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2023 GMC Canyon Review: Ready for an Off-Roading Adventure

Photo credit: dennizn / Shutterstock

The 2023 GMC Canyon steps out onto the trails with more off-road capability across the lineup. The redesigned Canyon mid-size pickup truck shares its bones with the Chevy Colorado, but GM has positioned the Canyon as the more off-road ready truck. It stacks up against the Colorado, the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, Jeep Gladiator, and Nissan Frontier, among others. GMC has given the Canyon a good start with more standard safety and convenience features.

Most everything is new on the 2023 Canyon, with a more upright look with a taller ground clearance befitting of its status as the off-road-ready mid-size truck. That applies across the lineup of Elevation, AT4, and Denali trims, but GMC drives it home with the new AT4X, a Chevy Colorado ZR2-alike that rides higher than other grades, and comes with three skid plates and uplifted front and rear bumpers for better approach and departure angles.

The Canyon looks more imposing in its new generation. Each version wears a wide grille that straps to the front end with visual tie-downs at the corners. At the top, it’s also anchored by slim LED running lights that point down to the front skid plate. Most versions duplicate that shape within 15 rectangles for their grille, but the Denali snaps taut bands of metallic trim across its grid. Down the sides a deeply stamped midsection gives the Canyon abs, while the upturned shoulder line at the bedwall leads into gently boxed fenders. The rear end gets rounded C-shaped taillights that bracket a massive GMC logo inset on an embossed panel, underscored by “Canyon” lettering.

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The Canyon has posted big gains in road manners. It’s sprightly, thanks to a high-output 2.7-liter turbo-4 that it shares with the bigger Sierra 1500 and the Chevy Colorado ZR2. While the Colorado offers different outputs, the Canyon gets the top version only, rated at 310 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. Though it weighs anywhere from 4,430 to 5,210 pounds, depending on the trim, the Canyon has a punchy low-end response, with a growl that’s refined for a 4-cylinder engine, and doesn’t have to be tamed by active noise cancellation.

It’s geared well to answer most needs through an 8-speed automatic, but we wish GMC would enable manual gear control in Drive from the shift-lever toggle; driver’s choice only comes when the shift lever is placed in Low. In its normal drive range, the transmission can linger too long in low gears when speeds vary widely, like on twisting roads.

A dial on the console changes all manner of shift and throttle and traction systems in the Canyon through four modes: Normal, Tow/Haul, Off-Road, and Terrain, which acts as a low-speed cruise control for rock-crawling. A fifth mode, Baja, comes only on the ATX4 (see below).

On all but the AT4X, the Canyon’s rear suspension uses leaf springs, while the independent front suspension features coil-over shocks. The latest GMC mid-size pickup handles much better as a result of its wider track and its improved body structure. The suspension generates some chop when it rumbles over divots in the pavement or ruts in the dirt. Though they piston over bumps and scrabble for traction, the Elevation and AT4 seem flatter and better controlled than Denali versions, which get bigger 275/60R 20-inch wheels and sit higher, with 10.5 inches of ground clearance.

Across all versions, vastly improved steering response generates stable and predictable inputs, as we found rolling through paved switchbacks and forestry paths around Asheville, North Carolina. The Elevation and AT4, no surprise, have a better sense of the road, with their lower ride height and smaller wheels and tires. They’re the best choices if the Canyon’s used as a light-work-duty commuter vehicle, as so many have been used in the past.

Only the base Canyon Elevation has rear-wheel drive standard; four-wheel drive is an option. All other versions have four-wheel drive standard. The Elevation gets a single-speed transfer case, while AT4 and Denali models get a limited-slip rear differential. GMC says the Canyon can tow up to 7,700 pounds, a big gain for those who pull trailers, and its bed payload has risen to 1,640 pounds.

While the Elevation has 9.6 inches of ground clearance like the AT4, it’s the AT4 Canyon that presents the best choice for drivers who go off-road more than occasionally. It shares the 18-inch wheels and 32-inch 265/65 tires with the Elevation, and like the Elevation (and Denali), the AT4 has a 33.3-degree approach angle, the best in the lineup. With identical powertrain output, the AT4 has the limited-slip diff to pull it more confidently through unpaved terrain.

The Canyon AT4X is GMC’s answer to the Chevy Colorado ZR2. The Canyon AT4X rides higher than other grades, due in part to a 3.0-inch factory lift that enables a ground clearance of 10.7 inches. It also comes with three skid plates and uplifted front and rear bumpers for better approach and departure angles. AT4X adds front and rear lockers, and Multimatic internal-bypass shocks to handle extreme compression off-road while still allowing enough stiffness for on-road comfort. It rides on 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch mud-terrain tires, gets a specific Baja mode for high-speed cruising off-road, and has an approach angle of 36.9 degrees.

There are compromises. Payload drops to 1,250 pounds, and tow ratings sink to 6,000 pounds. But the ATX4 rumbles through the woods with go-anywhere attitude. Our test drive chewed up a half-day’s worth of muddy pits more than two feet deep, executing tight squeezes through saplings, and hardly needing the Edition 1 package it wore, with all the off-road gear—from safari bars to winches on the front bumper and 17-inch beadlock capable wheels.

Gas mileage in the Canyon? It’s not grand. It earns EPA ratings of 18 mpg city, 23 highway, 20 combined in the base model with rear-wheel drive. The 4WD Canyon checks in at 17/21/19 mpg, which results in its score of 1 here. Add on the mud/terrain tires of the AT4X edition, and fuel economy dips to 17/20/18 mpg.

Crash tests will tell a lot about the Canyon’s depth. The new Canyon likely will perform better in crash tests than the vehicle it replaces, but we won’t know until the NHTSA and the IIHS weigh in. GMC equips the Canyon with standard driver-assist tech proven to mitigate or avoid crashes. That includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic high beams, and active lane control. Blind-spot monitors, rear automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and a surround-view camera system are options.

Outward vision is OK in the Canyon, but the height of the tailgate and the short rear-door windows don’t grant the wide-open view a regular-cab pickup might offer. In the balance, GMC offers a passel of cameras so drivers can gauge their off-road progress—an under-vehicle view is included, even, but in our off-road driving the included camera washer wasn’t up to the chore of flushing all the grit from the lens.

Each trim features a distinct interior as well, such as black-on-black in the Elevation trim, or the two-tone white-on-black with red accents in the AT4X. The Denali beams with laser-etched wood trim, quilted soft-touch panels on the dash, and leather upholstery. The cant of the air vents at the sides of the dash and on some versions, a large Bose speaker in the center of the dash, give the Canyon dash a sort of sunken chest.

Different trims have distinct splash screens; on the AT4X the GMC logo sweeps across the digital cluster and touchscreen for a marquee moment. The digital gauges can be dialed from a complicated display of pitch, roll, and other off-road data, to a simple one with a plain dial and ancillary lights. Despite the large 11.3-inch standard touchscreen integrated into the dash, there are still temperature and volume dials, climate control buttons, and other buttons for mechanicals. A mechanical gear shifter remains in the console, though it’s been shifted to the right to give the driver easier access to the drive mode dial.

The Canyon’s bed’s the star here; the seats still need some work. Step into the 2023 Canyon and there’s an Immediate sense of transformation; we’re in a different era from the hoary old truck. But those differences are mostly due to width and to better interior trim. In the new Canyon, the wheelbase stretches 3.1 inches longer than before to 131.4 inches, due to the front axle being moved forward. It’s 213.2 inches long, and wider as well—about 10 inches wider, according to GMC. But interior space remains about the same as the prior crew-cab Canyon.

In the front seats, the redesigned Canyon in base Elevation spec wears a basic black uniform of cloth and plastic trim. The seats have good bottom cushion support, but they angle inward toward the center just slightly, which means some bigger drivers will have to put their leg over the seat bolster to use the dead pedal. Somber as it is, the Elevation does have a big touchscreen, lots of console storage, and a strip of toggle switches for vital functions like one that lowers all the windows at once (it doesn’t raise them all, though). Tilt steering helps with the seating position, but in this spec it doesn’t telescope.

Finishes get richer in the AT4 edition, with soft stitched dash trim that relieves the drabness; it turns to quilted stitching paired with etched walnut in Denali editions, which get heated and cooled front leather seats, too. The ATX4 wears wilder white-and-red-striped leather, which begs to get filthy. And will.

The Canyon’s back seat hasn’t made much progress. It takes some footwork to get in, thanks to small door cuts, and the high bench comes with seatbacks that are fixed to the bedwall. A bump-up in the headliner grants 6-footers headroom, but there’s little toe room and knees will graze against the front seatbacks. The Canyon has just 34.7 inches of rear legroom, smaller than most crossover SUVs.

The Canyon makes the 5-foot-2 bed the focus of its efforts. It sports eight tie downs, and nine more can be configured. It also has indents for tires in its bedwall, stake pockets, and a tailgate with a 4.0-inch deep, 45-inch long storage area with a drain that doubles as a toolbox or a cooler. The tailgate can be positioned halfway closed to hold longer loads of up to 500 pounds.

The Canyon’s full list of features suits its logo thanks to plentiful standard equipment, good infotainment, and a strong list of off-road-ready options. It’s no longer a great value, and the warranty coverage is strictly average at 3-year/36,000-miles with one free scheduled service visit.

The Canyon Elevation with rear-wheel drive starts at $38,395, which is about $8,000 more than the outgoing model with a crew cab and short box. It comes much better equipped, too, with an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, an 11.3-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone capability and an infotainment system running on Google.

Options include a sunroof, a Bose seven-speaker sound system, an 11.0-inch instrument cluster, a 6.3-inch head-up display, and a 10-camera projection system including a waterproof underbody camera with a washer. Four-wheel drive costs $3,300. The $45,395 Canyon AT4 suits most drivers with its 18-inch wheels (which can be upgraded to 20-inch wheels), an off-road suspension with 2.0-inch lift, heated front seats, a locking rear differential, and options for power front seats, cooled front seats, leather upholstery, a power sunroof, wireless smartphone charging, and skid plates.

The $52,495 Canyon Denali has standard 20-inch wheels, Bose audio, a head-up display, side steps, a heated steering wheel, and cooled front seats. It also has a telescoping steering wheel, which isn’t available on lower trims. The Denali usually is the most expensive version in the GMC lineup—but now that distinction goes to the $56,995 Canyon AT4X, which has a front locking differential, 17-inch off-road tires, a spray-on bedliner, and available underbody cameras; the Edition 1 adds specific trim and features and costs $63,350.

The post 2023 GMC Canyon Review: Ready for an Off-Roading Adventure appeared first on The Torque Report.

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