2015 GMC Canyon SLE 4×4 V6 Review – Full-Size Experience, Mid-Size Wrapper

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

Today we are running two reviews of the GMC Canyon at the exact same time – one V6 and one 4-cylinder – for your reading pleasure. If there ever was a time to compare the same truck with different powertrains (and two reviewers with different perspectives), this is it.

The last (and only) truck to grace my driveway in an ownership role – a 2008 Ford Ranger – taught me as much about itself as it did pickups in general. The 3.0-liter Vulcan V6, while durable, was as effective as a donkey pulling a container ship for towing. And just because a truck is rated to tow or haul X pounds certainly doesn’t mean it should. There were also times I would’ve rather had an automatic transmission, like when I inadvertently jumped on Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway. In a snowstorm. With a trailer. 3-4-5-4-5-4-3-4-5. Wipe sweat. 3-4-5-4-5-4-3-4-5.

For better or worse, the Ranger did everything I absolutely needed of it: haul, tow and not throw a rod as I traveled the no-stop, shoulderless freeways over Louisiana swamp.

Creature comforts? Fuhgeddaboudit. Crank windows. No A/C. Not even a CD player.

The new GMC Canyon, with its 3.6-liter V6 engine and semi-plush interior in SLE trim, is nothing like my long departed Ranger. And while it’s logical to compare the Canyon to the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier on most fronts, it’s more fitting to put it up against the full-size competition on others.

The Tester

2015 GMC Canyon SLE 4×4 Crew Cab w/ Standard Box (6’2) and All Terrain Package

Engine: 3.6L DOHC V6, direct injection, VVT (305 horsepower @ 6800 rpm, 269 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, Driver Shift Control, tow/haul mode

Fuel Economy (Rating, MPG): 17 city/24 hwy/20 combined

Fuel Economy (Observed, MPG): 17.4 mpg, approx. 75% city

Options: All Terrain Package, SLE Convenience Package, engine block heater, heavy-duty trailering package, wheel locks, 3″ round step bars, rear sliding window, spray-on bed liner

As Tested (US): $38,605 ( sheet)

As Tested (Canada): $42,060 ( sheet)

Dimensionally speaking, the Canyon takes on the American-built Japanese options head-to-head. The 6-foot-2 bed in the tester is just a smidgen bigger than the long bed options available on the Tacoma (6 feet, 1 and 1/2 inches) and Frontier (6 feet, 1 and 19/64 inches). The width between the wheel wells is also the same for the Canyon and Frontier (44.4 inches), while slightly less in the Tacoma (41.5 inches). If you’re like me and would rather load up two sportbikes in the back of a pickup than hook up a trailer and lug around all that extra weight, space between the wheel wells matters. You’d also probably like to close the tailgate if at all possible.

The payload rating for our particular truck is limited to 1,470 lbs which more than enough to take your toys with you on a camping trip. Towing capability rings in at 3,500 lbs or 7,000 lbs when equipped with the optional Z82 trailering package. Compare that with the maximum 6,500 lbs of towing ability in the Tacoma only achievable in Access Cab configuration.

Wheelbase dimensions are dead-on across the board as well. All currently available mid-sizers float around 140 inches in long-wheelbase guise. However, even with a similar suspension setup as the more established offerings, the Canyon delivers a superior ride. Not car-like, but definitely within the realm of what one might call comfortable. The typical wheel chatter of a pickup with a light rear-end is virtually eliminated. Further cementing the Canyon’s position within the pack of current trucklets is its overall length. While it might be visually hefty, it’s only within a couple of inches of the Tacoma and Frontier.

GMC puts their fully-loaded Canyon SLT right beside a poverty spec Tacoma on GMC.com’s comparison tool.

Under the hood is the same 3.6-liter V6 you’ll find in any other GM product. With 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, the Canyon bests the Japanese pair on horsepower but loses out to the Frontier on torque (281 lb-ft). Also, to hit those peak numbers in the Canyon, you really need to give it some revs. Luckily, a fair amount of torque is available further down the curve, so you’re unlikely to need to punch it often. During the week-long stint with GMC’s newest truck, I tallied a 17.4 mpg high score, just 0.4 mpg off the official city number; acceptable when you consider nearly 3/4 of my driving was on city streets.

Sending power to all four wheels is GM’s Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic transmission with a 4.10 final drive (the same transmission is used in the four-pot version with a 3.42 final). Whether it is electronic controls or mechanicals, the six-speed is slow to shift when the Canyon’s accelerator is planted with urgency. However, it does make up for that slowness with smooth gear changes in day-to-day, stop-and-go driving.

Inside the Canyon isn’t airy and open, but it isn’t claustrophobic like the Frontier with its A-pillar placed in such a way that you’re constantly aware of its presence – directly in front of your face.

And this is where comparisons to the Tacoma and Frontier end. The Canyon is smoother, more powerful, sized the same and generally competitive with the rest of the mid-size pack. But, as soon as you sit inside the upmarket Colorado, it makes more sense to treat it like a full-size pickup hit with a low-powered shrink ray.

Up front, the dash and seats make you feel as if you’re sitting in a 9/10ths Sierra. There’s nothing wrong with that. I quite like the Sierra interior, especially now that GM has discarded button blanks, a design element also implemented in the Canyon. It’s an exceptionally quiet mid-size truck, too, another inherited trait from its bigger brother. Switches and knobs, particularly the physical HVAC controls, are plain and easy to use. (Thank you, GM.) And the red stitching on the seats and dash – part of the All Terrain package – don’t feel out of place in the dark grey pickup. It is all quite … upscale.

Remember how Mr. Cain said Colorado and Canyon sales weren’t having a negative impact on those of the Tacoma and Frontier? I think the sense of being in a full-size pickup when in the Canyon explains it. With Toyota and Nissan, you get a decidedly mid-size truck experience. In the Canyon you get a full-size experience in a mid-size wrapper.

That is until you do anything aft of the front row. The back half of the cab brings you right back to mid-size reality. For starters, if you expect a 6-foot-ish person to sit behind another 6-foot-ish person for a long trip, consider a full-size truck instead. The Canyon won’t be hauling crews to and from the work site anytime soon.

Also, when you flip up the rear seat for more loading space, you will be introduced to a plastic holding area instead of a flat floor. Large objects requiring a level load space are relegated to the outside bed. You can flip down the back cushion of the seat if you so desire, but then you’re just putting seat on top of seat on top of stupid plastic holding area and seriously compromising your cargo volume for taller objects.

GMC IntelliLink (called MyLink in the Colorado) is another infotainment system I could wholly do without. Confusing, clunky and slow, IntelliLink is the Vega of infotainment systems. And since GM is going through the trouble of installing an 8-inch screen in my dash, why can’t they just give me navigation? Our tester didn’t have on-screen GPS, a deficit that would force a buyer into making a potentially embarrassing phone call to OnStar for directions to Dildo, Newfoundland. (We tried this during the Silverado launch. The OnStar operator didn’t even fucking giggle. Words cannot describe my disappointment.)

Even though the Canyon one-ups its competitors in almost every measurable way, there’s one fact you can’t escape: it’s as close as makes no difference to $40,000. That’s a lot of coin for a “budget” truck. As much as I like this right-sized pickup – as it fits my lifestyle, at least – I can’t justify spending forty grand on a Canyon when I can buy a decent amount of Sierra, Silverado, Ram or F-150 for the same coin.

That said, if I was replacing my aging Ranger today, the Canyon is still the best option – just not configured like this tester. If I needed something to tow and haul my mechanical mistakes from home to track and back, I’d have this Canyon SLE Extended Cab 4×2 V6 without options for nearly $10,000 less.

Or just wait for the diesel.

General Motors Canada provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

More by Mark Stevenson

Join the conversation
3 of 127 comments
  • Golftdi Golftdi on May 15, 2015

    Was it supposed to say Canyon in this paragraph? I assumed GMC was more upmarket than Chevy. "And this is where comparisons to the Tacoma and Frontier end. The Canyon is smoother, more powerful, sized the same and generally competitive with the rest of the mid-size pack. But, as soon as you sit inside the upmarket Colorado, it makes more sense to treat it like a full-size pickup hit with a low-powered shrink ray."

  • Gedrven Gedrven on May 25, 2015

    "Mid-sized"? Who're you kidding, this thing is bloated and enormous. The front end especially looks like something that was pulled (slowly) out of a strip mine and shinied up to be a prop in some sci-fi movie.

    • RobertRyan RobertRyan on May 26, 2015

      @Gedren The new 1 Tonne pickups are as big as the early. 2000 model 1/2 tons. Supersize me is the order of the day

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.