Full 2009 GMC Canyon Review
What's New for 2009
The GMC Canyon receives numerous changes for 2009, the most welcome of which is the addition of a much-needed V8 engine option. Also, StabiliTrak, a bedliner and XM Satellite Radio are now standard fare, and the braking system has been upgraded. Finally, the base SL trim is no longer available, the sport suspension option returns after a brief absence, and there are a handful of exterior styling tweaks.
Now entering its sixth model year, the GMC Canyon pickup still features many of the attributes a compact-truck shopper is looking for: rugged styling, multiple engine choices, several body styles, two- and four-wheel-drive configurations and the availability of a popular off-road package. Not only that, a major drawback of past models -- the absence of abundant power for heavy-duty hauling and towing -- has been rectified with a new 300-horsepower 5.3-liter V8 engine option on extended- and crew-cab models.
Unfortunately, the Canyon's aging cabin remains an Achilles' heel, as seating comfort and interior materials quality don't measure up when compared with more modern rivals. Moreover, once underway, the performance of the Canyon's four- and five-cylinder engines is forgettable. On a brighter note, StabiliTrak stability control is now standard on all models, and a new braking system should deliver greater stopping power and improved pedal feel, according to GMC.
Like many also-rans in today's automotive marketplace, the 2009 GMC Canyon is essentially a competent vehicle. However, the traditional segment leaders, the Nissan Frontier and the Toyota Tacoma, are better trucks in almost every regard. If you need V8 vigor in your midsize pickup, this GMC is worth a look, as only the Canyon and the Dodge Dakota offer eight cylinders in this class. However, those seeking a thoroughly refined and up-to-date midsize pickup should check the competition first.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 GMC Canyon is a compact truck available with two- or four-wheel drive in three body styles: regular cab, extended cab and crew cab. Crew cabs are equipped with a 5-foot cargo box, while other Canyons feature a 6-foot bed. There are three primary trim levels to choose from -- Work Truck, SLE and SLT -- with slightly different equipment allocations based on body style.
The regular-cab Work Truck comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, a bedliner, a 60/40-split front bench seat, air-conditioning, cruise control and satellite radio. The regular-cab SLE model tacks on aluminum wheels, foglights, chrome interior accents and an upgraded radio with a CD player, but power accessories must be added at extra cost. The extended-cab SLE boasts full power accessories and remote keyless entry. The in-between Value crew-cab model basically shares the extended-cab SLE's equipment except for the chrome accents, which are included on the crew cab SLE model. The extended-cab SLT adds chrome wheels, a leather-trimmed interior and power heated front bucket seats, while the crew cab SLT comes with these features as well as a heavy-duty suspension.
Among the bundled options are the Z71 off-road suspension package (including larger wheels and tires, as well as skid plates and a locking rear differential on 4WD models) and the ZQ8 sport suspension package (including a lowered suspension, quicker steering and 18-inch wheels with performance tires), available only on 2WD extended- and crew-cab models with the new V8 engine. À la carte options on various models include 17- and 18-inch wheels, remote keyless entry, foglamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, running boards, a power sunroof, heated power-adjustable front seats, leather trim, front bucket seats and a six-CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
Two previous Canyon engines carry over from last year: the standard 2.9-liter four-cylinder with 185 hp and 190 pound-feet of torque, and an optional 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder producing 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. There's also a new V8 that pumps out 300 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. The Work Truck and SLE models come standard with the 2.9-liter engine but can be equipped with the 3.7-liter engine. The 3.7 is standard in SLT models, and SLE and SLT trims can be outfitted with the V8.
The 2.9-liter four is paired with a standard five-speed manual transmission except in the crew cabs, which only come with a four-speed automatic. All manual-shift Canyons are eligible for an upgrade to the automatic, and the two larger engines are automatic only. Rear-wheel drive is standard. Four-wheel-drive models feature a shift-on-the-fly two-speed transfer case with push-button controls and an optional locking rear differential.
Fuel economy estimates start at an impressive 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined for 2WD models with the 2.9-liter engine; by the time you get to the top-of-the-line V8-powered crew cab, however, those numbers have dropped to 14/19/16.
The 2009 GMC Canyon comes standard with antilock brakes and OnStar emergency communications. Side curtain airbags are optional. In government front-impact crash tests, the GMC Canyon crew cab earned a perfect five stars for driver and front passenger protection. Other Canyons earned four stars in those tests. Side-impact testing of a crew cab with the optional side curtain airbags resulted in four stars out of five for front-occupant protection and five stars for rear passengers. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset crash testing, the extended-cab Canyon garnered the highest possible "Good" rating, but the crew cab model was downgraded to the second-best "Average" mark. In side-impact testing without the optional side curtain airbags, the Canyon received the lowest rating of "Poor."
Interior Design and Special Features
While its competitors have evolved over the years with higher levels of luxury and refinement, the GMC Canyon continues to use subpar materials and mediocre seat design. However, the Canyon does deserve high marks for the simple and straightforward layout of its controls and gauges. Rear legroom is a bit pinched on extended-cab and crew-cab models, while ingress and egress for rear passengers can be a bit of a challenge due to the smallish rear door openings. Out back, the Canyon's cargo boxes feature two-tier loading, and the dual-position removable tailgate can be secured partly open to support the placement of 4x8 sheets atop its wheelwells.
The 2009 GMC Canyon's cabin is relatively tranquil around town, though wind noise around the doors tends to increase at highway speeds. The four- and five-cylinder engines are smooth enough, but performance lags behind that of the larger V6s of the Canyon's competitors. The available four-speed automatic transmission doesn't offer as many gears as its rivals, though at least its shifts are smooth and well-timed. Those looking for abundant power and towing capability will, of course, want to specify the available 5.3-liter V8, which places the Canyon in the same league as its brawny V8-powered Dodge Dakota rival. The Canyon's standard suspension is calibrated for a soft and comfortable ride on pavement, while the available Z71 off-road suspension package improves off-road performance at the expense of on-road compliance. The ZQ8 sport suspension provides much crisper cornering response.