The 2023 GMC Canyon embarks on off-road adventures with enhanced off-road capability throughout the lineup. The overhauled Canyon mid-size pickup truck has similarities with the Chevy Colorado, yet GM has positioned the Canyon as the more prepared truck for off-road experiences. It competes with the Colorado, the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, Jeep Gladiator, and Nissan Frontier, among other models. GMC has kicked off the Canyon with added standard safety and convenience features.
Most aspects of the 2023 Canyon are new, sporting a more upright appearance with increased ground clearance, suiting its status as an off-road-ready mid-size truck. This applies to the Elevation, AT4, and Denali trims, but GMC reinforces it with the new AT4X, a truck similar to the Chevy Colorado ZR2 that sits higher than other models. It comes with three skid plates and raised front and rear bumpers to improve approach and departure angles.
The new generation of the Canyon exhibits a more imposing look. Each variant features a broad grille that connects to the front end with visual tie-downs at the corners. At the top, it is also anchored by slim LED running lights that point downward to the front skid plate. Most versions replicate that shape within 15 rectangles for their grille, while the Denali showcases taut bands of metallic trim across its grid. A deeply stamped midsection gives the Canyon abs, while the upturned shoulder line at the bedwall leads into gently boxed fenders. The rear end sports rounded C-shaped taillights that frame a large GMC logo inset on an embossed panel, accented by “Canyon” lettering.
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The Canyon has made significant improvements in road manners. It’s lively, thanks to a high-output 2.7-liter turbo-4 shared with the larger Sierra 1500 and the Chevy Colorado ZR2. While the Colorado offers different outputs, the Canyon exclusively features the top version, delivering 310 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. Despite weighing anywhere from 4,430 to 5,210 pounds, depending on the trim, the Canyon displays a punchy low-end response, with a refined growl for a 4-cylinder engine, and doesn’t require active noise cancellation.
It’s well-equipped to meet most requirements through an 8-speed automatic, but it would be preferable if GMC allowed manual gear control in Drive from the shift-lever toggle; this option is only available when the shift lever is placed in Low. In its normal drive range, the transmission may linger in low gears for too long when speeds vary widely, such as on twisting roads.
A dial on the console alters various shift, throttle, and traction systems in the Canyon through four modes: Normal, Tow/Haul, Off-Road, and Terrain, which serves as a low-speed cruise control for rock-crawling. A fifth mode, Baja, is exclusive to the ATX4 (refer to below).
With the exception of the AT4X, the Canyon’s rear suspension employs leaf springs, while the independent front suspension features coil-over shocks. The latest GMC mid-size pickup offers improved handling due to its wider track and enhanced body structure. The suspension exhibits some choppiness when traversing divots in the pavement or ruts in the dirt. While it wrestles over bumps and scratches for traction, the Elevation and AT4 variants seem more stable and controlled compared to the Denali versions, which feature larger 275/60R 20-inch wheels and a higher stance, boasting 10.5 inches of ground clearance.
Overall, significantly improved steering response delivers steady and predictable inputs, as observed during maneuvers through paved switchbacks and forestry paths around Asheville, North Carolina. The Elevation and AT4, as expected, offer a better sense of the road, with their lower ride height and smaller wheels and tires. They are the top choices if the Canyon is utilized as a light-duty commuter vehicle, which has been the case for many in the past.
Only the base Canyon Elevation comes with rear-wheel drive as standard; four-wheel drive is available as an option. All other variants come with four-wheel drive as standard. The Elevation is equipped with a single-speed transfer case, while AT4 and Denali models feature a limited-slip rear differential. GMC claims the Canyon can tow up to 7,700 pounds, a substantial increase for those who tow trailers, and its bed payload has risen to 1,640 pounds.
Although the Elevation and AT4 both have 9.6 inches of ground clearance, it is the AT4 Canyon that presents the best option for drivers who frequently venture off-road. It shares the 18-inch wheels and 32-inch 265/65 tires with the Elevation, and like the Elevation (and Denali), the AT4 boasts a 33.3-degree approach angle, the most impressive in the lineup. With the same powertrain output, the AT4 is equipped with a limited-slip diff to navigate unpaved terrain with greater confidence.
The Canyon AT4X is GMC’s response to the Chevy Colorado ZR2. The Canyon AT4X sits higher than other models, partly due to a 3.0-inch factory lift that provides a ground clearance of 10.7 inches. This variant also includes three skid plates and raised front and rear bumpers to enhance approach and departure angles. The AT4X is outfitted with front and rear lockers, as well as Multimatic internal-bypass shocks to handle extreme compression off-road, while still providing sufficient stiffness for on-road comfort. It rolls on 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch mud-terrain tires, featuring a specific Baja mode for high-speed off-road cruising, and an approach angle of 36.9 degrees.
However, there are trade-offs. Payload decreases to 1,250 pounds, and tow ratings drop to 6,000 pounds. Nevertheless, the ATX4 confidently navigates through off-road terrain. During our test drive, it effortlessly conquered muddy pits exceeding two feet in depth, maneuvered through narrow passages surrounded by saplings, and hardly required the Edition 1 package it was equipped with, containing an array of off-road equipment—from safari bars to winches on the front bumper and 17-inch beadlock capable wheels.
As for fuel efficiency in the Canyon, it’s not particularly impressive. The base model with rear-wheel drive earns EPA ratings of 18 mpg city, 23 highway, and 20 combined. The 4WD Canyon is rated at 17/21/19 mpg, resulting in a score of 1 here. When equipped with the mud/terrain tires of the AT4X edition, fuel economy declines to 17/20/18 mpg.
Crash tests will provide valuable insights into the Canyon’s safety performance. The new Canyon is anticipated to achieve better results in crash tests compared to its predecessor, although definitive evaluations by the NHTSA and the IIHS are pending. GMC equips the Canyon with standard driver-assist technology proven to mitigate or prevent collisions. This includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic high beams, and active lane control. Optional features encompass blind-spot monitors, rear automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and a surround-view camera system.
Outward visibility in the Canyon is adequate, although the height of the tailgate and the short rear-door windows limit the broad view that a regular-cab pickup might offer. To offset this, GMC offers a multitude of cameras so drivers can monitor their off-road progress—an under-vehicle view is included as well, yet during our off-road driving, the included camera washer struggled to fully cleanse the lens of all the grit.
Each trim boasts a unique interior design, such as black-on-black in the Elevation trim, or the two-tone white-on-black with red accents in the AT4X. The Denali is adorned with laser-etched wood trim, quilted soft-touch panels on the dash, and leather upholstery. The orientation of the air vents at the sides of the dash and on some versions, a large Bose speaker in the center of the dash, gives the Canyon’s dashboard a somewhat recessed appearance.
Distinct trims feature unique splash screens; the AT4X showcases the GMC logo sweeping across the digital cluster and touchscreen for a noteworthy moment. The digital gauges can be adjusted from a complex display of pitch, roll, and other off-road data, to a simpler option with a plain dial.and additional lights. Despite the large 11.3-inch basic screen integrated into the dashboard, temperature and volume knobs, climate control buttons, and other controls for mechanicals are still present. A mechanical gear shifter remains in the console, although it has been repositioned to the right to provide the driver with easier access to the drive mode dial.
The bed of the Canyon stands out as the highlight here; the seats still require some improvements. Stepping into the 2023 Canyon creates an immediate sense of transformation; we are in a different era from the old truck. However, these differences are mostly due to width and better interior trim. In the new Canyon, the wheelbase extends 3.1 inches longer than before to 131.4 inches, owing to the forward movement of the front axle. It is 213.2 inches long, and wider as well—approximately 10 inches wider, according to GMC. However, interior space remains about the same as the previous crew-cab Canyon.
In the front seats, the redesigned Canyon in base Elevation specification features a basic black ensemble of cloth and plastic trim. The seats offer good bottom cushion support, but they angle inward toward the center just slightly, which means some larger drivers will have to place their leg over the seat bolster to use the dead pedal. Despite its somber appearance, the Elevation is equipped with a large touchscreen, ample console storage, and a row of toggle switches for essential functions, such as one that lowers all the windows at once (it does not raise them all, though). Tilt steering aids with the seating position, but it does not telescope in this specification.
Finishes become more luxurious in the AT4 edition, with soft stitched dash trim that alleviates the dreariness; it transitions to quilted stitching paired with etched walnut in Denali editions, which also feature heated and cooled front leather seats. The ATX4 features a wilder white-and-red-striped leather, which is bound to get dirty. And it will.
The back seat of the Canyon has not seen much improvement. It takes some maneuvering to get in, due to small door cuts, and the high bench comes with seatbacks that are fixed to the bedwall. An increase in the headliner provides headroom for 6-footers, but there is little toe room and knees will brush against the front seatbacks. The Canyon offers just 34.7 inches of rear legroom, smaller than most crossover SUVs.
The Canyon places significant emphasis on the 5-foot-2 bed. It boasts eight tie downs, with the option for nine more to be configured. It also includes indents for tires in its bedwall, stake pockets, and a tailgate with a 4.0-inch deep, 45-inch long storage area with a drain that doubles as a toolbox or a cooler. The tailgate can be positioned halfway closed to accommodate longer loads of up to 500 pounds.
The Canyon’s comprehensive list of features aligns with its branding, as it offers abundant standard equipment, good infotainment, and a robust selection of off-road-ready options. It is no longer a great deal, and the warranty coverage is average, at 3-year/36,000-miles with one free scheduled service visit.
The Canyon Elevation with rear-wheel drive starts at $38,395, which is approximately $8,000 more than the previous model with a crew cab and short box. It also comes much better equipped, with an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, an 11.3-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone capability, and an infotainment system powered by Google.
Options include a sunroof, a Bose seven-speaker sound system, an 11.0-inch instrument cluster, a 6.3-inch head-up display, and a 10-camera projection system including a waterproof underbody camera with a washer. Four-wheel drive costs $3,300. The $45,395 Canyon AT4 suits most drivers with its 18-inch wheels (which can be upgraded to 20-inch wheels), an off-road suspension with 2.0-inch lift, heated front seats, a locking rear differential, and options for power front seats, cooled front seats, leather upholstery, a power sunroof, wireless smartphone charging, and skid plates.
The $52,495 Canyon Denali has standard 20-inch wheels, Bose audio, a head-up display, side steps, a heated steering wheel, and cooled front seats. It also has a telescoping steering wheel, which is not available on lower trims. The Denali usually represents the most expensive version in the GMC lineup—but now that distinction goes to the $56,995 Canyon AT4X, which has a front locking differential, 17-inch off-road tires, a spray-on bedliner, and available underbody cameras; the Edition 1 adds specific trim and features and costs $63,350.
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