Showdown: GMC Canyon Crew Cab vs. Toyota Tacoma Double Cab

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(January 29, 2016) Not long after I drove this gasoline-powered Canyon SLT 4WD at home, it was off to New York State to drive a nearly identical Canyon fitted with GM’s 2.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel. A few weeks later, I also had the opportunity to drive a Toyota Tacoma outfitted with the TRD Off-Road package and a manual transmission.

Three quite different trucks, all with four doors and four-wheel drive. While I will describe the Duramax diesel in a sidebar below, the differences between the GMC and Toyota would seem to be insurmountable with one biased to comfort and the other toward off-road prowess. And yet…


These vehicles are direct competitors, though optioned in this case for different duties. However, when you strip away these distractions, it’s much easier to see how they compare and contrast, and which has the better solution. The most basic comparison is size.

The two are copycat similar. Very little separates them in terms of exterior size, but the Canyon has a modest lead in terms of bed capacity. However, the Toyota has a significant advantage in terms of approach, breakover and departure angles. If you are serious about off-roading, the Tacoma is the better bet. Though those who are less adventurous should have no problem with the GMC, and can carry slightly more cargo.


However, the size of the interior is often more important than the size of the exterior or cargo capacity, especially as these two trucks are four-door models designed as much to carry people as things. Let’s see how they stack up for interior room:

The tale of the tape reflects reality, with ingress into the front seats of the GMC much easier thanks to its greater headroom. Though there is just 1.7 inches of difference in front seat headroom, that amount makes the difference between getting in cleanly, and having to duck your head. Further, getting into the Toyota feels much more awkward. You find yourself threading your head in first and pulling the rest of your body in afterwards.

The difference in legroom is just as stark, especially for those in the back. Those 3.2 inches of rear seat legroom make clambering into the back seats easier, and the space less claustrophobic. It’s not Business Class, but it is Economy Plus.

2016 GMC Canyon

Hip room is tighter on the GMC, but this makes very little difference as it is the depth of the rear compartment and not its width that matters here. Toyota claims the Tacoma can carry five, but most trips will be done with four onboard.

One area where the Tacoma trounces the Canyon is in its interior design. The Toyota’s fit, finish, and overall design are more cohesive. In comparison the Canyon, which boasts stitched leather surfaces and contrasting hues, looks dated and fussy.

An example of the differences is illustrated by the ignition switch and key. In the Toyota, the ignition switch sits at a slight angle, and the fob is designed to hold the key at just the right angle when it is in your hand.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

Slipping it into the ignition switch takes very little thought. The Canyon, on the other hand, places its ignition switch — which looks just like the one GM has been using since the earth cooled — at a much more severe angle, and the key is not at the optimum angle when the fob is in your hand.

This forces you to look at the ignition switch and rotate your hand more severely to insert the key. Imagine doing that every morning and every evening until the payments ran out. On the positive, the Canyon’s materials are of high quality, well executed and build quality drew no complaints.


Another place Toyota traditionally excels is powertrain, though GM has picked up the pace with its latest engine and transmission families. Though the Toyota sported a six-speed manual, could it beat the GMC in terms of output, fuel economy and towing capacity?

The most surprising thing about this comparison, is how easy it was to drive the Toyota like a diesel-powered heavy truck, shifting out of lower gears at seemingly ridiculous — and low — revs. Once it started to move, it was possible to shift up into second, and do the same into third. Even more surprising was the fact that the GMC consistently returned better fuel mileage. On the road, the Tacoma hovered at or above 18 mpg, while the Canyon seemed capable of hitting 20 mpg or better no matter what. Both engines are smooth, quiet and powerful, but the Canyon engine’s horsepower advantage gave it superior cruising ability.

The Canyon did not, however, ride as well as the Tacoma. The Tacoma’s Bilstein shocks and off-road tuning are superior to the Canyon’s suspension, giving a more supple ride in all situations. If the Canyon has one failing — other than the interior design — it is that the unladen ride can be quite harsh and stiff-legged. It does not veer off toward uncomfortable, but you will know that you are driving a truck. Day-to-day this could be a problem for buyers who use the truck as a car replacement.

So which is better? In a perfect world, the GMC would combine its more spacious body and powerful engine with the Toyota’s more modern interior and supple ride. Since that’s not possible, a decision has to be made.

Surprisingly, given my long running affection of the Tacoma, I would have to pick the Canyon as better choice for all but the most dedicated off-roader.

The Virtual Driver