2021 GMC Canyon AT4: An off-road truck that looks excellent on-road

But it faces stiff competition elsewhere

Photos courtesy of GMC

SAN DIEGO — Pickup trucks have been popular in the US for decades, but for many years they were primarily work vehicles.

They were tough and rugged and built to haul. When my grandfather bought a new Chevy farm truck more than 30 years ago, he was disappointed to learn that he couldn’t buy one without a radio. He wanted the farmhands to be working, not sitting in the truck listening to music.

And now we sure have gone the other way. Some of the most expensive new vehicles on the road are trucks, with Ford selling luxurious trims with names like Platinum and Limited. But GMC has perhaps the best luxury truck trim of all: Denali.

Denali is a massive brand for GMC, and I’ve met more than a few owners who say they didn’t buy a GMC truck — they purchased a Denali. And the lux focus has served them well.

However, at some point in the past few years, the marketing wizards at General Motors saw a pickup truck market filling up with fancy off-road truck packages. Ford now has the Tremor, and RAM offers the Power Wagon. Of course, GMC needed something to compete and came up with AT4.

It stands for All-Terrain 4 (as in four-wheel drive), and I tested the GMC Canyon AT4 this week. Though I didn’t take it off-road, I have a much more critical verdict to deliver: it looks fantastic.

This is a significant thing in an off-road truck. Most of them will never go off-road, beyond perhaps a dirt forest trail that a Toyota Camry could make easy work of. So, for many people, the look of the truck is what really matters.

It’s why people go put huge lift kits on their trucks. They want gigantic tires and gigantic attitude, and they don’t care that it makes their trucks inefficient and a safety hazard to them and everyone else on the road.

GMC got this memo loud and clear, as the Canyon is slathered in cosmetic upgrades (and a few functional ones as well).

The stock Canyon AT4 is $40,000 and includes a two-speed transfer case, an off-road suspension package with automatic locking rear differential, protective plates over the transfer case, and more. It’s a nicely equipped vehicle.

But add on the AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition Package for $3,195, and you get all sorts of neat upgrades. There’s a spray-on bed liner, off-road rock rails, a suspension leveling kit, the 17-inch gloss black wheels, black AT4 badges, a black exhaust tip, and front- and mid-skid plates.

OK, yes, a couple of those are functional, but the really important stuff is all those black trim pieces. My truck came in Summit White which made all the black accent pieces shine. The large, knobby off-road tires lifted the truck nicely, and the subtle mix of chrome (on the GMC logo and front grille) and black trim (most everywhere else) pieces popped.

And don’t forget the bright red tow hooks at the front, an AT4 staple. When it comes to looks, the Canyon AT4 is a clear winner. But what about everywhere else?

Well, the V6 under the hood is adequate but uninspiring, and the interior is dated and in need of a refresh. But it does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto paired with a Bose stereo, as well as OnStar and built-in AT&T 4G LTE-powered Wi-Fi which is standard in all GM vehicles these days. What would granddad have thought about that feature, I wonder?

It’s not the most safety-conscious vehicle, with lane departure warning and forward collision warning available in the $395 Driver Alert package. I cannot fathom how these features (and a lot more besides) are not standard now in a modern vehicle.

If you buy a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro (an excellent competitor for this particular vehicle), for example, you get Toyota’s full safety suite standard. That’s automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and more, all included in the price. But GM continues to hide safety features in top-tier trim packages that buyers need to pay extra for, which is disappointing.

But aside from these foibles, the Canyon AT4 is a terrific-looking mid-size truck with bright red tow hooks and off-road chops to match. It will likely easily handle whatever its owners throw at it, and if it can’t, there are a litany of aftermarket upfitters only too happy to improve on GMC’s work.

I don’t know if they’ll be able to make it look better, though.

About Jordan Golson 184 Articles
Jordan Golson is North State Journal's automotive reporter. He covers cars - both foreign and domestic - from around the globe.