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

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

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

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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