Pickup Review: 2022 GMC Canyon AT4

It drives well, but the cabin really needs an update

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Small trucks still aren’t a big deal, at least compared to the sales of their full-size cousins, but they can be tough little workhorses or recreational vehicles for those who don’t need the bulk of a big truck. GMC’s entry is my ride, the 2022 Canyon.

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I had the AT4 version, an off-road trainer that GMC offers on all of its trucks and SUVs. On the Canyon, it gets its prowess thanks to its stiffer-tuned suspension, automatic electronic rear differential lock, hill-climb control, and chubby 31-inch tires. Still to come, GMC promises an all-new Canyon with a rougher AT4X trim that will include a leveling suspension and more rocker and underbody protection, but for now, the AT4 is the one to tackle anything off-pave.

A mechanical twin to the Chevrolet Colorado—but better looking—the Canyon lineup is available in Extended Cab with a 6-foot-2 bed, or Crew Cab with a 5-foot-2 or 6-foot-2 bed, and in 4×2 or 4 ×4. The AT4 comes only in Crew and apparently only in all-wheel drive, in both bed lengths and with leather or cloth upholstery. I had the short bed with cowhide, which starts at $44,448 (opting for fabric saves you $2,200). There’s also the Elevation trim level below the AT4, and the Denali above it. The upcoming AT4X appears to be the equivalent of the current Colorado’s ZR2 off-road vehicle.

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My tester was further optioned with a number of features, including its spray-in bed linen, premium sound system, navigation, wireless charger (which isn’t big enough for many phones to fit into it, so check before you order) and accessories including its assistive steps and extra skid plates that brought it to $48,573 before shipping and taxes.

The standard engine, which I had, is a 3.6L V6 making 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic. The optional engine is a 2.8L four-cylinder diesel that produces 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic. The diesel gives the Canyon a towing capacity of between 7,550 and 7,700 lbs, depending on the truck’s configuration, while the gas engine goes as high as 7,000 lbs. But the diesel would have added $4,835 to my truck, as well as more expensive oil changes and the need to add diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), so consider the extra dollars vs. the benefits if you’re considering it.

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This version of the Canyon has been around since 2015, and while it still gets the job done, it’s showing its age. Although my truck was brand new, it felt old, and mainly because of its cabin. Some dash stitching and leather upholstery aren’t enough to make this dated, hard plastic-heavy interior look worth its price. And while it’s a minor complaint overall, when a vehicle starts at more than $40,000 and further edges near $50,000 like in my tester, I want my automatic climate control to be dual zone, not single. Perceived value is very important, and Canyon’s cabin doesn’t quite deliver on that. There’s even a key-operated ignition, with a separate fob for the electric locks.

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To its credit, the simple cabin includes simple controls, always a bonus as they help reduce distraction. There are buttons and dials for most functions, and a hard button to bring up the home screen on the eight-inch center touchscreen. That said, further access to the phone, audio, navigation and other menus requires you to tap the bottom of the screen. It sits deep into the dashboard and the icons are small. I have no problem with my spaghetti-style numbers, but those with fat fingers may find it harder to get it right.

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The Canyon also shys away from most of the driver assistance features that are becoming commonplace as standard or optional equipment on many vehicles. You get a tire pressure monitoring system, Teen Driver which allows you to set vehicle limits and the reversing camera which is mandatory on all new vehicles. But among high-tech items, the only ones available are forward collision warning (but not front emergency braking) and lane departure warning (but not back-up assist), and they’re bundled together for an extra $415 on the AT4.

The truck may look dated, but its powertrain is just fine. The 3.6L is a powerful little engine with strong acceleration, and the eight-speed automatic is a great match for it. All-wheel drive is activated by a steering wheel, and in addition to 4High and 4Low, which should only be used on loose terrain, there’s also a 4Auto setting that can be activated on pavement. I always like to see that setup on a truck – not everyone has it – because it’s handy for situations where four-wheel drive can be helpful, like alternating patches of bare asphalt and snow, or a road slick with rain. The steering is responsive, the brakes stop the truck safely, and the ride is firm but not unpleasant.

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My hope for Canyon is that GM updates it, but selectively. Keep that engine and transmission, but update the interior to look closer to the price charged for it. Keep the wonderfully simple controls, but add more storage space for small items – the door pockets are so small it wasn’t worth the trouble to mold them into the panel.

As big trucks get bigger, smaller trucks make more sense for more people. The Canyon faces some pretty stiff competition, both from midsize rivals Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, Honda Ridgeline, Jeep Gladiator and the redesigned Nissan Frontier; and now from the entry-level compactors of the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz, which do enough “trucky stuff” that they’re viable contenders against midsize models for many consumers. The Canyon is a good truck in many ways, but if it’s really going to make its mark, it needs to shout “Look at me!” with a little more to back it up than it does right now.

Jill McIntosh

Jil McIntosh specializes in new car reviews, automotive technology and antique cars, including the two 1940s vehicles in her garage.

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