Canyon Denali Livable, Likable Mid-Size Pickup

CHATHAM, Mass. – Tropical storm Lee, the remnant of Hurricane Lee, visited Cape Cod while I had a redesigned-for-2023 GMC Canyon Denali mid-size pickup truck, the perfect vehicle to tour the storm-impacted region even while the rain pounded and the winds howled.

No concerns in driving the third-generation Canyon Denali under these conditions thanks to 10.5 inches of ground clearance to clear fallen tree limbs and ford puddles, rugged chassis pieces to conquer debris along the way and an automatic four-wheel-drive (4WD) system to automatically adjust power delivery where it was needed regardless of road surfaces.

Efficient powertrain

There was a time when the idea of a four-cylinder engine motivating a vehicle the size of the Canyon would have been laughed at, but the Denali’s 2.7-liter turbocharged double overhead camshaft powerplant shows how modern engineering puts old-fashioned concepts to rest.

The boosted engine’s 310 horsepower is impressive, but its 430 pounds-feet of torque really shows off GM’s powertrain engineering prowess, providing the Canyon with both low end and high-speed accelerating capability. It also provides the kind of low-end grunt force capable of pulling a trailer of up to 7,700 pounds!

Coupled with an automatic eight-speed transmission and 4WD system which can be switched between two-wheel drive, 4WD HI, 4WD LO (for crawling through rough, off-road terrain) or 4WD auto, the powertrain provided both responsive performance and solid fuel economy. The federal Environmental Protection Agency rates the Canyon at 19 miles per gallon in overall driving (17 urban, 21 highway), a figure I bested with 20.7 mpg during my usual heavy-footed motoring.

The pickup’s driving characteristics can be tailored to specific needs through four driver-selectable modes:

  • Baja Mode (exclusive to AT4X): for high-speed off-road driving
  • Terrain Mode: for low-speed precision off-roading and rock crawling
  • Off-Road Mode: for general off-road dynamics
  • Normal Mode: for balanced daily on-road driving
  • Tow/Haul Mode: for optimized hauling heavy loads and towing

Rugged chassis

The front suspension features coil springs over twin-tube shock absorbers, while the rear has a solid axle with semi-elliptic two-stage multi-leaf springs and twin-tube shocks. In addition, there are power-locking front and rear differentials along with power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering.

The power-assisted braking system includes anti-lock (ABS); four-wheel discs with Duralife™ long-life rotors, and hill-descent control. The rotors are 13.4 inches in the front, 13.3 in the rear.

The Denali trim brings 20×9-inch aluminum wheels shod with P275/60R20 all-terrain, aggressive-tread tires.

The ride these components provide is pickup-truck stiff without being overly rough or jouncy. Handling was reassuring, evident as I quickly maneuvered down the twisting hilly roads from the Lee-stirred Atlantic Coast to the choppy Cape Cod Bay off Mayo Beach in the town of Wellfleet. Basically, the truck went about its business without any drama – high praise for a vehicle of this type and size.

Full complement of safety equipment

Specifying the Denali version of the 2023 GMC Canyon brings a comprehensively equipped truck including the list of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). This list begins with the standard Canyon Pro Safety Package:

  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Front pedestrian braking with bicyclist detection
  • IntelliBeam auto high beams
  • Following-distance indicator
  • Lane keep assist with lane departure warning
  • Forward collision alert

The Denali-level trim adds:

  • Rear park assist
  • Rear cross-traffic braking
  • Rear pedestrian alert
  • Blind-zone steering assist
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Surround-vision monitoring

Premium cabin in capable pickup

Today’s pickups can be tailored for everything from basic, utilitarian work trucks to premium vehicles equipped with modern technology, amenities and conveniences rivaling the most luxurious SUVs and cars. The 2023 GMC Canyon Denali’s cabin leans in the latter direction, offering a full complement of modern technological features and amenities.

Two customizable displays, one an 11 incher for driver cluster information, the other an 11.3-inch touch screen forming the heart of the infotainment system and vehicle-systems control (including operation of the headlights).

The infotainment system includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as well as a Google-operating system (with Google Maps providing the content for the standard navigation system). A seven-speaker, external amplifier Bose Premium Audio system pumps out the music.

Leather covers the seating surfaces (very comfortable individual chairs) with the fronts heated and ventilated, as well as being power adjustable (the driver’s with two-person memory). The steering wheel, adjustable for height and reach, shares the leather covering as well as the heating elements.

Drink holders (10) outnumber occupant positions (five), but there is a dearth of indoor storage space, the one shortcoming I could find in this vehicle (a small cubby, with wireless mobile-device charger at the front of the console, a deep, small center-console compartment and a small bin on the door panel.

Outside, though, GMC has tucked a hidden storage compartment in the cargo-bed tailgate (see photos above).

A livable pickup

The 2023 GMC Canyon Denali is a pickup truck I could live with on a daily basis. The ride is compliant; the interior comfortable and inviting; the fuel-economy reasonable within this class and the size very manageable.

Pricing for the Canyon pickup ranges from $36,900 for the 2WD Elevation to $55,500 for the off-road centric AT4X. The comprehensively equipped Canyon Denali I drove had a base price of $51,000. There were two options, a moonroof ($1,000) and the deep metallic bronze ($495) paint. The total, including the $1,495 destination, was $53,990, not inexpensive, but a lot of truck for the money.

The 2023 GMC Canyon Denali is a very, very good truck.

Next week TBR Drives the Infiniti QX60.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.