Full 2008 GMC Canyon Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 GMC Canyon is largely unchanged from last year.
At first glance, the 2008 GMC Canyon would seem to offer much of what a compact truck shopper is looking for. It has distinctively rugged styling, efficient and capable power, available extended-cab and crew cab body configurations, and a choice of two- or four-wheel-drive configurations plus a popular off-road package.
Unfortunately, the attraction ends when you open the door and start the engine. Despite improvements over the years, seating comfort and cabin materials still leave much to be desired. Same with the driving experience -- even with its optional five-cylinder engine, the Canyon's performance simply can't match that of the bigger V6s or V8s available in most of the Chevy's rivals. If you're more concerned about ride and handling dynamics than brute power, the good news is that the 2008 GMC Canyon offers a choice of well-calibrated suspension setups that provide composed moves whether on-pavement or off.
The Canyon's biggest drawback, however, is that it gives the impression of being cheap -- which is all the more apparent in a segment filled with more polished rivals that have moved beyond mere value and simple functionality. The Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are simply better trucks in almost every regard. If you're a budget-minded shopper with light-duty usage in mind, you might investigate further. But if you've set your sights on a refined and thoroughly capable small pickup, we suggest looking elsewhere or waiting for a much-needed makeover.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 GMC Canyon is a compact truck available with two- or four-wheel drive in three body style configurations: regular cab, extended cab (with short reverse-opening doors) or crew cab with four regular forward-swinging doors. Crew cabs come with a 5-foot cargo box while other Canyons feature a 6-footer.
There are three primary trim levels to choose from on regular- and extended-cab models -- the base SL, SLE and top-of-the-line SLT. (There is a "Work Truck" for commercial customers.) The crew cab is offered in SLE and SLT trims only. The SL comes equipped with 15-inch alloy wheels, foglights, cruise control, air-conditioning, 60/40-split cloth front seat, a tilting leather-wrapped steering wheel and an AM/FM stereo. The SLE adds OnStar, an upgraded front bench, a CD/MP3 player and options not available on the SL. SLE extended and crew cab models include full power accessories and keyless entry, while SLE Crew Cabs come with standard front bucket seats. The SLT adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery and heated power front bucket seats.
Several packages are available to tailor the Canyon to specific duties. The Z71 "High Stance Off-Road" suspension package offers a taller ride height, along with a locking rear differential, oversize tires and skid plates on 4WD models. The ZQ8 "Sport" suspension, available on 2WD models only, is geared toward street performance, with a lowered suspension, quicker steering and 18-inch wheels fitted with performance tires. Other options include XM Satellite Radio and a "Sun and Sound" package that bundles a six-CD changer with a power sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
After a power boost last year, both Canyon engines carry over in 2008: The standard 2.9-liter four-cylinder makes 185 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque, and an optional 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder produces 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on most four-cylinder Canyons, while a four-speed automatic is standard on five-cylinder trucks and optional with the smaller engine.
Although their outputs are more than adequate, the Canyon's engines can't match the power and performance of the V6s and V8s offered by the competition. The news is better on the fuel economy front, ranging from 18 mpg/city and 24 mpg/highway on four-cylinder regular cabs down to 15 mpg/city and 20 mpg/highway on 4WD crew cabs. Four-wheel-drive models feature a two-speed transfer case with push-button controls and an optional locking rear differential. Maximum towing capacity is limited to 4,000 pounds, which is below average for this type of truck.
The 2008 GMC Canyon features standard antilock brakes and OnStar emergency communications, with optional head curtain side-impact airbags and traction control (on 2WD vehicles with automatic transmissions). In government front-impact crash tests, the GMC Canyon crew cab earned a perfect five stars for the protection of the driver and front passenger. Other Canyons earned four stars in those tests. Side-impact testing resulted in four stars out of five for front occupant protection, and five stars for rear passengers in crew cab models. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset crash testing, the Canyon garnered a highest possible "Good" rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
While its competitors have gotten more luxurious and refined in recent years, the Canyon remains saddled with subpar materials, an abundance of hard plastic and mediocre seat comfort. The layout of controls and gauges gets high marks, however, for their simple and straightforward design. There's lots of room up front, though rear legroom is tight in both extended cab and crew cab models. Rear entry/exit can also be awkward due to small rear door openings. A dual-position tailgate can be secured partially open to better support the carrying of 4x8 sheets that ride on top of the wheelwells.
The 2008 GMC Canyon's inline four- and five-cylinder engines are reasonably smooth, though acceleration and hauling performance is lackluster compared to the larger V6s of its competitors. The four-speed automatic transmission doesn't offer as many gears as its rivals, but its shifts are smooth and well-timed. The Canyon's standard suspension is softly tuned for a comfortable ride, and when fitted with the available Z71 off-road suspension package, the Canyon performs well off-highway. GMC's small truck is relatively quiet around town, though wind noise around the doors picks up at highway speeds.