2017 GMC Canyon Denali Review and Test Drive

Terry Box | January 18, 2017
2017 GMC Canyon Denali Review and Test Drive

Giant pickups just belong in oversized, overblown Texas – a place where a Sunday cruise in the country can take until Tuesday.

See what I mean about exaggerated?

We don’t sit down to quiet dinners here. We attack hamburgers the size of garbage-can lids – cholesterol be damned.

Sometimes I need a break from big. I get a bit tired of pole-vaulting myself into the cavernous expanse of a truck too large to fit into parking garages downtown.

That’s where the rolls in gracefully.

As you probably recall, General Motors introduced totally revamped versions of the Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado in 2015.

Both are substantially larger than previous weenie versions of the truck, but smaller – and slightly more frugal – than full-size pickups.

GM calls them “lifestyle” trucks, which sort of implies swimming pools, margaritas and black bikinis. Sign me up, dude.

Actually, though, I think GM means these trucks can fit into most people’s lives more comfortably than a three-ton behemoth capable of towing your house.

Since their introduction two years ago, the Canyon and Colorado have been among the hottest-selling pickups in the industry, way out-performing their full-size big brothers.

When my dark gray 2017 Canyon Denali Crew Cab arrived here at Chateau Box, I momentarily mistook it for a full-size Sierra.

Of course, then I realized it could actually fit onto my 61-year-old driveway.

Although the Canyon uses frame-rails borrowed from the Sierra, it is 17 inches shorter in length, 6 inches narrower and 4 inches smaller in height. It also weighs 1,200 pounds less.

However, the Canyon still packs a lot of that big-truck, get-out-of-my-way-I-might-be-a-sociopathic-cowboy attitude.

As an upscale Denali model, the Canyon I had wore a big, bold rectangular chrome-chain grille with huge GMC letters in the center and a strong, slightly raised hood.

The fenders, meanwhile, were squared and flared with deep character lines above them.

They contrasted nicely with mostly flat doors, trimmed with chrome handles.

My Denali went full butch, getting four-wheel-drive and good-looking 10-spoke alloy wheels fitted with beefy 255/55-20 tires.

The truck also had a standard 62-inch bed, which in tandem with the 20-inch wheels looked nicely proportional.

In fact, the truck almost seemed too fine to get dirty – like lots of loaded, high-end modern pickups.

While the spotless exterior of the Canyon has changed little since it was unveiled two years ago, the truck does get a new 8-speed automatic for 2017 – and that’s bigger news than it might seem.

Though the 3.6-liter V-6 makes a respectable 308 horsepower, it generates a relatively modest 275 lb.-ft. of torque, and previously felt kind of peaky and a little soft on the low end.

Not now. Paired with the new transmission with its two additional gears, the engine pushes the truck away from stops with a fair amount of vigor, accelerating to 60 in a commendable 7.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

Find outr, if you need to tromp it to merge with traffic – or maybe you just feel like it – the transmission drops down a couple of gears and pulls pretty strongly to 6,000 rpm.

It even sounds healthy.

If you want dramatically better fuel economy than in a full-size truck, though, you’ll have to settle for the base 2.5-liter four – which I would not recommend – or step up to the more expensive diesel engine.

The 3.6 manages 17 miles per gallon in town and 24 on the highway – a whopping 1 mpg better in both categories than a full-size Sierra with the 5.3-liter V-8.

Being a lot lighter than the Sierra, the Canyon handles more nimbly, turning into corners with decent grace and precision for a high-riding pickup.

As you might expect in a mid-size, four-wheel-drive pickup rated to tow up to 7,000 pounds, ride quality is not a major strength.

It’s really not bad, though, if you can tolerate some fidget and a bit of bounce on our neglected city streets. At speed, the 4,600-pound truck stretches out pretty nicely and always felt willing to hit the road.

Depending on your expectations of a pickup, the interior might disappoint some of you – particularly considering my truck’s Denali status and its $44,155 window-sticker.

The black interior in my truck, for example, flashed plenty of plastic and felt a bit basic.

I thought it was well-executed. White stitching provided a touch of class to the dash, while a stylized hood rolled over the instrument panel.

A prominent 8-inch display screen and center stack contained lots of buttons and switches for dinosaurs like me, but hinted at all the tech stuff embedded in the truck.

That included four USB ports, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, navigation and GM’s

Of more importance to me were good-looking black leather seats with perforated centers, as well as pretty good leg-room and excellent head-room in back.

In addition, GM hollows out its nifty steps in the corner of the bumper to make it easier to get into the pickup bed.

Look, I understand that these trucks don’t seem to make much value sense when compared directly with full-size models.

But if you’ve ever tried to park one of the big bruisers in an urban environment or negotiate jam-packed traffic, you might not even bother with those comparisons.

Sometimes, a little less can be a lot more.

2017 GMC Canyon Denali

  • What I liked most: Its capability and drivability, which make it a good alternative to a full-size pickup.
  • What I would change: The interior – especially on the Denalis. At its price, the truck deserves something as good as the full-size models get.
  • MSRP: Base price $42,820; as equipped, $44,155.
  • Official color: Dark Slate Metallic.
  • Odometer reading when tested: 1,866 miles.
  • Weight: 4,571 pounds.
  • Dimensions:  Length: 212.4 inches; width, 74.3 inches; height, 70.6 inches.
  • Fuel-tank capacity: 21 gallons.
  • Towing capacity: 7,000 pounds.
  • 2017 GMC Canyon Denali in a few words: Refined mid-sized pickup with the personality of a full-size and most of the capability.
  • Warranty: 3-year, 36,000-mile basic; 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain.
  • Final assembly location: Wentzville, Mo.
  • Manufacturer’s website:
Photo Credit: GMC 
Tags: canyon, denali, GMC, pickup, test drive
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