Competition is fierce in the midsize pickup truck segment and the 2021 GMC Canyon is definitely one of the biggest players. You probably don't hear about this truck very often, but it's because it hasn't been involved in disturbing recalls and it's normally easier to point a finger like Tesla, than to salute excellence. This is good news since it means that the American manufacturer's truck is a good choice.
The 2021 GMC Canyon offers a fairly wide range of trims and powertrains. In fact, each trim is perfectly distinct from the others. Thus, one can hardly confuse the regular version with the luxury version and it is the same with the off-road AT4 trim.
The off-road pickup truck category has become so popular that manufacturers are increasing their model offerings; to such an extent that new categories have been created. As proof, the GMC Canyon AT4 was designed precisely to face a very specific niche: the off-road truck niche. GMC added the the off-road trim to the Canyon in the 2021 model, giving it a special AT4 trim.
While the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 rests in the extreme off-road midsize pickup category, the GMC Canyon AT4 - its mechanical twin - is more aimed at competing with lightweight off-road pickups. In other words, the Canyon AT4 mainly competes with the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, Nissan Frontier Pro4X and Ford Ranger Tremor.
For the 2021 model GMC revised its trim levels for the Canyon. It said goodby to the SL trim and welcome the AT4 trim. The 2021 GMC Canyon model year lineup will be slimmed down to four trims: Elevation Standard, Elevation, AT4, and Denali. AT4 is a trim that emphasizes off-road capabilities, while Denali emphasizes luxury. These trims are so distinct that they can even be called sub-brands.
The AT4 Canyon
A Canyon AT4 is distinguished from a regular Canyon by its black grille and mirrors, slightly redesigned front bumper, LED fog lights, red-painted tow hooks, model-exclusive 17-inch rims and wheel treads. 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires and signature body badges.
Regarding its off-rad capability here is how GMC explains it. "Canyon AT4’s capability is enhanced further by an off-road suspension, standard four-wheel drive and transfer case shield. There’s also an automatic locking rear differential to help give improved traction in off-road situations by locking the rear wheels so they move at the same speed. For descending steep grades, the standard Advanced Hill Descent Control helps provide a smooth, controlled descent in uneven terrain without the driver needing to repeatedly push the brake pedal."
2021 Canyon AT4 Pricing
You have to pay $40,000 to get the standard AT4 Crew Cab version with letter-appointed seats. But to get more options, you need to add another 3,000 dollars and pay $43,230 for the total vehicle price with all the options. However, these are prices comparable to those of a Ford Ranger Tremor. A Canyon AT4 is considerably less expensive than a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. The fuel economy is 19 MPG mixed and 17/24 city/highway.
It's still the same good old story for the interior of the GMC Canyon: it's starting to get old. Although it remains highly functional and suitably equipped, some technologies that are now standard on the competition side, such as a start button, adaptive cruise control or a blind spot detector, are completely non-existent in Canyon.
I have a tip here for GMC designers and decision-makers. Tesla Cybertruck is coming in 2022. It's a very exciting truck with nearly 700,000 reservations and the Cybertruck will cost only about 40,000 dollars. As I just explained above, Canyon AT4 is in the same price range and it would be great if GMC could refresh it in 2022 to adequately compete with the Cybertruck.
In the interior I do admit, however, that I find the Canyon multimedia system user-friendly and quick to respond, while incorporating the most recent connectivity technologies, not to mention a rather funny "Teen" mode, which GMC says is designed to encourage good driving habits while behind the wheel, along with providing feedback on their driving performance through an industry-first report card. The degree of ergonomics is also excellent. The controls are clear and easy to find.
GMC Infotainment System† is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto devices. There’s also available wireless charging so you don’t need to worry about having a USB cord, says GMC.
Engine and Technology
Two engine choices are available for the AT4 version: first, a 3.6-liter V6 (under test) with an output of 308 horsepower and torque of 275 pound-feet; second, a 2.8-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine delivering 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The V6 is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, while the turbodiesel engine only comes with a 6-speed automatic.
In addition to off-road tires, the AT4 package adds useful components for trail adventure, as long as your main activity isn't dune hopping. The package is convincing, however: off-road shocks, hill descent control, a 4-wheel drive system including an AutoTrac two-speed transfer case, an Eaton-branded automatic locking rear differential and skid plate for the transfer case.
While the Canyon is far less sophisticated than some of its rivals, I like its driving dynamics. I would say the Canyon AT4 is proving to be very efficient, both in city driving and on trail.
There is a sporty feel that makes the Canyon fun to drive. Admittedly, this is a frame-mounted body, meaning it hops and wobbles when crossing road imperfections, but its handling remains stable and mature despite its design. It feels light, nimble in curves (for a pickup truck), and its power steering delivers the right amount of feedback, handy for off-road driving.
I also have no complaints about the combination of V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission. In fact, it is these ingredients that allow the Canyon to remain competitive against more modern rivals. This is a good truck. The engine delivers a good dose of power at high revs, and the gearbox is both discreet and efficient.
GMC has a nice game to duplicate its offer, especially with all the success already achieved with this badge AT4 created from scratch just a few months ago. This off-road vibe is all the rage right now and it's a safe bet that as long as consumers are knocking on the manufacturer's door for an AT4 variant, GMC will continue its adventure.
Armen Hareyan is the founder and the Editor in Chief of Torque News. He founded TorqueNews.com in 2010, which since then has been publishing expert news and analysis about the automotive industry. He can be reached at Torque News Twitter, Facebok, Linkedin and Youtube.