2021 GMC Canyon

By January 27, 2021

The 2021 GMC Canyon is a mid-size pickup truck offered in a range of body styles, bed lengths, and drivetrain configurations. It’s a useful tool that transforms into a weekend toy in its most exotic models.

This year the Canyon gains a new AT4 off-road package. An available Off-Road Performance Edition toughens up the AT4 with hardware like a self-leveling suspension, a small suspension lift, and more skid plates.

The rest of the lineup has been streamlined for 2021, with GMC whittling the number of available trims from six to four. In the process prices creep up and new standard features are now included at every price point. All the updates are capped by a revised front end.

Powertrains range from a base 2.5-liter inline-4 making 200 hp to a turbodiesel 2.8-liter inline-4 that generates 186 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The most popular choice, however, is a 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 308 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque.

Other than the AT4, all Canyons come standard with rear-wheel drive regardless of engine choice. Four-wheel drive is available across the lineup.

Those who hate the gas station will want the turbodiesel, which returns 20 mpg city, 30 highway, 23 combined. Of the gas engines, the base 2.5-liter engine returns 19/25/22 mpg in rear-drive form. The 3.6-liter V-6 is good for 17/24/19. Adding four-wheel drive to any of these powertrains drops all figures by one or two mpgs.

The Canyon earns four stars out of five from the NHTSA. The IIHS issued it a “Marginal” rating for the impact of forward collisions on the passenger side.

Model Lineup

The Canyon now comes in four trims: Elevation Standard, Elevation, AT4, and Denali. Other than the Denali, these are new names for trim levels that don’t look significantly different than last year, even with the consolidation from six trims to four.

The base SL is now the Elevation Standard and starts at $27,595, a price hike of about $4,000 compared to 2020. Standard features include cloth upholstery, a four-way power driver’s seat, power features, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The exterior sports 18-inch wheels and plain trim. Unlike last year’s base truck, the Elevation Standard is offered with both cab designs and drivetrains.

The Elevation begins at $31,195. It adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen, automatic climate control, a 6-way power driver’s seat, and remote start.

The $39,395 AT4 is the new kid on the block for 2021. The big jump in price includes the V-6, four-wheel drive, and a crew cab, none of which comes standard on the bottom two trims. Other features include 31-inch all-terrain tires, hill descent control, 17-inch wheels, upgraded cloth upholstery, and some unique styling cues. The AT4 Leather trim costs another $2,000 or so and gets wireless device charging and leather upholstery.

The fanciest Canyon remains the Denali, which begins at $42,095. It gets leather, wireless charging, cooled front seats, Bose audio, and 20-inch wheels.

Exterior

The Canyon has changed little this year, though GMC has continued to migrate up from its “Professional Grade” roots and towards a luxurious and more adventurous marketing strategy.

Just take the AT4, which wears one of the most aggressive looks of any GMC of recent memory. The big all-terrain tires, black wheels, and red tow hooks peeking out of the lower bumper are anything but subtle. It is still a far cry from mimicking the wild Colorado ZR2, but compared to other GMCs it has attitude.

The other trims are a little more reserved—save for the Denali, which drips with as much chrome as ever and saunters along on 20-inch wheels. It’s a fancy counterpoint to the AT4 that we expect will remain as popular as ever.

Interior

Various Canyon trims get plainer or more ornate interiors, but almost all now have a touchscreen interface. Most buyers will be working with the 8.0-inch unit. The system is straightforward and user-friendly. It’s a good fit for something utilitarian as a pickup truck.

Comfort spans a wide range. Extended cabs have two small rear jump seats that are better used for toolboxes or utility crates; they’re too small for most passengers. The crew cab and its proper back seat with 35 inches of leg room is much more appropriate for shuttling people.

Like any pickup, cargo capacity isn’t a concern. The two bed sizes afford plenty of cubic feet worth of space, and in the right configuration the Canyon can haul up to 1,550 pounds of payload.

Driving Impressions

The Canyon doesn’t mask its truck-like bona fides. It’s no crossover, and its ride is often flintier than far more capable full-size trucks, thanks to a shorter wheelbase and lighter body. It’s capable in truck chores, but a letdown when it’s used as a commuter vehicle.

Most Canyons go out the factory gates with a 3.6-liter V-6. The engine is a winner: it manages to deliver on most every critical spec that shoppers in this segment are focused on, including power, capability, smoothness, and refinement.

That’s not to discount the turbodiesel. Though it only generates 186 hp, its 369 lb-ft of torque is enough grunt to pull nearly 8,000 pounds of trailer. Anyone after the towing capability of a full-size SUV or pickup in a more manageable size should consider the diesel-powered Canyon.

The Canyon AT4 is the first real trail-focused trim to join the Canyon lineup, it brings the right equipment to make getting out there—wherever that may be—an easy task. If that notion speaks to you, go one better with the optional Off-Road Performance Edition that adds more skid plates, deletes the front air dam, and jacks up the front suspension.

Final Word

The 2021 GMC Canyon hasn’t lost its luster. If anything, the updates for 2021 have breathed some fresh life into this well-rounded pickup. The AT4 is a particularly exciting new offshoot for the Canyon, and it would be our choice were we buying.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

 

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