For the last several years, when it came to midsize trucks, Toyota had the market nearly all to itself. Buyers either bought a new Tacoma or a used Tacoma. Occasionally, someone bought a Nissan Frontier, but with the Chevrolet Colorado, Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, and even the Honda Ridgeline no longer in the picture, what was once a highly competitive segment had effectively become a one-car show.
All of that changed, though, when General Motors reintroduced both the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon. Could GM’s new midsize trucks really topple the mighty Toyota Tacoma? Over the holidays, I borrowed the keys to a new GMC Canyon SLE equipped with the All-Terrain package and hit the road to find out.
For anyone familiar with the previous-generation Canyon, it’s hard to see much connection between it and the new one other, than their shared name. I actually drove a GMC Canyon as a delivery truck for the pharmacy that I worked for when I was in high school, and let me tell you, that Canyon was rough. It (mostly) got me from point A to point B, but there wasn’t much else you could say about it.
Judging by looks alone, the new Canyon is a huge improvement over the old one. The All-Terrain package especially sets it apart, with its Z71 suspension, 17-inch wheels, all-terrain tires, and body color grille giving it quite an aggressive look. Even in its base form, the new Canyon has way more road presence than the previous version, or even the Tacoma. It’s no Ferrari, but it drew more attention at gas stations than other vehicles I’ve driven that cost twice as much. If you’re going to buy one, make sure you get yours in green. While mine looked good in gray, the green Canyon looks even better.
Inside, the changes from the previous generation were even more drastic. It was hard to stay objective, considering that the delivery truck I drove in high school was a base model, but the quality of the materials used in the new Canyon was still much improved. Truck interiors, especially on more luxurious models, are always a difficult balancing act between providing features and comfort while still making sure that they can stand up to the rough treatment trucks tend to take. Here, I think GMC struck a perfect balance. It isn’t quite a full luxury interior, but it’s light-years ahead of the previous generation and much nicer than anything you can get in the Frontier or Tacoma.
In the previous model that I drove, the dash was already starting to fall apart after far fewer miles than you would expect. Touching, poking, and prodding the new dash, however, I couldn’t get so much as a wiggle out of it. It felt sturdy and well assembled, and the materials for the most part all felt high quality. Unlike the Tacoma, the seats were actually quite comfortable and supportive, as well. Over the course of probably 500 miles, the seats stayed comfortable, and the whole truck felt modern and refined. Unlike a lot of older trucks, the GMC Canyon is a vehicle that you could actually drive enjoyably on the highway, even with all-terrain tires.
Part of that has to do with the fact that General Motors has packed a ton of modern features into the Canyon that were previously rare or unavailable in the midsize segment. You can get Intellilink, GMC’s infotainment system, with an 8-inch touch screen, a rearview camera, and even a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. While these features are fairly commonplace in crossovers, finding them in a midsize truck was much appreciated.
Unfortunately, even with a good bit of highway driving in the mix, I only managed to average a little more than 20 miles per gallon. That’s not terrible for a truck, especially a four-wheel drive, four-door, well-optioned one, but I was hoping for a little more out it. The V6 that GMC offers in the Canyon makes 305 horsepower and 269 pounds-feet of torque, making it the most powerful midsize truck available. Sadly, it never felt particularly quick. Trying to pass slower traffic on rural two-lane roads, I definitely would have appreciated a little more power. That said, it’s not a slow truck, and without more powerful competition, there’s little incentive for GM to offer a more powerful version.
When I was talking to people about the truck, one thing that they focused a lot on was the fact that the Canyon isn’t exactly very small anymore, and they’re definitely right. The crew cab offers plenty of room in the back seats for two adults to sit fairly comfortably, and if you were to park one next to a 10-year-old full-size pickup, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the Canyon looked a little bigger. In fact, in pictures, it’s hard to tell the difference between the Canyon and the Sierra unless they’re parked right next to each other.
There’s also the issue of the price. As tested, my truck came out to right around $40,000. That’s a lot of money for a truck, and it’s also well into full-size territory. If that’s the cost of the smallest truck GM offers, why even bother buying a midsize? Why not upgrade to a Silverado, Ram 1500, or F-150, especially if buying the smaller truck won’t save you much money on gas?
On the one hand, I totally understand that argument, but on the other hand, a Crew Cab Canyon or Colorado makes a lot more sense if you look at them more as alternatives to full-size trucks. As big as midsize trucks have gotten these days, full-size trucks have gotten even bigger, and you can feel it from behind the wheel. Driving a Silverado, F-150, or even a Tundra down the road, it’s easy to feel like your truck is wider than just one lane. Heck, in the Tundra that I drove last, it felt more like I was running over the pavement than driving on it. Street parking was a nightmare, and I always felt like I was too small of a person to be driving it.
For people who don’t necessarily want the full-size truck experience and maybe aren’t built like firemen, the Canyon offers a smaller, more maneuverable truck that’s still plenty capable. For the buyer who wants the refinement, features, and technology available in a crossover but who doesn’t want to give up driving a truck, the Canyon offers them that option. You also aren’t required to load it down with options, and at a little over $20,000, the price tag on the base model is much more palatable. When the new Tacoma debuts, the competition might get a little tougher, but for right now, the GMC Canyon is without a doubt the best midsize truck on the market.
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