General Motors’ twin truck strategy revolves around the combined efforts of bulk-selling Chevy pickups and the premium pickings of GMC offerings. And GMC’s Denali packaging, really more of a sub-brand than just a trim level, took the premium nameplate’s upscale emphasis to new limits.
Recently, GMC launched a new sub-brand classification aimed in a different direction with AT4 models, successors to earlier All Terrain trim versions, refreshed to appeal to off-road-oriented customers.
The Canyon, sibling to the Chevrolet Colorado, is GMC’s mid-size entryway into the pickup segment. And the new 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 tested here follows earlier AT4 applications across the Sierra and Sierra HD pickup lineups, as well as on Acadia and Yukon models.
Sure, you can get into the Canyon pickup lineup for under $30K if you stick to the base Elevation Standard trim in Extended Cab configuration with the optional 2.5-litre four banger 6AT 2WD powertrain. But that would leave you with limitations on space, strength and, even worse, with two wheel-drive in a pickup truck.
The Canyon AT4, parachuting in at a higher $41,898 MSRP, might seem substantially pricier, but it starts with the roomier Crew Cab layout, adds more content and harnesses a virile V6 engine, putting power down through an 8-speed automatic and, of course, through a standard four-wheel drive system (because this is the Great White North, after all!).
The 3.6-litre V6 makes 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. As tested here, this V6 pulls with vigour, and sings with a baritone moan while earning respect and a 3,175 kg (7,000 lb) tow rating. The 8-speed auto tranny comes with Tow/Haul mode, manual shifting buttons and swaps the cogs smoothly.
Active Fuel Management can disable two cylinders under light cruising conditions and the V6 barely breaches the 1,500 r.p.m. mark at highway speed. Yet this engine is not particularly thrifty. Fuel economy is rated at 14L/9.9L/100km (city/hwy). My real world results came in at 12.5L/100km (comb).
A late addition 2.8-litre diesel engine making 181 hp and a hefty 369 lb-ft of torque and mated to a 6-speed automatic returns better fuel economy numbers of 11.7L/7.8L/100km (city/hwy), along with even more towing oomph. But it would also require some hard thinking considering the diesel option’s $7,300 added cost. The higher the price climbs the more you might consider bumping up into the full-size Sierra lineup.
The 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 adds off-road cred with 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires fitted to 17-inch aluminum wheels. The aggressive tread pulled me through mud, gravel and snow without any accompanying highway howl on pavement. An AT4-specific off-road tuned suspension adds capability and is complemented by and Advanced Hill Descent Control System. The 4WD system features 2Auto, 4H and 4L settings and incorporates an Eaton G80 Rear Automatic Locking Differential. The AT4 also adds a skid plate to protect the Autotrac 2-speed transfer case on rockier roads and trails. Added skid plate options are available.
This whole package is wrapped up in a strong but subtle exterior treatment, looking rather plain-Jane in Summit White, as tested here. The big wheels and tires make a statement but there are no brazenly-painted logos or brand markings, just small AT4 badges on the front doors and tailgate. A large dark chrome grille marks the front instead of Denali bling, while jewel-like LED fog lamps and red recovery hooks add a few final accents.
Weekend warriors wanting to go all-in on a more “in-yer-face” off-roader might want to consider pricier Chev Colorado ZR2 or Jeep Gladiator Overland options, or at least browse GMCs accessory list of sport bars, off-road lighting kits and other add-ons.
This short box version offers 1,169 litres of cargo room. There are slots for load separation, tie down loops and the box has been treated with a spray-on bedliner ($550). A long box version ($600), with about a foot more box length, is also available and would bump the cargo space up to 1,413 litres.
Inside, the Canyon AT4’s dimensions feel obviously tighter than in a full-size pickup. But the smallish seats are comfortable enough, there’s do-able seating for five average-sized adults and I could even ‘sit behind myself’. The rear seat flips up to accommodate more secure cabin stowage or to access underseat storage cubbies. Interior styling is unremarkable but the AT4 logo is boldly embroidered on front headrests and there’s unique Kalahari stitching on the steering wheel, dash and armrest soft touch surfaces.
The Canyon lineup will carry on with minor revisions over the next few years before a new third generation version, probably reworked with a new platform, potential turbo-four and 10-speed tranny applications, debuts sometime around 2023. And with all the buzz about GMC’s new electric Hummer EV, there’s bound to be some trickle-down Canyon electrification and/or hybridization in future.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.