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PowerSteering: 2017 GMC Canyon Review

PowerSteering: 2017 GMC Canyon Review

By Liz Kim, May 24, 2017

Introduction
Much like owning a pool or a boat, sometimes it’s preferable to be good friends with someone who owns a pickup truck than to own one yourself. You get to enjoy the benefits without the cost or maintenance.

Ownership, however, conveys freedom. With a pool, you can swim any time you want. With a boat, you can fish any time you want. With a truck, you can haul bulky loads or tow heavy trailers any time you want. Trucks also make it possible to throw a paddleboard into the bed for a leisurely morning on the water, or a mountain bike for a thrilling ride on local trails, and at a moment’s notice.

2017 GMC Canyon Denali front quarter right photoIf you want to own a truck, you can choose a big, burly full-size pickup, or a slightly smaller, more nimble midsize model. The latter used to be called compact pickups, but as is true of many people the years have added inches to their dimensions. For 2017, you have five midsize truck choices: the Chevrolet Colorado, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, and the subject of this review, the GMC Canyon.*

For this review, we evaluated a 2017 Canyon Denali, a luxury-themed trim level that debuted this year. It was equipped with a short cargo box, 4-wheel-drive (4WD), V-6 engine, and Mineral Metallic paint. The price came to $44,360, including the $995 destination charge.

*The GMC Canyon is a mechanical twin of the Chevrolet Colorado.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2017 Canyon, it’s helpful to understand who buys this pickup truck and what they like most and least about it.

Until 2017, when Honda reintroduced the Ridgeline, there were four midsize pickup truck models to choose from, and while the Toyota Tacoma dominates the sales chart, it is the Chevrolet Colorado and its corporate twin, the GMC Canyon, that ranked highest in the Midsize Pickup segment of the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

According to J.D. Power research, midsize truck buyers are overwhelmingly men, and that’s true of the GMC Canyon (88% vs. 87% for the Midsize Pickup segment). Canyon buyers, however, tend to be older and more affluent. The median age of a new Canyon buyer is 61 years (vs. 57) and the median annual household income of a Canyon buyer is $103,385 (vs. $95,245).

Predictably, then, Canyon buyers are less concerned about price and are more likely to be retired. Overwhelmingly, they indicate that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (83% vs. 57%), and fewer Canyon buyers agree that their friends and family members think of them as someone who knows a great deal about vehicles (71% vs. 75%).

Canyon buyers are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (83% vs. 77%), and a smaller percentage agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (30% vs. 36%).

GMC’s “Professional Grade” advertising appears not to resonate with Canyon buyers or midsize truck buyers in general. According to the 2016 U.S. APEAL Study, just half of Canyon buyers “agree mostly” that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship, compared with 59% of midsize truck buyers who, by the sales charts, overwhelmingly select other midsize trucks aside from the Canyon.

Buyers say their favorite things about the Canyon are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, visibility and safety, and infotainment system. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Canyon are (in descending order) the climate control system, seats, engine/transmission, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2017 Canyon performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2016 U.S. APEAL Study.

Exterior
Little wonder that Canyon buyers dig the looks of their trucks so much. It’s handsome and possesses the presence of a much larger vehicle, bearing no resemblance to the older, dingy compact pickups driven by your local pool dude or mow-‘n-blow crew.

With its prominent logo placed on its oversized Denali grille and T-square-inspired styling, this GMC’s rough-and-tumble demeanor attracts attention. My test vehicle’s short cargo bed seemed a little out of proportion, but there’s no denying that this is a good-looking truck, from its flared wheel arches to its unique 20-in., machine-finished aluminum wheels.

Interior
GMC wants Canyon buyers to know that the top-of-the-line Denali trim level sets itself apart from the workhorses. Step inside to find seats swathed in perforated premium leather with contrast stitching, real brushed aluminum cabin trim, upgraded Bose stereo system, and soft-touch dashboard materials. Furthermore, the Canyon’s cabin is quieter than you’d expect, at least in terms of road noise.

2017 GMC Canyon Denali interior photoWhile the Denali does represent a step up from the basic environs of most pickup trucks, the interior retains plenty of hard plastic, and it scratches easily. So while this version of the Canyon mimics the look of luxury, its utilitarian roots are all too visible to the eye.

Seats
As is true of every truck, it’s a bit of a climb to get into the Canyon. My short legs found the Denali’s fixed step rails useful, but my long-limbed partner thought they got in the way. As a passenger, I always appreciate having a grab handle above the passenger’s side window, but the sole handle in the Canyon is instead located on the windshield pillar.

Comfortable and flat, the Canyon’s front seats provide little in the way of bolstering. An odd inclusion for this “luxury” Denali pickup is manually reclining front seats, an unwelcome throwback to decades past. Heated and ventilated front seats are always welcome, however, as is the heated steering wheel.

The rear seats are pretty basic, but there’s enough room to seat 3 people abreast as well as reasonable legroom. The power-sliding back window always comes in handy, as do the 2 USB power outlets. Rear air vents would be nice, though.

Climate Control System
Evidently, GMC operates on the principle that big knobs and buttons that can be operated while wearing gloves are a good thing. I concur. Thus, the climate control system is as simple as can be, with two big knobs complemented by easily deciphered buttons.

Furthermore, General Motors knows how to engineer an effective heating and cooling system, and the Canyon Denali’s cabin got chilly in a hurry, despite a springtime heat wave.

Infotainment System
GMC equips the Canyon Denali with a robust version of its IntelliLink infotainment system. This setup features an 8-in. touch-screen display, and I find it to be among the easier infotainment systems to use. It’s no wonder that this oft-maligned technology makes it into the “likes” column among Canyon buyers.

Keeping up with the times, GMC gives you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, as well as Siri Eyes Free compatibility. These features are designed to mimic the function and feel of your phone so that it’s less distracting to use the infotainment system.

Of course, technology being what it is, there is no such thing as technology that works perfectly, and there were glitches with the system the few times I used it. Still, I suspect that once you’re over the learning curve, these items should come in handy.

Additionally, IntelliLink provides separate radio controls for power, volume, and tuning, which mean that you need not use the screen to make adjustments. Plenty of people also find the subscription-based 4G Wi-Fi internet hotspot a compelling feature, while audiophiles can appreciate the upgraded Bose stereo on the Denali trim level.

Storage and Space
My test vehicle came with a cube-shaped short cargo bed, which might limit utility. During a run for gardening supplies I wished for the optional long bed to make it easier to transport long trellises, but I made do with some bungee cords and crossed fingers.

Not to overstate the obvious, but a pickup truck’s cargo bed is open to the elements and unwanted attention. That means that whatever you carry—sporting equipment, suitcases, pricey furniture, or even multiple bags of chicken manure—must be secured, weatherproofed, and monitored, which makes it difficult to make an argument in favor of a truck for a sole family vehicle, especially when taking a family road trip.

Around the Canyon’s cabin, storage space amounts to average. The center console is medium-sized, and GMC provides a small bin in front of the shifter that can hold a phone, keys, and other small items. Otherwise, this truck provides storage in the door panels, a single rear seatback pocket, and, like all vehicles, a glove box.

Visibility and Safety
Thanks to a high seating position from which it is easy for a driver to place the front corners of the truck, the Canyon’s driver’s seat offers good outward visibility.

Curiously, however, a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is not available for this truck. Automatic emergency braking is also missing. These are notable omissions that must be considered by every potential Canyon buyer. GMC does offer a forward-collision warning system and a lane-departure warning system, but in my opinion they’re not as effective at preventing accidents.

2017 GMC Canyon Denali rear quarter left photoThe Rear Seat Reminder feature is great if you have kids or pets that travel with you, chiming to remind you to check the back seat after you’ve stopped the truck and turned it off. This helps to avoid the types of tragedies that occur when absentminded caregivers forget their charge in the car. Also, GMC provides a Teen Driver feature that lets parents program specific vehicle traits to help new drivers form good habits, and which provides a driving report after your precious offspring has borrowed the keys.

Testing from the folks at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concludes that the 2017 Canyon deserves a 4-star (out of a possible 5) overall safety rating, pulled down by its 3-star ability to resist rolling over. As this truck was reviewed, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had yet to test the Canyon.

Engine/Transmission
Owners who weren’t happy with the Canyon’s powertrain in 2016 will wish that they had waited a year. For 2017, GMC offers a new 3.6-liter V-6 matched with a new 8-speed automatic transmission.

The V-6 generates 308 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque. It may not be the most refined power plant in the world (it has a loud, high-pitched, raspy exhaust note), but acceleration impresses with vigorous pull across the rev range. Furthermore, the 8-speed automatic is well matched with the engine, almost always seeming to find the right gear at the right time.

Tow capacity for my test truck topped out at 7,000 lbs. when properly equipped, short of the 7,700-lb. maximum for the optional 2.8-liter, 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine. My Denali could also tackle up to 1,550 lbs. of payload—a little less than a Canyon’s maximum of 1,605 lbs.

Any way you slice it, these numbers are stouter than any other midsize pickup truck.

Fuel Economy
One of the top reasons for getting a smaller pickup over a full-size one is the savings in fuel economy, and the GMC Canyon delivers. The EPA says a Canyon Denali 4WD with a V-6 engine will average 19 mpg in mixed driving. Impressively, I got 21.1 mpg on my test loop, but a heavy dose of suburban shuttle duty dropped that figure over the course of a week.

Credit for the impressive result on the loop goes to an alphabet soup’s worth of engine technologies, such as direct fuel injection, cylinder-deactivation, and variable valve timing. I was happy with the fuel economy, unlike Canyon buyers surveyed by J.D. Power. However, I spent little time driving it with a heavy load, so expect your results to vary.

Driving Dynamics
Modern-day pickups such as the Ford F-150 feel utterly planted and rock solid, driving similar to car-based crossovers, so it’s easy to forget what an old-school pickup feels like from behind the wheel. The GMC Canyon is much sharper than the dastardly Toyota Tacoma I sampled the week after, but it still feels very much like the pickup trucks from two decades ago.

Both the steering and the brakes are heavy and slow, and it takes some getting used to in order to navigate smoothly and stop without a big last-minute lurch. I also experienced an unexpected amount of brake fade when driving on curvy mountain roads, enough to erode confidence in a vehicle designed to tackle significant weight.

With just two people on board, the suspension hops and skips over bumps, but with the bed loaded with the fruitful spoils of an expensive trip to the garden store, the ride felt much smoother and more compliant.


Final Impressions
For people seeking a capable truck with more petite proportions, the GMC Canyon stands out for its brawny towing capacity and its rugged good looks. For people willing to spend upwards of $40,000 on such a vehicle, the Denali trim level offers a premium look and feel unmatched by almost everything else in the segment.

Best of all, no matter which version of the Canyon you may choose, it delivers the kind of lifestyle freedom that just can’t be matched by a car, crossover, SUV, or van.

General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 GMC Canyon review.


Additional Research:


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