GMC Canyon Denali — Mid-sized pickup luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When the latest versions of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon hit the marketplace as 2015 models it created renewed excitement in the mid-sized truck market that had all but passed away. Since then, Toyota after 10 years completely overhauled its top-selling Tacoma, and a new Honda Ridgeline has earned high praise from auto critics. The Nissan Frontier is due for a total remake in the near future, and there are rumors the Ford Ranger will return to the U.S. in the foreseeable future.

The GMC Canyon, the more upscale of the General Motors siblings, is making some noise in the third year of its current iteration with the addition of an upscale Denali model bringing such high-tech goodies to the "professional grade" pickup as GM's IntelliLink infotainment system with navigation, a 4G Wi-Fi hot spot, a Bose seven-speaker premium audio system, and even two USB ports for rear-seat passengers. Also standard are forward collision alert and lane departure warning.

And there's more good stuff that comes with the Denali including a unique chrome grille, chrome 20-inch black-accented alloy wheels, cargo lamps, a spray-in bedliner, tubular running boards, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless charging for compatible cellphones, and a heated steering wheel.

But the biggest news is the addition of a revised 3.6-liter V-6 engine mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. The 8-speed replaces a long-running 6-speed and the new engine, which makes 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, gains three horsepower and six pound-feet over the outgoing V-6. Towing capacity remains at a stout 7,000 pounds.

We were instantly impressed with the revised 3.6-liter V6 that comes standard with the Denali and as an option with other Canyon trim levels. A push of the pedal results in a sudden surge of power with an estimated 0-to-60 at 6.3 seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.9 seconds @ 94 mph. That's about a full second faster than a comparable 2015 V-6 model we tested. The V-6 is rated at 17-mpg city, 24-highway and 19-overall. Braking is impressive measured at 124 feet from 60-to-0.†

In addition to very satisfying performance, the Canyon drives smaller than the full-sized pickups and is easier to get into a parking space perhaps in part because it is considerably narrower than the full-sized Sierra. And the Denali handled adeptly on the curving back roads with well-weighted steering feel. While some body roll is present it's never worrisome and no more than a standard full-sized sedan.

Other engine offerings in the Canyon lineup are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 200 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque, and a 2.8-liter four-cylinder diesel making 181 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque mated to a 6-speed automatic. Its bragging rights are excellent fuel economy (22/30/25 in two-wheel drive and 20/28/23 in all-wheel) together with a 7,700-pound tow rating.

The Canyon carries a modern design with dramatic styling, and the well-appointed and attractive cabin is car quiet due in-part to triple-sealed doors and improved aerodynamics. Also, sound-deadening materials have been used extensively, and designers paid special attention to the lower back of the cab structure to cut down on wind noise.

The interior of the Denali is upscale with comfortable seats. And accommodations are good in the back with plenty of head room and decent leg room. The IntelliLink infotainment system has quick responses and big, easily readable controls, and large knobs and well-placed buttons for audio and climate control features.

But we were frankly stunned with what was missing from what is GMC's most upscale model. Our Denali did not have a power seatback, no keyless ignition (a real head-scratcher), no dual-zone climate controls, no memory seats, no blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, no 360-degree camera, and no available adaptive cruise control. All these features are now common either as standard or optional equipment on virtually every car and truck on the planet — and GMC should take note and correct these deficiencies with the next go-around.

The Canyon in its base form with a 6-speed automatic, two-wheel drive and a 5.1-foot bed starts at $27,450 including destination charge. There are dozens of options available on all models ranging in price from $100 for an engine block heater to $1,235 for the V-6 engine and $800 for the 8-speed transmission.

Our four-wheel drive Denali with 6.2-foot bed came with virtually everything available on the Canyon as standard equipment. The only option was Dark Slate Metallic paint for $395 bringing the bottom line to $44,155 including destination charge.

Base price: $27,450; as driven, $44,155
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 308 @ 6,800 rpm
Torque: 275 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 128.3 inches
Length: 212.4 inches
Curb weight 4,488 pounds
Turning circle: 41.3 feet
Towing capacity: 7,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 21 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 17 city, 24 highway, 19 combined
0-60: 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline

The Good
• Powerful V-6 engine
• User-friendly switchgear
• Well-mannered steering and handling

The Bad
• No improvement in gas mileage

The Ugly
• Missing features found on many vehicles