The 2021 GMC Canyon is essentially the more glamorous version of the Chevy Colorado, even though they’re largely identical underneath the surface. While these mid-size pickup trucks are hugely popular, they’re now facing greater competition from alternatives such as the Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator. Unlike every other truck in this class, GMC markets its mid-sizer as a premium pickup, even though its top-of-the-line Denali model fails to meet that expectation. Still, the Canyon can be covered in chrome and fitted with fancy features, such as heated and cooled seats. It’s also available with a trio of engines that include a strong V-6 and a torque-rich diesel four-cylinder. As with the Colorado, the Canyon offers a surprisingly refined ride and athletic handling for truck that’s not based on a crossover. This allows it to best imitate full-size pickups—such as the GMC Sierra 1500—by way of its tremendous towing and hauling capabilities.
What’s New for 2021?
GMC updates the 2021 Canyon with revised front-end designs, a snazzier version of the Denali, and a new AT4 model. The latter isn’t as rugged as the jacked-up, wide-bodied Chevy Colorado ZR2, but it’s unquestionably the most off-road-ready Canyon. Essentially replacing the previous All Terrain trim level, the AT4 rolls on 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires that are articulated via an exclusive suspension setup. It also has unique exterior and interior styling, a skid plate for underbody protection, and an electronic limited-slip rear differential. The deluxe Denali trim level receives 20-inch wheels, additional chrome body trim, and a more distinct grille. Likewise, it now comes standard with a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, and nicer interior materials.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Of the Canyon’s trio of engines, we’d steer you away from base 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Higher models feature a standard 308-hp 3.6-liter V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Not only does the V-6 have cylinder deactivation in an attempt to preserve fuel, it’s also one of the quickest mid-size pickups we’ve tested. The diesel four-cylinder sacrifices speed in favor of fuel efficiency and towing proficiency. Indeed, the Canyon’s diesel engine is surprisingly polished; however, it’ll cost buyers a chunk of change. The Canyon’s ride quality doesn’t transcend its class, but it manages to successfully strike a balance between soft and firm damping. On bumpy and unpaved roads, it’s very capable and will soak up most imperfections while muting harshness. The AT4 model should elevate the pickup’s off-road capability even more with its upgraded suspension. At highway speeds, the Canyon is stable and relaxed. Around town, its smaller dimensions and agility require less driver attention in traffic and in tight confines. A firm brake pedal provided responsive feedback in the Canyon we tested.
Towing and Payload Capacity
The base Canyon with the four-cylinder can tow 3500 pounds and has a payload capacity of 1599 pounds; with the diesel, it can tow up to 7700 pounds and has a payload capacity of 1605 pounds.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates the 2021 Canyon with the gas-powered four-cylinder will earn up to 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Opting for the all-wheel-drive version will only lower its highway rating by 1 mpg. The V-6 engine paired with rear-wheel drive is expected to get 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway; AWD drops both those figures by 1 mpg each. The government hasn’t released fuel-economy ratings for the diesel version of the 2021 Canyon, but last year’s model had estimates of 20/30 mpg city/highway with RWD and 19/28 mpg city/highway with AWD. On our 200-mile fuel-economy route that tests real-world results on the highway, the diesel AWD earned 28 mpg and the V-6 AWD version earned 22 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Canyon’s interior design is high on function and low on flash. It features an upright instrument panel layout and controls that are easy to reach and read. Unfortunately, the center console is burdened by a jumbo shifter. Plastic toggle switches for accessory equipment on the center stack are handy and accessible, but they look cheap in pricier trim levels as with the Denali we tested. Therein lies our biggest complaint about the Canyon’s interior: even in Denali trim, it never feels like a premium environment. Its front seat is wonderfully spacious. However, the back seat has limited legroom. The elevated rear-seating position improves comfort, but three adults will be squished on long trips. The Canyon may not have as much room for carrying suitcases inside the cab, but it has the most cargo-bed volume and significantly more space for smaller items than its rivals. Its deep center-console bin, multiple door pockets, and other miscellaneous storage spots throughout the cabin provide refuge for an assortment of loose items. For items that take up a lot of space, there’s a giant plastic bin under the rear seat (only on the crew cab).
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Canyon’s touchscreen infotainment system is attractive and intuitive, with standard features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The screen is easy to use, with rubberized knobs for volume and tuning and redundant hard buttons for quick operation. The SLE model and up have an 8.0-inch touchscreen with a 4G LTE mobile hotspot. The Denali has an exclusive wireless charging pad, and the Bose premium audio system is also standard.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Canyon earned a four-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it was not named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However the previous model year earned a four-star NHTSA rating and it wasn’t named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. It also offers little in the way of driver-assistance technology, leaving it far behind the Honda Ridgeline and the Toyota Tacoma. If you’re a customer who wants every piece of safety tech there is, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Key safety features include:
- Available forward-collision warning
- Available lane-departure warning
- Available rear parking sensors