The 2015 GMC Canyon looks like a miniaturized version of the full-sized Sierra, but the driving experience is a lot more accessible than any truck I've driven in any scale. GM's looking to lasso buyers who aren't sold on the "full-sized" experience, and they've got the perfect product to do it.
"It's not that small," the skeptics have clamored. "The cost climbs to full-size territory and you don't gain enough fuel economy for the step-down in capability." Well, they're not completely wrong, but they're missing the big picture.
The 2015 GMC Canyon and it's brother the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado are not meant to "replace" the full-size Sierra or Silverado for folks who are full-sized truck buyers. They're meant to entice new customers who like the idea and look of a truck, but don't want to deal with parking one, feeding it, or learning to drive from on top of a lifeguard's chair.
Obvious competitors are the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, but I reckon some people who fell into crossovers or Subaru wagons for want of a refined small truck will get excited about this.
The Tacoma is built very well, but even the Limited isn't that comfortable. The Frontier, while capable, is as refined as a rental canoe.
Visibility is excellent, ride is comfortable, the electric power steering is dialed up to make maneuvering the truck easy and the turning radius is awesome; you can bring it about with just a little more than two lanes.
The driving experience is nothing like a full-sized Sierra or Silverado. Everything is closer to the driver, the driver is closer to the ground, and it's very easy to keep track of where every part of the vehicle is. If a full-sized truck is butter fresh out of the fridge, the Canyon is that perfectly smooth butter you've had sitting next to the toaster for about an hour.
V6 acceleration is, I mean, it's alright. The I4 is slower, obviously. And noisier but basically, it gets the job done just fine. You're in a truck, you shouldn't be in a hurry anyway.
Cruising very quickly is fine, you just need a little bit of a runway to get there if you want to stay close to the fuel economy claims.
Driving around Del Mar, California with the truck's chief engineer; she asked how I thought the performance compared to Toyota and Nissan's little trucks. The Japanese trucks are no speed demons, and the V6 Canyon might have felt a little quicker but in real-world usage all you need to know is that it's "swift enough."
But the ride on pavement is comfortable and refined and yes; much more so than a Tacoma or Frontier.
Yes, you can remove the front aero splitter but you're not going to want to; GM's people told me it's responsible for "something like 1.5 to 2 MPG on the highway," which seems... nuts. But I must admit my aerodynamics knowledge is limited to "roof racks make whistle sounds."
I didn't have any trouble playing in the sand pits and rough roads on the mountain passes at the Mexican border.
The GMC Canyon as an "automatic" 4WD activation mode that the Colorado lacks. That'll be big with fans of set-it-and-forget it when driving around in slippery stuff with an empty bed, though I still think between the G80 locking rear differential and a few sand bags in back you'd get on just fine in rear-drive.
With a 17º approach and 22º departure angle on the longer 4WD, you're not going rock crawling. But if that's what you're looking to do you need a lift kit anyway, and I get the sense the aftermarket will be getting into this truck as soon as SEMA.
A friend at GM told me "the company is too conservative to do something like a factory lift" but I bet you'll be able to buy one from somebody soon.
Sitting In Every Seat
Front seats are very comfortable and actually a little sporty looking, which I like, though a bench seat would have been more fun (I can't be the only truck guy who hates choosing between dog and girlfriend riding shotgun, right?)
They went with a power up-and-down but manual recline. I like that because I change my lean somewhat often, and the gravity-control feels easier.
Crew cab rear seats have plenty of space for full-size adults. Extended cab rears reminds me of the jump seats in the back of a Land Rover; you basically just have to convince your kids "it'll be fun to ride in the jump seats!" It isn't.
Lovely Materials & Build Quality Inside
The GMC stitched dash is a beautiful thing to behold. Real aluminum chunks surrounding the infotainment look and feel great, as does almost everything else. The 4WD knob is a little hard to find and the exact same size as the headlight knob; it's not unreasonable to get them mixed up.
GM has passed on the sunroof option for now but "is looking at it as a future elaboration."
The Steering Wheel Is Perfect
As the part of the vehicle you interact with most, one really can't underempthasize the importance of a good steering wheel. And the GMC Canyon's (and Chevy Colorado's) is amazing. Just the right size with spokes in the right places (I like resting my hand on the bottom), thumb bumps for 10-and-2 driving, and elegant stitching around the inside.
It's easily my favorite modern steering wheel, in spite of the control buttons that remind me of the dentists's office.
But The Shifter Looks Fresh Out Of The Pontiac Parts Bin
What an unfortunate eyesore in an otherwise lovely interior. If only GM had passed on this frumpy console lever for a column shifter (or something fancy like Chrysler's dial, Ford's push-button) they would have had space for a bench seat and/or some kickass center-console storage.
GM, if you're listening: That would get me to buy an automatic.
At least the shifter has a nice feel to it and is perfectly paired with the center console for arm-resting.
The V6 with a tow package is J2807 rated for 7,000 pounds. I didn't really notice diminished performance pulling 2,500 worth of Jet Skis. A 4,500 pound boat made some noticeable changes to stopping distance but I managed to get on the highway without much fuss.
I mean, you'd hope so at half capacity.
GM is looking to shill the shit out of the racks, boxes, and other such toys they're offering for the new little trucks. They're branded as OEM parts and the build quality is solid.
The cargo divider in the picture above is one such part. You should be able to kit your Canyon or Colorado out with enough scaffolding to paint the house if you check every box at the dealership.
In short, I loved driving the GMC Canyon. More so than the Colorado thanks to the fetching interior. I'm extremely curious about how the Duramax diesel is going to perform, but even with the four-cylinder engine this little truck gave me everything I need.
The Canyon doesn't blow bigger trucks out of the water on fuel economy, or even price in some configurations, but the driving experience is so completely different that it offers solid value in its own right. In terms of refinement and comfort, it leaves the tired old Tacoma and Frontier miles behind. If nothing else, this truck will light a fire under the Japanese automaker's asses to redesign their own trucks.
I think this and its brother the Colorado are positioned to bring a lot more folks into the fold of truck ownership, as long as that market exists.
Images: Andrew P. Collins