The 2021 GMC Canyon looks good and performs well. The Canyon is a mid-size pickup that shares DNA with the Chevy Colorado. It competes with Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier. It’s a good looking truck with good powertrain options and more configurations than most trucks this size. GMC rearranged the trim levels for the Canyon, adding a new AT4 off-road trim across the lineup. On the 2021 Canyon, it can be upgraded with an Off-Road Performance Edition exclusive to the AT4 with a self-leveling suspension, more skid plates, large off-road tires, an Eaton G80 locking rear differential and hill control.
The rest of the lineup rises in features and price from Elevation Standard, Elevation, AT4, then Denali. GMC gets the reputation of being the exclusive GM truck brand, but Chevy has blurred that line recently, and the Canyon’s basic cloth seats, plastic interior, and cramped extended cab don’t buck that trend. The Denali trim elevates the brand with faux wood, chrome, and a long list of standard features that includes heated and cooled seats. The base 2.5-liter inline-4 makes just 200 hp, which may seem better on paper than the 186-hp 2.8-liter turbodiesel inline-4. But it generates 369 lb-ft of torque to top the towing and efficiency scales in the Canyon with 7,700 pounds of towing capacity and an EPA-rated 30 mpg highway, and it’s expensive. The best option is a 3.6-liter V-6 with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The cabin is a comfortable place to be if not squeezed into the rear seats of the extended cab, which is better for storage than people. However, the crew cab is roomy and can be had with a 6-foot-2 bed or a smaller bed that’s a foot shorter. A 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard, but it doesn’t do automatic emergency braking. It can’t even be optioned, underscoring the less-than-perfect ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS. The 2021 GMC Canyon starts at $27,595, including $1,195 destination. That’s about $1,000 more than the Chevy Colorado WT. The top Denali trim equipped with a crew cab and long bed, and powered by a diesel engine costs $49,625. We like the new AT4 for around $40,000. Options range from heated and cooled leather seats to an 8.0-inch touchscreen.
The 2021 GMC Canyon carries its classic truck proportions well, even if it’s starting to show its age a little. The Canyon is timeless as a work boot, and its square lines prove that even a work boot can look good. The bulging wheel arches cut square, the bulging hood looming like an eyebrow over the wide rectangular grille, the corner bed – all of these classic GMC truck shapes look straight out of the Canyon. It doesn’t try to be macho like the Silverado, but it doesn’t blend into the crowd like the Ram 1500; the midsize Canyon carves a place for itself even among larger, more popular trucks. The AT4 trim stands out even more with red tow hooks, a larger grille and 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in knobby 31-inch all-terrain tires.
The 2021 GMC Canyon offers great powertrain options including a class-exclusive diesel option. For 2021, Canyon shoppers can choose from three engines, two powertrains, two transmissions. A V-6 with all-wheel drive is the best and most popular choice. The rear-wheel-drive truck can be had with all-wheel drive for about $3,700, depending on configuration. It is standard on the AT4. Built for capacity more than speed, the GMC Canyon can be as efficient as it is powerful. The 200-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 with a 6-speed automatic transmission in rear-wheel drive is as basic as it gets and will find its way into fleets more than anywhere else. With 191 lb-ft of torque, it only tows the 3,500 pounds that many crossover SUVs top.
The 3.6-liter V-6 makes 308 hp and 275 lb-ft and uses a quick 8-speed automatic transmission to tow up to 7,000 pounds. It’s a confident, capable powertrain that doesn’t sacrifice power or payload, but its efficiency is lacking against some rivals. For maximum towing and maximum efficiency on the highway, GMC offers a 2.8-liter turbodiesel inline-4 with a 6-speed. It only makes 186 hp so it can tow during passable moves, but its stubby 369 lb-ft of torque helps it tow up to 7,700 pounds. It gets 30 mpg highway, but with a top-up of more than $4,000 on all but the top Denali trim, it’ll take a long time and a lot of highway miles to recoup the cost. The Canyon bounces around unloaded like any leaf-suspension truck, but it’s quiet, especially in Denali trim, and it’s more composed and easier to maneuver than any full-size truck.
A wide range of powertrains on the 2021 Canyon gives customers a wide range of efficiency options. The most popular engine choice, the 3.6-liter V-6 with 8-speed automatic, is also the least efficient. The V-6 with all-wheel drive gets an EPA-rated 17 mpg city, 24 highway, 19 combined. By comparison, the Honda Ridgeline’s V-6 gets 21 mpg combined. The base 2.5-liter engine gets 19/25/22 mpg with rear-wheel drive, while the turbodiesel inline-4 reigns supreme with a 20/30/23 mpg rating. All-wheel drive deducts 1 mpg combined on both. Our AT4 test vehicle averaged 18.7 mpg during the week with us.
NHTSA gave the Canyon four stars in most crash test scores with five stars for side impact and three for rollover. Meanwhile, the IIHS repeated it with good ratings across the board, except for a “Marginal” rating for the passenger side small overlap test and a “Poor” rating for the headlights. Optional safety features include forward collision and lane departure warnings and parking sensors, but automatic emergency braking is not on the options list.
The 2021 GMC Canyon ranges from the utilitarian to the luxurious. The interior is less inspired, but not nearly as boring as the Chevy Colorado. Easy-to-use dials and knobs are stuck in the middle, but the tall and wide vents squash the tiny touchscreen. With four trims ranging from basic to baller, two cabs and two bed sizes, the 2021 Canyon casts a wide net. For seating five, and seating three in the back with comfort and 35.8 inches of legroom, the crew cab gets the job done. Available upgrades include everything from leather seats to chrome door handles.
The base Elevation Standard trim comes with an extended cab and 6-foot-2 long bed, while the available crew cab with a 5-foot-2 short bed costs $1,900 more. The crew cab can also be had with the long box, for an extra $600. The functional interior is dressed in black and silver details, while cloth seats and carpets add a certain simplicity. The extended cab’s rear seats fold up for more storage, but you can only seat two in the back on rigid, vertical rear seats with just 28.6 inches of legroom.
New for 2021, the AT4 trainer is off-road ready and with more features and options. The new trim levels don’t reflect much new when it comes to features. Power door locks and windows, cloth seats, a 4-way power driver’s seat and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard. We’d skip the $27,595 base height standard trim. Since the AT4 comes standard with popular upgrades like the V-6 and all-wheel drive, we’d go for a roomier crew cab and short box with the new $39,395 AT4 Cloth. The AT4 adds 31-inch DuraTrac all-terrain tires on 17-inch black aluminum wheels, red tow hooks, a larger grille, hill descent control, a power driver’s seat with lumbar control, and more available options. The $41,195 AT4 Leather entices with leather upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, power passenger seat, heated steering wheel and wireless smartphone charging. The Denali crew cab trim with the long bed and diesel engine costs $49,625. It comes with a Bose sound system, larger touchscreen and heated and cooled front seats.
The 2021 GMC Canyon is the right truck with every configuration available for your wants and needs. The diesel engine alone is an impressive and equally rare offering in the mid-size truck class with formidable power and leading fuel economy. GMC has learned well from its famous Sierra lineup, and luckily, the 2021 Canyon brings all those years of experience to bear with great capacity, timeless looks, and a great price to boot.
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