2023 GMC Canyon First Drive: Something For Everyone

“Okay, when your front wheels drop in, just keep toward the left side and floor it.” I was in the driver’s seat of a 2023 GMC Canyon AT4X, staring at a deep mud pit. My front and rear locking differentials were engaged, the truck was in its Terrain drive mode, and I released the brake pedal to let the truck slowly crawl in to the pit. “Believe the engineers,” I thought, matting the throttle and looking where I wanted to go. The Canyon AT4X slammed its way through the pit, spraying mud toward other journalists and GMC engineers as the mud-terrain tires clawed their way back out on the far side.

The mud pit was the final obstacle of our off-roading adventure in GMC’s “official truck of nowhere,” the all-new 2023 GMC Canyon AT4X. I’d spent all morning with an AT4X as my drive partner and I collectively guided the truck up and down a fairly tight off-road trail outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Our fears of pinstriping the truck’s 500-mile-old paint were long gone at this point, having leaned in to the “well, they brought us here” mindset many miles back.

We finished the trail, ate a boxed lunch on the tailgate, and hit the interstate as our convoy of Canyons spit dried mud out of the tires’ tread at 65 miles per hour. The AT4X had been impressive, but it wasn’t the only model of Canyon we drove – or that I appreciated.

2023 GMC Canyon Elevation
2023 GMC Canyon Elevation – the “base model” is still plenty nice

What Is the 2023 GMC Canyon?

At its most basic, the all-new 2023 GMC Canyon is the sibling of the also-all-new 2023 Chevrolet Colorado that I drove in February. But, these are fraternal twins, not identical, and GMC has leaned into off-road prowess as the key way to differentiate their truck from the Colorado.

True to the Colorado’s basic setup, every 2023 Canyon is only available in crew cab, five-foot bed format. But where Chevy offers a variety of engine outputs and suspension ride heights, GMC said “no ma’am” to the most basic possibilities. Every 2023 GMC Canyon rides at least two inches higher than a basic Colorado W/T, and they all come with wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires. Power and torque are supplied solely by a 2.7-liter “High Output” turbocharged four – the top choice of three on a Colorado, but the only choice on all Canyons.

GMC does let you have some choice with the most basic Elevation trim level; it’s the only trim that can be had with two-wheel drive and optional four-wheel. Otherwise, every 2023 Canyon is a four-wheel drive truck, as I personally think trucks should be.

Basic suspension geometry is also shared with the Colorado, to include a front axle moved three inches forward compared to the outgoing model, improving approach angle. Wheel stance is wider, too, for more stability.

That Canyon AT4X that I pinstriped all to hell is more or less the twin to Chevy’s Colorado ZR2. More on that in a moment. But where GMC offers something Chevrolet does not is with six little letters… D E N A L I. Yes, there is a Canyon Denali and yes, it’s got more luxury touches than a Colorado Z71 could dream of. I drove both, so let’s discuss more about each.

2023 GMC Canyon Denali

The 2023 GMC Canyon Denali

“Denali” has long been synonymous with “the very nicest GMCs,” all the way back to my GMT800-era Yukon Denali. Back then, though, Denalis were street-focused in a variety of ways. Now, GMC wants to ensure the owner of any 2023 Canyon can go fairly far off-road… even if you want fancy stitching and ventilated seats while doing so.

Luxury is, of course, the name of the game with the 2023 Canyon Denali, and the black test truck I sampled had it in spades. Outside, there’s plenty of chrome and satin finishing, between the grille, front skid plate, mirror caps and running boards. Wheels are a unique 20-inch design and most of the exterior lighting is LED.

Inside, Canyon Denali shoppers will find black leather seats with “teak” light brown accent panels and stitching, augmented by open-pore etched wood and again, more chrome. It’s a great look if you like things real nice. A color heads-up display and pretty-good seven-speaker Bose sound system are standard, as is a heated steering wheel and heated/ventilated front seats.

2023 GMC Canyon Denali interior

I took the Canyon Denali on a drive outside of Asheville, on and around the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its road manners are impressive, and it handles better than you’d think a midsize pickup would. Headed down a gravel service road with clear sight lines? Two-wheel drive, Terrain mode and a heavy right foot reveal a surprisingly flingable and fun truck. Power and torque from the High Output turbo four are both abundant and the transmission does its thing smartly and unobtrusively. None of that is Denali-exclusive, though.

Where the Denali earns its name is with the vibe GMC cultivates, inside and out. You won’t feel out of place driving the Canyon Denali in a suit, but if your business meeting is down a heavily-worn road or trail… you’ll get there.

The 2023 GMC Canyon AT4X

Our afternoon of driving Canyons concluded with dinner, s’mores, and a reminder to please get some sleep and be on time for the following morning. Seven o’clock came all too soon, and I found myself poured into the passenger seat of a Volcanic Red Tintcoat Canyon AT4X, with fellow journo Matt Maranowski piloting us toward the trail.

The 2023 GMC Canyon AT4X is, for all intents and purposes, a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 that’s been GMC-ified with requisite bumpers, wheels, and interior bits. At its core, the AT4X is just like the ZR2 – a three inch lift to provide nearly 11 inches of ground clearance, Multimatic DSSV shocks, 33-inch mud-terrain tires, and locking front and rear differentials.

2023 GMC Canyon AT4X Multimatic DSSV shocks

All of the fancy hardware pairs to GMC’s drive mode programs, including an AT4X-only Baja mode. The Multimatic DSSV shocks are not adaptive in the traditional sense, so the drive modes change throttle calibration, steering heft, and traction control programming. One-pedal driving, a fun EV staple by now, is enabled in Terrain mode to make low-speed crawling that much easier.

Those Multimatic shocks provided an excellent ride, both on-road and off-. Despite being “fixed rate” in an electronic sense, the DSSV technology basically provides variable damping rates through the hardware inside the shock body. As Matt and I blasted through the more open parts of the trail, we appreciated how easily the AT4X’s suspension handled big bumps without much impact to us as passengers.

2023 GMC Canyon AT4X interior

As the trail grew tighter and our velocity slowed a bit, the Canyon AT4X continued to make easy work out of a fairly technical route. Goodyear mud-terrain tires provided plenty of grip and sidewall strength to defend against sharp rocks, the software and locking differentials got us through some difficult climbs, and the available underbody cameras were legitimately useful when picking a line through a few tricky areas.

While we barely scratched the surface of what the Canyon AT4X can do, the truck came across as not only capable, but well thought-out. Details were considered that made it an easy, excellent off-road companion. And the drive back to “Camp Canyon,” an hour from the trail, was equally comfortable as our morning of slamming around in the woods.

Final Thoughts

One number I didn’t yet mention is the 2023 GMC Canyon’s towing capacity, something that appeals to a large number of y’all pulling racecars and campers and things. Most Canyons are rated to tow 7,700 pounds, with the AT4X coming in at 6,000 due to its tires and suspension. We’ll be sure to tow with a new Canyon once they’re available locally.

It is so refreshing to see the midsize truck segment get some love across the board. The Nissan Frontier and Chevrolet Colorado were both updated recently; a new Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger are coming soon. GMC knew they had to put their best foot forward with the 2023 Canyon, and it is indeed very impressive.

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