2008 GMC Canyon Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
October 31, 2008

The 2008 GMC Canyon is right-sized for today’s gas prices -- if only its engines were quieter and its rear seats more comfortable.

TheCarConnection.com’s team of car enthusiasts and writers researched stories about the GMC Canyon online to bring you this comprehensive review. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also drove the 2008 GMC Canyon to be able to deliver more driving impressions where needed, to compare it with other cars in the class and to help you decide which review to trust when they have differing opinions.

Small pickup trucks have their place in the world. Pickups like the 2008 GMC Canyon are the main vehicles of choice for some plumbers, electricians, and some drivers looking for off-road capability without the punishing fuel bills of a full-sizer.

While it’s compact and reasonably easy on gas, the 2008 GMC Canyon isn’t much fun to drive. A near-twin of the Chevrolet Colorado, the Canyon’s four- and five-cylinder engines and its six-foot-long-at-best pickup bed draw a tight circle around its capabilities and its fun.

Two engines are offered on the 2008 GMC Canyon. Base versions use a 2.9-liter four-cylinder engine offering 185 horsepower, while the optional in-line five-cylinder engine measures in at 3.9 liters and delivers 242 horsepower. The four-cylinder gets as much as 18/24 mpg, while the five-cylinder musters 15/20 mpg with the automatic transmission. With either engine, the Canyon is disappointing. The engines are noisy and unrefined, even compared to the four-cylinder Nissan Frontier. A smooth V-6 would be a good option but none is available.

Review continues below

The 2008 GMC Canyon does come in a wide range of styles. It’s available in either rear- or four-wheel drive, in short-wheelbase regular-cab and long-wheelbase extended- and four-door crew-cab versions, and can seat up to six passengers in crew-cab mode. The back seat stands uncomfortably upright on four-door versions, though, and there’s no option to fold the seats under the floor, which would make the rear area much more useful. The six-foot “long” bed won’t carry the 4x8 sheet of plywood, and four-door Canyons have only a 5-foot, 1-inch bed anyway.

The GMC Canyon’s styling is somewhat better than the Chevrolet Colorado, but it’s still a little too much for a small truck. The Canyon’s interior wears a lot of plastic and clicky switches.

Three different suspension packages are offered, along with a long list of options that allows for maximum customization. In most versions the 2008 GMC Canyon has better-than-average ride and handling.

Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and folding exterior mirrors. Options include traction control, XM, fog lamps; leather seats; a sunroof; a six-CD changer and a sliding rear window. OnStar is offered but there is no navigation system, a real need in work trucks.

The four-door GMC Canyon gets five-star crash scores, while other versions get four stars. Side curtain airbags are optional but inexpensive.

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2008 GMC Canyon

Styling

The 2008 GMC Canyon's exterior is tried-and-true, but it looks decidedly chintzy inside.

A large part of any pickup truck's appeal is its macho exterior styling. With the 2008 GMC Canyon, it seems like GM tried to give its smallest pickup offering a dose of that macho look—with mixed results.

The 2008 GMC Canyon is a small pickup that comes in "a broad variety of body styles, wheelbase and cargo-bed lengths," according to Car and Driver. Edmunds reports that the Canyon GMC comes in "three body style configurations: regular cab, extended cab (with short reverse-opening doors) or crew cab with four regular forward-swinging doors." Furthermore, Edmunds adds that "crew cabs come with a 5-foot cargo box while other Canyons feature a 6-footer." Drivers pleased with the visual appeal of GMC's previous vehicles will not find any unwelcome surprises in the GMC Canyon, as Cars.com observes that the Canyon GMC has "a distinctive front end...that gives the Canyon a strong family resemblance to other GMC products." Kelley Blue Book remarks that the GMC Canyon is "the mirror image of its sister vehicle, the Chevrolet Colorado," and features "bulging fender flares and bright alloy wheels [that] punctuate tall slab sides." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com tend to appreciate the styling of the 2008 GMC Canyon, which Edmunds calls "distinctively rugged," though you certainly won't stand out much from some other GM light pickups on the road.

Unfortunately, while the exterior scores somewhat above average with reviewers, the interior of the GMC Canyon is a different story. Even if you like the view from afar, Edmunds warns that "the attraction ends when you open the door." Cars.com observes that the "Canyon's interior trim was revised to include chrome accents," but reviewers still lament what Car and Driver calls the "rental-car interior décor." On the positive side, Kelley Blue Book does point out that the 2008 GMC Canyon's "gauges and controls [are] within clear sight and easy reach of the driver."

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2008 GMC Canyon

Performance

Lackluster performance is somewhat offset by the above-average (four-cylinder) fuel economy on the 2008 GMC Canyon.

We may never know whether the GM decision-makers were more interested in cutting costs or increasing fuel economy on the 2008 GMC Canyon, but either way, they unfortunately chose to offer a pair of underpowered engines that provide disappointing performance.

GMC offers two engines for the 2008 GMC Canyon lineup, but neither is very exciting. Edmunds states that "the standard 2.9-liter four-cylinder makes 185 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque," while the "optional 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder produces 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque." ConsumerGuide feels that the Canyon GMC's four-cylinder offers "adequate power for around-town driving." However, in comparison to the competition, Edmunds says "the Canyon's engines can't match the power and performance of the V-6s and V-8s offered by the competition." Car and Driver reviewers agree, decrying the "thrashy engine" on the GMC Canyon and claiming that "these trucks trail the competition in every way."

In terms of work capabilities, the GMC Canyon falls short as well. The smaller engine reduces the maximum towing capacity to 4,000 pounds. Edmunds points out that this "is below average for this type of truck."

The 2008 GMC Canyon is available with several different transmission options, and Edmunds notes that these include either "a five-speed manual transmission [that] is standard on most four-cylinder Canyons" and a "four-speed automatic that is standard on five-cylinder trucks and optional with the smaller engine." In addition, Cars.com says the 2008 GMC Canyon is "available with rear- or four-wheel drive" and a "choice of three rear axle ratios." Reviews of the transmissions read by TheCarConnection.com trend toward the positive end of the spectrum, and ConsumerGuide reviewers love the "quick-shifting automatic transmission." Edmunds agrees, claiming that the four-speed automatic's "shifts are smooth and well-timed."

Despite having just four or five gears to choose from, the 2008 GMC Canyon makes the most of them when it comes to fuel economy. The official EPA estimates for the Canyon GMC are 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway for the 4WD Crew Cab, while four-cylinder Crew Cabs should get 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. Two-wheel-drive Crew Cabs with the five-cylinder engine can return 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, as can manual-transmission Regular Cabs with the four-cylinder engine. Rounding out the 2008 GMC Canyon lineup are the 4WD Regular Cab with the four-cylinder and an automatic transmission at 17/22 mpg, as well as the Regular Cab with the five-cylinder and automatic at 15/21 mpg.

Most reviewers say little about the Canyon’s handling, but Car and Driver is turned off, griping that the "steering is high-effort with a numb feel." Fortunately, the 2008 GMC Canyon redeems itself with its good braking performance, which ConsumerGuide says makes for "quick, even stops with good pedal feel."

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2008 GMC Canyon

Comfort & Quality

GMC seems to have sacrificed too much quality on the 2008 GMC Canyon in exchange for simplicity and supposed value.

Unlike many of GM's latest trucks, which feature vastly improved interior quality, the 2008 GMC Canyon is still mired in the GM tradition of old, which is to say it could use some touching up.

The 2008 GMC Canyon can theoretically carry up to six occupants, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that comfort will be a serious problem if six are crammed inside the Canyon GMC. Seating capacity and style vary by model of GMC Canyon, and Cars.com reports that regular cabs offer "a standard 60/40-split bench seat" up front, though "reclining bucket seats are available," while "four-door extended cab trucks have two forward-facing rear seats" and "Crew Cab models contain front bucket seats." The front seats fare well, and ConsumerGuide finds that they deliver "lots of headroom and legroom" and are "adequately comfortable for long drives." The backseat, however, is a different story, as Edmunds claims that "rear legroom is tight in both extended cab and crew cab models," and Consumer Guide contends that rear "legroom is still no better than a subcompact sedan's," even on the GMC Canyon Crew Cab.

Interior build and materials quality doesn't do the Canyon GMC many favors either, as reviews read by TheCarConnection.com clearly show. Cars.com notes that the new 2008 "Canyon's interior trim was revised to include chrome accents." Unfortunately, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are unanimous in deeming this simple addition inadequate. Quality gets a low grade from Car and Driver, which points out that the compact truck has "flimsy seats" and "no protective coating or tie-down rails in the bed." Edmunds concurs, going so far as to say that "the Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are simply better trucks in almost every regard." Edmunds also points out the 2008 GMC Canyon "remains saddled with subpar materials" and "an abundance of hard plastic."

Gaps in build quality on the 2008 GMC Canyon are evident on the highway, where several reviewers mention intrusive wind noise. Edmunds reports that "wind noise around the doors picks up at highway speeds," and ConsumerGuide finds that "highway wind rush is prominent around the doors."

One area where the 2008 GMC Canyon surprises is ride quality. ConsumerGuide applauds the 2008 GMC Canyon, stating that the drive is "better than most compact pickups, provided you stick with the base suspension." Kelley Blue Book feels the "new body-on-frame chassis is much more rigid," making it the "greatest improvement over previous GMC compact trucks."

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2008 GMC Canyon

Safety

The 2008 GMC Canyon is quite respectable in protection and safety features, despite other inadequacies.

The 2008 GMC Canyon may not have a whole lot going for it, but at least you can feel safe behind the wheel of this Canyon GMC. Between the commendable standard safety features and generally strong crash-test ratings, there's little to fault on the GMC Canyon, provided you spring for the optional side airbags.

The crash-test results for the 2008 GMC Canyon were quite respectable. NHTSA tested all versions of the Canyon GMC, reporting that four-door models achieved a perfect five-star rating in front impact tests, while two-door models got four out of five stars in the same category. All body styles of the 2008 GMC Canyon also earned four stars for driver-side impact protection and another perfect five-star rating for passenger-side impact protection. The IIHS supports those findings, at least in terms of front impacts, where the GMC Canyon earned the Institute's highest possible rating, "good," in frontal offset impact tests. The ratings between the two agencies differed, however, when it came to side impact protection. Whereas the GMC Canyons tested by NHTSA had the optional side-impact airbags installed, and thus earned high ratings, the IIHS versions did not and therefore were slapped with a "poor" rating in side impact tests.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the standard safety features list on the 2008 GMC Canyon includes most of the usual features required on today's vehicles but not much more. Car and Driver also likes that "one year's OnStar coverage" is included on all 2008 GMC Canyons.

As mentioned earlier, "curtain side airbags" are a $395 option, according to ConsumerGuide, and they're well worth it for the additional protection they offer.

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2008 GMC Canyon

Features

The 2008 GMC Canyon is a great truck for those interested in mixing and matching a variety of options, but keep an eye on the bottom line.

For pickup buyers, cargo capacity and storage configurations are what matters most, but the 2008 GMC Canyon scores remarkably low in this area, according to many review sources. ConsumerGuide reviewers are disappointed to discover that "interior storage is limited on regular cabs," though they report it is "good on extended and Crew Cabs with the rear seats folded." The short and shorter beds available on the GMC Canyon don't help much with overall carrying capacity, either. While Edmunds does note that the "dual-position tailgate can be secured partially open to better support the carrying of 4x8 sheets," the system is awkward and requires that the sheets "ride on top of the wheelwells."

Otherwise, the 2008 GMC Canyon may be a low-priced pickup, but that doesn't mean you won't find a respectable array of standard conveniences on even the lowest trim level.

Kelley Blue Book reviewers reports features such as "air conditioning, cruise control...chrome front and rear bumpers," and "automatic headlamps" on the 2008 GMC Canyon SL. ConsumerGuide adds that an "AM/FM radio" is standard on all GMC Canyon models as well. Moving up to the SLE trim, Edmunds notes this Canyon GMC model garners "OnStar, an upgraded front bench, a CD/MP3 player and options not available on the SL." Furthermore, the SLT trim of the Canyon GMC "adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery and heated power front bucket seats."

Numerous option packages are available for the GMC Canyon. The Z71 Off-Road package seems to be one of the preferred 2008 GMC Canyon options in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, with ConsumerGuide reporting that upgrades include a "limited-slip differential, wheel flares, front tow hooks, off-road suspension, full-size spare tire, [and] 265/75R15 on/off-road tires." The ZQ8 package is geared toward street tuners and includes such features as "18-inch aluminum rims and a lowered ride height," according to Cars.com. Cars.com reviewers also state that other "options include heated leather front bucket seats" and "an in-dash six-CD changer"; "XM Satellite Radio is available" as well. According to Edmunds, that six-CD changer is part of a "'Sun and Sound' package" on the GMC Canyon "that bundles a six-CD changer with a power sunroof."

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6.8
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 6.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 6.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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