2009 GMC Canyon Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
March 7, 2009

With the addition of the new V-8 option, the 2009 GMC Canyon goes from unappealing to quite competitive.

To bring you a comprehensive, definitive review on the 2009 GMC Canyon, TheCarConnection.com’s team of writers has researched a range of reviews from some of the most respected sources on the Web. To bring you an especially useful review, TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the GMC Canyon—including the newly offered V-8 model—and contribute their impressions, observations, and comparisons.

The GMC Canyon and its almost identical Chevrolet sibling, the Colorado, went on sale five years ago as replacements for the Sonoma and S-10. The 2009 GMC Canyon is one of the few small pickups available that fills a niche for those who want a capable truck that’s more maneuverable and fuel-efficient than its full-size counterparts.

Almost identical to the Chevrolet Colorado—though a bit better-looking, in the opinion of TheCarConnection.com—the Canyon is available in regular and extended cab configurations with a six-foot bed, and as a crew cab with a five-foot bed. All models come in either two- or four-wheel drive with either the Z85 standard suspension or the Z71 off-road setup. The retuned-for-2009 ZQ8 sport suspension is only available on two-wheel-drive extended cab and crew cab models with the new 5.3-liter V-8 engine.

The new V-8 outputs 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, accelerates from zero to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, and can tow up to 6,000 pounds. It brings a very torquey, relaxed character to these trucks, and it’s powerful enough to take off at stoplights almost as quickly as a muscle car.

Review continues below

The V-8 joins the returning 2.9-liter inline four-cylinder and 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder engines that, due to a revised fuel control module, feature better fuel economy for 2009. The 185-horsepower four-cylinder gets ratings of up to 25 mpg highway now, while the 242-horsepower five-cylinder musters an EPA-rated 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway with the automatic transmission. Both smaller-size engines are rather noisy and unrefined, even compared to those in other inexpensive pickups like the Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger.

A bunch of other improvements for 2009 make the Colorado and Canyon a better vehicle overall and boost its ratings from TheCarConnection.com. Electronic stability control is at last standard across the lineup, and brakes have been been fortified for 2009; they feel more reassuring than what we remember from previous drives. But steering remains a weak point; it seems vague and reluctant to unwind on twisty roads and tends to require frequent adjustments on the highway.

The interior is the Canyon’s Achilles’ heel. Cursed with cheap-feeling switchgear and hard plastic, the Canyon makes for a good work truck. On the upside, the Canyon will probably please serious buyers, with a simple, straightforward instrument panel layout, featuring push-button controls for the 4WD system mounted high. And front seats, though flat-feeling, provide a good driving position, while in back on Crew Cab models there’s plenty of space for two adults or three kids.

However, serious workers will probably be dismayed to find that four-door Canyons have only a 5-foot, 1-inch bed, and the 6-foot "long" bed on two-door models won't fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood flat.

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

The four-door GMC Canyon receives five-star crash scores, while other versions get four stars. The addition of standard StabiliTrack electronic stability control is a very positive move in the safety area.

6

2009 GMC Canyon

Styling

The 2009 GMC Canyon is attractive on the outside, but the truck’s interior is painfully unappealing.

Most reviewers are quite happy with the exterior styling of the Canyon, but the very plain interior is almost unanimously disappointing.

The Canyon retains its rugged profile, and its styling remains essentially the same as for 2004, when it was introduced. The 2009 GMC Canyon offers two new exterior colors (Navy Blue and Aqua Blue Metallic), some new wheel designs, and slight trim changes but is otherwise unchanged from the 2008 model.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com tend to appreciate the styling of the 2009 GMC Canyon, which Edmunds calls "distinctively rugged," though it certainly doesn't stand out much from some other GM light pickups on the road. 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 describes the GMC Canyon as "the mirror image of its sister vehicle, the Chevrolet Colorado," and features "bulging fender flares and bright alloy wheels [that] punctuate tall slab sides." MyRide.com adds, “The Canyon is aggressively styled with angular wheel arches. Its front end is bright and bold in the GMC tradition and looks mean and menacing, albeit in a classy GMC manner."

Though reviewers might be pleased with the rugged exterior, they very much give thumbs-down to the interior. Even if you like the view from afar, Edmunds warns "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 2009 GMC Canyon's "gauges and controls [are] within clear sight and easy reach of the driver."

7

2009 GMC Canyon

Performance

The new 5.3-liter V-8 makes up for the deficiencies of the smaller engines and places the 2009 GMC Canyon in a more competitive position.

For 2009, GMC increases the fuel economy of the four- and five-cylinder engines offered in the Canyon, but the big news is the availability of a V-8.

“Even though this engine lacks overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, it delivers a potent 300 hp at 5200 rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm,” says Automotive.com, adding, “The Canyon mainly hauled ass, although it also endured more than a 100 miles of boat towing in the dead of winter without whining.” TheCarConnection.com confirms the torquey, relaxed appeal of the V-8 Canyon and finds it much more appealing than the four- and five-cylinder engines otherwise offered.

Reviewers can't find much, if anything, to love from the standard 2.9-liter inline-four (185 hp) or the optional inline-five (242 hp). ConsumerGuide feels that the Canyon GMC's four-cylinder offers "adequate power for around-town driving." Car and Driver, however, decries the Canyon’s smaller engines as "thrashy" and claims 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, which Edmunds points out "is below average for this type of truck."

“On the highway, the Canyon feels solid and stable, with a smooth, comfortable ride,” says MyRide.com. But Car and Driver is turned off by the Canyon’s handling, griping that the "steering is high-effort with a numb feel"—echoing what TheCarConnection.com’s editors observe. Fortunately, the 2009 GMC Canyon redeems itself with its good braking performance, which ConsumerGuide says makes for "quick, even stops with good pedal feel."

Automobile Magazine tests a 2009 GMC Canyon with the retuned, high-performance ZQ8 suspension/package and states, “The steering response is rapid and accurate, yet the ride is supple, even over Michigan's bombed-out excuse for pavement. The lack of steering feel will surely disappoint BMW worshippers, but a ZQ8-fortified Canyon is about as good as trucks get.”

Concerning the Canyon’s drivetrains, Cars.com says the 2009 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 lean 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,” adding that "a five-speed manual transmission [is standard on most four-cylinder Canyons" and a "four-speed automatic is standard on five-cylinder trucks and optional with the smaller engine."

When it comes to fuel economy, the official EPA estimates for the Canyon GMC range up to 25 mpg highway for four-cylinder models. Two-wheel-drive Crew Cabs with the five-cylinder engine can return 16 mpg city, 22 highway, as do manual-transmission Regular Cabs with the four-cylinder engine. The V-8 model is rated lower, at 14 mpg city, 19 highway, but TheCarConnection.com observes nearly 18 mpg in enthusiastic driving, indicating that drivers are likely to see reasonably good mileage, thanks to the Canyon's relaxed, unstressed demeanor.

6

2009 GMC Canyon

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 GMC Canyon sacrifices interior comfort and impressive materials, all in the name of value and simplicity.

The interior build quality and use of subpar materials don’t win the Canyon any fans, but the truck’s ride quality is better than most.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com clearly show that the 2009 GMC Canyon falls short in terms of interior quality. Automobile Magazine puts it nicely: “The top-shelf Colorado and Canyon interior trim doesn't wander far from pure molded plastic. Stuff you touch—such as the leather-wrapped steering wheel, the console top, and the armrests—are thoughtfully finished in resilient materials.” Car and Driver points out that the compact truck has "flimsy seats" and "no protective coating or tie-down rails in the bed." Edmunds concurs, going as far as saying that "the Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are simply better trucks in almost every regard." Edmunds also points out the 2009 GMC Canyon "remains saddled with sub par materials" and "an abundance of hard plastic." Cars.com notes that the new 2009 "Canyon's interior trim was revised to include chrome accents."

Theoretically, the 2009 GMC Canyon Crew Cab can seat up to six occupants, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that comfort is 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 attests 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 ConsumerGuide contends that rear "legroom is still no better than a subcompact sedan's," even on the GMC Canyon Crew Cab. TheCarConnection.com’s editors find the Crew Cab just adequate for four adults.

On the highway, wind noise intrudes, leading reviewers to question the build quality of the 2009 GMC Canyon. 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."

Ride quality, however, is one area where the 2009 GMC Canyon shines. ConsumerGuide applauds the 2009 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."

8

2009 GMC Canyon

Safety

Standard electronic stability control goes a long way toward making the 2009 GMC Canyon one of the safer compacts. Get the side-curtain bags and you’ll be especially secure.

If you pay $395 for the optional side curtain airbags, the 2009 GMC Canyon qualifies as one of the safest small trucks on the market, especially now that StabiliTrak electronic stability control is included across the line as a standard feature.

All body styles of the 2009 GMC Canyon earn four stars for driver-side impact protection and another perfect five-star rating for passenger-side impact protection in crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The crash-test results for the 2009 GMC Canyon are quite respectable. NHTSA also reports that four-door models achieve a perfect five-star rating in front impact tests, while two-door models get four out of five stars in the same category.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) supports NHTSA’s findings, at least in terms of front impacts, where the GMC Canyon earns the Institute's highest possible rating, "good," in frontal offset impact tests. The ratings between the two agencies differ, however, when it comes to side impact protection. Whereas the GMC Canyons tested by NHTSA have the optional side-impact airbags installed and thus earn high ratings, the IIHS versions do not and therefore are slapped with a "poor" rating in side impact tests. As ConsumerGuide points out, the side curtain bags are a $395 option, but they're well worth it for the additional protection they offer.

Car and Driver also likes that "one year's OnStar coverage"—which might help you more quickly locate assistance if you have an accident or a breakdown—is included on all 2009 GMC Canyons.

8

2009 GMC Canyon

Features

It’s easy to turn an inexpensive 2009 GMC Canyon into a compact truck with a full-size price tag, so be careful and remain frugal if that's your original intention.

Even the lowest trim level of the 2009 GMC Canyon offers a nice array of standard conveniences, such as air conditioning, cruise control, and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel.

Moving up to the SLE trim, Edmunds notes the GMC Canyon 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."

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 five-foot cargo box while other Canyons feature a six-footer."

“The five-foot cargo bed won't impress anyone used to a full-size pickup truck, but it is at least shrewdly configured,” says Automobile Magazine, adding, “The tailgate has a 55-degrees-open position to provide support at the tail end of the load. With the gate fully down, you've got an 81-inch-long load surface suitable for hauling motorcycles up to and including a Harley-Davidson Sportster. Sturdy tie-down anchors are provided.”

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 wheel wells."

Reviews about the 2009 GMC Canyon read by TheCarConnection.com’s editors reveal some enticing option packages. The Z71 Off-Road package seems to be one of the preferred choices, 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, a "'Sun and Sound' package" on the GMC Canyon "bundles a six-CD changer with a power sunroof."

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Styling 6.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 6.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
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