Denali is a mountain in Alaska—the tallest in North America and the centerpiece of a 6-million-acre national park. (No connection to Denial, which is a state of mind and a river in Africa.) Denali was christened Mt. McKinley in 1896 by a wandering gold prospector, evidently a Republican promoting his candidate in the upcoming presidential election. Alaska and finally the Dept. of the Interior began reverting to the Kuyukon People’s name for the mountain, Denali, as far back as 1975.
The most popular route to the summit of Denali was established in 1951 by Bradford Washburn, a Boston Brahmin who made his name as a mountaineer, scientist and aerial photographer, and who I met in Labrador in the 1980s.
None of this has any relevance to a pickup truck, but I digress because I am not normally a fan of pickup trucks, at least extravagantly oversized, over-optioned, wasteful and overpriced pickup trucks that bear but faint resemblance to work vehicles. However, this is a mid-size truck, so it has at least one good feature: I can get it into the driveway without making a two-point turn. It might even squeeze into my garage.
The GMC Canyon is about six inches shorter and three and a half inches skinnier than its full-size counterpart, the GMC Sierra pickup. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the difference between a boat and a yacht, between struggling to find dock space and tying up fairly easily. (The same is true for the Canyon’s cousin, the near-identical but less powerful, less well-equipped and less expensive Chevrolet Colorado v. its full-size counterpart, the Silverado.)
Every trim level of the Canyon—there are five, starting at about $39,000—shares the same 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, turbocharged to 310 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, and 8-speed automatic transmission. (The Duramax Diesel option is gone.) Rear-wheel drive is standard, but four-wheel drive with two extra inches of lift seems to be the overwhelmingly popular choice. As a traditional body-on-frame truck, which can take a snowplow and other heavy-duty accessories, the Canyon has a two-speed transfer case downstream of the transmission and auto-locking differentials. No wimpy front- or rear-biased “full-time all-wheel drive” here.
The Canyon can be configured for up to 7,700 pounds of towing capacity and/or serious off-road capability. Our Canyon is stiffly sprung and rides like, um, a truck, but it is rattle-free for now and reasonably quiet and pleasant to drive and to live with, for a still-large vehicle equipped with running boards to get in and out of. A Coast Guard 100-ton license is not required.
This being a mid-size truck, the rear seats in our four-door Crew Cab are mid-size too, but there’s ample room and comfort back there for two non-XXL adults, or two child seats. And the driver and shotgun-seat occupant could hardly be more comfortable or coddled, especially in the Denali.
Back to that 20,310-foot mountain in Alaska: In GMC parlance, “Denali” is the company’s top trim package—borrowing the Native People’s name meaning “the high one.” Aha, nomenclature that makes sense! As such, our truck is an apex model, with power everything, plenty of chrome and full digitalization, if that’s even a word. This includes a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, a top-down, 360-degree backup camera that also helps zero in on a trailer hitch, a Wi-Fi hotspot, a premium Bose stereo and an inductive phone charger. There’s more yet, including a full suite of electronic safety aids for the driver, who may be staring at the 11.3-inch touchscreen instead of the road.
For the 2023 model year, GMC rolled out the third generation of the Canyon, so changes for ’24 are sure to be minimal, except possibly in pricing. Our ’23 4WD Denali Crew Cab bears a starting price of $51,000 and an out-the-door price of $53,990. The 2024 version may cost a couple grand more, but as of early September GMC had not yet updated its website for the coming model year.
Next week: Kia EV6 GT