Denali trim takes 2018 GMC Canyon to a higher level

By Paul Borden

(January 15, 2018) When I was growing up, pickup trucks were pretty much utilitarian vehicles good for hauling construction supplies and for farm chores, two-passenger conveyances that could squeeze in a third person if they were good friends or the extra person was on the small side. Like a child.

But my how times have changed.

Many pickup trucks today are more like borderline luxury SUVs with an open box in the back behind a second row instead of an enclosed cargo area with a lift gate. They are still as good for hauling and towing as they ever were but in a much more comfortable, and efficient, package.

Case in point is the 2018 GMC Canyon with Denali trim that I recently drove for a week. You never would have seen something like this coming when I was in high school. The interior is roomy and features high quality materials and is packed with enough technological features to satisfy all but the geekiest of us. It’s truck on the outside, SUV on the inside.

It’s a more refined version of its nearly identical cousin, the Chevrolet Colorado. How much more refined? Well, for the last four years, Kelley Blue Book has awarded its Brand Image Award for Most Refined Brand to GMC, citing in particular the tweaks and attributes the company has given its top-of-the-line Denali trims.

Though the Canyon is referred to as a “small” pickup in some circles, as far as I’m concerned there is nothing “small” about a vehicle you have to use a running board to pull yourself up to to get into, and there certainly is nothing “small” about the Canyon’s attitude.

With the 2.4-liter turbo diesel delivering 369 pound feet of torque at 2000 rpm, the Denali has a towing capacity of 7,600 pounds and its base curb weight (with 4-wheel drive) is a healthy 4,508 pounds.

Small? I don’t think so. Even the base Canyon is well over two tons.

The Canyon has been around off-and-on since 2004 though it was out of production for a span from 2012 to when it was re-introduced as a 2015 model. GM brought it back as a larger version than its predecessor, though it wasn’t until the next year that the Canyon got diesel power.

Buyers have had a tendency, perhaps fueled by Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” scandal, to shun diesels. But if you want a lot of torque, which is a more accurate measure of pulling potential than horsepower, you have to consider diesel.

Modern technology has made diesels easier to start in cold weather, and they are more fuel efficient, which helps make up for the difference in fuel price at the pump, not to mention increasing your driving range.

Fuel efficiency in the turbo diesel in the Canyon Denali is rated at 20 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway and 23 overall with 4-wheel drive compared to 17/24 with the gas-powered 3.6-liter V6 and 19/24 with the gas-powered 2.5-liter 4-banger.

The Canyon Denali is packed with many standard features, by the way, but one of them is not the diesel engine. That’s an extra that adds $3,730 to the base MSRP of $43,670, so that’s a pretty big chunk of change.

But you can probably do without the special color (dark slate metallic) that adorned the Canyon I had for a week, and that will save you $395.

The standard features include a 2-speed transfer case (though the Canyon’s off-road capability hasn’t gotten good reviews), a trailering package, power lumbar support for the driver’s seat, steering wheel controls for cruising and audio, leather appointed front seating, heated and ventilated front seats, 4 USB ports, Bose premium audio, and an 8-inch color touchscreen for the navigation system.

The Denali also gets 20-inch wheels, projector headlamps with LED signature lighting, fog lamps, a spray-on bed liner, a cornerstep rear bumper, and a wi-fi hotspot.

Total cost came to $48,190 for my test vehicle, but the Canyon starts at a more affordable $21,100.

What I liked about the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali: The infotainment system is intuitive to operate, and the 8-inch screen is of a size that is easy on the eyes. You can operate both the audio and climate systems with buttons as well. Throttle response is good.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali: Maneuvering in tight mall parking lots is easier than with a full-size pickup, but that doesn’t make it easy.

Would I buy the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali? I really don’t need a truck, so no, I personally wouldn’t. But it should be on your list if you are shopping for one. If the Denali price tag is too high, the SLT model might fit your budget and includes most of the popular equipment.