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2023 GMC Canyon AT4X Review
Goldilocks has finally found her just-right bowl of off-road adventure
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — When it comes to trucks, it turns out that you can find that perfect balance between city-friendly sizing and heavy-duty capability. With the new 2023 GMC Canyon AT4X, Goldilocks has finally found her just-right bowl of off-road adventure.
Full-size pickup trucks are terrific if you have a big garage and driveway and never head into the city. I've driven and towed with many of them, and if you need the size and capability, they're great.
Pint-size trucks like the Ford Maverick (we're still waiting on some competition to come for that one) are also terrific, as they're more or less cars with a bed, offering value for money and a nice ride.
Midsize trucks have been extremely truck-like for years — fine if you don't mind being jostled about — but I haven't loved them for everyday use because of an overly firm, truck-like ride. They've also fallen far short of their full-size brethren in the luxury-and-comfort department. No longer.
The new GMC Canyon is more comfortable, more luxurious, more capable, and more more. Automakers love telling us that their vehicles are more [whatever] than before. Sure enough, in the press release announcing the new Canyon, GMC head Duncan Aldred called it "the most advanced off-road midsize truck."
They might be right, though. A few weeks back, I tested the new Canyon AT4X — GMC's ultimate off-road trim that represents a significant upgrade in off-road prowess from the Canyon AT4 — in the mountains of eastern Tennessee (weirdly, the North Carolina governmental authorities wouldn't give GMC permission to have journalists drive on its off-road trails, so we had to nip over the border), and fell in love.
The AT4X is GMC's answer to the Toyota Tacoma's most capable off-road variants like the TRD Offroad. It adds a factory lift, Multimatic DSSV dampers (a really advanced suspension), skid plates, bigger tires, and a whole bunch of other goodies like a head-up display and a terrific Bose audio system.
It's wildly comfortable and wildly capable, able to handle whatever the vast majority of owners will throw at it — and if you need more, you probably have the know-how and wherewithal to take care of the upgrades yourself.
The AT4X is off-roading on easy mode. Different drive modes set even novice off-roaders up for success, and a litany of cameras — including a pair showing what's going on underneath the truck — help keep things on the right path. Cliches aside, the amount of tech in this truck is impressive.
The one-pedal drive function in Terrain Mode isn't new, it's been available in a few different off-roaders for a couple of years, but it's worth calling out again. Some of the trickier off-road obstacles can require drivers to operate the brake and throttle pedals simultaneously, which can be challenging for someone new to the unbeaten path. The one-pedal drive combines the brakes and gas into a single pedal so that releasing the throttle brings the car to a halt, whilst pressing it slowly gets things going again.
For the inexperienced off-roader or, shoot, even for the experienced, the feature makes exploring a lot easier. And if you're a purist and/or you want to make life more difficult for yourself, you can, of course, leave the function turned off. But if you shake your head at one-pedal drive, you should get a load of the low-speed cruise control function that allows you to set a speed as low as one mph for the truck to maintain — do that, and you can ignore the pedals entirely, only concerning yourself with the steering wheel.
This isn't meant to be a comprehensive off-road review, but know that the Canyon AT4X is quite capable. It's also incredibly comfortable on-road as well, as the suspension, designed as it is for off-piste adventures, handles potholes and uneven road surfaces with aplomb.
In fact, my ideal Canyon combines the luxury Denali trim — something wildly popular with the GMC Yukon SUV and Sierra pickup — with the suspension from the AT4X. See, the Denali includes nicer leather and real wood in the cabin, along with lots of chrome and fancy details outside and in. It's the cheapest Denali pickup you can get, starting just over $55,000 (which is, admittedly, a lot for a midsize truck but a bargain compared to what you'll pay for a full-size Denali).
GMC doesn't sell the Denali with the AT4X chassis, unfortunately, but company engineers did begrudgingly admit that it would be technically possible to create such a beast. Perhaps in a couple of years, when GMC needs to come up with yet another trim line to goose Canyon sales, we'll get a Denali Ultimate that fulfills my midsize truck fantasies. For now, there is an offroad truck and a luxury truck, but no offroad luxury truck.
But for now, the Canyon is perhaps my favorite truck on the market. With two huge digital screens, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a terrific head-up display, and, finally, standard safety features like automatic emergency braking (and available adaptive cruise control, which Toyota offers standard, ahem), this really is the most advanced GMC Canyon, and perhaps the most advanced midsize pickup ever released.
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