2021 GMC Canyon AT4 First Test: Still Sweet

The GMC Canyon AT4 is the automaker’s off-road-oriented midsize pickup truck, but don’t think of it as the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2‘s twin sibling. The Canyon AT4 has some off-road goodies but lacks the fancy suspension, front locker, and other rugged parts of the ZR2, although both trucks share the same basic setup and powertrains.

It’s no secret that we love the Chevy Colorado—we twice named it our Truck of the Year, and it has won every single midsize pickup comparison since its launch, most recently the Mojave Road comparison in which the ZR2 Bison beat the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. The mechanically related Canyon is also a cool truck, and recently GMC has given it a few updates to keep it fresh. The AT4 is the newest trim available, and the Performance Edition package adds a few additional off-road goodies to the Canyon while still maintaining a great on-road ride.

What Even Is the AT4?

If you’re confused about what’s what, here’s a refresher. For 2021, the regular Canyon AT4 gains beefy 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, an off-road-tuned suspension, an auto-locking rear differential, plus hill-descent control. Building on that, the Performance Edition package fits a 1-inch lift to the front suspension, deletes the front air dam, and adds more underbody and side protection against potential damage on the trail. The suspension lift and air dam removal should help deliver a slightly better approach angle. This package is only available in the AT4, and costs $3,195.

To differentiate the AT4 from other trims, GMC made a few changes that make this Canyon look more badass. All the exterior chrome is replaced by matte black trim, the new grille is larger and adopts a different pattern, and the red recovery hooks give the Canyon AT4 a bit more personality. Black mirror caps, black door handles, and AT4 badges complete the exterior look.

Besides adding the off-road hardware, the Performance Edition package further tweaks the Canyon AT4’s appearance with the addition of unique 17-inch black wheels, a gloss black performance exhaust system, and carbon black AT4 logos (instead of red). The package also includes a spray-on bedliner and all-weather mats.

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How Does the Canyon AT4 Feel on the Road?

Our GMC Canyon AT4 came with the standard 3.6-liter V-6 engine, which produces 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. The 181 hp 2.8-liter turbodiesel l-4 engine with 369 lb-ft can be had for $3,730, but the four-cylinder gas engine is not available on this trim. A two-speed transfer case comes standard on the AT4.

Despite the off-road-oriented suspension, the Canyon AT4 drives really well on pavement. The ride is settled and serene, particularly for a pickup truck. The chassis feels planted on the road, and the steering is well balanced. Although it’s not super quick, the V-6 engine provides plenty of torque to get you going. The eight-speed automatic’s shifts are smooth and timely, and the transmission doesn’t hunt for gears.

At the track, the Canyon AT4 accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds at 92.2 mph. That’s right in line with other midsize trucks such as its most direct competitor, the Ford Ranger Tremor, which hit 60 mph in 7 seconds flat and crossed the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds at 91 mph. “Adequate power, smooth gearbox,” associate road test editor Erick Ayapana said.

We know at-the-limit handling performance is not the forte of any off-road pickup, but as part of our instrumented testing, road test editor Chris Walton ran the Canyon on our figure-eight test. Unsurprisingly, he found a ton of understeer due to the off-road tires, but was pleasantly surprised at how eager the transmission was to kick down on the corner exits. “The brakes are probably the best aspect of this vehicle,” he said. And indeed, the Canyon stopped from 60 mph in 130 ft—10 feet shorter than the Ranger Tremor.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to head to the trails this time, but we hope to put the Canyon AT4’s off-road goodies to the test in the near future.

Inside the Canyon’s Cabin

Like many other GM products, the interior of the Canyon AT4 lacks any kind of wow factor. Although the cabin doesn’t look or feel bad, it doesn’t really shine, either. Besides the AT4 logos stitched onto the front headrests and the addition of red contrast stitching, the Canyon AT4’s interior is the same as the other trims. An 8.0-inch touchscreen is standard across the Canyon lineup, and ours came with navigation, a $995 extra. Given that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, we recommend skipping the factory nav option, as most drivers are likely to use Google Maps or Apple Maps to get around. We’d probably keep the Bose premium audio system ($395), though, as it sounds crisp and sharp.

For a midsize truck, the Canyon’s rear-seat space is a bit constrained. Our AT4 was the crew-cab, short-bed configuration, and those who sit in the rear seats will find legroom more cozy than comfortable. Headroom and hip room are pretty spacious, but any adults who are 6 feet or taller will notice the lack of legroom.

We probably won’t see a new or revamped interior until a new generation of Canyon comes along, which, given this GMC’s age, is probably not that far away. Interior elements such as the switchgear and the instrument panel look pretty old, and with GMC trying to differentiate itself from its Chevy siblings, we’d expect more attention to detail next time around.

Should I Buy It?

The 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 is a great little truck that does a lot of things well. Its ride and handling are superb for a pickup, and the chassis feels planted even on twisty roads. The off-road-oriented model is another option for those who occasionally hit the trails, but keep in mind that this is no Colorado ZR2.

At $45,980, the GMC Canyon AT4 with the Performance Edition package strikes us as a good deal. Midsize pickup truck prices have skyrocketed, but the Canyon brings good value for what it delivers. We just wish its interior felt newer.





































Pros:
Swift ride
Quiet cabin
Refined powertrain

Cons:
Constrained rear-seat space
Outdated interior
Not as capable as Chevy Colorado ZR2

SPECIFICATIONS 2021 GMC Canyon V6 AT4
BASE PRICE $39,595
PRICE AS TESTED $45,980
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 3.6L/308-hp/275-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,587 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 128.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 212.4 x 74.3 x 70.6 in
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.2 sec @ 92.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 130 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.73 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.6 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17/24/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 198/140 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.99 lb/mile

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