized side mirrors for enhanced rearward visibility. In addition to the StabiliTrak system, the Canyon also gets standard trailer sway control and hill-descent control systems. Optional safety extras include forward collision alert and lane departure warning—both of which GMC claims as segment firsts.
The base Canyon comes with AM/FM sound with a USB port; air conditioning; power windows; a power driver seat; and tilt steering. The Canyon SLE adds more USB ports, satellite radio, a color touchscreen radio with GMC's IntelliLink infotainment interface, and cruise control. The ritzy Canyon SLT pulls perilously close to Sierra build combinations, with its standard automatic climate control, remote start, power front seats, and optional navigation. An All-Terrain off-roading package is offered on SLE and SLT trims, and GM's in-vehicle 4G LTE data setup is available on the Canyon.
The most efficient Canyon model tops out at 22 mpg city, 31 highway, 25 combined in rear-drive diesel form. The gas-powered, inline-4 with an automatic manages even 20/27/22 mpg. With a manual, the same combo earns 19/26/22 mpg.
The V-6 Canyon's figures aren't much lower, which puts the 4-cylinder at something of a disadvantage in every category except price. The 2WD automatic V-6 Canyon is rated at 18/26/21 mpg, adding 4WD drops those figures to 17/24/20 mpg.