2023 GMC Canyon
A small big truck
The GMC Canyon does a great job at being a small(er) truck while still offering up a lot of big-truck capabilities and features. Without being too big, that is.
By J-F Wright
Thu, Dec 14, 2023 08:41 AM PST
All images by the author. Edited by Erica Wright.
The 2023 GMC Canyon straddles the line between large and small quite well. They call it a mid-size for good reason - just like many other mid-size pickup trucks, the Canyon offers a bit of everything. It’s not huge, so you can park it without worrying about sticking out of your spot. It’s not so small that you can’t haul anything, making you wonder if you should’ve just gotten a station wagon. No, the Canyon is just right.
Does it bounce around like a full-size pickup? Well, here too the Canyon strikes a good middle ground. It definitely feels a lot more like a truck than, say, a Hyundai Santa Cruz. But, it doesn’t have the feel of a large truck either.
Our test vehicle is an AT4 (that’s the off-roady trim), but it’s also equipped with the AT4 Premium Package - giving it a more premium feel, while still being off-road capable. This includes a really nice leather interior - “Jet Black / Timber Perforated Leather-Appointed Front Seats” if you want to get all technical. In layman terms, the black leather seats have a nice brown leather contrast - and they look really good. The front seats are heated and cooled, which is quite the luxury for a pickup, right? The heated steering wheel is definitely a nice touch when getting started early on a cold morning.
The two screen displays are the classic GM displays found throughout their line-up (depending on trim-level, of course) and they do a fine job of getting you access to vehicle settings, navigation, as well as anything else infotainment-related.
The back seat has space for three (smallish) people or two average sized adults - I could definitely seat three kids back there, and one of mine is still in one of those clunky big child seat inserts. The back seats are also nicely appointed with the same brown on black as the front.
Speaking of the rear seats - there’s a real “household outlet” back there, in case you need to plug something in. Furthermore, there are plenty of USB-outlets - both in the front and back seats.
The sound system will definitely get the job done - sound quality is decent but nothing to be overly overjoyed about. But, then again, this is a truck, our test vehicle ringing in at just under $50,000, not a luxury audio-mobile - like some six-figure SUVs successfully mimic.
Notable Features & Thoughts
Lots of car manufacturers are nowadays positioning their headrests further and further forward - it hasn’t always been that way - and I guess GM is joining that club. This means that I have a hard time finding a position where my whole back is supported by the backrest while still resting the back of my head on the headrest. Unfortunate? Yes. But, then again, this is not something unique for GMC vehicles - it’s found in a bunch of new cars. I just wish they would all stop doing it. (Although, to be fair, the manufacturers claim that it has to do with safety if you are rear-ended.)
The fact that there’s only one lever behind the steering wheel means that you need to get used to turning on and off your windshield wipers with your left hand rather than your right. Also, of course, it does the blinking and handles all the light settings. I’m not sure why GMC opted for this layout - most cars seem to go for the two-lever layout - but I’m certain that anyone can get used to it within a couple of days of driving.
The OnStar system is, in my opinion, always a good idea to set up. You usually get a couple of months for free when you buy a new GM product, and then I’d at least keep the safety-related subscriptions going. I wouldn’t want to stop paying for it and then find myself unconscious in a ditch without the car automatically calling for help.
Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto) hooks up to the GMC Canyon via Bluetooth. I include this because wireless smartphone connectivity isn’t necessarily standard on all new cars - albeit we can probably all agree that it should be - some need you to hook up through a USB-cable.
Comfort & Driving Characteristics
The 2023 GMC Canyon actually has a bit of a kick to it. The 2.7 liter turbo six-cylinder engine has more than enough power to get you going - it actually has enough power to get you going in a hurry. Yes it still rides like a (mid-size) truck, but since it’s not a full-size truck it actually handles less like a giant beast on the road. Steering is responsive, but obviously not like a low-to-the-ground sedan. Even with the bed empty I’m not feeling much of the classic truck-bounce - unless, of course, the truck’s dimensions somehow line up with the grooves on the road, then you’ll get the usual bounciness.
The GMC Canyon AT4, even with the Canyon Safety Plus Package, does not come standard with an adaptive cruise control. For those of you who have yet to drive a vehicle with adaptive cruise, this might sound like nothing. But, once you’ve driven one, it’s hard to go back to a car without it. In my mind, the adaptive cruise feature is a definite opt-in - if it’s available at all, that is.
Interestingly, the GMC Canyon still has a button that looks like the distance-setting-button found in cars with an adaptive cruise control - you know, the button where you set how close to the car in front you want to be. This threw me off at first, as I assumed that the button meant that the Canyon had the auto-cruise feature. What the button does, however, is set the distance (to the car in front of you) you want the safety system to warn you at, when it thinks you’re about to hit something.
The eight speed transmission in the Canyon is quick enough too - it seems to find the best gear for whatever you have in mind, making driving the Canyon a real joy.
The automatic fuel-saving function that turns the engine off when idling is easily turned off itself - there’s a button for that, thank you very much. With that said, though, the Canyon is actually really quick at starting up again - pretty much fast enough to where it doesn’t become irritating. I’m not sure how much this feature helps with the fuel economy, but I’m averaging roughly 20 miles per gallon - pretty much exactly what GMC says I should be getting.
The GMC Canyon AT4 comes with an off-road tuned suspension with an auto-locking rear differential, 2-speed transfer case, hill decent control, and a nifty selector knob to set your vehicle up for the type of driving ahead. One could rightfully say the AT4 is geared for more serious off-roading than your average midsize pickup.
Furthermore, one of the views available in the dashboard presents all kinds of fun insight into the vehicle’s current (well)being. You’ll only need to know your steering angle, transfer case and four-wheel-drive settings, and the vehicles pitch and roll in degrees if you’re doing some serious off-road driving. However, even for tooling around town, these are fun - albeit geeky - insights.
Exterior & Pickup Bed
The exterior of the GMC Canyon is reminiscent of other GMC pick-up trucks - and SUVs for that matter. The front grille is large, just like pretty much any sibling in the line-up, but the front headlights are slimmer and seem to swoop back on the side of the Canyon a bit more than the other GMC trucks.
The Canyon sits fairly high - it is, after all, kitted for real off-roading - lending to a pretty muscular stance. Yeah, kids might need some help scrambling in, but that’s the price you pay for extra ground clearance.
The rear end of the GMC Canyon looks like its big sister, the GMC Sierra - just smaller. I would have a hard time getting a not-so-car-interested observer to see any differences other than size - from afar it would be near impossible.
The bed of the Canyon has a bunch of spots to help tie down your cargo. And you’ll find a 120-volt power outlet back there too - probably really convenient for those that use a truck for jobs far away from the nearest outlet. With the steps on each corner of the rear bumper you’ll have an easy time getting in and out of the truck, even without opening the tailgate.
The GMC Canyon feels like a large midsize truck, although it isn’t significantly different from any other mid-size truck. It’s actually a really good in-between option if you want a “real” truck but you realize that you probably don’t need anything huge. Oh, and you might want to be able to park it in tight spaces or get it into your older (smaller) garage.
The GMC Canyon is a great mid-size pickup truck that checks a lot of boxes for those who need the conveniences of a truck - maybe for work? - but still don’t really need all the hauling capacities of the larger siblings. For that potential buyer, the 2023 GMC Canyon is a comfortable, capable, all-round great vehicle.
About The Author
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.