Full 2012 GMC Canyon Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 GMC Canyon adds front bucket seats to midlevel trims and makes an automatic locking rear differential standard on 4WD and Crew Cab models.
Buyers looking for a compact or midsize pickup typically want rugged styling, multiple engine and body styles, and optional four-wheel-drive and off-road packages. The 2012 GMC Canyon meets all the criteria, yet is still a truck we hesitate to recommend. It simply lacks the overall refinement and creature comforts of contemporary rivals.
The Canyon's largest obstacles are its aging cabin and subpar materials. We're loath to cynically call the Canyon fleet fodder, but its dated and uninspiring interior makes almost no pretense of trying to compete. Lackluster performance from its base engines, including a five-cylinder that pales against competitive V6s, reinforces our suspicions. Still, the base four-cylinder is competent enough for light around-town duty, and there's also a stout, very capable -- and very thirsty -- V8.
The Canyon does offer a solid build and sharp looks, and if you must have a strapping V8 in a compact package, only the Dodge Dakota comes close. But models like the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma are better in nearly every regard.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 GMC Canyon is a compact/midsize pickup offered in three body styles -- regular cab, extended cab (with small rear access doors) and crew cab (with four regular doors) -- and in three different trim levels: Work Truck, SLE and SLT. Canyon crew cab models come equipped with 5-foot cargo boxes, while other models feature a 6-foot box. Rear-wheel drive is standard and four-wheel drive is available on all models. The SLT is available only with 4WD.
Standard features on Work Trucks include 16-inch wheels, a bedliner, skid plates on 4WD models, a 60/40-split front bench seat, air-conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, six months complimentary OnStar Directions and Connections service, and an AM/FM stereo.
SLE models add foglights, tinted rear glass, chrome interior accents, power accessories, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, front bucket seats and an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio and three months complimentary service.
The top-line SLT includes all of the above and adds 17-inch chrome wheels, skid plates, a heavy-duty suspension and heated leather front bucket seats with eight-way adjustment for the driver.
An off-road suspension package, standard on SLE extended cab and SLT models and optional on all but regular cab SLE models, includes 17-inch wheels, beefier components and a locking rear differential.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 GMC Canyon offers three engines. A 2.9-liter four-cylinder generating 185 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque is the base engine for Work Truck and SLE-1 models. A 3.7-liter five-cylinder that produces 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque comes standard on SLE-2 and SLT models (and is optional on the SLE-1).
A 5.3-liter V8 rated at 300 hp/320 lb-ft is available for SLT and SLE-1 Crew Cab and two-wheel-drive extended cab models. Regular cab Work Trucks get a five-speed manual transmission standard, and a four-speed automatic is available. All other models get the four-speed automatic.
Four-wheel-drive models feature a two-speed transfer case with dash-mounted controls and an automatic locking rear differential (the latter is also standard an all Crew Cab models).
EPA estimated fuel economy ranges from 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 21 combined on four-cylinder regular and crew cabs, to 14 mpg city/19 highway and 16 mpg combined on V8 4WD crew cabs with an automatic transmission. A properly equipped V8-powered Canyon can tow up to 6,000 pounds.
The 2012 GMC Canyon comes standard with the OnStar emergency communications system, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control and head curtain airbags.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Canyon extended cab received a top rating of "Good" for frontal-offset collisions, while the crew cab earned a second-best "Acceptable." For side-impact protection, however, the crew cab received the lowest rating of "Poor."
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the Canyon looks handsome from the outside, sharing chiseled cues with the full-size Sierra, the cabin is a bit dated. As competitors increasingly refine their interiors, however, the Canyon forges ahead with mediocre cab materials, plenty of hard plastic trim and seating that's short on support or long-haul comfort.
Controls and instruments are arranged in logical fashion, however, with thick, chunky knobs designed to accommodate work-gloved fingers. There's also generous legroom up front. Rear-seat passengers in extended cab models will twist and bend to reach the back row, and once back there won't find a ton of elbow- or legroom.
Outside, the Canyon's removable tailgate can be set partially open, on an equal plane with the tops of the wheelwells, allowing for a flat load area for longer items or 4x8 panels.
The 2012 GMC Canyon's cabin is quiet enough around town, but leaks significant wind noise at highway speeds. The four- and five-cylinder engines operate smoothly, but are several lengths behind the V6s offered by competitors. The four-speed automatic offers easy, well-timed shifts.
The 5.3-liter V8 unsurprisingly offers the best power and towing ability, putting the Canyon on par with the brawny V8 Dodge Dakota, but it packs a commensurate thirst as well.