The 2021 GMC Canyon is a midsize pickup truck available with two body styles (extended cab and crew cab), two bed lengths (6-foot-2 and 5-foot-2), two gasoline engines (an inline four and a V6) and a turbodiesel 4-cylinder. The Canyon is offered with 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, and there’s a new trim for 2021: the AT4. This rugged off-road Canyon is complemented by the luxurious Canyon Denali, which has been majorly refreshed for 2021.
What hasn’t changed are the engines. A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 200 horsepower remains the base engine, and it’s teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Most Canyons are powered by a 3.6-liter V6. This engine, teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission, is a good blend of power and economy. It produces 308 hp and endows the Canyon with a max tow rating of 7,000 pounds and an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated highway fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon.
There’s also an available turbodiesel, a 2.8-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 369 lb-ft of torque at only 2,000 rpm. Fitted with this low-rpm workhorse, the Canyon diesel, equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission, can tow up to 7,700 pounds and get up to 30 mpg hwy.
For 2021, the most notable Canyon news is the arrival of the new AT4 trim, which has much better off-road abilities than the outgoing Canyon All Terrain X. Equipped with 31-in Goodyear off-road tires and a specially tuned suspension, the Canyon AT4 can reach remote places, aided by a locking rear differential, hill-descent control and skid plate protection for the transfer case. This year, the four available Canyon trims are the Elevation Standard, the Elevation, the AT4 and the Denali. The new AT4 is visually distinguished by a larger grille, prominent red recovery hooks and a dark chrome trim. Last year, the Canyon was available as an SL, an SLE, an SLT or a Denali.
Similarly, the 2021 GMC Canyon Denali has been improved. It’s now styled to look more like its larger Sierra siblings. The Denali’s styling modifications include a sculpted grille, chrome assist steps and 20-in alloy wheels. Inside, open-pore wood trim adds to the luxury ambiance, as do the heated and vented seats. See the 2021 GMC Canyon models for sale near you
What We Like
- Fits in most garages
- New AT4 off-roader
- Diesel engine offered
- Smooth 3.6-liter V6
- Made in the U.S.
What We Don’t
- No MultiPro tailgate
- High bed
- Denali diesel can get pricey
- No automatic emergency braking
When equipped with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and the 6-speed automatic transmission, the 2021 GMC Canyon is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in combined driving. With 4WD, the 2.5-liter Canyon is nearly as efficient, with EPA ratings of 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined.
Equipped with the 3.6-liter V6 and 8-speed automatic powertrain, the GMC Canyon has EPA fuel-economy ratings of 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined. With 4WD, those figures drop a bit to 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.
With the 2.8-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder and 6-speed automatic powertrain, the rear-wheel-drive Canyon is rated at 20 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined. With AWD, the diesel comes in at 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
How does this compare to, say, the Ford Ranger? The Ranger, which is exclusively available with a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission, is rated by the EPA at 21 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined. The 4WD Ranger drops to 20 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined. Another competitor, the Toyota Tacoma, has an EPA rating that ranges from a low of 18 mpg combined (the 4WD V6 manual) to a high of 21 mpg combined (the RWD inline-4 automatic and the RWD V6 automatic).
Standard Features & Options
The 2021 GMC Canyon has four trim levels. The GMC Canyon Elevation Standard is the base model. It’s equipped with the 4-cylinder engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission and vinyl-upholstered seats. Although entry-level, this midsize GMC pickup is far from spartan. It’s equipped with a locking tailgate, 18-in wheels, a 7-in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a power driver’s seat with a manual recline feature.
The GMC Canyon Elevation improves on that with onboard Wi-Fi, an 8-in touchscreen, automatic climate control, an overhead console and a soft-touch instrument panel.
Next up: the new Canyon AT4. In addition to its off-road suspension and 31-in Goodyear DuraTrac tires on 17-in alloy wheels, the 4WD AT4 comes with a locking rear differential and a skid plate for the transfer case.
The GMC Canyon Denali — updated for 2021 with styling that makes it look more like its larger Sierra sibling — remains at the top of the lineup. This luxurious midsize pickup boasts a leather interior with wood trim, a 7-speaker Bose stereo system, chrome exterior trim and unique 20-in alloy wheels. It also comes standard with a trailering package and spray-on bed liner.
Among the multiple available options is a Convenience Package for the Canyon Elevation. For $630, you get a remote-locking tailgate, keyless ignition, cruise control and a rear defogger.
On higher models such as the Canyon Elevation and AT4, the $690 Driver Alert Package is a worthwhile consideration. It includes rear park assist, forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning. The Canyon Elevation can be made a bit more luxurious with a $1,400 High Elevation Package that includes black leather front seats and a heated steering wheel. Leather is also optional on the AT4.
Though we wish it had some form of automatic emergency braking, the 2021 GMC Canyon has a respectable 4-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Among the safety technologies on the Canyon that we like is the Driver Alert Package, which comes standard on the Denali and includes forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and rear park assist.
Every 2021 GMC Canyon Denali benefits from six standard airbags: two frontal airbags, two seat-mounted side-impact airbags and two curtain-style airbags that deploy from the headliner to provide head protection for the outer passengers in both rows.
Moreover, all new Canyons are equipped with Teen Driver safety technology, which lets parents set vehicle parameters — such as maximum vehicle speed and stereo volume — and create a driving report card that can be used as a learning tool for beginning drivers.
Less significant but also handy is tire-fill alert, which comes standard on every 2021 GMC Canyon and honks the vehicle’s horn when the tires have been filled to the correct pressure. The feature makes it much easier to correctly inflate your tires, so more people will check their pressures regularly, meaning there will be fewer heat-related blowouts due to underinflated tires, and, thereby, safer roads.
Behind the Wheel
Driving the 2021 GMC Canyon is a pleasurable experience. It’s like driving a midsize SUV but with an open bed instead of a covered cargo area. It’s quiet inside, and the ample ride height translates to an excellent outward view from the Canyon’s wide and comfortable driver’s seat.
All the Canyon’s controls work with good precision. The steering is direct, not overboosted. The brake pedal is firm and easy to modulate. The suspension delivers a smooth ride on paved surfaces without getting bouncy at dips in intersections.
While the base 4-cylinder engine is adequate, the 3.6-liter V6 feels much more substantial without causing a big drop in fuel economy. This is the engine most Canyon buyers choose. It can also tow 7,000 pounds. If you need to pull a bit more than that, opt for the 2.8-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder, which adds about $4,000 to the MSRP and ups the max tow rating to 7,700 pounds. The Canyon diesel also gets up to 30 mpg hwy.
The 2021 GMC Canyon is a good everyday midsize pickup. It feels solidly built, and we like that the lineup has expanded to include the new AT4 version, which has legitimate off-road chops. Weekend explorers will appreciate the new AT4’s dirt road abilities, thanks to its specially tuned suspension, aggressive tires, locking rear differential and diesel engine (if you get one).
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Nissan Frontier — The Frontier is an old-school pickup that offers a lot of value for the money. For 2020, it gets a new V6 engine and a 9-speed automatic transmission. There’s an all-new Frontier coming in 2021, so deals on the 2019 and 2020 models are likely for quite some time.
2020 Toyota Tacoma — The standard by which midsize pickups are judged. Utterly dependable and has great resale value. But no available diesel engine.
Used Ford F-150 — There are just so many F-150s roaming this country that you’re bound to find a mildly used one priced below a new Canyon. And you’ll be getting a larger truck with more room, if that’s what you need.
Used Chevrolet Silverado — See above. A used low-mileage Silverado (or a used GMC Sierra) would make a good alternative to a new Canyon, provided you can live with a larger vehicle.
Questions You Might Ask
How long is the 2021 GMC Canyon’s bed?
The 2021 GMC Canyon has two bed lengths: one that’s 6 feet, 2 inches (available on the extended cab and the crew cab) and one that’s 5 feet, 2 inches (on the crew cab only).
Where is the 2021 GMC Canyon built?
The GMC Canyon is manufactured in Wentzville, Missouri.
Is the 2021 GMC Canyon Denali new?
The GMC Canyon Denali has been significantly updated for 2021, and it now looks more like a full-size Sierra. In addition to a sculpted and layered grill, the 2021 Canyon Denali has chrome exterior accents, chrome assist steps and 20-in alloy wheels.
What off-road hardware is used on the new GMC Canyon AT4?
The new Canyon AT4 has an off-road suspension, aggressive 31-in Goodyear DuraTrac tires, hill-descent control, a skid plate for the transfer case and a 4WD system with a locking rear differential.
Though newer pickups, such as the Ford Ranger, offer better safety suites and older trucks, such as the Nissan Frontier, have a price advantage, the 2021 GMC Canyon has found a sweet spot somewhere in between. The Canyon offers a broad engine selection, including a diesel that can tow 7,700 pounds. From the base Elevation Standard to the rugged new AT4 and the updated Denali, the 2021 GMC Canyon meets multiple needs with GMC‘s usual high level of refinement. Find a GMC Canyon for sale