2021 GMC Canyon Review Update

Chris Teague, Independent Expert | Sep 30, 2021

Introduction - Find the best GMC deals!

Americans love their pickup trucks, and automakers are happy to oblige. The Canyon is a midsize pickup that fills a gap for GMC buyers who don't need or want a full-size, full-blown Sierra pickup. Believe it or not, the Canyon and its corporate cousin, the Chevrolet Colorado, have been on sale in the United States without a significant overhaul for six years. However, both have seen enough tech, performance, and comfort updates to stay relevant in the face of tough competition from the Ford RangerHonda RidgelineJeep GladiatorNissan Frontier, and the Toyota Tacoma.

Canyon buyers will be waiting at least another model year before a new truck hits dealer lots, but the 2021 model year brings a wave of meaningful updates to the truck. Changes to the 2021 GMC Canyon include:

  • Revised trim level lineup
  • Updated interior and exterior styling
  • New interior materials and colors
  • Upgraded Denali equipment and new Black Edition
  • New Canyon AT4 off-roading trim

GMC offers several trim and body configurations for the 2021 Canyon. Trims include Elevation Standard, Elevation, AT4, and Denali. Elevation Standard is only available with an extended cab. Buyers can have the Elevation with either an extended cab or crew cab, and the AT4 and Denali trims are available only with a crew cab.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2017 GMC Canyon. This review focuses on the Canyon's updates for 2021 and how they potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the GMC Canyon - Find the best GMC deals!

2021 GMC Canyon AT4 White Front Quarter Action

The GMC Canyon competes in the Midsize Pickup segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 87 percent of new GMC Canyon buyers are male (vs. 86 percent for the segment), and the median age of a Canyon buyer is 61 years (vs. 57).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the Canyon in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Powertrain
  • Setting up and starting
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Infotainment system
  • Driving comfort
  • Getting in and out
  • Fuel economy

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Canyon ranks fifth out of five Midsize Pickup models in a tie with the Toyota Tacoma.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the GMC Canyon - Find the best GMC deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a 2021 Canyon AT4 short box equipped with the following options:

  • Leather seats
  • 3.6-liter V6 engine
  • AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition package
  • Driver Alert package
  • Navigation system
  • Bose premium audio system

The price of the test vehicle came to $45,980, including the $1,195 destination charge.

Revised Trim Lineup

2021 GMC Canyon AT4 Badge Wheel

GMC shuffled the Canyon trim lineup for 2021, replacing all but the top Denali trim level. This year's Canyon comes in Elevation Standard, Elevation, AT4, and Denali. That's a change from 2020's lineup, which included SL, Base, SLE, SLT, All Terrain, and Denali. The AT4 trim is brand new for 2021 and brings several off-road goodies to the Canyon.

With the swap of four trim levels for a less confusing three, the new, simplified trim lineup combines many of the features and styling buyers want into the two Elevation trims. Pricing for the base Elevation Standard trim starts at around $28,000. The truck comes standard with features that include:

  • 18-inch wheels
  • Six speakers
  • 7-inch touchscreen
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Bluetooth
  • Cloth upholstery
  • Power windows and door locks

The Elevation trim starts at $31,495 after destination and comes with:

  • 3.6-liter V6 engine
  • LED fog lights
  • Cruise control
  • Remote start
  • 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot

The Canyon AT4 starts at $39,595 and adds:

  • Four-wheel drive
  • 17-inch wheels with Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires
  • Hill-descent control
  • Heated front seats
  • Off-road suspension

The $42,395 Canyon Denali brings:

  • Forward-collision alert
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Rear park assist
  • Navigation
  • Bose premium audio
  • HD rearview camera
  • Leather upholstery
  • Wireless phone charging
  • Ventilated front seats

Denali Trim Gets More Luxury

The top Denali trim gets a massage for the new model year to push it deeper into premium territory and justify its range-topping status. GMC pitches the Denali as its range-topping trim level across several of the brand's models, and the Canyon is no different. However, in the Canyon's case, the truck lacked the luxury swagger and style it needed to convey its upscale positioning. GMC fixes that for the 2021 model year by massaging the Canyon Denali's grille and updating both bumpers. The trucks also get chrome assist steps and trim-exclusive 20-inch wheels.

Inside, the Denali gets luxury-feel features that further set it apart from the rest of the Canyon line. GMC added open-pore wood trim and more chrome accents, and higher-end leather upholstery. The effect still falls short of a full luxury experience but is far and away the most elevated of the Canyon interior finishes.

Minor Facelift Across the Entire Lineup

2021 GMC Canyon Denali Interior Dashboard

While the Canyon's headlights are the same units as before, the fog lights and lower fascia are redesigned with a more muscular, sharper shape. The updated look features a more prominent grille that extends further down into the front fascia. For the Denali trim, the mesh grille from 2020 is gone, and in its place, the automaker installs a 3-piece chrome grille with distinctive shapes and a large GMC badge. The Canyon Denali's front and rear bumpers are now body-colored, and there's a new Hunter Metallic paint color as well.

The deeper grille and reshaped front-end design give the Canyon a more substantial, less stubby look than before. The effect is similar to the subtle transformation seen in the larger GMC Sierra and makes the truck look more modern.

Off-Road-Oriented Canyon AT4 Joins the Lineup

Buyers looking for off-road capability in a new pickup truck aren't left wanting for choice. There's a hardcore off-road version of nearly every truck on the market, but prior to 2021, that list did not include the GMC Canyon. The automaker addresses that issue for the 2021 model year by introducing the Canyon AT4, which brings more capability and rugged style to the midsize pickup.

GMC adds a new AT4 trim level to the Canyon line for 2021 that brings off-road-tuned suspension, beefy 31-inch tires, an electronic locking rear differential, and underbody protection. The additions give the Canyon footing to compete with trucks such as the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2Ford Ranger Tremor, and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro.

The AT4 trim gets a 3.6-liter V6 engine as standard equipment and can be upgraded with the optional 4-cylinder diesel. A Performance Edition package ($3,195) adds upgraded skid plates, a front air dam delete, a 1-inch front-end lift, and a suspension leveling system. The features add up to a much more rugged Canyon but don't go so far as to turn the truck into a hardcore rock-crawling rig. The unfortunate thing here is that if there's even a possibility that you'd take the Canyon into challenging terrain, you'll want to upgrade with the Performance Edition package, which drives the price up considerably.

On the road, the Canyon AT4 feels much more stable and is more comfortable than a comparable Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma. The large tires and rugged suspension soak up the worst broken pavement and potholes and keep the truck composed when it's needed most. The exclusive appearance upgrades that come with the AT4 give it a mean, aggressive look that suits the Canyon's shape well.

The Canyon AT4's ride height and upright seating position give the driver a commanding view of the road in nearly every direction, inspiring confidence and significantly improving maneuverability. The truck's plush and comfortable seats, intuitive seating position, and easy tech make for a surprisingly relaxing ride in what would otherwise be a rough-and-tumble off-roader. That said, the large tires create plenty of noise on the highway.

When the pavement ends, the AT4 is much happier clawing through loose gravel than climbing rocks and heavy terrain. The added Performance Edition package deletes the front air dam, which improves approach angles for better climbing, but there is no locking front differential, so it's best to approach off-roading in baby steps. That said, the truck does an impressive job at clearing rutted and muddy trails and is perfectly fine in deep snow.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best GMC deals!

2021 GMC Canyon AT4 White Rear Quarter Action

The 2021 GMC Canyon is a handsome, comfortable, and capable midsize pickup truck. That said, it's expensive, and adding the safety, tech, and comfort features most people want in a vehicle only makes it more so. However, compared with its most direct non-GM rival, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road, the Canyon shines with a more powerful engine, smoother ride, and more comfortable interior. It's also better at towing and is available with an efficient diesel engine.

In the world of "just right" midsize trucks, the Canyon is about as good as it gets. Its towing and payload capacities, solid driving experience, and comfy ride make it an excellent alternative to a full-size pickup, and its maneuverable size helps keep the driver's blood pressure in check while parking and cruising city streets.

Chris Teague is an automotive journalist with several years of experience covering tech, new vehicles, industry trends, and breaking news. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous digital and print publications, marketing journals, and national ad campaigns.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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