- Modern design, inside and out
- High-tech options like 4G LTE
- Potent V-6 engine
- Considerable towing capability
- More efficient four-cylinder option
- No more V-8 option
- No more regular-cab model
- Prices quickly overlap least expensive full-sizers
- Fuel economy is good, not great
The 2015 GMC Canyon won't replace a full-size pickup in our garage, but reminds us why mid-sizers are a good alternative for drivers that covet utility over ultimate payload and towing numbers.
Until now, shoppers wanting something less than a full-size truck had exactly two choices, and neither of them were what we'd call fresh, or innovative.
The mid-size niche is growing this year, in the form of two new trucks nearly identical in configuration, but not so close in style: the Chevy Colorado, and the 2015 GMC Canyon.
With the Canyon, GMC hopes to woo drivers back into mid-size trucks from the crossovers they're currently driving--where many decamped when the last Canyon and Colorado went away in 2012, and the Ford Ranger, soon after.
This is no compact truck, though. With a maximum bed length of six feet and with its biggest engine a 3.6-liter V-6, the bigger and more expensive Canyons overlap the base versions of its sibling, the GMC Sierra.
Sharing much of its underpinnings and basic design with the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, the GMC Canyon is no surprise—but that makes it no less welcome as a supplement to the full-size trucks roaming the nation’s streets, job sites, and dirt roads. It's a solid alternative for those who might otherwise buy a mid-size crossover but want the open bed, and don't want to be forced into a full-size truck that's upscaled and upsized substantially from just a decade ago.
With crisp, familiar front-end styling, the Canyon looks burly, rugged, and capable, just like its Sierra inspiration. The front-end is in line with GMC’s other trucks, as is the tailgate and bumper area; even the flared-and-squared wheel arches are a familiar detail. Where the Canyon diverges from the pickup mainstream is along the side, where the cab’s lower window line sweeps upward toward the rear. Inside, its cockpit is also patterned after the Sierra's: 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 four or a 3.6-liter V-6. The 200-horsepower four 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 four-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-horsepower six, 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 four-cylinder, and its six-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 6'2" and 5'2" 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 2015 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 $23,575 Canyon comes with AM/FM sound with a USB port; air conditioning; power windows; a power driver seat; and tilt steering. The $27,520 Canyon SLE adds more USB ports, satellite radio, a color touchscreen radio with GMC's IntelliLink infotainment interface, and cruise control. The ritzy $30,655 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.
2015 GMC Canyon
The Canyon's looks are more old-school than its Colorado cousin: is that why we like it better?
With somewhat edgy looks—certainly not adhering to the full-size orthodoxy—GMC’s Canyon nonetheless pulls off a burly, rugged, and capable stance.
The Canyon's front end is in line with GMC’s other trucks, as is the tailgate and bumper area; even the flared-and-squared wheel arches are a familiar detail. GMC execs say that's because their buyers crave the familiar look, whereas Chevy Colorado buyers might like its more global cues.
Where the Canyon diverges from the pickup mainstream is along the side, where the cab’s lower window line sweeps upward toward the rear, creating a line that’s at once modern and somewhat foreign—as well it might, as the rest of the world has had this generation of mid-size pickup for three years already, and it made its original debut at the 2011 Bangkok Motor Show, though it wore an even more unusual front-end in its original, non-U.S. guise.
Inside the GMC Canyon’s cabin, we get a slightly down-sized version of the new cabin seen in the GMC Sierra. That’s a good thing, as the look is upscale yet rugged, with a central dash pod holding the primary controls and display unit. A beefy steering wheel with its own control buttons sits in front of a gauge pod. One notable difference from the full-size Sierra’s layout: the gear shift lever sits in the center console rather than on the column. Otherwise, the Canyon blends in perhaps a slightly greater degree of sedan-like themes in the upholders, bucket seats, and door armrests, but still pulls off its business truck image, with some tasteful glints of aluminum trim and stitched soft-touch materials on uplevel Canyon SLE and SLT trucks.
2015 GMC Canyon
For economy-minded drivers and light towers, the Canyon's two powertrains cover all the necessary territory.
Under the hood of the new 2015 GMC Canyon you’ll find one of two engines: the base 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder, or a 3.6-liter V-6. One makes for an good economy-car substitute, while the other's more a necessity if you're replacing a full-size towing appliance.
The four-cylinder installed in the base Colorado is rated at 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. It's the only one offered with a manual transmission, which we haven't sampled. With the six-speed automatic bound to be on almost every Canyon sold to retail customers, the engine's ideally suited for anyone that owns a truck more for the openness of the bed, rather than the ultimate capacity.
The four-cylinder's very smooth and unobtrusive in most of its working range, quick enough for interstate-grade acceleration, and can deliver up to 22 miles per gallon combined. It's no diesel Chevy Cruze, but that compromise number is offset by the enormous open-air backpack following you everywhere. Like the six-cylinder in today's full-sizers, this four-cylinder covers a much wider swath of users than previous base engines. Be honest with yourself and if you only haul mulch and tools and yourself, the four is the better idea.
Opt for the V-6, and the Canyon intrudes in a noticeable way on the less capable full-size trucks. For starters, it's rated at 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of output—figures that would have been good for a V-8 in the recent past. Fuel economy's only a mile or two combined down from the four-cylinder, too. It's not as quiet or as smooth, but the six's torque and its transmission's tow/haul mode and automatic grade braking are prescription-strength for pulling ATVs and small trailers.
Towing and payload are, after all, the 0-60 mph measures of pickups. For the Canyon, the payload range of 1,450 to 1,620 pounds is a bit higher than the otherwise identical Chevy Colorado; towing is rated at a minimum of 3,500 pounds, picking up where most minivans and in-a-pinch utility vehicles end, and 7,000 pounds, better than Tacoma and Frontier, not to mention most lower-end versions of the Silverado, Sierra, Ram, and F-150. A base Ram 1500 V-6's max tow rating is pegged at 4,190 pounds, for example.
Those figures vary depending on body style and powertrain, of course, as well as by drive configuration. The Canyon comes with either rear- or four-wheel drive, but its system isn't identical to the Colorado, in this case: it's an automatic system badged with GMC's AutoTrac label. Outside of 2WD mode, Canyon drivers can select 4WD manually, or flip to Auto mode, to let the truck detect wheelslip on its own, and to decide how to split torque front to rear. GMC also offers a locking differential on uplevel Canyons.
The Canyon's dueling performance personalities complement its well-tuned ride and handling setup. It's not in truth that much smaller than a Sierra, but the Canyon certainly drives like it is. The Canyon (and Colorado) rise quickly over the Frontier and Tacoma by dint of their well-weighted electric power steering, and a suspension set that makes the most out of coil-over front shocks and a live rear axle and leaf springs. The Canyon rounds and snubs off bumps nicely, and the steering tracks mostly true, though like any body-on-ladder-frame design, the Canyon transmits a fair share of secondary ride motions through to the cabin. If you're returning to mid-size trucks from compact crossovers, you'll notice the difference--but it's not as much of a downgrade as, say, stepping back into a Wrangler.
2015 GMC Canyon
Comfort & Quality
Cabin quality is high, and the Canyon has very good front seats; the bed has lots of nice convenient touches.
Mid-size trucks are an obvious compromise--not just because they're scaled down from the full-sizers that dominate the sales charts, either. They cut across more drivers and needs, typically, than full-size trucks: they're economy-car substitutes, weekend toy pullers and carriers, and basic hard workers.
Imagine designing a cab and bed to suit all of those, and you can better appreciate how well the Canyon's come out of the packaging process, body-on-boxed-ladder-frame and all.
In the front, no matter which of the three body styles you choose, it does a much better job on the comfort front than the Tacoma and the Frontier. On seating position alone, the Canyon's higher hip point and better headroom give it a more natural driving position than the legs-out rivals. Even better, the Canyon's front seats are shaped well, with almost sporty bolstering.
The Canyon's floor-mounted shifter sits in a tall console that tucks in lidded and open storage bins ahead and behind two cupholders. Power points and USB ports are in easy reach, but the shifter lever comes close to most drivers' knees. It's a small gripe in a cabin that's so much more stylish and nicely trimmed. The Canyon embarrasses the current Tacoma and Frontier on fit and finish, trim quality, and noise suppression, by a huge margin.
Behind the front seats, it's a choice between three configurations and two body styles. The extended-cab truck has a pair of rear-hinged doors, and it's offered only with a longer six-foot two-inch bed that can be teamed with a bed extender to haul items eight feet long. The four-door Canyon has a set of front-hinged rear doors, and comes with either that bed, or a shorter five-foot two-inch bed.
The extended-cab seats aren't a place where any adult would want to spend any amount of time. It may be a mid-sizer, but the Canyon doesn't have enough room to lavish on lots of rear seat space in either configuration. A child safety seat will fit in the extended-cab model, however. It's easier for everyone and everything to slide into the back seat of the crew cab model--it's longer, at 224.6 inches versus 212.4 inches for the extended cab--but its rear seats suffer GM's usual bolt-upright backrests. Most owners will use the under-seat storage more than the seats themselves, we think.
Those pickup beds pack in features that make the most of their downsized capacity. The Canyon offers a corner bumper step and easy-lowering tailgate; some 17 tie-down spots inside the bed; a spray-in bedliner or a drop-in one; cargo dividers; a system of racks and carriers dubbed GearOn; cargo nets and tonneau covers; a drop-in toolbox; and of course, trailer hitches and harnesses.
2015 GMC Canyon
The 2015 Canyon is built on a new architecture, and it offers a standard rearview camera.
Safety features included in the 2015 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 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given those systems in the Canyon a 'basic' rating for frontal crash prevention, and they've also given the Canyon a 'good' rating for frontal impact. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has crash-tested the new GMC in extended-cab form only, and there it's earned four stars overall, with four stars for frontal impact and five stars in side impact.
2015 GMC Canyon
In-truck WiFi, touchscreen radio and navigation, and a bed made for towing and weekend toys puts the Canyon in a different class from the Japanese mid-size trucks.
Three trim lines will be offered in the GMC Canyon: base, SLE, and SLT. Base $23,575 trucks come with an admirable set of standard features, including a stereo with a USB port; air conditioning; power windows; a rearview camera; cloth or vinyl seats; a power driver seat (with manual recline); and tilt steering. Options on this trim level include a package with an easy-lift tailgate, keyless entry, cruise control, and a rear defogger.
Base trucks will likely be rare outside of fleet duty, though. More buyers are likely to opt into the $27,520 Canyon SLE, which gets those base features plus a color touchscreen radio with GMC's IntelliLink infotainment interface and satellite radio; three USB ports; cruise control; a rear defogger; aluminum interior trim; remote keyless entry; and a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls. Options include navigation; Bose premium audio; a package with automati climate control and remote start; a sliding rear window; forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems; and an All-Terrain package with 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, all-terrain tires, an off-road-tuned suspension, and heated power driver and passenger seats (with manual recline).
The $30,655 Canyon SLT builds on that version with standard automatic climate control; remote start; power front seats with lumbar adjust; and options for navigation, Bose audio, a sliding rear window, and the forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems.
On the technology and features front, the Canyon matches its bigger brethren, with OnStar 4G LTE and built-in WiFi hot spot available; an eight-inch color touch screen; USB inputs; Siri Eyes Free Mode for iPhone users; a “Teen Driver” feature; GMC’s AppShop; and navigation all on the options list.
The Teen Driver system uses the IntelliLink system to set a radio volume limit, and a parent-configurable speed warning that can be set between 40 mph and 70 mph, as well as a speed limiter. The Teen Driver system also automatically mutes the radio when either front seatbelt is unfastened, and records a driver “report card” measuring distance traveled and wide-open throttle acceleration as well as ABS events, maximum speed, and more.
Other unique features for the 2015 Canyon include an EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate with an internal torsion bar to damp and ease tailgate lowering and lifting; a CornerStep rear bumper design first seen on the 2014 GMC Sierra; 13 reconfigurable and 4 stationary load tie-downs in the bed; and an optional factory sprayed-in bed liner.
2015 GMC Canyon
Fuel economy isn't quite as high as we'd hoped, but the Canyon posts combined numbers in the 21-mpg range.
Along with its twin, the Chevy Colorado, the GMC Canyon is the most miserly mid-size pickup you can buy. It's not a magnitude of efficiency that would make a Sierra full-sizer seem like a silly choice, though.
At best the Sierra earns a 19-mpg combined rating from the EPA. The Canyon, on the other hand, tops out at 22 mpg combined--or 20/27 mpg city/highway for the two-wheel-drive models with the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. With a manual, the same combo rates 19/26 mpg or 22 mpg combined.
For comparison in its league, the Canyon also beats the four-cylinder manual Nissan Frontier, at 21 mpg combined, while a base Toyota Tacoma four-cylinder manual matches the Canyon's 22-mpg combined figure. The Canyon counts on active aero grille shutters to help it reach its figures, while the Japanese trucks don't offer that fuel-saving feature.
With four-wheel drive, the Canyon four-cylinder automatic is rated at 19/25 mpg, or 21 mpg combined.
The six-cylinder Canyon's figures aren't much lower, which puts the four-cylinder at something of a disadvantage in every category except price. With the 305-horsepower V-6, the 2WD automatic Canyon is rated at 18/26 mpg, or 21 mpg combined. Adding four-wheel drive drops those figures to 17/24 mpg, or 20 mpg combined.
A Tacoma V-6's best combined figure is 19 mpg, same as the Frontier.
For what it's worth, a six-cylinder Ram 1500 automatic is EPA-rated at 21 mpg combined.
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