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2016 GMC Canyon Test Drive Review

For 2016, GMC makes a few changes to the Canyon that might have you scrambling to find a leftover 2015 on your local dealer’s lot.

6.3 /10
Overall Score

Not everyone needs a full-size truck, and until recently, only Nissan and Toyota offered alternatives. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the re-launched Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are hot sellers in what was a stale midsize truck segment. Until Ford and Ram join the party, General Motors offers the only “domestic” alternative.

Look and Feel

6/ 10

Small pickup trucks aren’t small anymore. They’re midsize, and while they still can’t match a full-size truck in terms of horsepower, torque, dimensions, payload rating, and towing capacity, they deliver impressive capability at a significant discount.

Until last year, most automakers had given up on the midsize truck segment. If not for the debut of the GMC Canyon and its corporate sibling, the Chevrolet Colorado, only Nissan and Toyota would’ve remained in the game.

After taking a couple of years off, General Motors has re-launched its midsize pickups, and they’ve received a warm reception from truck buyers. Now, for 2016, GMC makes a few changes to the Canyon that might have you scrambling to find a leftover 2015 on your local dealer’s lot.

This year, GMC has reduced the Canyon’s powertrain warranty by 40,000 miles, eliminated half the free service visits during the first couple of years of ownership, and now charges $395 extra if you want metallic paint. On a positive note, Apple CarPlay technology debuts, transforming the optional IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment system into a version of your smartphone. If you have an iPhone, that is.

Otherwise, aside from a new 2.8-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder engine slated to join the lineup later in the year, the Canyon remains the same as it was in 2015.

You can get one equipped in Extended or Crew cab body styles, with a 4-cylinder or V6 engine, with 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive, and in SL, Canyon, SLE, or SLT trim. Prices range from $21,880 with no upgrades to more than double that with every upgrade. One nice thing about getting a Canyon is that GMC dealers offer a long menu of GearOn cargo-carrying options as well as other lifestyle accessories, making it easy to tailor the truck to your preferences.

My test truck is a Canyon SLT Crew cab with 4-wheel drive and a short cargo bed. Equipped with Emerald Green metallic paint, a Driver Alert option package, a Bed Protection option package, a premium sound system, a navigation system, and side assist rails, the price came to $42,110.

In order to differentiate the Canyon from the Chevrolet Colorado, and to reflect its “Professional Grade” brand position, GMC endows its midsize truck with angular design, exaggerated proportions, and lots of shiny chrome trim. The result, in my opinion, is overdone. In fact, while driving my test truck I spotted a plain white Canyon SLE on the road and thought it looked better than my glammed-up SLT.

What goes better with dark green paint than a tan-and-brown 2-tone interior? I think a tan-and-black 2-tone interior would be an improvement, looking modern at the same time it could give the Canyon a more upscale appearance. There's a ton of hard plastic inside this pickup, which is not entirely out of line for a truck, but little about this GMC’s cabin reflects high levels of quality or refinement.


6/ 10

Most Canyons are equipped with a 3.6-liter V6 engine generating 305 hp at 6,800 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Compared to what Nissan and Toyota use in their trucks, the Canyon is more powerful, but peak horsepower is made at higher rpm. The Canyon also makes more torque, and it is available at lower rpm than what the 3.5-liter V6 that Toyota is using in the redesigned Tacoma can deliver.

A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V6 engine, and 4-wheel drive is an option. As equipped, my 4WD test truck could haul up to 1,550 pounds of payload and tow as much as 7,000 pounds of trailer, figures that represent about 90 percent and 60 percent of what an equivalent Silverado 1500 can tackle.

One of the benefits of getting a midsize truck is better fuel economy than a full-size model. My Canyon 4-wheeler was rated to return 20 mpg in combined driving, and it got 20.6 mpg on my test loop. Frankly, I was not expecting such a favorable result, because when used purely in the city and suburbs, this V6 is thirsty. Credit the cargo bed’s optional tonneau cover for boosting highway mileage.

While you do need to rev the engine to access peak power, the Canyon’s V6 nevertheless proves responsive and had no trouble tackling mountain grades. Of course, these observations apply to a truck with just the driver aboard. Add people and cargo, and things could quickly change.

Make a request for extra power, such as when passing slower vehicles, and the transmission exhibits a delayed downshift. In the mountains, the transmission held a lower gear for climbing hills and downshifted to a lower gear for additional engine braking when heading down hills.

It’s a good thing the drivetrain provides some engine braking assistance, because my test truck’s brakes faded with prolonged and repeated use, despite cool testing temperatures. Equipped with Duralife brakes, which are designed to last twice as long as conventional components, the Canyon’s rotors and pads worked fine under all other circumstances.

As far as the ride and handling are concerned, I was genuinely impressed with the Canyon’s ability to get around mountain curves with a minimum of body roll and tire sidewall squish. The truck felt almost athletic, in part due to the perfectly tuned steering. It’s not quick, but it sure proves accurate, and the steering wheel is terrific to grip.

A stiff, bouncy ride goes hand-in-hand with a 4WD pickup truck, and that’s the case with the GMC Canyon. Structurally, the Canyon feels strong and robust, even over pavement regularly pummeled by tractor-trailers.

Off-roading is possible, but if you’re planning to spend lots of time in the dirt, you’ll want to remove the Canyon’s front air dam in order to improve the approach angle. Also, skip the side rails, which reduce the breakover angle.

Form and Function

6/ 10

While I’m not much of a fan of the Canyon’s tan/brown interior color combination, and while I think the plastic covering much of the interior could be upgraded a bit in terms of texture and tone, the good news is that the controls are logically laid out and easy to use. I especially appreciated the number of knobs and buttons on the dashboard’s center stack, which means that most of the time the infotainment screen is used for reference rather than access.

GMC supplies comfortable front seats in the Canyon SLT, and both the driver and front passenger’s cushions are height adjustable for an improved view out. Aside from angled front head restraints that are just a bit intrusive, I thought the driving position was excellent.

For taller adults, the rear seat is snug, but the front seatbacks are softly padded, making them kind to knees and shins. The seat cushion is almost plush, offering decent thigh support combined with a proper backrest angle. My kids enjoyed riding back there, but then again, they get excited about trucks.

One thing to note about the optional side assist steps is that in addition to reducing the Canyon’s breakover angle, they impede entry and exit. I found myself stretching my left leg over them when getting in and out of the truck, and when those side steps are dirty, then so are your pants.

Steps that I did find useful were the ones located on either corner of the rear bumper, which are designed to help with loading and unloading cargo. My test truck also had an EZ lift-and-lower tailgate, a factory-applied spray-in bedliner, and a tonneau cover.

While the tonneau certainly helped my Canyon get better gas mileage, you should know that it can collect condensation overnight, dumping puddles of water over the sides of the bed and down the tailgate when you leave for work in the morning. If you’ve just washed your truck, say for an early morning photo shoot, this is hugely irritating.

Tech Level

9/ 10

One of the noteworthy changes for the 2016 Canyon is the addition of Apple CarPlay technology to the available IntelliLink infotainment system. Connect a compatible iPhone to the system, and CarPlay transforms the touchscreen display into a version of your smartphone. Only selected applications are visible on the screen, but the overall idea here is to make it easier to “use” your phone while driving. Presumably, Android Auto isn’t far behind.

As far as IntelliLink is concerned, graphics are pleasing, the virtual buttons are large and easy to use, the system supports text messaging, and Wi-Fi access is available through the OnStar subscription services technology.

What’s even better about the Canyon’s infotainment setup is that it serves primarily as a reference rather than as a tool. Lots of clearly marked knobs and buttons provide access to radio and climate functions, and using the “Home” button makes it easy to quickly access the system’s main menu and choose from a number of selections.


5/ 10

Another of OnStar’s features is an automatic crash-response service. If the Canyon is involved in a collision in which the airbags deploy, the OnStar system will automatically alert authorities and help direct them to the scene of the accident—even if the driver is unresponsive. There’s just one important detail of which you need to be aware: An active subscription to OnStar is required for this technology to work.

GMC offers an optional forward-collision warning system for the Canyon, one that lacks subtlety. When placed in its medium sensitivity setting, it frequently sounds the alarm when no threat exists, and in a shrill fashion that can actually startle the driver. A lane-departure warning system is also available, but if you wanted a blind-spot information system or a rear cross-traffic alert system, you're out of luck. Good thing the Canyon’s side mirrors are big enough to make it easy to see in the truck’s blind spots.

Crash testing is only partially complete for the Canyon. The federal government performed assessments only for the less popular Extended cab model (your tax dollars at work), which performed well except for a 3-star rollover resistance rating with both 2WD and 4WD.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) plowed a Canyon Crew cab into a barrier to measure moderate overlap frontal-impact protection levels, which it deemed Good, the highest rating. No other crash tests have been conducted by the IIHS as this review is written.


6/ 10

To some degree, GMC has reduced the cost effectiveness of buying a 2016 Canyon, what with the reduction of free service visits and the extra-cost metallic paint. Plus, with the reduced powertrain warranty, which is shaved from 100,000 miles to 60,000 miles, if something goes wrong at 61,000 miles, you’re now on the hook to fix it.

Consumer Reports says that the cost of owning a Canyon should prove average over time, and while first-year reliability data is not yet available, this GMC performed poorly in the 2015 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.

At least a Canyon is expected to hold its value, according to ALG, which gives this truck a 5-star depreciation rating. Also, if you opt for the cargo-bed tonneau cover, a Canyon will return unexpectedly good gas mileage, especially if you spend lots of time piling on highway miles.

Where the GMC Canyon shines in terms of cost effectiveness is with regard to its purchase price in relationship to an equivalent traditional full-size truck. Until 2015, Chevy and GMC did not offer an alternative for a person who didn’t require all the power, size, and capability of a Silverado or Sierra. Now they do, while Ford and Ram still don’t.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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