Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 GMC Canyon SLE 4WD Crew Cab

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

For most of us auto writers living in urban or suburban settings, a pickup truck assignment is a mixed blessing.  On the up side, it means an opportunity to clean out basements and garages and get a load of junk off to the dump.  On the down side, it means being burdened with an oversized vehicle that is fuel thirsty, less comfortable than a car and challenging to fit in many urban settings.

Enter the GMC Canyon (and its Chevy Colorado twin).  Here GM has reintroduced a pickup truck that is smaller than the full-size Sierra/Silverado siblings, but larger and more rugged than the compact trucks of days gone by.  When stepping up and into the Canyon, the first thing one notices is just how right-sized this rig is.

Some may miss the rumbly gruffness of a big, lumpy truck engine – I did not.

The next thing that catches a driver’s attention is how well GMC has sorted the Canyon’s interior.

With the All-Terrain package, the unique and stylish bucket seats are comfortable and supportive, and present the driver to a dashboard layout that is sensible and looks really good. Large, round analogue gauges with white numerals and red accents are easy to read and flank a crisp digital output that cycles through loads of information including everything from the health of the vehicle to navigation directions.

The dashboard’s centre stack is highlighted by an 8-inch touchscreen with bright, clean graphics and sensible operation (though it should be said that the touchscreen was resistant to cooperating with my gloved fingers).  Volume, tuning and climate controls are operated via large, accessible knobs and buttons, and the whole thing feels like it is made of quality materials.  It’s all very un-truck-like in fact.

Very un-truck-like describes much of the driving experience too.  The on-road ride is surprisingly compliant; especially considering the All-Terrain package includes an off-road suspension set up.  There’s a solidity to the structure of the Canyon that omits any of the shuddering or shimmying normally associated with stiffly sprung pickups as they crash over big bumps and potholes.

The steering, too, is sharper than I can ever recall experiencing in a pickup truck before.  With just enough heft and precision – even on centre – through the thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel the Canyon could almost fool a driver into believing he is at the helm of a pricey sedan and not a rugged utility vehicle.

Around town and even at highway speeds, both road and wind noise is surprisingly well suppressed, again mimicking a car more than a truck.  And even when the engine does make itself heard, the DOHC, direct-injected 3.6L V6 emits a refined snarl that sounds like it belongs in a new Cadillac, which is essentially where this engine came from (tuned here for better low-end grunt of course).  Some may miss the rumbly gruffness of a big, lumpy truck engine – I did not. 

Those right-sized dimensions are especially appreciated when parking the Canyon.  At 85 mm lower than a comparable GMC Sierra, this smaller truck is much more garage-friendly.  And should your garage be as cluttered as mine, you’ll appreciate the back up camera giving a clear view of the junk you don’t want to run over when backing into place.

The Canyon is even decently fuel efficient, with an indicated average during our test (through horribly cold, snowy weather with 2/3 urban driving) in the low 13 L/100 km range.  This is certainly on par or better than most mid-sized crossovers and SUVs under similar circumstances.  The government figures say it’ll do 13.5 L/100 km in the city and 9.8 on the highway.

GMC wants to conquer buyers who have shied away from big lumbering trucks in the past, but appreciate the utility they afford.  The level of sophistication and refinement baked into the Canyon goes a long way to luring those folks into the fold and makes this usually spoiled writer not mind his assignment one bit.  Plus, a few of the neighbourhood ladies suggested that it’s a hot looking truck too.  So there’s always that perk.

All this is fine and well for us city-slicker softies.  But what about those folks who need a truck – a real, honest-to-goodness, body-on-frame mule – to get the real work done?  The tradespeople.  The country folk.  Is this “little” Canyon truck enough truck for them?

Last year my friend Brad, his lovely wife Cheryl and their growing brood of young children sold their suburban Toronto-area home for a farm in rural Niagara.  Always one to embrace a farm lifestyle, Brad has made his dream come true.  And despite the endless hard work associated with starting out any new business venture, this family has truly risen to the trials and tribulations of their agrarian existence.

But it also means carefully managing the family finances and pinching pennies (mostly to buy more livestock it seems) is a necessity now more than ever.  As such, Brad has had to make do with the family vehicles they had from their former life.  That means Cheryl’s minivan sees double duty as the ‘farm truck’, stuffed full of hay bales from time to time.

If anyone could use a truck – and be in a position to properly evaluate its usefulness – it’s Brad.

Upon my arrival, without even giving me time to turn the engine off, Brad was climbing in the Canyon eager to go pick up a load of hay bales from another farm down the road.

His first impressions of the truck were very positive, remarking on how impressively quiet it is.  And down the road, his friend was all too pleased to put the Canyon’s four-wheel-drive system to the test by taking us on a tour of his farm’s back acreage.  The GMC’s ride across the snow-blown fields and down the forest trails was impressively compliant, never missing a beat, even when driven a little quicker than was necessary, bumping over small drainage ditches and all.

With our back-40 sojourn complete, it was time to put the Canyon to work.  Backed up to the barn, ten hay bales were tossed into the box, fitting easily.  When loading and unloading the box, the steps fashioned into the corners of the rear bumpers were thoroughly appreciated.  A quick stop at the feed mill for some chicken feed and we returned to Brad’s farm.

After making good use of the truck for an afternoon our hard-working farmer asserted that the Canyon is a perfect-size truck for his small-farm needs.  The added maneuverability afforded by the Canyon’s size enabled it to fit between objects around the farmyard that a larger truck wouldn’t manage.  And although the snow picked up to a point where we decided against trying, Brad is confident that the Canyon would have enough clearance to be useful driving into the woodlot behind his fields.

Sure, larger ranches might require larger trucks, but for this application – and for the needs of many tradespeople, if they’re honest – the GMC Canyon is an ideal choice.

Despite so many positive attributes, all was not perfect with our test truck.  The infotainment system repeatedly got stuck showing information for a track from the iPod that had played several minutes earlier.  Worse still, one time the whole screen remained black, not showing the back-up camera information or anything else for that matter.  Turning the vehicle off and back on rectified this one-time problem.

In terms of driving, the only complaint that came up was directed at the six-speed automatic, which is slow to shift and often reluctant to swap to a lower cog when urged to do so.  This is surely in the interest of fuel savings, but can be frustrating when a pretty serious stab of the accelerator is required for even moderate acceleration.

If the new GMC Canyon proves to be as solidly built over its lifetime as it felt during my week with it, it will prove to be a sensibly sized alternative to the too-large full-size trucks for many applications – both recreational and professional.  Based on the impressions of this suburbanite and my farming friend, GMC definitely has a winner with the 2015 Canyon.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/160,000 km powertrain; 6 years/160,000 km corrosion perforation; 5 years/160,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Chevrolet Colorado
Honda Ridgeline
Nissan Frontier
Toyota Tacoma

Model Tested 2015 GMC Canyon SLE 4WD Crew Cab LWB
Base Price $36,200
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $41,725
Optional Equipment
All-Terrain Package, $1,440; Off-Road Assist Steps, $780; SLE Convenience Package, $550; Spray-on Bed liner, $525; Heavy-Duty Trailering Package, $275; Engine Block Heater, $100; Wheel Locks, $60.