Pickup Review: 2018 GMC Canyon Diesel

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Overview

GMC Canyon

Midsize practicality with diesel performance

Pros Great engine, quiet cabin

Cons Not luxe enough for the Denali designation

Value for money Average

What would I change? Buyer attitudes that a bigger truck is always better

How I would spec it? SLE trim with diesel

The Canadian auto market is a funny thing. For cars and SUVs, buyers tend to like them small. But when it’s pickup trucks, they want them big. Last year, the companies that currently make both full-size and midsize trucks sold more than 136,000 big ones — and only some 31,000 small ones.

But if you don’t haul heavy trailers or need full-size capacity, a midsize truck is usually more than enough. The big problem is that it doesn’t cost proportionately less to make a smaller truck. The price difference between them is often close enough that people buy “by the pound” and pay a little more to go bigger, or take a lower trim level in a full-size that costs the same or less than a better-optioned small truck.

Click here for exclusive local dealer pricing on the 2018 GMC Canyon

But midsize pickups make more sense as their full-size siblings grow to ridiculous heights and widths, especially if you drive primarily in urban areas. They’re easier to manoeuvre and park, and generally easier on fuel as well.

That’s the idea behind this GMC Canyon tester, which comes optioned with a 2.8-litre four-cylinder Duramax diesel engine. Other choices are a 2.5L four-cylinder or a 3.6L V6, but the diesel offers the most torque and also the best published fuel economy numbers. It’s rated at a combined 10.4L/100 kilometres, while I got it down to 9.0 during a week where I spent about half my time on the highway.

Even so, if fuel is an important consideration, you need to figure out if the pump savings outweigh the engine’s extra cost — and as with most diesel add-ons, it doesn’t come cheap. It can’t be ordered on an extended cab Canyon, but it’s available on all crew cab models with a short or long bed, and in 4×2 or 4×4 form. Depending on the model, opting for the diesel over the V6 can add between $4,390 and $6,125 to the price, and the least-expensive diesel-equipped Canyon starts at $40,605.

This engine is well done, and I like it very much. It’s quieter than expected, with just enough of a growl on acceleration to let you know it means business. It builds power quickly but smoothly, the six-speed automatic always keeps the engine in the sweet spot, and it includes an exhaust brake that can be switched on when towing.

The steering is nicely-weighted and the truck is responsive and the 4×4 system includes an “auto” setting that lets you use 4WD on hard surfaces, which is handy when driving on roads with alternate dry and snowy patches. On the downside, I found the brake pedal a bit spongy, and would have liked more assertive bite to the stoppers.

The diesel provides the Canyon’s highest towing capacity, at a maximum between 7,550 and 7,700 pounds depending on configuration; by comparison, the V6 tops out at 7,000. Maximum payload across the diesel models runs between 1,389 and 1,499 pounds.

The diesel is also available on the Chevrolet Colorado, the Canyon’s twin, although I think the GMC is the better-looking truck of the two. The Canyon comes in seven trim levels, and mine was the top-of-the-line Denali, GMC’s highest trim level across its trucks and SUVs. In everything else, it lives up to its billing, but in the Canyon it’s a dreadful mistake.

Giving this truck the full-blown Denali treatment would no doubt have sent its price into the stratosphere, but just gussying up the standard Canyon interior with a few fancy bits cheapens the Denali badge. The dash is soft-touch and stitched, but the door trim is hard plastic. You get a two-piece key and lock fob instead of push-button start, the automatic climate control is single-zone instead of dual, and the fake wood trim looks like, well, fake wood.

They’re first-world problems, as they say, but if GMC’s going to set a standard for the Denali name, everything wearing it should live up to it. Beyond all that, I was gobsmacked that my truck’s 20-inch low-gloss aluminum wheels, which looked okay but certainly not exceptional, added $3,445 to the price.

The trim discrepancy aside, the Canyon’s cabin is well-designed. Everything’s easy to reach — one reason I like smaller trucks; in a full-size, I often can’t reach the glovebox latch — and the buttons and switches are simple and intuitive. The seats stay comfortable and supportive on a long drive, and on the Denali trim, the front chairs are both heated and ventilated.

Toyota’s Tacoma is the bestseller in this midsize segment for a variety of reasons, but its seats are set too low and my legs get cramped; I vastly prefer the Canyon’s higher, more upright position. The rear seats have good legroom, and their backs fold down to provide a flat surface for extra cargo. As a bonus, the cushions can be flipped up to reveal cargo bins below.

Overall, the Canyon is a winner: It’s nicely-sized and a very decent driver. I wouldn’t pop for the disappointing Denali trim, but if the finances allow, test-drive the diesel and see what you think. Bigger isn’t always better, and this truck is proof of that.

Our Rating

Vehicle Specs

GMC Canyon

  • Type of vehicle

    Midsize pickup truck

  • Engine

    2.8L inline-four turbodiesel

  • Power

    181 horsepower @ 3,400 rpm; 369 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2,000 rpm

  • Transmission

    Six-speed automatic

  • Brakes

    Four-wheel disc with ABS and Duralife rotors

  • Tires

    P255/55R20

  • Price: Base / As Tested

    $40,605/$55,460

  • Destination Charge

    $1,795

  • Natural Resources Canada Fuel Economy

    (L/100km) 12.1 city, 8.3 highway, 10.4 combined

  • Standard Features

    Air conditioning, tire pressure monitoring system, auto up/down driver’s window, 7-inch infotainment touchscreen, Bluetooth, integrated rear bumper step, rearview camera, power driver’s seat, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 16-inch alloy wheels, locking tailgate, OnStar and more

  • Options

    Cruise control, power passenger seat, single-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, remote starter, sliding rear window, 8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, rear USB charge ports, WiFi capability, fog lamps, Denali trim package (trailer package, heated steering wheel, perforated leather heated and ventilated seats, wireless charging mat, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, navigation, Bose premium speakers, chrome assist steps, bed liner), 2.8-L turbo diesel engine ($4,390), 20-inch low-gloss aluminum wheels ($3,445)

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