The all-new Canyon lineup is better than ever. Is it the new segment leader?
The redesigned 2023 GMC Canyon is a much better midsize truck than its predecessor, which was on the market for eight model years beginning in 2015. Bigger inside and out, the third-generation Canyon, along with its Chevrolet Colorado corporate cousin, is considerably more refined on pavement and boasts vastly improved interior quality. Those two key elements alone make the Canyon an excellent daily driver, regardless of trim. Are we looking at the new segment leader?
It's possible, but the Canyon has two new competitors on the way - the redesigned-for-2024 Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma - so the jury is still out. GMC has designed and engineered a brilliant truck whose shortcomings are so minor we found ourselves getting nitpicky.
GMC flew us out to one of America's best off-roading spots, Asheville, North Carolina, where there are gorgeous rolling hills and seriously muddy terrain. CarBuzz drove two Canyon trims, each aimed at very different buyers: the luxurious Denali and the AT4X off-road animal. We'll outright admit the AT4X is a lot more fun to drive. The muddy aftermath photos below speak for themselves. Time in the Denali was limited to scenic mountain roads crowded with motorcycle enthusiasts enjoying a beautiful Sunday ride, but we think the Denali has a lot going for it.
With a host of standard safety and driver-assist systems, four standard driving modes, and class-leading power, is the new Canyon the complete midsize truck package?
GMC used to be known as the brand selling rebadged Chevys at a premium. That's all in the past. The new Canyon has its own unique design language that we describe as a mix of rugged and handsome. It looks equally good parked on the driveway and the backcountry. Four trims are offered: Elevation, AT4, Denali, and AT4X.
The Elevation is the so-called base trim, but it comes packed with standard features. It's not a bare-bones work truck like the 'WT' trim offered on the Colorado. All Canyons come with LED headlights and daytime running lamps, with LED fog lamps on all but the base trim. GMC thankfully didn't go overboard on the Denali's chrome, limiting it to the grille, side mirrors, and assist steps. Only a crew cab with a standard bed configuration is offered across the range. The Elevation and AT4 get a set of 18-inch wheels, but the AT4 gets bespoke Dark Grey items. The Denali packs 20s, and the AT4X receives 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch Mud Terrain tires for obvious reasons. We'll get to that shortly.
There's also the AT4X Edition 1, though it wasn't on hand to sample, and when it does become available, it will be in extremely limited quantities. If you're willing to shell out the dough, GMC has added an LED light bar, black safari bar, red recovery hooks, a winch, and a performance front skid plate to the AT4X for the Edition 1. There are also 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels and reconfigurable bed rails.
The Canyon is taller and wider than its predecessor, and this translates directly to its handsome stance. Dimensions common to all models include a 213.2-inch length, a 72.4-inch width without mirrors, and a 131.4-inch wheelbase. Height differs, with the Elevation and AT4 coming in at 79.8 inches and the Denali at 80.4 inches. The AT4X is the tallest, at 81.6 inches. This is longer, slimmer, and taller than the outgoing model - and the wheelbase is over three inches longer in the new model.
Ground clearance has also increased and now ranges from 9.6 inches on the two base models to 10.5 and 10.7 inches for the Denali and AT4X, respectively. Just because they don't have the 'AT4X' badge, doesn't mean the three lower trims aren't highly capable off-roaders with a healthy 33.3-degree approach angle and a 22.3 departure. GMC decided to remove the front bumper's air dam to improve approach angles.
For the first time, the Canyon has an optional power sunroof. The well-designed MultiStow Tailgate storage system is also new and increases the bed's functionality. Like the Colorado, the Canyon's bed has up to 17 tie-downs, a 110-volt power outlet, and an optional spray-on bedliner.
It's a night and day comparison between the old Canyon and the new. The cheap plastics are mostly gone, and there are some soft-touch materials throughout, though we still think GMC could have gone a bit further to make the cabin more befitting a truck that can cost nearly $60k.
It's a nice interior - don't get us wrong - but it does not move the segment forward as a whole. There are some nice textured materials across the dashboard throughout the trim range, unlike in the lower Colorado trims. GMC also pointed out to us that each trim has its own unique character. For example, the Denali has some beautiful laser-etched wood trim panels and high-quality leather upholstery. The AT4X boasts a lovely Obsidian Rush interior with white accents and 'AT4X' embroidery on the seatbacks.
As it should, the Denali comes especially well-equipped with goodies like a heated steering wheel, power-heated and ventilated front seats, a seven-speaker Bose audio system with an amplifier, and a multicolor head-up display.
The dashboard's ergonomics are excellent but, as we noted with the Colorado, we don't like the fact that the headlights are now controlled via the touchscreen instead of a regular switch or button. We imagine some owners will adapt, but this will probably be a source of some controversy. Based on our experience in the Denali, we found this to be problematic because we had to wait for the system to automatically turn on the LEDs when driving through a dark and narrow mountain tunnel. There was a delay of a few seconds before they illuminated, and this could be a potential safety issue. Fortunately, visibility at the time wasn't awful, but this is still something GMC needs to address.
The rear seats offer abundant headroom, but there's not as much legroom as we'd like. Still, this is a midsize truck, so we had to keep our expectations in check; kids won't have any issues back there, but tall adults will disagree. Once the new Ranger and Tacoma are launched we'll have a more accurate comparison to make as to whether the Canyon is competitive here.
All Canyons come standard with an 11.3-inch center touchscreen equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Elevation and AT4 have an eight-inch driver's display, and this is upgraded to an 11-inch screen on the Denali and AT4X. There's also a 6.3-inch head-up display, but it's only for the latter two trims.
The configurable infotainment system never had any delays, and we found the menus generally easy to navigate. We really enjoyed driver-focused tech, like the ten cameras placed around the truck that will come in handy for many types of situations. GMC equipped the AT4X we drove with a sort of secret off-road weapon: HD Surround Vision is standard, but the optional waterproof underbody cameras with a washing system are a game-changer. As we were driving through insanely muddy and difficult off-road terrain, this camera was immensely helpful in ensuring there was sufficient ground clearance. It was also entertaining to watch the camera's lens get caked in mud via the off-road display.
There's only one engine across the trim range in a single state of tune: a small but potent 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 310 horsepower and a class-leading 430 lb-ft of torque. Fun fact: the Canyon has more power and torque than the 2023 Toyota Tacoma V6, Ford Ranger EcoBoost, Nissan Frontier V6, and Jeep Gladiator V6. It also beats those four with a class-leading towing capability of 7,700 pounds.
That power is routed to either 2WD or 4WD systems through an eight-speed automatic transmission to an open differential on the Elevation, a limited-slip differential on AT4 and Denali, and a power-locking front and rear differential on the AT4X.
We drove the Denali and AT4X but had a lot more time (and fun) in the latter. The Denali is comfortable, luxurious, and capable on-road. Its suspension absorbed small and medium-sized bumps just fine, and never for a moment did we feel like we were in a truck. It's clear GMC went to great lengths to distinguish the Canyon from the basic Colorado WT. But, we wouldn't dare take any of the three lower trims to the off-road route GMC designed for the AT4X portion of the event.
We drove high into the mountains where the trails are only passable by the right type of vehicle. The AT4X's 10.7 inches of ground clearance, MultiMatic DSSV shocks, underbody skid plates, 36.9-degree approach angle, and those 33-inch MT tires prevented us from getting stranded in some pretty hairy situations.
The drive mode selector next to the gear shifter has five modes, but this terrain required Off-Road, Terrain, and the AT4X-exclusive Baja. Off-Road is self-explanatory, and selecting Terrain makes things like low-speed rock crawling a breeze. We did some high-speed off-roading, aka Baja Mode, on the route's first leg, where the terrain lacked big rocks, branches, and deep puddles.
Engineers wanted to prove the AT4X's capabilities by having us re-enter Off-Road Mode before flooring the truck through a large and deep puddle. Hesitation would have resulted in becoming stuck in the muddy mess that only another AT4X could pull us out of. We floored it, and the AT4X owned that patch of earth. No matter the obstacles and terrain, this truck showed zero signs of difficulty. It might just be the new midsize truck champion, foreshadowing the arrival of the Sierra AT4X AEV.
It's easy for us to declare that the GMC Canyon is our new favorite midsize truck, and the Chevy Colorado isn't far behind. The difference between the two boils down to packaging, engine output, and pricing. You can't go wrong with either. The Canyon Denali will fit the bill for luxury truck shoppers, but even the Elevation comes so well-equipped it's hard to label it as the base model.
Stepping up to the AT4 will satisfy most off-road fans thanks to its standard transfer case shield, rear-locking differential, two-speed transfer case, and hill descent control. The AT4X's capabilities are vast, and we suspect the majority of buyers won't use most of them. Hard-core off-road enthusiasts will be thrilled, though.
We'd like to see headlight controls moved out of the infotainment system in favor of an analog button, but that's a minor complaint. Rear-seat legroom was also a little disappointing. The Canyon's biggest strengths are in two key areas: off-road capabilities and overall refinement. Its widened track, excellent dashboard layout, outstanding exterior styling, and a long list of standard features make it a winner. But, there's a new Tacoma and Ranger just around the corner...
The cheapest Canyon you can buy is the 2WD Elevation at $36,900, excluding destination. 4WD costs $3,300. The rest of the trims are 4WD-only, and the AT4 kicks off at $43,900, the Denali costs $51,000, and the AT4X at $55,500. The AT4X Edition 1 costs a hefty $63,350. To compare, you can get the cheapest Colorado for $29,200 with 2WD and $32,500 in 4WD guise.
The new Canyon is a much better truck than before, as GMC has done a solid job differentiating it from the Colorado, despite their shared powertrains and platform. The Colorado lacks a luxury equivalent to the Canyon Denali, while the AT4X is similar but not identical to the Colorado Z71. The Canyon's more premium interior appointments and overall packaging are great, but, despite GMC stating the price is worth it, we're not entirely convinced.
But if you desire the Cadillac of midsize trucks, there's no better choice right now than the Canyon Denali. And until the likes of the Toyota Tacoma Trailhhunter arrives, the AT4X is the class king of the off-road wild bunch.