The 2023 GMC Canyon is trying to step out of the shadow cast by its Chevrolet twin. The Colorado ZR2 is one of the most lauded midsize trucks, and with good reason, given its impressive off-road capability. The first-ever Canyon AT4X combines the ZR2’s off-road chops with the upscale build quality GMC is known for. But don’t let the truck’s refined appearance fool you, because the Canyon is just as competent on the trail as the Colorado.
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Full Disclosure: GMC invited me to Asheville, North Carolina to drive the 2023 Canyon. The company flew me out, put me in a cabin by the French Broad River and fed me. I even made smores over a campfire. So what if I burned the marshmallows? They were still delicious. I awoke early the following day to put the new Canyon AT4X through its paces on the trail.
2023 GMC Canyon: New Model Year Resolutions, New Model Redesign
Like the Chevy Colorado, the GMC Canyon is fresh off a big redesign for the 2023 model year. It would be easy to dismiss the Canyon as a carbon copy of the Colorado, but there are notable differences. Key among these are price and available engine configurations. Chevy is casting a wider net with the Colorado, offering three different options based on the same turbocharged inline-4: the cheapest and least powerful is the 2.7 Turbo, followed by the 2.7 Turbo Plus, then the 2.7 Turbo High-Output, which comes standard on the Colorado ZR2.
GMC, on the other hand, will not offer a variety of engine configurations on the Canyon. The new truck will come with the 2.7 Turbo High-Output engine across all trims. So, whether buyers opt for the base Canyon Elevation, Canyon AT4, Canyon Denali or top-trim Canyon AT4X, they’ll get the same 2.7-liter turbocharged inline-4, which makes 310 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque. The engine is exclusively paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
What does vary is towing capacity, but only on the one trim. The Elevation, Denali and AT4 all tow up to 7,700 pounds, but the AT4X can only tow 6,000 pounds. And the AT4X also has the lowest payload capacity of the lineup, at 1,250 pounds. The Canyon Elevation with two-wheel drive has the highest payload capacity at 1,640 pounds, but opting for 4WD drops that down to 1,590 pounds.
It’s clear from the numbers that the AT4X is not as well-suited for cargo and towing as the other Canyons, but that’s kind of the point; the AT4X is less work, more play. It was only a matter of time before the Canyon borrowed the Colorado ZR2’s Multimatic DSSV shocks and off-road stance. Across all trims, the new Canyon sits higher and wider than the old model, but the AT4X has a 1-inch lift over other trims for a total of 10.7 inches of ground clearance.
The AT4X has a track width of 66.3 inches front and rear, approach angle of 36.9 degrees, departure angle of 25 degrees and break-over angle of 24.5 degrees. That’s the same as the Colorado ZR2 in every metric except approach angle, where the ZR2 comes in with 38.3 degrees.
2023 GMC Canyon: Upscale Intentions
These trucks’ different price points are pretty obvious when you climb aboard the Canyon. The Chevy Colorado is a fine truck, but even upper trims like the Z71 leave something to be desired as far as refinement is concerned. Ditto fit and finish.
Meanwhile, the base Canyon Elevation is is just better put together. The cabin’s quality is excellent: there’s no flex when you jostle the panels, every touch point feels opulent and the layout of the infotainment system is straightforward. The center screen is generously-sized, but not comically big like that of some new trucks. The Canyon is still well-equipped in this department, featuring an 11.3-inch center screen standard on all trims. The Denali and AT4X get an 11-inch driver display, as well, while Elevation and AT4 have a smaller 8-inch digital gauge cluster.
The road manners of the Canyon keep the luxe theme going; compared to the Colorado, the GMC is just quieter and more comfortable overall. The Chevy impressed me with its agility on twisty roads, and the Canyon is no different. The GMC is free of body roll and will easily trace its line through a tight turn.
The Canyon Denali really drives the luxury theme home, with its upscale interior. The Denali is one rung below the top-trim AT4X and priced relatively close, but it takes on a slightly more understated (or demure) appearance and the cabin rivals that of a luxury car. I’m not a fan of padded panels, which don’t usually age gracefully, but the Denali’s cabin is undeniably plush.
2023 GMC Canyon: Driving Impressions
My first foray into the woods with the Canyon wasn’t really off-roading so much as “soft-roading.” I drove through fire roads in Pisgah National Forest, sharing the winding dirt paths with runners, hikers and bicyclists. I was glad to be driving a midsizer, because I could easily give hikers and bikers a wide berth.
The Canyon has several drive modes: Terrain, Off-Road, Normal and Tow/Haul. So I set it to Off-Road while turning onto Pisgah’s dirt roads. But this mode didn’t end up being necessary since the service roads don’t present many obstacles. The standard limited-slip differential in the Denali provided all the rear-end traction necessary, and the drive was uneventful in the sense that I didn’t have to worry at all about the road conditions. Even the luxury-focused Denali rolled through assuredly.
On the highway, I could revel in the comfort of the Denali’s drive. The combination of the Canyon’s size and powerful engine makes elevation changes on North Carolina’s fast-paced highways and mountain passes imperceptible. No doubt about it, the Canyon provides a perfect platform for that 2.7-liter turbo inline-4.
2023 GMC Canyon: AT4X Trail Test
When you combine the wonderful engine and chassis of the Canyon, then add the Colorado ZR2’s Multimatic DSSV dampers, you get an even more impressive drive. I understand the Canyon Denali is a posh, plush midsize truck, but the AT4X delivers a more satisfying experience both on- and off-road.
Those spool-valve dampers are constantly working, making the truck much more agile despite its higher stance and 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch tires. I often worry about highway comfort with lifted vehicles, but the Canyon AT4X is even more refined than its less expensive siblings.
Once you hit a technical trail, the Canyon AT4X show off how gnarly it really is. In fact, the AT4X almost makes light trail driving boring — almost. Deep ruts, deeper mud, narrow trails and water fording — the AT4X takes everything in stride without fuss.
Driving a new truck like the Canyon AT4X, with its torquey engine and incredible suspension, is like off-roading in easy mode, and that opens the door for a wider audience. All you have to do is turn the dial to the appropriate drive mode, press a button for high- or low-range four-wheel drive and then toggle the switch on the cluster to activate the front and rear differential lockers. The AT4X also has an exclusive Baja mode for high-speed off-road bombing, but I didn’t experience that during my test.
2023 GMC Canyon: Conclusion
GMC is very much in on the off-roading fad with the Canyon. GMC expects the AT4 and AT4X to account for more than half of Canyon sales. That’s combined, mind you, but still ambitious considering the AT4X is a first for the model.
The 2023 Canyon will start at $38,390 (destination included) for the Elevation, reaching up to $58,490 for the new AT4X. That’s roughly $10,000 more than the Colorado ZR2, which is steep. Then again, it may be worth it for some buyers given the better build quality. I’d even wager the Colorado AT4X will be the most luxurious model in the segment, but I’ll wait until I drive the Ford Ranger Raptor and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro to make the final call.
Additionally, the Canyon AT4X is now a worthy alternative to the larger, full-size GMC Sierra. In terms of mass, midsizers have taken the place of their bigger siblings (to my eyes), and that puts the Canyon AT4X at the pinnacle of off-road performance from GMC. Anything bigger would be a compromise.
The Canyon is narrow enough to squeeze through technical trails while avoiding coming home with pinstripes, and it’s light enough to handily blast across desert terrain. And yet, the Canyon is roomy enough to fit a family of four, with all the amenities you could ever want. I’ve called some trucks family cars derisively, but the Canyon AT4X really is a family car you can drive to the end of the world and back.
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