Big Little Brother: 2015 GMC Canyon

General Motors has returned to the mid-size truck market after several years out of the game. GM revived its two mid-size nameplates, the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon. On one of the coldest weeks of the year thus far, GM provided a top-trim GMC Canyon SLE to conquer  snow-covered Upstate, New York.

GMC Canyon 1

In many ways, the Canyon looks like a shrunken Sierra. And that’s not a bad thing! The Sierra Denali is the best looking full-size truck that we’ve tested. The new Canyon inherits many of the same design cues; the creased wheel arches, square upright grille, and headlight configuration. But the smaller Canyon is 6 inches narrower, spans 15 inches less in length, and stands 3 inches shorter. Thus, it is a completely different formula from the ground up. The styling is a success, just like it was on the Sierra and it works excellently with the smaller proportions.

GMC Canyon 3

Inside is more of the same, but the proportions come into play more here. There’s noticeably less  room inside, both front and rear, but we say that sparingly because it is by no means small or cramped. Our Canyon came with the largest interior available, the Crew Cab, with the shorter, 5′ 2″ bed. A smaller Extended Cab is available and both cab sizes can be fitted with the 6′ 2″ bed. GMC blended interior elements from the Sierra, like the dials and switchwork, with a car-like center console and floor-mounted shifter. They claim it helps make the Canyon more accessible to people transitioning out of a car. We’re not sure what was so intimidating about the interior of the Sierra Denali.

GMC Canyon 10

Like the Sierra, the fabulous Intellilink system is an available option with navigation on an 8″ touchscreen. Our tester also included the optional Bose upgraded sound system and SLE convenience package. One feature in that package, remote start, was definitely appreciated on icy mornings. The most expensive option on our Canyon was the $1,190 All-Terrain Package. Inside, that includes a unique interior trim and seat covers for the heated, power front bucket seats. Outside, the package adds the Z71 off-road suspension upgrades, all-terrain tires on unique 17″ wheels, and a number of other visual changes. The beefier tires and slightly stiffer suspension definitely had an impact on ride quality. And with passengers sitting on already very-hard seats, the Canyon wasn’t our favorite ride over bumpy roads.

GMC Canyon 7

Much like it’s big brother, the Sierra, our Canyon was more than capable in the winter weather. The week’s total of over a foot of snow was easily manageable the AutoTrac 4WD system. Like all 4×4 systems, the driver can change between 2WD, 4WD Hi and 4WD Lo. But the Canyon also has an Auto mode, which sends power to the front wheels as needed. While it seems like a nice set-it-and-forget-it feature, the system felt slow in low traction situations. Pulling off the line aggressively, it sometimes felt as if the transmission was slipping. In reality, the A4WD system was slowly trying to engage the front wheels. In situations where you need it, your best bet is still to engage 4WD beforehand. If things really get dicey, the Canyon is available with a locking rear differential. Otherwise the drive is comfortable, engaging, and more sporty than its larger sibling. The steering has good feel even though it is the first fully electric setup for the mid-size class.

GMC Canyon 4

There was one drawback during our time with the Canyon, the transmission. Both the 2.5L 4-cylinder and 3.6L V6 use the same 6-speed automatic transmission. Even with the larger engine, producing 305 hp and 269 lb-ft torque, the Canyon required a lot of pedal travel in order to get things moving with any sort of pace. Surprisingly, a manual transmission is still offered on 2WD 4-cylinder models. Our V6 4×4 truck has an EPA rating of 17 city, 23 highway. We averaged slightly above 18 mpg, not much better than the Sierra Denali packing a 6.2L V8. But while that full-size luxury truck stickered just south of $55k, this well-equipped Canyon rang in just under $40k.

GMC Canyon 6

It’s fair to say that the F-150 has stolen a lot of truck thunder this year, but in many ways the Canyon and Colorado twins are bigger news. Manufacturers won’t take risks on the bread-and-butter full-size market. But GM has shaken up the stagnant mid-size truck market while Nissan is still promising a new version of its aged Frontier and Toyota just pulled the covers off a heavy refresh of the Tacoma. GM has infused a lot of 21st century technology in a category that has seen no innovation in a decade. If you’re in the market for a mid-size truck, the twins are your best bet; they’re the best big little brother the Sierra could have.

-Scott Villeneuve

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE
All-Terrain Package $1,190
SLE Convenience Package $500
Bose Audio System $995
Navigation System $495
Spray-on Bed Liner $475
Trailering Equipment Package $250
Destination Charges $925
As Tested MSRP $39,090

Versatile: 2014 GMC Sierra Denali

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