On the Road Review: GMC Canyon AT4

Just before the crossover to 128/95 South in Peabody, Mass., there is a huge billboard for Boston-area mega-dealer Herb Chambers. The bold lettering sends a strong message, “You Only Live Once — Drive What You Like.” In the right corner of the sign is a lava orange Porsche Carrera leering at you.

Almost exactly to the day, 21 years ago, my first-ever drive at NEMPA’s annual Winter Rally was a sunset orange 911 Carrera. It was a drive that extended beyond the accepted boundaries of our intended experience, of sharing with other writers. Mr. Lawlor thought that the Porsche was headed back to Maine before anyone could enjoy its vivacious personality. Would today create a similar experience?

After a year’s absence it was great to again sample some of the latest products in the region’s press fleet. Jeep’s 4Xe Wrangler Hybrid was fun, the latest BMW 440i Gran Coupe too, but the climax of the visit was Kia’s new EV6 midsize electric crossover. Starting at $41,000, with 310 miles of range, the Kia was smooth, fast and polished. Not quite Porsche-like on the excitement meter, but still impressive. Hopefully we will get to share more about that groundbreaking EV in the coming months.

The key-draw at the end of the event rewarded me with this week’s GMC Canyon in latest AT4 trim — the perfect mate for another week of winter ahead; cold, windy and snowy. With a heated steering wheel, red-pepper hot seat heaters that let you separately warm your back, plus the accoutrements of the AT4-package — underbody skid plates, 17-inch gloss black rims with oversize off-road tires, performance exhaust, raised off-road suspension with a levelling kit, off-road rocker bars, auto-locking rear differential, plus a spray-on bedliner, the GMC would be undaunted by the weather. Painted Cayenne Red, how ironic, the GMC proved to be a swift companion for the four-and-a-half-hour ride home.

This small truck segment has recently seen some upheaval. Nissan’s Frontier has been significantly freshened, Jeep’s Gladiator is tearing up the sales charts, while smaller rivals named Maverick and Santa Cruz will likely appeal to buyers who don’t want or need a large pickup, just the virtues of getting dirty for play, or doing dirty jobs for work.
The Canyon, and its Chevy sibling the Colorado, have not been revised for several years. Their basic portfolio remains: body-on-frame midsize pickup with rear or 4wd that features an auto-4wd mode (unique to the segment), three engines including 4-cylinder gas (200 hp) or turbodiesel four with 181 hp, plus a 308-hp V-6, running through either an eight-speed or new 10-speed automatic transmission. GM still builds a regular cab version, an extended cab model, plus our sampled crew cab.

Peak tow capacity is 7,000 pounds, handily besting almost every rival. EPA ratings for our V-6 sample were 17/24 mpg. The highway drive home revealed 19 mpg, while rural running only bettered that number by one mile per gallon.

Conversely, the Canyon produces a much more compliant ride than the top-selling Tacoma, perhaps because the long-travel dampers aid all aspects of travel. The step-in is higher, as is the exit, yet running boards would compromise off-road capability. A tight turning radius, reasonably quiet cabin, plus better ergonomics also favor the GMC.

GM’s corporate 3.6-liter V-6 makes strong, lineal power — you needed run around with your foot buried in the firewall to make rapid acceleration. While the small diesel makes more peak torque — great for towing and fuel economy — the V-6 remains the default powertrain for many buyers. The Canyon is built in Wentzville, Mo.
Inside, the GMC edges some competitors with more equipment and a solid, if not luxurious, cabin. Big knobs and buttons are convenient for gloved hands, while an 8.0-inch screen provides updated telematics including navigation as well as Android and Apple compatibility. A Bose stereo upgrade is available, as well as lane-departure warning and forward collision assist, but other electronic driving aids are still missing. Keyless remote entry is standard — but no touch-access outside, and you still have a keyed-ignition inside. Some operating selections are not retained start to start.

Pricing starts around $28,000. Our Canyon Crew Cab AT4 begins just above $41,000, with over $5,000 worth of options running the SRP out to $46,700.

Pickup truck pricing has spiked over the past 18 months, with the average new vehicle transaction price close to $47,000. Buyers might well be skeptical — what happens if we have an economic “correction” and you are holding paper on a new, or used, vehicle that suddenly drops in value?

What if the opposite occurs — that prices continue to climb due to ongoing supply issues? Stressful times for all.

But at least it’s not a Porsche 911 Carrera. They start at $102,000.

Next week: A New Car Buying Saga

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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