Car Reviews First Tests

2017 GMC Canyon Denali First Test: Small Truck, Fancy Package

A smaller, luxurious alternative to the full-size segment

A smaller, luxurious alternative to the full-size segment

I am from truck country, USA. I’m of course talking about the Lone Star State of Texas. Living in Texas, you see all kinds of trucks driven by all kinds of people, and bigger is definitely better. That’s not a problem with all that open space, big and plentiful parking lots, good roads, and large highways. On the other end of the spectrum is the Los Angeles metropolitan area, a dense urban environment with narrow roads and alleys, small parking lots, and congested highways. Enter the compact truck segment—a segment that will soon grow with the relaunch of the Ford Ranger. For now, the GMC Canyon competes with its sister pickup (the Chevrolet Colorado), the crossover-like Honda Ridgeline, the affordable and aged Nissan Frontier, and the volume leader, the Toyota Tacoma.

The Canyon nameplate returned to the GMC lineup for the 2015 model year, and for 2017, the truck got the Denali treatment. Before we get to the fancy-pants options in this luxo-truck, how do the dimensions compare to its full-size big brother, the Sierra? When comparing the longest models of the two (crew cab with the long bed), the Canyon is 224.6 inches, about 14 inches shorter than the longest Sierra that measures 238.8. Measuring in at 80 inches, the Sierra is roughly 6 inches wider than the Canyon’s 74.3 inches of width. The tallest Sierra is 3.5 inches higher than the tallest Canyon—that height is not usually a big concern unless you’re parking in a garage with a low clearance. Over a foot shorter and half a foot narrower, maneuvering and parking the Canyon in L.A. or any densely packed city would undoubtedly be less of a headache.

If fuel efficiency and price is a concern, the most fuel-efficient Canyon is the turbodiesel (rear-wheel drive) model that delivers 22/30 mpg (11.8/7.8 L/100km) city/highway while the most efficient Sierra delivers 18/24 mpg (13.1/9.8 L/100km) with 3.6-liter V-6 with rear-wheel drive. The Canyon starts at $21,880 USD, and the Sierra starts at almost $8,000 USD more at $29,700 USD.

In addition to the new Denali model, the new eight-speed automatic transmission is the other newsmaker for 2017. Paired exclusively to the 3.6-liter V-6, the eight-speed replaces the former six-speed and might improve real-world fuel economy and possibly performance. Did it? Unfortunately, EPA-rated fuel economy numbers are unchanged. The 2016 GMC Canyon with the 3.6-liter V-6 paired to the outgoing six-speed automatic delivered 18/25 mpg (13.1/9.4 L/100km) city/highway with rear-wheel drive (17/24 mpg (13.8/9.8 L/100km) with four-wheel drive). The 2017 GMC Canyon with the same V-6 but paired to the new eight-speed automatic is rated at the exact same 18/25 mpg (13.1/9.4 L/100km0 with rear-wheel drive (17/24 mpg (13.8/9.8 L/100km) with four-wheel drive).

With acceleration, it’s a different story. During testing, the 308-hp, 275 lb-ft of torque GMC Canyon Denali roared (the V-6 actually sounds very good) to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 92.8 mph (149 km/h). Back in 2015, the 3.6-liter made slightly less power—rated at 305 hp and 269 lb-ft—and when paired to the old six-speed automatic, the pickup truck hit 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.9 seconds at 88.3 mph (142 km/h). That’s a significant improvement for the 2017 model.

At the track, the Canyon Denali performed well against competitors also equipped with four-wheel drive (all-wheel drive for the Ridgeline). The previously mentioned 0-60-mph time of 6.8 seconds puts it just behind the Honda Ridgeline’s (280 hp) time of 6.4 seconds but ahead of the Tacoma’s (278 hp) time of 7.1 seconds and the Frontier’s (261 hp) time of 7.8 seconds. The Canyon might be the most powerful truck in the group but not the quickest. In our 60-0-mph braking test, the Ridgeline came in first again, measuring 122 feet, but it took 125 feet for the Canyon and Tacoma to stop. The outdated Frontier came in last taking 139 feet to stop from 60 mph.

Is the most powerful of the group the least fuel efficient? Not quite. The Canyon’s 17/24 mpg (13.8/9.8 L/100km) rating falls just a tad behind the 18/25 mpg (13.1/9.4 L/100km) rating of the most fuel efficient of the bunch, the Ridgeline, and almost even with the Tacoma’s 18/23 mpg (13.1/10.2 L/100km). The old Frontier came in last with EPA ratings, at 15/21 mpg (15.7/11.2 L/100km). With the exception of the Frontier, all the other ratings are close enough that they’re not significant when buying a pickup truck. What the 308-hp, 275-lb-ft V-6 does do is provide the highest towing capacity of 7,000 pounds (3,175 kg) (7,700 pounds (3,493 kg) for the turbodiesel), higher than the 6,800-pound (3,084-kg) capacity for the Tacoma and more than the 5,000-pound (2,268-kg) limit for the Honda Ridgeline. The Frontier’s 6,500-pound (2,948-kg) capacity is respectable. Towing a pair of jet skis or ATVs will be no problem for the V-6 Canyon.

Safety might not be the first thing truck buyers think about when buying a truck, but it’s still very important. The Canyon, Tacoma, and Frontier all received four-star ratings from the NHTSA, but the Ridgeline managed the highest five-star rating. The IIHS has not completed its full array of tests on the Canyon, Tacoma, or Frontier, but all trucks received the highest rating of Good in the moderate overlap front crash evaluation. The Ridgeline, however, has been through all the IIHS’ evaluations and is considered a 2017 Top Safety Pick+. Our Canyon came equipped with forward collision alert and lane departure warning driver-assist safety features.

The 2017 GMC Canyon Denali came loaded with many standard features including 20-inch alloy wheels, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation and Intellilink, OnStar with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, heated and ventilated front leather seats, a heated leather wrapped steering wheel, wireless cell phone charging, chrome running boards, easy-lift tailgate, a spray-on bed liner, four-wheel drive, a locking rear differential, and lots of exterior chrome trim. The only option our tester has is the $495 USD Red Quartz Tintcoat exterior color, this came out to a grand total of $44,255 USD. For reference, that is about the same as a well-equipped, rear-wheel-drive GMC Sierra crew cab with the 5.3-liter V-8. If size doesn’t matter in your area, the full-size Sierra might be the better value option.

As feature laden as the Denali is, I wish the truck had a moonroof, fully-powered front seats, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, push-start ignition, a fast-entry system, and blind-spot warning because it’s still easy to miss those small cars next to you. All of those features are unfortunately not available on the Denali. A 360-degree camera system and rear-cross traffic alert would also be appreciated. Even then, the Canyon has more than enough luxury for a small truck.

Around town, the Canyon Denali provided a surprisingly quiet, comfortable ride with quick acceleration. Handling is nice and nimble at low and highway speeds and steering weight is just right for a truck. The brakes feel a little soft but provide strong stopping power. At 70 mph (113 km/h), the V-6 hums along at a quiet 1,750 rpm, great for fuel economy, especially when cylinder deactivation kicks it. However, give the engine some throttle, and the eight-speed is reluctant to downshift much at highway speeds unless you completely floor it. Motor Trend’s road test editor Chris Walton agrees: “Why, with eight gears, are they so far apart? Also, this truck is a loath to downshift unless you get it past the clicker on the throttle pedal.” Regardless, acceleration is brisk, especially at slower, street-level speeds.

Living in Texas, I never really understood why some people like small trucks. Trucks are meant to be big and powerful. After living in a dense metropolitan area, however, I now understand why. Even if you don’t live in a big city, Canyon-sized pickup trucks are great for anyone who wants truck capability but not the large size and the extra expense that accompanies owning a full-size truck. When compared to its big brother, the Canyon might be smaller, but it’s more affordable, easier to live with, and more fun to drive. The truck is good-looking, a great size for the city, has plenty of luxury and technology, and strong power from a strong-sounding V-6. Is the Denali worth the high price tag? Many would argue no, but in a world with some SUVs calling themselves coupes, there must be a market for a luxuriously capable small truck.

2017 GMC Canyon Denali
BASE PRICE $43,760
PRICE AS TESTED $44,225
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 3.6L/308-hp/275-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,593 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 128.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 212.4 x 74.3 x 70.6 in
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.2 sec @ 92.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 125 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.1 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17/24/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 198/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.99 lb/mile