Driven: 2023 GMC Canyon AT4X Is A Midsize Truck Done Right

Test Drive / 7 Comments

The Canyon's smart features far outweigh its flaws, even though it's not cheap.

The 2023 GMC Canyon is all-new, and it is now available with the rugged AT4X trim level that we've enjoyed on other GMC products. Like its corporate sibling, the Chevrolet Colorado (which we recently tested in Trail Boss guise), the Canyon ditches its V6 and diesel engine options in favor of a single turbocharged four-pot. With Toyota finally introducing a new Tacoma with hybrid power, is this new Canyon up to the task of challenging it for midsize glory?

CarBuzz was loaned a Canyon AT4X for a rather odd circumstance: moving house. A midsize off-road truck may not be the ideal vehicle for emptying out an apartment, but since it's what showed up at our doorstep the week our lease ended, it became our moving vehicle. Believe it or not, GMC's smallest pickup did an admirable impression of a moving van.

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Exterior: X-treme Cool

Each Canyon trim level gets unique styling, injecting some different flavors depending on your style. All trims come standard with a two-inch lift kit, but the AT4X takes it a step further with a three-inch lift. Riding on 33-inch mud-terrain tires, the AT4X boasts 10.7 inches of ground clearance with an impressive 36.9-degree approach angle. Buyers who crave even more impressive off-road performance should wait for the AT4X AEV Edition, which gets 35-inch tires that bump the ground clearance to 12.2 inches.

Even without the AEV Edition, this truck includes some impressive off-road equipment like Multimatic DSSV dampers, front and rear e-lockers, and underbody skid plates. If you needed any further proof of the Canyon's toughness, those dampers are painted gold and have little buff dudes posing on them. The Edition 1 Package adds nearly $8,000 to the price, but it equips the Canyon with re-configurable bed rails, 17-inch beadlock capable wheels, a Safari Bar, a light bar in the grille, underbody cameras both fore and aft with a wash function, and a winch.

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Interior: X-tra Flashy

The cabin only comes in one color combination, and it matches the bravado on the exterior perfectly. Black and white leather seats with red accents feature heating and ventilation with the ability to detect an occupant in the passenger seat and turn off automatically, and there are white soft-touch areas to offset the dark interior.

There's a lot of smart technology, including a standard 11.3-inch infotainment system with Google built-in, including Google Assistant. The system quickly responds to a "Hey Google" command and can answer almost any question you ask it.

An eight-inch gauge cluster comes standard on the Elevation and AT4 trims, but AT4X and Denali get a larger 11-inch display that can show Google Maps in full. The AT4X is further decked out with a surround-view camera system, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, and a 6.3-inch multicolor head-up display. There are one or two cheap surfaces, and only the driver's window features auto-up and auto-down, but this is otherwise a premium cabin that feels expensive. A heated steering wheel is standard on the AT4X trim, as is heating and ventilation for the front seats.

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Powertrain: Four Is Enough

We had no complaints with the one-choice-only 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Unlike the Colorado, which is available with a less powerful engine, the Canyon comes standard with the High-Output version of this engine, producing 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque. Plenty of torque combined with a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission never left us wanting more cylinders, though the four-cylinder emits a sound that is just ok.

You can tow up to 7,700 pounds in the Canyon, but this off-road-focused AT4X trim is limited to 6,000 lbs (and 5,500 lbs if you've added the Edition 1 Package). Fuel economy also takes a hit due to the tires and mechanical kit that make this an off-roader. A lesser Canyon with 4WD can achieve 17/21/19 mpg city/highway/combined, but the AT4X drops to 16/20/18 mpg. We saw just above that in a week of driving.

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Driving Impressions: Rugged Meets Luxury

Thanks to those impressive DSSV dampers, the ride in the Canyon AT4X was smoother compared to what we observed in the Colorado Trail Boss. Absorbing road impacts seems to be a wonderful side effect when tuning a truck for grueling off-roading. We didn't notice too much road noise from the mud-terrain tires, meaning that the AT4X offers few compromises for street driving. Though we didn't have a chance to get it muddy during our week-long test, this truck already proved its toughness during our first drive.

The AT4X isn't all about luxury like the Denali is, but it's not that far off in terms of luxury features - the difference between the two top trims includes carpeted floor mats on the Denali over all-weather floor liners on the AT4X, and the off-roading kit on the latter. Buyers who aren't planning on going off the beaten path will want to check out the Denali.

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Practicality: Sufficient, Not Spacious

When looking at vehicles that make moving house easy, one assumes a full-size or Heavy Duty truck is the only usable option. This isn't necessarily true. The 2023 Canyon is only available with a short bed, which measures 61.7 inches in length and width ranging from 45.5 inches between the wheelhousings to just over 58 inches. This meant our queen-size mattress needed to be laid down on its side. Aside from this minor shortcoming, the Canyon's bed ended up being large enough to haul our other furniture with zero issues. The cab, however, was a different story.

Loading up smaller objects into the back seat proved tricky since the area back there is pretty tight. This Canyon actually has less headroom than the model it replaces, and legroom is the same - that is to say, it's just adequate. For moving purposes, there's little space to shove boxes into the footwell. We even had to lay down towels to stack boxes on the seats, since lifting the seats up does not create a flat load floor. If you plan to frequently use the back seats for people or cargo, a full-size Sierra 1500 would be the better option.

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Pricing & Verdict: High Starting Point

The 2023 Canyon starts at $36,900 for the Elevation trim in 2WD ($40,200 with 4WD). That's more expensive than the Chevy Colorado, which offers a base Work Truck trim for under $30,000, but you do get a lot more as standard with the GMC Canyon. Even the 2024 Ford Ranger starts at under $33k. Stepping up to the AT4X adds a more rugged appearance and off-road capability, along with loads of features, for $55,500, while the Denali gets the luxury goodies minus the off-road kit for $51,000.

If you plan to stay on the pavement, we'd stop at the Denali, but the AT4X bundles all the great stuff from that trim with proper off-road goodies. Toyota has not yet announced pricing for the new Tacoma, including the comparable TRD Pro, but the current model is around $5k cheaper than the Canyon AT4X. We also know the latest Ford Ranger Raptor is similarly priced at $55,365, but it makes almost 100 more hp from its twin-turbo V6. The Canyon AT4X is a solid midsize truck, but we're not sure the price allows it to beat the competition outright.

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