Actions speak loudly. Especially when it comes to vehicles.
You can talk all you want about how a car looks or sounds, but if you find yourself leaving it in the garage more often than not, you should rethink about whether it’s really the car for you.
For example: Recently I had both a sedan and a big diesel truck at my disposal to drive around the choked streets of New York. Even though it's a beast to squeeze a truck through narrow spaces (and a particular challenge when parallel parking), I kept choosing to drive the 12-foot-wheelbase 2016 GMC Canyon Crew Cab pickup. I even liked parking it.
Yes, this review is a little different from our regularly scheduled programming. I don’t often review vehicles from non-luxury brands, but I wanted to write about this one specifically because it is sporty enough to appeal to young people who want a second or third vehicle suited to adventuring. (These people, let's remember, are the types also coveted by Cadillac, Buick, Lincoln, etc—all of whom are working furiously to lower the average age of their buyers.) Several drivers I know in this city who fit that demographic have bemoaned to me the lackluster second-car options out there; it can seem like there is nothing available between a noisy/bare-bones Jeep or a prohibitively expensive-for-some Land Rover or G-Wagon. They want something “cool” that they can afford as a practical plaything. That it’s diesel makes it even more unique and—therefore, to this crowd—potentially more desirable.
You’d think a $38,000 midsize diesel truck would not be Option One for a professional in the city. Trucks are supposed to be unwieldy to drive in traffic—they’re suited to hauling stuff and accomplishing physical tasks not normally attempted while one is dressed in a suit. But the first time I drove it downtown, the drive sensation made the premium compact four-door I was also testing seem boring and flat. It was like meeting someone in real life after skimming past them on social media—two dimensions instead of three. I loved how interesting the GMC Canyon is compared to dime-a-dozen crossovers and boring large sedans.
The 2016 GMC Canyon Crew Cab isn’t the biggest or most expensive truck on the road. Still, its precise handling, superior ride height, athletic suspension, and no-nonsense interior make it a great option in the midsize pickup category. It’s good for those who live in urban areas but do weekend escapes—the sort of thing you want for loading bikes or a kayak or a tent and camping gear and then heading with friends, upstate or into the desert. (The step on the rear bumper and easy lift-and-lower locking tailgate make loading and unloading easy.)
If you want a straightforward American workhorse that also happens to be pleasant as a simple daily driver, it’s perfect.
Casual and Confident to Drive
This is the truck GM made as an upgrade to its Colorado series from sister-brand Chevrolet. It isn’t luxuriously appointed, but it is the most affordable, most versatile of the trucks GMC offers. (If you want something discernibly premium, wait for the excellent 2017 Canyon Denali coming out later this year). You can compare it to the brand-new 2017 Honda Ridgeline and the Toyota Tacoma. To my mind, the Toyota looks sportier and the Honda is better appointed. But over trips to the airport (luggage in back), fetching furniture in Brooklyn, and commuting 40 minutes to work every day, the nimble Canyon Crew Cab suited just fine. The only thing missing was a dog to share the ride.
The Canyon has a 2.8L turbo diesel engine that gets 181 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Two- or four-wheel drives are optional on the six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode. It’s not the fastest thing you’ll feel—0-60 miles per hour in 9.4 seconds, with a top speed of only 100mph, aren’t great—but for torque and towing power (7,700 pounds on 2WD) it easily matches or beats the others in its segment. The integrated trailer brake controller comes standard.
Efficiency rates at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24mpg on the highway, which is not quite as strong as the Toyota Tacoma or the upcoming Ridgeline; this is disappointing when you consider that it's a diesel (read: supposed to be more efficient) vehicle. I wish the highway rating were closer to 30mph—it would certainly help those of us who would take it up the highway camping or climbing.
Still, driving the Canyon is easy, even relaxing. Don’t expect sports-car suspension or track-ready enthusiasm, but as a truck it handles uneven terrain confidently and manages corners well for its height. Forget what you remember about diesel trucks and noise: A centrifugal pendulum vibration absorber reduces powertrain noise and vibration through the machine, and the cabin is as quiet as a sedan. My passengers only knew it was a diesel if I told them.
Remote start, projector-beam headlights, and the rear-locking differential come standard on the higher-end SLT version I drove; choose the 18-inch chrome wheels and the most appropriate bed package (tonneau cover, bedliner, tie-down rings, and utility racks, among other options) for your needs.
A Straightforward Interior
The interior of the Canyon Crew Cab is well-done but remains unpretentious in its aspirations. Its wide dashboard and control knobs are blessedly unfussy. The rear seats left more than enough room for my 6-foot, 4-inch father and 5’11’’ mother to enjoy the view; the drivers’ seat is angled so you will have command of the road ahead without losing touch with the ground, as you do in many huge trucks and SUVs.
New for 2016 are iPhone integration technology and a (standard) rear sliding window. The SLT comes standard with aluminum interior trim, heated front seats, a spotter mirror, and heated power adjustable chrome mirrors on the outside as well. I liked the large rear-view mirrors—one of the many boons associated with owning a truck. I’d splurge on the Bose 7-speaker premium sound system and driver alert systems with forward-collision and lane-departure warning functionality.
In the rear, the truck bed has 13 movable and four static tie-downs, plus removable cargo tie-down rings and an (optional but recommended) spray-in bed liner. It’s a good set-up for people who want a rig you can use for recreation and weekend adventures. You can choose either a short bed (5’2’’) or a long bed (6’2’’); the short one is more conducive to city driving while maintaining the full functionality of a pickup.
That, in fact, is where the GMC Canyon Crew Cab shines. It’s not fancy. But it’s solid and confident, like a seasoned cow dog that glories in ranch life. With its practicality and firm, direct handling, it’s the truck for people who didn’t know they needed one.