Our view: The Canyon’s robust powertrain isn’t enough to overcome a frustrating driving experience and outdated cabin.
Versus the competition: With new competitors revealing the Canyon’s age, it needs a redesign and improved technology to catch up.
Evaluating vehicles for Cars.com involves a long list of factors, some of them objective and others subjective. This is especially true of pickup trucks, where a lot of those objective considerations carry more weight — things like towing capacity, payload and bed size.
The 2019 GMC Canyon does all right when you consider those the objective factors: Its V-6 produces good power, and in our instrumented testing during the 2019 Mid-Size Pickup Challenge, it was the second fastest of four trucks and had the shortest braking distances. All good things.
But what the Canyon is missing is feel both in terms of drivability and the surfaces on the truck you actually touch. It falls short in the subjective categories, so much so that its objective successes feel less consequential. Those shortcomings dropped it all the way to a last-place finish against the other three competitors — the 2019 Honda Ridgeline, 2019 Ford Ranger and 2020 Jeep Gladiator.
The Canyon offers a few different engines: a pair of four-cylinders, including one diesel, and the 3.6-liter V-6 of our test vehicle. It’s a good engine that makes 308 horsepower and 275 pounds-feet of torque and moves the Canyon easily, never feeling especially taxed even with 1,000 pounds in the bed.
Despite how good the engine feels, there are a couple of off-putting things about how the Canyon goes and slows. The engine is great, but the eight-speed automatic transmission does some weird stuff on launch, which is problematic because that’s when you’ll notice it the most. When starting off, the transmission has a hard time getting out of 1st, and it feels like the power is getting cut off and holding you up for a split second each time you start out.
What bothered me even more than that, however, was the braking. Despite having the shortest stopping distances, the brake pedal is way too stiff up top, and even if you feel like you’re pressing down fairly hard, there isn’t a corresponding amount of braking being applied. You end up pressing even harder, then suddenly the brakes grab and everything (and everyone) in the cabin does one of those forward lurching moves. Even after driving the truck for the better part of a week, I couldn’t get it down — with passengers on board, it would have resulted in constant apologies.
The Canyon also posted really good raw acceleration, nearly as quick as the Ranger. But feel matters a lot, and the Canyon’s problems with both of its pedals are what really stuck with me after spending a good amount of time behind the wheel.
This Is a Denali?
This problem with “feel” extends to the cabin. We had a Canyon Denali, and the Denali name comes with expectations attached. For other GMC models, the Denali trim level is the pinnacle of luxury. But it feels as though this Denali, with its really awful fake wood trim pieces, isn’t doing the name justice at all. The feature set on this truck is weird; you get certain luxuries like ventilated front seats and leather upholstery standard, but then you don’t get powered recline or push-button start — in this $46,000 truck, you have to insert and turn the key.
The front seats are also poor, thin on padding and lacking in support. On any longer trip driving the Canyon, I’d end up trying to find a more comfortable seating position without great success. It doesn’t get much better for the backseat, which is a bit too small for adults to fit comfortably, and those seats also lack cushioning. However, the Canyon did end up with a decent result in our Car Seat Check, fitting each of our three child-safety seats easily.
As for the rest of the cabin, the design feels a little dated, but materials are all right (with the exception of the fake wood trim). The Canyon Denali does have a standard 8-inch touchscreen plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. One thing to watch out for with the screen is that the lower part of the bezel sticks out, making it difficult to press the very bottom of the screen, which is where the multimedia system’s shortcuts are.
Another thing to watch out for: There isn’t much cabin storage to speak of. The center bin is smaller than you’d expect, and while the doors look like they have a lot of nice little cubbies to store things, they end up being too small to be useful. The rear seat cushions do fold up to reveal a hidden storage compartment, but it’s weirdly shaped and larger objects won’t really fit.
Lacking Safety Features and Value
Our test vehicle also lacked safety features. It came with forward collision and lane departure warnings as equipped, but no automatic emergency braking or lane keep assist. (Some of the features included on competing models aren’t even offered on the Canyon as options.) Rear parking sensors rounded out the Canyon’s safety options, and in our objective scoring, it got a score of 5 out of 30, which isn’t really acceptable. The next-highest competitor tallied 15 points, and the top-rated truck earned 21 points.
This ties into value, as well. Our truck’s sticker price was $45,775 (including destination charges), which made it the second most expensive in our test, but it didn’t feel like it. The Canyon is an older truck compared to the rest. Most of the others are either new or have seen redesigns since the Canyon was last updated.
Ultimately, the Canyon Denali doesn’t seem to be a worthy bearer of the Denali name, and the problems it has with acceleration and braking make if feel even less refined. What was most telling to me was that when I had the option to choose one of our test trucks to drive to dinner or different testing sites, I never reached for the GMC’s keys.
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