2023 GMC Canyon First Drive Review

A versatile mid-size truck with great styling and bona fide off-road chops.

By Matthew Guy Wheels.ca

May 8, 2023 5 min. read

Article was updated 7 months ago

Join the Conversation (0)
The midsize pickup truck segment, once largely given up for dead by several manufacturers, is currently hotter than a three-dollar pistol. No fewer than four all-new models are on tap from different brands this year, ranging from Detroit stalwarts to the top sales dog Tacoma. One of the first to appear? A fresh GMC Canyon, complete with a powerful new engine and a variety of trims to suit an array of personal tastes.

You know how some kids rummage through the closets of their bigger siblings, trying to find a cool outfit or a better pair of shoes? That’s essentially the tack taken by the Canyon, which has – erm – borrowed the engine from big-bro Sierra and tuned it to its liking. Gone are the V6 and diesel options, replaced with a 2.7L turbocharged four-cylinder making 310 horsepower and 430 lb.-ft of torque, all hooked to an 8-speed automatic and four-wheel drive. Unlike its midsize cousin at Chevy, which offers the same engine in three different states of tune, all trims of the Canyon show up with a single selection of power – the best one.

Sampling an Elevation trim on a series of crowded paved highways and twisty simple dirt roads confirmed this was the right decision. It was easy to goose one’s way around traffic-choked by construction bottlenecks before turning onto a loose gravel surface which showed off the truck’s willingness to act with a personality larger than its cylinder count. The mill doesn’t offer much in the way of aural gratification but this is the reality of most four-banger engines.

All trims – Elevation, Denali, and AT4 – not only get the primo power tune but they also get equal face time in terms of height and stance. Where other brands make customers pay extra to amp the visual aggression via a factory lift and flared widetrack fenders, GMC simply installs these cues as standard kit on its Canyon. It’s a trick that works, making the truck as symmetrical as moth wings and creating one of the best-looking trucks from The General in good spell.

Heading north into the Blue Ridge Mountains, we grabbed the keys to an AT4X trim, which is essentially an AT4 with the yassification cranked up an extra 75 percent. This truck is jacked a further one inch skyward compared to other Canyons, enabling 10.7 inches of ground clearance and a 36.9-degree approach angle. Rubber shows up as LT285/70R17 mud terrains (that’s 33-inches for those who speak Offus-Roadus), while at each corner of the AT4X one will find the fantastic DSSV dampers from the wizards at Multimatic.

2023 GMC Canyon

Much digital ink has been spilled about those suspenders since they first showed up on a GM truck about five years ago – and rightly so. These off-road wonders use separate spool valves for compression and rebound, meaning the unit can regulate the damper’s fluid flow depending on demand. During extreme off-road use, a third valve delivers additional compression damping plus yet another separate rebound valve up front. In plain English, this explains why we could send the AT4X suspension into full yaw over a jump but enjoy the pillow-like ‘fwump’ of a landing that didn’t break our spines. The drive home from the trail is also as comfortable as it gets.

Front and rear electronic locking diffs on AT4X can make the difference between getting through that slippery obstacle or calling for a tow truck; a quintent of drive modes deliver markedly different throttle maps off-road, including a Terrain mode that enables smooth low-speed one-pedal driving. Skid plates are on hand in case you misjudge those rocks. GM is king of the camera game, with views up the wazoo for lane changing and trailering but takes things to the next level with a pair of underbody cameras that are perfect for spotting one’s way through a rocky off-road trail. Equipped with washer jets, these initially seemed like gimmicks until they proved their worth whilst your author was trying to pick his way around boulders the size of a compact car.

2023 GMC Canyon

Each Canyon trim has a distinct interior theme, an important way to separate trucks which all (save the AT4X) share the same stance and power level. With equal placement of major controls and solid material choice across all, choosing a favourite largely comes down to personal preference. Every truck gets an enormous 11.3-inch touchscreen for infotainment duties, populated with smartphone integration and reasonably responsive software. Elevation gets an 8-inch digital gauge cluster ahead of the driver; others are gifted an 11-inch display. Both offer up useful driving and off-road information, the latter in entertaining colours, and we never really missed the extra digital real estate in the more expensive models.

2023 GMC Canyon

Cabin space puts a priority on the front-row passengers, with those chairs able to move far rearward on their tracks to provide maximum legroom. This comes at the expense of the peanut gallery, who otherwise have a pleasant space equipped with USB charging ports and their own ventilation registers. Headroom was also at a premium for this 6’6” driver, though the space-robbing sunroof was largely to blame for that annoyance. Fortunately, that feature is optional on certain trims.

Buying advice? Those who are in the market for a rig which writes off-road cheques its midsize body can most definitely cash may consider the AT4X. Those tremendous Multimatic dampers continue to comprise part of the best factory-fitted off-road suspension in this segment, though we’ll see what the upcoming Ford Ranger Raptor and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro have to say about that statement.

The rest of us should try an Elevation trim, equipped in Canada as standard with four-wheel drive and the same 310hp/430tq high-output tune as its more expensive brothers. It retains an equal lift and burly stance as the Denali and AT4, comes with that jumbotron of an infotainment screen, and can still tow 7,700 pounds. Layer on the $2,250 Convenience Package (sliding rear window, trick MultiStow tailgate, bed outlet, remote start, dual-zone climate control, and fog lamps) plus $410 for a locking rear differential and you’ve a solidly equipped Canyon for $48,108 plus destination. This is nearly twenty thousand dollars less than the AT4X and, as a bonus, ditches the infernal sunroof to quell my whinging about headroom.

Look for most trims of the new 2023 GMC Canyon on dealer lots before school lets out for the summer, with the burly AT4X not far behind.

2023 GMC Canyon pricing (plus freight)

Elevation – $48,497

AT4 – $53,197

Denali – $62,497

AT4X – $67,797

WEBSITE: www.gmccanada.ca


Read more about:


More from Wheels & Partners