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2021 GMC Canyon AT4: Challenging the Ranger and Gladiator

The 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 is designed to combine GMC luxury with sporty fun in a small pickup. A week's test seems to show it's succeeded.

The 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 definitely presents itself as a sporty truck from the outside, and the driving experience backs that up.
The 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 definitely presents itself as a sporty truck from the outside, and the driving experience backs that up.Read moreGMC

2021 GMC Canyon AT4: A sportier GMC pickup?

Price: $45,780 as tested. The AT4 Off-Road Package added 17-inch wheels, suspension leveling and more for $3,195. More is noted below.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “potent V-6 and torquey diesel engines, looks grander than the Chevy version, rides and drives better than most rivals,” but not that “Denali doesn’t deliver on luxury, weak base engine, popular driver assists are absent.”

Marketer’s pitch: “…” General Motors is still not paying for slogans.

Reality: Hauler if you want to have fun.

What’s new: Though the Canyon midsize pickup has been around since the 2015 model year, the new Canyon AT4 aims for a sportier truck for more off-road capability.

On the road: The Canyon started its Mr. Driver’s Seat adventure with some tough competition: I’d just spent the day roaring around the Catskills in the Outback Wilderness, about the most fun I’d had in forever.

However, the tall, narrow pickup quickly warmed my heart with its easy handling and its road manners. It handled highways nicely, and country roads could be turned into road rally adventures. This is getting into Ford Ranger XLT territory.

Driver’s Seat: Even before I’d crossed out of New York state, I feared the seat and I were not going to get along, not even a little. My right leg was not only sore but also a little numb, my back was sore, and I was just miserable. I found myself easing the seat forward a little more, a little more … finally thinking, I’m waaaay close here.

But after a couple hours of driving and a stop to visit Sturgis Kid 1.0 and Son-in-Law 1.0, I got back in and felt right at home. I just had the seat pushed back too far.

Gauges are typical GM, which are workable but nothing attractive.

» READ MORE: 2019 GMC Canyon sacrifices space even among midsize pickups

Up to speed: Acceleration from the 308-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 also gives enthusiastic drivers some fun moments. You definitely don’t have to worry about catching up to traffic, as it gets to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, according to Motor Trend. A diesel-powered four is also available.

Play some tunes: General Motors once had a reputation for some of the best stereos out there, but it’s been a downhill ride of late.

Not so the Bose stereo ($395) in the Canyon. A few quick adjustments, and it became one of the best phonic experiences I’ve had in a while, an A- drifting into A territory. Sound reproduction was clear, adjustments were wide-ranging — only I couldn’t get everything just so.

Controls are GM simple, with a dial for volume and buttons for pushing through stations. The touchscreen works adequately but is just 8 inches diagonally and comes as part of a $995 upgrade.

Shifty: The 8-speed transmission did its job well. I never noticed any trouble with shifting. There’s a low mode, but that’s it; no gear selections are available otherwise.

Off the road: The Canyon slogged through the Sturgis family’s steeply sloped backyard with no trouble, much like other four-wheel drives I’ve tested. The tires did spin excessively to get over some tree roots, though, and considering it was during an exceedingly dry spell in May, I wonder whether the DuraTrac tires are up to the task.

» READ MORE: Showdown of Nissan Armada vs. Chevy Tahoe yields a clear winner

Friends and stuff: The rear seat offers great headroom, legroom and foot room. The seat itself is comfortable, with none of the too-upright positions some small pickups offer. Entry-exit is only slightly challenged by narrow doors; feet must be positioned just right to get through.

The seats fold down rather than seat bottoms that fold up as in most trucks. I’m partial to the latter, but here’s a choice for buyers.

Outside, the Canyon definitely handles all the stuff as well as any other pickup. The bed held plenty of branches and vines, and the strap hooks are easy to find even after it’s loaded.

Keeping warm and cool: A simple setup — one dial controls fan speed, another temperature, and buttons control the rest. The vertical vents are not easy to direct and do a fair bit of face blasting and contact lens drying.

Fuel economy: The Canyon was showing 23 mpg when I sat down, but it fell to just under 20 during my lead-footed reign. Feed the Canyon whatever.

Where it’s built: Wentzville, Mo.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Canyon reliability to be a 2 out of 5.

In the end: The GMC Canyon AT4 offers all the fun a small pickup should. It definitely beats the Jeep Gladiator on price — although taking off the doors and roof might be worth an extra 15 grand — but the Ranger SXT is worth a look, especially considering its much-higher reliability rating.