2021 GMC Canyon Review

It’s no longer possible to buy a new compact-sized truck. The smallest new trucks are mid-sized, and the interesting thing about that is they’re very close to being full-sized—relative to the size of full-size trucks used to be before they got super-sized.

The GMC Canyon extended cab (there is no regular cab version) is 212.4 inches long. A “full-size” 1995 Chevy C/K 1500 (regular cab) was only 194.5 inches long.

It also came standard with a 160 horsepower 4.3-liter V6. The new Canyon comes standard with a 2.5-liter four that makes 200 horsepower—the same power as the ’95 truck’s optional 5.7-liter V8.

The ’95 didn’t come standard with AC, either.

Carpet cost extra.

What It Is

The Canyon is the GMC-badged version of GM’s mid-sized pickup truck, which is also sold under the Chevy Badge as the Colorado.

Both are mechanically the same but have different exterior styling/interior layouts, with the GMC being the “nicer” and somewhat pricier version.

The base Elevation trim with an extended cab comes with a 2.5-liter engine paired with a six-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive, and stickers for $26,400. Four-wheel drive is available with this engine.

You can also upgrade to a 3.6-liter V6 engine, which comes paired with an eight-speed automatic.

A top of the line Denali crew cab with the optionally available 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine and 4WD lists for $48,130.

The main functional difference between this truck and current full-sized trucks is the Canyon is not available with an eight-foot bed (a 5.1-foot bed is standard; the “long” bed is 6.2 feet) or a two-door/regular cab.

The same’s true of all the trucks in this class. If you want just a two-door truck and an eight-foot bed, you’ll have to move up a size.

What’s New

Denali trims get a new face (grille/bumper treatment) based on the face of the just-redesigned 2021 full-size Sierra Denali pickup.

The previous All Terrain trim has been replaced with a new-for-2021 AT4 trim, including M/S-rated 17-inch off-road tires, a one-inch lift, skid plates, and a heavier-duty suspension, among other upgrades.

What’s Good

  • As affordable as full-size trucks used to be.
  • Multiple engine options.
  • Stout tow rating (up to 7,700 lbs. with the diesel).

What’s Not So Good

  • No two-door option.
  • Diesel is only available with high-trim Crew cab versions.
  • Much less affordable than compact-sized trucks used to be.

Under The Hood

One of the few things about this truck that’s small is its standard engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but its 200 horsepower is large, historically speaking.

Back in the ’90s, full-size trucks like the Chevy C/K 1500 maxed-out around 200 horsepower with their optional V8s that were twice as large as the Canyon’s four and used twice as much fuel.

Well, maybe not quite that.

The ’95 C/K 1500’s optional 5.7-liter V8 got 14 miles to the gallon in city driving and 19 on the highway. The ’21 Canyon with the 2.5 four rates 19 in city driving and 24 on the highway.

Of course, it also only pulls 3,500 lbs.

But, that can be remedied.

The Canyon’s next-up engine is a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 308 horsepower, and that doubles the truck’s towing capacity to 7,000 lbs. with a negligible increase in appetite. The 2WD version rates 18 city, 25 highway; with 4WD, it’s about the same: 17 city, 24 highway.

This version of the Canyon is also the hot rod of the bunch. It can get to 60 in about 6.9 seconds—a very speedy time for a truck.

There’s a third under-the-hood option, too.

GMC offers a 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel engine that makes 181 horsepower and 369 ft.-lbs. of torque, which twist is comparable to that made by V8s twice the size with twice the appetite.

Buy this one, and your Canyon can pull a mighty 7,700 lbs.—the highest tow rating in the class.

It can also go about 30 miles on a gallon of fuel once you’re up and rolling.

On The Road

The Canyon drives like the full-size truck it almost is or rather, would have been so categorized before “full-size” became super-sized.

This is a compliment as well as a criticism.

The Canyon and its Chevy badged almost-twin feel solid and sturdy, which compact-sized trucks like my ’02 Nissan don’t.

They are also as easy to drive as full-size trucks used to be—easier to drive and deal with than current full-sized behemoths have become. A 6ft 3, 220-pound man (me) doesn’t feel ten years old and 100 pounds behind the wheel of this thing. You can reach the controls without using one of those grabby things older people use to get the coffee can off the top shelf.

You can get in without climbing in. It’s still big, though—or rather long.

The shortest version (extended cab with the five-foot bed) is just shy of two feet longer end to end than a ’95 C/K 1500 regular cab. That is a lot of truck. A crew cab (224.6 inches long) is two-and-half-feet longer. That is also as long as a 1970 Buick Electra 225, the famous “Deuce and a quarter,” which was pretty much the longest car GM ever sold.

You will need maneuvering room.

But you’ll have no worries powering your way out of most situations. The four-cylinder Canyon is quicker than a ’95 C/K 1500 with the V6. The latter needs just over ten seconds to achieve 60 while the GMC gets there in just over 8 seconds, almost exactly as quickly as possible as the V8-powered version of the ’95 C/K 1500.

With the V6, the only new truck that’s quicker is super-sized. But, arguably, the best engine this truck offers (uniquely, in the class) is the available 2.8-liter turbodiesel four, which comes with an exhaust brake—enhancing the big rig feel (and sound) without actually having to deal with a too-big rig.

This engine is also interesting because while it’s a diesel, it’s not exclusively a low-RPM engine, as diesel engines have historically been. It can spin to 5,000 RPM—about the same redline as the ’95 C/K 1500’s V8—while also making more torque (369 ft.-lbs. at 2,000 RPM) than the ’95’s 5.7 V8 (310 ft.-lbs. at 2,400 RPM).

And the Canyon’s got a more favorable power-to-torque ratio.

It weighs about the same as the ’95 C/K 1500 (around 4,100 lbs.) but has almost 70 ft.-lbs. of torque, more than the Chevy’s V8 had to move that weight. It is also capable of almost 30 MPG on the highway, which is how you justify spending the $3,730 extra it costs to add the diesel package, which includes a heavy-duty transmission, cooling, and other upgrades to your Canyon. That and the ability to pull an almost 8,000-pound trailer, which is enough to easily, instead of marginally, pull a 5,000 pound RV or a pair of jet skis/ATVs.

But here’s the catch, GMC doesn’t let you buy this engine unless you also buy four full-sized doors. If you want to roll coal, you’ll have to buy the higher-priced crew cab.

At The Curb

This is a long truck, but it’s not available with a long bed. Or two doors. You can choose two smaller additional doors—the extended cab. Or four full-size doors, which explains why you can’t choose anything longer than a six-foot bed. Add two more feet to this truck, and you’d need tugs to maneuver it.

So what you have here is an almost-full-size truck with a bed that’s still the same size as a compact pickup’s bed. But for once, this isn’t because of a government mandate. It appears that most of the people who buy pickups want an extended or crew cab and aren’t pining away for an eight-foot bed, which would proportionately fit a truck this size if it had a two-door regular cab ahead of it.

On the upside, the Canyon’s bed is a little wider than a compact pickup’s bed, and you can use a bed extended or just keep the tailgate down to haul the stuff that would fit in an eight-foot bed with the gate closed.

It’s also much easier to get at and into—the Canyon’s bed than current super-sized (and super tall) pickup truck beds. They come with step ladders built into their tailgates for a reason.

Canyons come standard with full-size truck legroom, 45 inches, for the driver and front-seat passenger, complemented by 41.4 inches of headroom. To put this in context, a compact-sized pickup such as my ’02 Nissan Frontier has 41.3 inches of legroom and 39.3 inches of headroom. The back seats in my truck are also jump seats — folded up against the sides.

It is almost impossible for an adult to sit back there and hard to get back there.

In the Canyon, you’ve got real back seats, facing forward, and even the extended cab has a viable 28.6 inches of legroom. The crew cab has 35.8 inches as well as under-seat storage cubbies. It really can seat five grown men comfortably. My Nissan can seat two comfortably; the other three will have to ride uncomfortably in the bed.

Even with four doors, trucks like my ’02 Frontier were too small for families or anyone who needed to carry two or three passengers regularly, which probably explains why no one makes trucks the size of my ’02 Frontier anymore.

Another thing no one makes anymore is a basic truck, which is why trucks have become so expensive. The base Elevation trim includes a power driver’s seat, a 7-inch touchscreen, cruise control, power windows and locks, AC (of course) as well as an automatic transmission. My ’02 came standard with manual roll-up windows, a manual transmission, and no touchscreen, which is why it stickered for $14k when it was new and the new Canyon stickers for $26k.

$31,800 if you want 4WD.

But that’s still a relative bargain compared with what a new super-sized truck will cost you—especially if you want a 4WD super-sized truck. The base trim GMC Sierra, the Canyon’s much-bigger brother, and stickers for $33k and change to start, without 4WD.

With 4WD, you’re just under $37k.

The Rest

The Canyon’s competition has gotten tougher.

The new Ford Ranger, which came out just two years ago, comes standard with a torque and horsepower-rich 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (270 hp and 310 ft.-lbs. of torque, nearly as much as the GMC’s optional diesel) for just $24,820 to start. It can pull almost as much (7,500 lbs.) without costing you extra.

Nissan now includes a very strong (310 horsepower) 3.8-liter V6 with every (new) Frontier pickup and $26,790 to start, which is only a few hundred bucks more than the base price of the four-cylinder Canyon.

You can buy a 4WD-equipped V6 Frontier for $29,680—about $2k less than the price GMC charges for a similarly outfitted V6/4WD Canyon.

You could also buy a V6/4WD Toyota Tacoma for $31,875.

In the GMC’s defense, it’s still the only truck in the segment that offers diesel and the capability to pull nearly 8,000 pounds (the V6 Frontier’s maximum tow rating is 6,720 pounds; the Tacoma can pull a maximum of 6,800 pounds).

It’s also, nominally, the “nicer” truck—especially vs. its Chevy-badged twin, the Colorado, which is oriented more toward work and off-road work than a luxury. The Colorado isn’t available with anything like the GMC’s Denali trim, which comes with 20-inch “diamond cut” wheels, special leather seats, and ashwood trim. But the GMC is available with similarly serious off-road gear if you buy the AT4 version, which is functionally similar to the Colorado ZR2—just nicer.

The Bottom Line

If you’re not ready to say, “Super-size me!” a truck this size could be just the right size provided you don’t need to cart a stack of 4×8 sheets.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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One Response to “2021 GMC Canyon Review”

  1. Thomas says:

    My brother used to own a 2016 Canyon Duramax. He installed a 2\” leveling kit and put 265/70R17 Black Rhino wheels Warlords series. This new 2021 GMC canyon seems promising. It\’s great for those who usually drive on- and off-road.