The GMC Canyon compact truck went missing from showrooms two years ago, leading some fans to lament its apparent demise. Turns out there was no reason to fret, because the 2015 GMC Canyon is back in a big way.
Well, slightly bigger, anyway. The 2015 is larger to the point where it now measures up well against its chief competition, the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Combined with a more refined interior and the latest technology, it's now the most advanced midsize pickup you can buy.
What Is It?
There has been only one prior generation of the GMC Canyon compact pickup, and it was sold from 2004-'12. It was an outgrowth of the workmanlike GMC S-15 truck, with a new name and larger cabs intended to help it better compete with the Tacoma and Ford Ranger, which was still going strong at the time. That worked for the first year, but in 2005, all-new and significantly enlarged versions of the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier came out. Almost overnight, the Canyon felt small in comparison.
Eleven years down the road, the very same Toyota and Nissan pickups are still on dealer lots. That opens the door for the all-new 2015 GMC Canyon pickup, which enters the fray with the last decade's worth of new thinking baked into its engine, transmission and in-car electronics.
What Has Changed?
A new fully boxed frame with a 128.3-inch wheelbase supports a four-passenger extended-cab model with a 6-foot-2-inch long bed or the five-passenger crew cab model with a 5-foot-2-inch short bed. GMC has also followed the competition's lead and now offers a crew cab with the longer bed for the first time in the model's history. Meanwhile, the stubby regular cab model has been discontinued.
No one will miss the outgoing 185-horsepower 2.9-liter four-cylinder base engine. Its 2.5-liter replacement makes 200 hp and delivers 90 percent of its peak torque at just 2,000 rpm. Better still, the unloved 3.7-liter five-cylinder that made 242 hp and a similar amount of torque is stepping aside in favor of a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque.
Both engines manage these impressive gains thanks to variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, but they also benefit from the two extra cogs in the 2015 GMC Canyon's six-speed automatic transmission. This gearbox is standard in most versions of the truck except for the low end of the model range, where a six-speed manual can be found in two-wheel-drive extended-cab trim levels.
At first glance, the suspension doesn't seem that new. The front half sits on double wishbones and coil-over shocks, while the back rides atop the usual solid axle and two-stage leaf springs. But the geometry and the tuning of these bits have been significantly altered.
The old truck's hydraulic-boosted rack-and-pinion steering has been booted in favor of the efficiency and reliability of electric power steering. And the old rear drum brakes have been tossed in favor of discs all around, a change that improves the effectiveness of the standard stability control, traction control and antilock braking systems.
How Many Trim Levels Are There?
The new Canyon comes in four trim levels. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is standard except for any crew cab with four-wheel drive or a long bed, in which case the 3.6-liter V6 is fitted.
The SL trim sits at the low end of the scale and starts at an affordable $21,880. It's a vinyl-floor price leader that comes in one flavor: two-wheel drive, extended cab, 2.5-liter straight-4 and a six-speed manual transmission. This is a fleet special, and its extended cab only holds two because the rear side-facing jump seats have been deleted.
Next up is the self-named Canyon, which is the work-truck version that starts at $23,575. All cab and bed combinations are available here, and the V6 is optional on those versions that don't already have it. The six-speed automatic comes standard in most of them, the lone exception being the two-wheel-drive extended cab, which comes with the manual.
The $27,520 SLE is the next rung in the ladder, and it's expected to be the most popular trim. Everything at this level gets the six-speed automatic. Standard features are comparable to the typical consumer-based pickups with a few extra niceties that include keyless entry and an 8-inch touchscreen.
At the top of the Canyon lineup is the SLT, which comes standard with 18-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, automatic climate control, heated seats, leather upholstery and many other features that are optional on the SLE. Prices start at $30,655 and our rear-drive long-bed SLT crew cab further benefits from the optional chrome assist steps, premium Bose audio, a navigation system and the Driver Alert package that adds forward collision alert and lane departure warning. This brings the as-tested price up to $36,460.
How Does It Drive?
As in the Chevrolet Colorado, the Canyon's 3.6-liter V6 comes to life with little fanfare, and it settles into a calm idle that's accompanied by a tiny amount of mechanical engine sound. There's plenty of grunt when we roll gently onto the gas, and it pulls strongly when we press harder. The six-speed automatic is smooth and sure as it goes up through the gears, and there isn't much wind or road noise as we settle in at 70 mph.
In Edmunds testing, our V6-powered SLT crew cab test vehicle accelerated to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, which is quicker than similarly outfitted Toyota and Nissan rivals. The Canyon also outperformed these competitors in terms of braking from that speed, needing 124 feet to come to a stop.
The steering has enough heft and on-center definition to make straight-ahead cruising a relaxing pursuit, and it turns in accurately when corners enter the mix. The response is a little slower than we'd like, but not by much. There's less overall body roll than in the last Tacoma we drove, and it leans in more gradually.
We could easily spend all day behind the wheel of one of these. It's clearly better than the Canyon of old, and it feels more grown up than the competition.
What About Comfort?
The Canyon's ride feels identical to that of the Chevrolet Colorado, which isn't much of a surprise, frankly. In both cases GM engineers have found the Goldilocks zone. The ride is neither too hard over bumps, nor too floaty and bouncy when the pavement gets wavy.
Yes, a lone occupant hauling nothing but Grade-A air might notice a little firmness, but that's par for the course when it comes to an empty pickup. Add some cargo in the bed or a light trailer and the busy shimmy from the rear wheels is history. Mostly, the Canyon shrugs off bumps and potholes with little aftertaste. The stiffness of the underlying structure clearly helps the suspension do its job more effectively.
The SLT's attractive leather bucket seats offer good support, and they certainly take the edge off coarser road inputs. If you frequently transport passengers, the crew cab is easily the preferred choice for both space and access. Adults will find the crew cab's rear seats roomy and comfortable for extended periods, while the extended cab is best left to small passengers and shorter trips.
What Is the Interior Like?
The cab of the new Canyon is simply a nice place to be. It feels much more up to date and manages to translate the feel and atmosphere of GMC's full-size Sierra 1500 to a smaller package.
The Canyon's instrument pod is more stylized than that of the Colorado, but it's no less functional. GMC's 8-inch IntelliLink screen occupies a prominent and easy-to-reach spot in the middle of the dash, and the buttons and knobs that control it are clearly separated from the climate control array that sits a respectful distance below. Convincing stainless-steel accents set the whole thing off nicely.
Though it doesn't necessarily look it from the outside, the backseat of the crew cab offers a smidge over 2 inches more legroom than a Nissan Frontier and just over 3 inches more than a Toyota Tacoma. As for the extended cab, its front-facing jump seats aren't that inviting for grown adults, but you can haul a decent amount of luggage back there.
GM truck interiors of a few years ago drove us mad with tiny lookalike buttons and oddball layouts, but the folks responsible for the newest redesigns of the Sierra, Yukon, and now the Canyon, deserve a lot of credit for reversing this trend and making their products functional and attractive.
How About Off-Road?
All 4x4 versions of the Canyon come equipped with a two-speed low-range transfer case that's electronically controlled by a switch on the dash. There's also a Z71 off-road suspension option (order code: GAT) that comes with all-terrain tires and other goodies.
Our drive didn't include the sort of off-road component we prefer, but the low-hanging front fascia makes for a poor approach angle. We know several easy trails near the office that might cause it trouble. Aerodynamics in the name of fuel economy was clearly the higher design priority.
As it sits, the new Canyon seems more suited to muddy tracks and snow than the rocky places we're picturing, places where the Tacoma's generous underbody clearance and clearance angles give it a big advantage. Still, the Canyon has good bones and a great powertrain. The aftermarket is sure to offer solutions to those who don't mind paying for them.
What About Cargo and Towing?
All V6-powered Canyons come with a 3.42-to-1 final drive ratio. There are no optional choices, so the same truck that can tow the maximum of 7,000 pounds can also achieve the rated fuel economy when empty. If only full-size tow ratings were this simple.
A 2015 Toyota Tacoma can tow 6,500 pounds. These numbers are directly comparable for a change because both manufacturers used the SAE J2807 tow rating procedure to determine the maximum tow rating. Aside from the V6 engine, the only options necessary to achieve the max are the locking rear differential and the Z82 Trailering package (hitch and integrated seven-pin wiring).
On paper there's ample power and torque, and the V6 engine comes with a Tow/Haul mode switch that has proven to be very effective in past towing tests with other six-speed-equipped GM trucks. With a light 2,000-pound ramped trailer, the Canyon performed admirably while climbing steep grades. Power was plentiful enough to require some restraint to keep from exceeding the recommended speed limit. It's also praiseworthy when descending grades for its use of engine braking to keep speeds in check.
The bed looks good, primarily because it's so deep: 2 more inches, according to GM. A long tailgate makes for a longer platform length when it's folded down, which is how 8-foot lumber can fit in the 6-foot 2-inch bed without hanging over.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
The V6 is the engine everyone is going to want, especially when they hear the fuel economy bottom line: 21 mpg combined (18 city/26 highway) for the 4x2 version. All this from a powertrain that can tow 7,000 pounds. In the time we spent with this Canyon variant we averaged 17.6 mpg, which included several hundred miles of light towing. On our evaluation loop we achieved 21 mpg in mixed driving conditions.
The competing 4.0-liter V6 in the Tacoma is rated at 19 mpg combined (17 city/21 highway), and the Nissan Frontier V6 achieves 18 mpg combined (17 city/22 highway).
Four-cylinder ratings have not yet been announced, but we have no doubt they'll be even better. And don't forget about the 2016 model year, when an even more efficient 2.9-liter turbodiesel is set to appear.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The 2015 Toyota Tacoma is the most obvious target. But after 11 years on the market it's looking tired inside and the fuel economy is subpar. That said, Toyota takes off-road capability to heart, and the basic design of the truck includes many nods to the needs of those who go routinely past the point where the road grader stops.
The 2015 Nissan Frontier is on the list, too. But it's also going into its 11th year and feels perhaps even more dated than the Toyota. It's a solid truck, but it's thirstier than some of the newer full-size offerings.
Perhaps the biggest threat comes from within. Styling differences aside, the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado is pretty much the same truck, and it's generally several hundred bucks cheaper. And even though the Z71 is the top-level trim in the Chevy lineup, it is the cheaper way to get the Z71 off-road goodies if that's what you're after.
Why Should You Consider This Truck?
This Canyon has enough capability for all but the most demanding tasks of the average truck owner. It's also easier to park, gets better mileage and is more likely to fit neatly into your garage than the full-size GMC Sierra.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Truck?
If you typically tow a trailer combo that's well over 6,000 pounds, the Canyon will be approaching its limits on a regular basis. It's a similar story if you like to push your truck on difficult off-road trails on a typical weekend.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.