Behind the Wheel

2021 GMC Canyon AT4 Review: More truck than most anyone will need in a midsize package

GMC added the Canyon AT4 to its lineup for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of GMC

It's no secret that Americans love their pickup trucks and SUVs, so much so that a few automakers have stopped making most car models altogether. GMC is just a truck and SUV brand, so it's not surprising to see it expand its existing offerings with more specialized, technical models in an effort to broaden their reach. The 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 is one of them and brings a hardcore off-road attitude to the midsize pickup line.

I recently had an opportunity to spend a week behind the wheel of a GMC Canyon AT4, and was left a bit conflicted by that time. The AT4 is more truck than I, or most anyone else, will ever need, and it offers several of the most desirable new tech and comfort features. On the other hand, it's not quite as premium inside as its brand name or price tag would suggest. That said, the AT4 is more than competitive in its segment, and is a direct shot at Ford, whose Ranger pickup truck is still not offered in a Raptor configuration in the United States.

2021 GMC Canyon AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition The GMC Canyon AT4 is more than competent off road. Photo courtesy of GMC

At nearly $40,000 before any options, it's hard to think of the Canyon AT4 as a bargain, but the price tag not out of line with the list price of its competitors. That money buys a truck that is surprisingly refined on the road, capable off-road, and comfortable enough for daily driving and family hauling.

The Canyon is offered with three engine choices, but the base four-cylinder isn't available in the AT4 variant. There's a four-cylinder diesel engine, but its price tag won't be easy to swallow for many buyers. The sweet spot is the 3.6-liter V6 that came in the test truck. With 308 horsepower on tap it helps make the Canyon AT4 one of the quickest trucks in its class. It comes paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and offers cylinder deactivation to save fuel on the highway.

One downfall of compact pickups is that off-road suspension and knobby tires can make them feel as if they're riding on stilts, especially at highway speeds. The AT4 is much more planted and stable than that and offers a comfortable ride that is far smoother than it has any business being. Broken pavement and rough roads present little challenge for the AT4's suspension system, and on the other side of the coin, it remains confidence-inspiring when the roads become curvy.

2021 GMC Canyon AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition Too many hard plastics dominate the interior of the truck for its price point. Photo courtesy of GMC

Inside, there's a mix of high-function but low-rent materials that includes more plastic than there should be at the AT4's price point. The tester came equipped with optional heated leather seats that felt premium and remained comfortable, even on longer drives, but the remainder of the cabin lacks the same upscale appeal. That said, it's a nice place to spend time, and with options it can be decked out with most of features that people really want in a truck.

The eight-inch touchscreen runs GMC's excellent and easy-to-use infotainment system, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The software is responsive, colorful, and offers an easy way to interact with the truck's functions without taking eyes off the road. True to General Motors' form, the AT4's tech can be upgraded in a number of ways, including a navigation system and a Bose premium audio system.

Though it's available with several advanced safety technologies, the Canyon falls victim to the issue that many pickups do: Spotty crash test results. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested the 2021 Canyon and rated it Acceptable in both Small overlap front driver-side and Side crashworthiness. All other areas earned Good ratings, except for the headlights, which were rated Poor.

2021 GMC Canyon AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition The seats in the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 are comfortable. Photo courtesy of GMC

The Canyon AT4 is comfortable, capable, and wildly customizable, but it's got some heavy-hitting competition to contend with in its segment alone, not to mention vehicles in the full-size pickup category and upcoming models in the compact pick segment.

The Jeep Gladiator made a big splash when it arrived in 2019 by offering the same off-road-ready attitude and beefy styling as the Wrangler, while Ford continues to press forward with not-quite-a-Raptor-but-close Ranger models. Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room is the Toyota Tacoma. Despite lacking some of the comfort and convenience options that the GMC offers, the Taco is one heck of a truck, and brings legendary reliability along with its backwoods street cred. It's hard to go wrong with any of those trucks, really, but for buyers dead set on buying American, the GMC Canyon is a solid choice.

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The concept has been extensively modified for a life lived off the beaten path.

GMC

Overlanding has become a world of its own, with several parts and vehicle customization companies, media publications, and guide services popping up all over the place. GMC realizes this, and to capitalize on the overlanding craze, the automaker built a Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX off-road concept to show off at the Overland Expo Mountain West 2021, which took place last week.


GMC Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX Concept The OVRLANDX concept carries a kitchenette, solar panels, and more.GMC


Some of the upgrades on the truck include:

  • Cast-iron control arms
  • A heavy-duty front bumper with winch
  • Front and rear electronic locking differentials
  • An off-road jack and mount
  • Multimatic DSSV dampers
  • Off-road rocker panel protectors


Listing the rest of the upgrades would take more words than anybody cares to read but rest assured that they are plentiful and impressive. GMC says that the concept truck gained legitimate capability from the upgrades. The approach angle is 27.7 degrees, and the truck can ford water up to 32.1 inches, which come thanks to a ground clearance of 10 inches and a custom-built snorkel system. The truck rides on 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires.

Since it's an overlanding concept, the truck needs the ability to support its passengers well off the beaten path. To do that, GMC gave the Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX a cooler and kitchenette, solar panel, and a truck bed storage system with drawers.



GMC Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX Concept You can build something similar to the concept with off-the-shelf parts.GMC


As a concept truck, it's unlikely the AT4 overlanding rig will make it into production as it sits. That said, it's an interesting idea for an intrepid Canyon owner to use as a blueprint. Outside of the chassis work, most of the parts and upgrades can be purchased and installed without a major hassle, but if you're in the market to build a rig, it's best to research your truck's payload capacity and capabilities before overloading for overlanding.

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New pickup truck

Nissan strikes a new path with 2022 Frontier

The Frontier is all-new for 2022.

Nissan

The model that was the first compact truck in the U.S. is all-new again. Marking the sixth generation of the cult-like nameplate, the Datsun 220 Hardbody that arrived on these shores in 1959, Nissan has redesigned its Frontier. The new truck hits the streets and trails with new looks outside and in, an improved powertrain and chassis, upgraded safety and technology, and an updated collection of elements that enhance its ability for work and play. The rugged and utilitarian model has sold more than 4 million units and created a segment that is one of the most popular in the market. Its remake is timely as America's truck market heats up and, although appreciated for its stalwart capability, the previous generation Frontier lacked some of the latest technology and amenities that today's truck buyers expect.

The 2022 Frontier goes on sale late summer and comes in 2WD and 4WD versions and S, SV, SV LWB, PRO-4X trims; the new PRO-X desert runner trim comes in 2WD only. The S trim in 4 x 2 with a King Cab starts at $27,840, while the S Crew Cab version begins at $29,340. The truck is available with 5 ft. and 6 ft. beds, it now has a taller bed height and seven percent more volume, plus standard trailer sway control. It can tow up to 6,720 lbs. and has a maximum payload of 1,620 lbs.


2022 Nissan Frontier While the powertrain is the same as before, almost every other part of the Frontier has been redesigned.Nissan


Notable is the pickup's styling changes. It's been designed with a more aggressive overall look, with sculpted and blocky cues, large fender flares and a high bodyside. It sports a larger and wider, machined-out grille and newly-styled lights with LEDs and daytime running lights in the front and LEDs in the rear. The back-end sports embedded tow hooks on 4WD models. The newest model is 5 inches longer, with the same wheelbase, and claims a best-in-class approach angle, a benefit for backcountry forays. Of note is an integrated bumper step and the built-in spoiler and interlocking handle on the tailgate and increased bed illumination. Among the options is Kicker Audio's portable tailgate set-up.

The recrafted cabin is more upscale than the previous truck. It sports Zero Gravity front and rear outboard seats, has the largest-in-class 9-in. color touchscreen and largest-in-class 7-in. driver assist display, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, smart phone integration, wireless charging, Wi-Fi hotspot availability and up to four USB ports. A new center console and shifter, new premium accents and trims, along with eight beverage holders and more stowage compartments, including under-seat storage in the rear, make the interior more user-friendly.

A single powertrain motivates the truck that has been re-engineered with 93 percent new parts; the 3.8-liter V6 gets 310 hp. /281 lb.-ft of torque and is shifted through a 9-speed automatic, with a 99-percent wider gear range. Nissan says it has best-in-class horsepower against competitors Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado, and the Ford Ranger. The electronically-controlled 4WD system has 4H and 4L settings, as well as 2WD and Hill Descent Control, when four-wheel drive is engaged. Hill Start Assist is standard.


2022 Nissan Frontier The 2022 Frontier's interior is more upscale and tech-forward than before. Nissan


A cadre of automotive testers put the new midsizer through a one-day evaluation of nearly 150 miles motoring on a collection of roadways near Provo, Utah, as well as along a lengthy off-road track with high-mountain hill climbs that had sections of rocky and rutted terrain. I drove a pre-production version of the PRO-4X that stickered at $44,315, including destination and delivery (the base price is $37, 250). This toughened trim has a host of off-road goodies that includes larger underbody skid plates, an electronic rear differential, beefed-up Bilstein shocks; 17-in. beadlock style alloy wheels with aggressive all-terrain tires and an array of badging that enunciates its identity. Options on the model I drove included Nissan's Technology Package, the PRO Convenience Package and the PRO Premium Package that brought add-ons ranging from heated outside mirrors, steering wheel and seats to bed upgrades with a spray-in bedliner to the Utili-track system bed system for carrying a wide variety of items to power outlets and a trailer hitch. Other notable items were the Fender premium audio with 10-speakers, leather seats and an Intelligent Around View Monitor with Off-Road Mode.

Throughout my test drive, the Frontier had great power on tap and seamless shifting as well as strong linear braking. Nissan says the new hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering and upgrades to the steering gear and stabilizer bar will make drivers more confident with driving maneuvers overall and when towing. I found it a bit heavy-handed, especially in slow-speed maneuvers, however, I like the weight and size of the steering wheel and it was competent at all speeds. I was impressed by the upgraded suspension set-up with bigger front and rear stabilizer mounts, plus new urethane jounce bumpers and hydraulic cab mounts that reduce road vibration. Also of note is the quietness of the cabin as a result of 41 new parts applied to reduce wind, engine and road noise.


2022 Nissan Frontier There's plenty of room for passengers and gear.Nissan


The truck performed well off-road with good angles of approach and departure, 8.5 inches of ground clearance and efficient low-range gearing. Unlike many other systems today, the Frontier does not have terrain programs, but it handled steep climbs and rutted track with ease.

Nissan says the Frontier is "right-sized" for garages and urban life. And, with 80 available options, buyers can set it up for their own adventures and personal needs. With a base work truck available and pricing that starts below many others in its class, it likely to be a homerun.

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