Think of the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 as a Chevy Colorado ZR2 for people who have never consumed Monster energy drinks. It's a little calmer, a little less rugged, and while it's getting pretty old, it still makes for a solid off-road-oriented midsize pickup.
I've always appreciated the GMC Canyon's design over its sibling, the Chevy Colorado. The fancier of the two has withstood the test of time a little better, thanks to a reliance on butch rectilinearity that doesn't look nearly as aged as the Colorado's big-headlight mug. My tester's $3,195 Off-Road Performance Edition Package zhushes things up a little further with 17-inch gloss black aluminum wheels, skid plates, black badges and a spray-on bedliner. The beefy 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires look pretty boss, too. The near total lack of chrome doesn't hurt, either.
While the exterior has held up, I can't say the same for the interior, which is just as Playskool plastic fantastic as nearly every other Canyon and Colorado trim. My AT4 tester tries to perk things up with some cool leather front seats, and I like how the headrest looks integrated into the seat, but the cloth-seat AT4 costs $1,800 less, which is worth noting for buyers trying to stick to a budget. There is some faux stitching around the dash, but I can run a finger over nearly any surface and it mostly feels hard and cheap, which is a bit of a bummer on a $40,000 truck. If you want something resembling plushness, you'll have to opt for the $45,000-plus Denali getup.
There's some practicality to be found in the Canyon, but not a ton. The glove compartment and center console armrest cubby are both plenty sizable, but the door pockets are tiny, and the optional wireless charger can't accommodate modern Max-size iPhones, a solid giveaway that this interior is getting ready to collect Social Security checks. The cup holders will hold a 24-ounce plastic bottle, but nothing larger, so Nalgene fans will have to figure something out. The crew cab's rear seats are a little light on legroom, but perhaps we've been spoiled by all the full-size crew cab trucks and their limousine-caliber second rows.
The Canyon AT4 can be had with a 2.8-liter turbodiesel inline-4, but most will likely sport the 3.6-liter gas V6, which produces 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, routed to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. This combination works well, providing plenty of low-end grunt with an unladen bed, while the transmission operates smoothly, rarely hunting for gears or taking longer than it needs to. It'll get up and go whenever needed.
Fuel economy is pretty decent, too, and the truck has no issue reaching its EPA-estimated figures of 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. Those are solidly competitive numbers, too, beating four-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma variants by 1 to 3 mpg on the highway (thanks in part to cylinder deactivation), although the Taco proves superior in the city by about the same delta.
On-road performance is damn fine for a body-on-frame pickup. The off-road suspension is a little on the soft side, so while it does a good job absorbing whatever crappy Michigan roads have to offer, it can feel a little boaty-floaty on expressway curves, and the off-road tires can wander a bit over certain types of pavement. The steering is nicely balanced, and the brakes have good grip and nice modulation.
While I didn't get a chance to put the AT4 through its full off-road paces, there's plenty of kit in here to make it happen. All AT4s come with an off-road-tuned suspension, hill descent control, a locking rear differential, a two-speed transfer case, and my tester ramps that up further with the $3,195 performance pack that adds a front air dam delete, a 1-inch lift up front and additional underbody protection. It's not as purely focused as the Colorado ZR2 with its front locker and even beefier suspension, but it's pretty darn close, and a majority of buyers will find the AT4 more than capable enough to meet their needs.
Don't worry, the Canyon AT4 is still solid for regular truck stuff, too. You can order it in a crew cab configuration with a choice of 61.7-inch or 74-inch beds. It'll tow up to 7,000 pounds, and it'll haul about 1,500 pounds' worth of stuff in the bed.
Every GMC Canyon comes with an 8-inch touchscreen running Chevrolet's latest infotainment system, and that's great. The setup is straightforward, it's easy to navigate and it includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto if you don't want to plunk down an additional $995 for factory navigation. OnStar's 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot is standard, too, which I've always appreciated. The $395 Bose sound system upgrade isn't too shabby, either, and seems like a good deal for people who are always in their trucks.
And then there's the driver-assist tech. Chevrolet, and GM in general, has always taken a more conservative approach to these systems, occasionally relying on less expensive camera-based forward collision warning (radar ain't cheap) or locking nearly all systems behind a paywall. That's sadly still the case with the Canyon AT4, which offers non-adaptive cruise control and rear parking sensors as standard. The only upgrade costs $395 and adds forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and… that's it.
Any truly modern conveniences like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking require a trip to the Toyota dealership, because that stuff is standard on every single Tacoma that rolls off the line. Get with the times and stop the relentless bean counting, GM. Seriously. Some truck buyers would probably ditch airbags if it meant saving $500 on the window sticker, but sometimes you have to prevent people from becoming their own worst enemy.
Considering the average new-car transaction price has eclipsed $40,000, I guess I can't call the Canyon AT4 expensive, but it sure feels it. Starting at $39,595 (including destination) with cloth seats, my leather-bedecked tester rings in with options at $45,780.
Why GM doesn't take Toyota more seriously as an existential threat is beyond me. If you combine (and, sometimes, double) the sales of the GMC Canyon and the Chevrolet Colorado, they still can't match the selling power of Toyota's venerable midsize pickup.
For what it is, though, the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 is solid. It's an attractive pickup truck that offers more off-road prowess than your average midsizer, without requiring a deep-end leap into something more purpose-built like the ZR2. Let's just hope a new generation is on the horizon.