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2021 GMC Canyon Performance Review

Scorecard

Performance: 8.1

The 2021 GMC Canyon delivers on all fronts when it comes to performance. It offers three capable engines and has impressive towing and hauling capacities for the class. The Canyon provides composed handling and a generally comfortable ride, and it gets decent gas mileage.

  • "Driving the 2021 GMC Canyon is a pleasurable experience. It's like driving a midsize SUV but with an open bed instead of a covered cargo area." -- Autotrader
  • "Fundamentally, the Canyon is refined and road trip-ready, unusual traits for a midsize pickup. … The ride, while slightly bouncy if there's no cargo in the back, settles down nicely once you drop a few hundred pounds in the bed." -- Edmunds (2020)
  • "It's also available with a trio of engines that include a strong V-6 and a torque-rich diesel four-cylinder." -- Car and Driver

Engine Options, Horsepower, and Acceleration

  • Base engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque
  • Available engines:
    • 3.6-liter V6 with 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque
    • 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder with 181 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque
  • Drivetrain: standard rear-wheel drive; available four-wheel drive
  • Transmission: six-speed automatic (four-cylinder and diesel); eight-speed automatic (V6)

The base four-cylinder engine provides adequate power acceleration, and it's fine for driving this truck around. That said, the four-cylinder is also the least impressive engine in the lineup, and it's not the one you want if you plan to tow anything of substance.

The diesel engine is the best choice if towing is your aim, as it's the powertrain that unlocks the Canyon's 7,700-pound max tow rating. But the V6 provides the best overall experience. It's plenty capable, with a 7,000-pound maximum towing capacity, and feels the most energetic when you're cruising down the highway.

  • "The base 4-cylinder engine is adequate. Our preferred choice is the 3.6-liter V6, although the 2.8-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder is a wise choice if you plan to tow. The V6, which … mates to an 8-speed automatic transmission, provides decent mileage, satisfying acceleration, and impressive passing power." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "While the base 4-cylinder engine is adequate, the 3.6-liter V6 feels much more substantial without causing a big drop in fuel economy. This is the engine most Canyon buyers choose." -- Autotrader
  • "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." -- Car and Driver

MPG Estimates

With its base four-cylinder engine, the Canyon gets typical gas mileage ratings for a compact pickup truck. Upgrade to the V6, and fuel economy barely suffers: Ratings only drop by about 1 mpg. This GMC is most fuel-efficient when equipped with its diesel powertrain.

  • Four-cylinder, RWD: 19/25 mpg city/highway
  • Four-cylinder, 4WD: 19/24 mpg
  • V6, RWD: 18/25 mpg
  • V6, 4WD: 17/24 mpg
  • Turbodiesel, 4WD: 19/28 mpg

Handling and Braking

With its sharp steering and sturdy brakes, the Canyon is easy to drive. It feels almost like an SUV instead of a traditional truck, and it handles well whether you're on open roads or crowded streets. The ride is smooth most of the time. It feels a bit bumpier if the bed is empty, but that's typical for a truck. Rear-wheel drive comes standard, and four-wheel drive is optional.

  • "As with the Colorado, the Canyon offers a surprisingly refined ride and athletic handling for truck that's not based on a crossover." -- Car and Driver
  • "It also steers and brakes with commendable precision and composure, and car-like handling is one of the Canyon's strengths." -- Edmunds (2020)
  • "Despite being classified as a truck, the Canyon rides and drives like a modern SUV, with direct steering, good brakes and a suspension capable of delivering a smooth ride on paved surfaces and careful controlled body motion when off-roading." -- Kelley Blue Book (2019)

Off-Roading

The Canyon isn't the best off-roader in the class, but it can hold its own when the pavement ends. Every trim is available with four-wheel drive, adding a dose of off-road capability. But the best pick is the new AT4 trim. It replaces the All Terrain X trim from 2020, and the AT4 comes with a number of features to improve off-road performance, including hill descent control, a locking rear differential, a two-speed transfer case, a transfer case shield, skid plates, and a more rugged suspension.

  • "Last year's GMC Canyon All Terrain X was appreciated, but the new AT4 is much better suited for off-roading. With its aggressive tires, a locking rear differential, an underbody skidplate, and specially tuned off-road suspension, the new Canyon AT4 relishes difficult conditions." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "The Canyon can also mix it up off-road, with decent articulation and a two-speed transfer case standard on 4WD models, but you'll need to remove its unnecessary, low-hanging chin spoiler first." -- Edmunds
  • "It feels solidly built, and we like that the lineup has expanded to include the new AT4 version, which has legitimate off-road chops. Weekend explorers will appreciate the new AT4's dirt road abilities, thanks to its specially tuned suspension, aggressive tires, locking rear differential and diesel engine (if you get one)." -- Autotrader

Towing and Hauling

The Canyon is one of the best choices in the class if you need to tow something. Its maximum towing capacity is 7,700 pounds, which is great for a compact pickup. It can also haul up to 1,605 pounds, giving it one of the highest payload capacities in the class. There are some optional features to help with towing and hauling, such as a trailer brake controller and hitch guidance, which makes it easier to hook up a trailer.

  • "This allows it to best imitate full-size pickups – such as the GMC Sierra 1500 – by way of its tremendous towing and hauling capabilities." -- Car and Driver
  • "The Canyon V6's maximum tow rating of 7,700 pounds is among the best you'll find for a midsize pickup." -- Edmunds
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2021 GMC Canyon

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