Full 2011 GMC Canyon Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the GMC Canyon sees just a few minor changes, such as newly standard Bluetooth connectivity, six free months worth of OnStar's Directions and Connections, and redesigned headrests.
The 2011 GMC Canyon is a prime example of a vehicle that seemingly has all the attributes buyers would want, yet is not one that we would recommend. Consumers shopping the compact/midsize pickup truck segment typically want rugged styling, multiple engine and body style choices and the availability of an off-road package. Those who need to tow their small business' equipment or weekend toys would add plenty of power to that list of requirements. The GMC Canyon offers all this, but remains a truck that still can't compete with the few major-league players that dominate this class.
Two main flaws conspire to keep the current Canyon (and its Chevy Colorado cousin) down in the minor leagues. One is an aging cabin with subpar materials and so-so seating comfort. The other is the lackluster performance of its top volume engine, an inline-5 that pales in comparison to rivals' V6s that offer more power and refinement. The base inline-4 isn't bad for light-duty service and the available powerhouse V8 is a capable workhorse, but its thirst for fuel doesn't give this smaller truck any fuel economy benefit over roomier full-size pickups.
Like many lower-rated entries in the automotive marketplace, the 2011 GMC Canyon is still essentially a competent vehicle. However, the traditional segment leaders, the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, are better trucks in almost every regard. If you must have a V8 in your smaller pickup, then the Canyon (and Colorado) is worth a look, as only the GM twins and the Dodge Dakota offer V8 power in this class. However, those seeking a thoroughly refined and up-to-date midsize pickup will likely be disappointed and should check the competition first.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 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, six months free of OnStar's Directions and Connections, Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio. The regular-cab SLE model adds 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 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.
Available on the SLE and SLT trims are the Z71 Off-Road Suspension package (including larger wheels and tires, 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). Other options on various models include 17- and 18-inch wheels, remote keyless entry, foglamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, running boards, front bucket seats and a six-CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
No fewer than three different engines are offered for the 2011 GMC Canyon, including an inline-4, an inline-5 and a V8.
The standard 2.9-liter four-cylinder makes 185 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque, and an optional 3.7-liter inline-5 produces 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. The 5.3-liter V8 (only offered on extended-cab and crew cab models) makes 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 on 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, while the available four-wheel drive features 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 2011 GMC Canyon comes standard with the OnStar emergency communications system, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control and head curtain airbags.
The GMC Canyon has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. Last year the crew cab scored a perfect five stars for the protection of the driver and front passenger in frontal impacts, three stars for front side impacts and five stars for rear side impacts. The extended- and regular-cab styles earned four stars for driver and front passenger in frontal impacts and four stars for front side impacts.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset crash testing, the Canyon extended cab earned a top rating of "Good," while the crew cab got an "Acceptable" rating (second highest of four). However, in that agency's side-impact tests, the crew cab 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 is let down by 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 4-by-8 sheets of wood atop its wheelwells.
The 2011 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.