- A fresh-looking, traditional design
- In-car wireless and other tech features
- V-6 engine is strong
- Good towing capacity
- 4-cylinder option works for econocar drivers
- No V-8, at all
- Regular-cab Canyons are extinct
- Prices can overlap a low-trim Sierra
- Good fuel economy isn't quite great, yet
features & specs
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Even so, we've long decided that the Canyon and Colorado are the only vehicles to shop in this niche, given the outdated designs of the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.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.
2016 GMC Canyon
We like the Canyon's squared-off, old-school truck looks better than those of the near-twin Colorado.
The GMC Canyon isn't an exact replica of the Chevy Colorado, and that's a good thing. It's our favorite mid-size truck when it comes to styling. The rugged, capable-looking stance has just enough tradition in it to make the smaller truck look like a burly cousin of the bigger Sierra.
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.
Down the size, the Canyon has a line or two that reminds us it's a global product, one that will sell as well in southeast Asia as it will in the deep South. The Canyon's shoulder line doesn't stay as true to horizontal as its grille—it wanders up toward the roof pillars, sweeping up at the rear for a modern look that also harks to a whole generation of Asian-built small pickups never sold in the U.S. If it's not exactly contiguous with GMC heritage, it's at least fresh and interesting.
The Canyon's cockpit benefits from the same themes in the latest Sierra full-sizer. It's a rugged, stylish treatment that would work just as well in a tall wagon or crossover SUV. A central dash pod contains the primary controls and displays, and the gauges are framed by a beefy steering wheel with its own control buttons.
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.
2016 GMC Canyon
From light towing to all-around economy, the Canyon's 4- and 6-cylinder drivetrains get the job done.
The powertrain choices in the GMC Canyon are both useful for their intended mission. Which one you choose should depend heavily on the tasks you demand from it.
With the base 2.5-liter inline-4, the Canyon does a fine job as an economy-car substitute. With 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque, it's working hard—though it's smooth and relatively quiet—to deliver up to 22 miles per gallon on the EPA combined cycle, and adequate power for highway driving. It's better in low-speed city driving, where it feels perky enough, even when it's pulling a moderately heavy load. In absolute terms, power, acceleration and economy aren't stellar, but compared to something like GM's own Chevy Cruze diesel, the 4-cylinder Canyon has the enormous advantage of an open bed. If you're not regularly hauling more than a full bed of rocks or power toys, it's worth a test drive.
The 4-cylinder's also the only version available with a manual shifter. Almost every other Canyon you see on a showroom lot will have a 6-speed automatic, which represents GM's usual good staging and shift quality.
If you're replacing a full-size towing appliance, there's really no reason to buy anything but the Canyon with the V-6. With 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, its performance outpaces some recent full-size-truck V-8s. Acceleration is quite brisk, and gas mileage is just a mile or two down from the 4-cylinder's combined EPA numbers. It's not as quiet or as smooth as we would want in a $30,000 vehicle, 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.
2016 GMC Canyon
Comfort & Quality
Very good front seats, and a cabin with lots of thoughtful touches, give the Canyon a leg up on the Tacoma and Frontier.
Full-size pickup trucks dominate the sales charts, but mid-sizers have carved out a useful niche, satisfying some very different needs. They're not so much about hauling full sheets of plywood and maximum payloads of people and cargo—instead, they're tow vehicles for weekend toys, open-bed toolboxes for odd jobs, even economy-car substitutes, in a pinch.
It's a wonder automakers can package all those abilities into one vehicle. When you consider what it takes in terms of cab styles and bed lengths to accommodate a wild variety of chores, you can appreciate better how well the Canyon and its twin, the Chevy Colorado, have turned out.
No matter which body style, the Canyon does a top-notch job of delivering passenger comfort, far better than the Frontier and Tacoma. For starters, the Canyon's higher hip point and better head room 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 tall center console houses the Canyon's shift lever; it sits a little close to the driver's knee, but otherwise, there's ample and useful storage in open and lidded bins, behind a pair of cupholders.
Fit and finish? It's fine for the price point and the class. By comparison, the current Tacoma and Frontier are embarrassed by the Canyon, whether it's trim quality or noise damping.
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 6-foot-2 bed that can be teamed with a bed extender to haul items 8-feet long. The four-door Canyon has a set of front-hinged rear doors, and comes with either that bed, or a shorter 5-foot-2 bed.
We wouldn't put ourselves in the back seats of the extended-cab Canyon, not for any real length of time. There's just not enough rear-seat space for adult knees and legs and, well, patience. A child safety seat will fit in the extended-cab model, however.
If toting more than two people is a regular chose, it's easier for everyone and everything to slide into the back seat of the Canyon crew cab. 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, if we're any example.
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.
2016 GMC Canyon
Crash tests aren't complete, but the Canyon comes with a standard rearview camera.
Crash-test scores aren't complete for the GMC Canyon, and what's there isn't as convincing as we'd hoped.
The NHTSA has crash-tested the extended-cab Canyon, and has given it an overall rating of four stars. In individual tests, the Canyon earned five stars for side-impact protection and four stars for front-crash protection.
The IIHS has only rated the truck for front-impact protection, where it merits a "Good" score. It also earns a "Basic" rating for its optional forward-collision warning system.
Safety features included in the 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 a forward-collision alert and a lane-departure warning system, both of which are firsts among mid-size trucks.
2016 GMC Canyon
The Canyon outpoints rivals with a touchscreen radio and navigation, in-truck wifi, and a bed made for lots of small chores.
The GMC Canyon is offered in three models: base, SLE, and SLT.
All Canyons come with climate control; a rearview camera; a power driver seat with manual recline; a stereo with a USB port; power windows; vinyl or cloth seats; and tilt steering. Some of the add-on features at this trim level include cruise control; an easy-lift tailgate; keyless entry; and a rear defogger.
These fleet-duty trucks will be a rare sight outside of work sites. More likely, you'll see trucks outfitted at the SLE level, where GMC adds a trio of USB ports; cruise control; keyless entry; tilt/telescope steering; steering-wheel audio controls; a sliding rear window; and a color touchscreen radio with GMC's IntelliLink infotainment interface and satellite radio. Buyers of the Canyon SLE can opt for Bose premium audio; automatic climate control; forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems; navigation; 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 Canyon SLT takes the SLE's standard features and adds power front seats with lumbar adjust. Options include navigation, Bose audio, and the forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems.
Other unique features for the 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 GMC Sierra; 13 configurable and four stationary load tie-downs in the bed; and an optional factory sprayed-in bed liner.
On the technology and features front, the Canyon matches its bigger brethren, with OnStar 4G LTE and built-in wi-fi hot spot available; an 8.0-inch touchscreen; 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 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.
2016 GMC Canyon
With fuel economy in the 21-mpg range, the Canyon's reasonably efficient, but not the huge leap forward we'd hoped for.
The GMC Canyon can earn very good fuel economy for a mid-size truck (that probably would have been considered full-size only a decade or so ago) especially in turbodiesel form.
At best, the full-sizer GMC Sierra earns a 19 mpg combined rating from the EPA. 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.
With all-wheel drive, the Canyon 4-cylinder automatic is 19/25/21 mpg.
Against its rivals, the Canyon outpoints the 4-cylinder manual Nissan Frontier at 21 mpg combined, while a base Toyota Tacoma 4-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 other trucks don't offer that fuel-saving feature.
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. With the 305-horsepower V-6, the rear-drive, automatic Canyon is rated at 18/26/21 mpg. Adding four-wheel drive drops those figures to 17/24/20 mpg.
A Tacoma V-6's best combined figure is 19 mpg, same as the Frontier.
For what it's worth, a 6-cylinder Ram 1500 automatic is EPA-rated at 21 mpg combined.