Finding the right midsize truck can be easier said than done with all of the options that are on the market this model year. But the 2021 GMC Canyon is one of the standouts in this segment. While the renaming of some of its trim levels might be a bit confusing, basically everything else on this truck is straightforward.
The gasoline-powered V6 and the diesel-powered 4-cylinder engines both put forth quite a strong performance when it comes to towing. Max towing comes out at 7,700 pounds when properly equipped. You will be hard-pressed to find a midsize truck that can match this number.
Also, EPA ratings put the real-wheel drive V6 Canyon at about 21 mpg, and real-world tests seem to match this respectable number. The diesel engine should do a little bit better.
That being said, there are a few downsides to owning the Canyon. First and foremost, larger-size folks will feel like the front seats are too tiny. They just do not allow enough room for big and tall people. Also, when you fold the rear seats down, you do not get a lot of room. In the Canyon's rivals, you can max out to a higher volume.
You also need to keep in mind that you have to choose between a crew-cab and extended-cab body style. The crew-cab style can come as either a long or short bed. Also bear in mind that the AT4 only comes with all-wheel drive and can be equipped with either cloth or leather upholstery. This means you will have to go through a lot of different options to figure out what is right for you.
That's where this trim level comparison review should come in handy. We will go over the details of each of the 2021 GMC Canyon's trim levels: the Elevation Standard, Elevation, AT4, and Denali. Each one offers something different, and we will let you know in the end of this review which one we think will best suit the needs of most drivers.
Compare the 2021 GMC Canyon Elevation Standard vs Elevation - What is the Difference?
Let's start things off by looking at the Elevation Standard and the Elevation. Do not confuse these two trim levels; they definitely have their differences. The Elevation Standard comes with a 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine that generates 200 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque. A 3.6-L V6 engine is available, and it musters up 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes standard but can be swapped out for an 8-speed automatic.
Other standard mechanical features that come on both trim levels include black horizontal recovery hooks, a cap-less fuel filler, electronic traction control, a pick-up box made from roll-formed high-strength steel, and rear-wheel drive. You also get StabiliTrak and electronic stability control with traction control integrated into the system. Electric power-assist steering comes equipped as well.
You can opt for the Trailering Package, Tow/Haul Mode, a polished exhaust tip, hitch guidance, a front skid plate, an engine block heater, and a black chrome exhaust tip.
The exteriors of these two trims have quite a few similarities. They both ride atop standard 18-inch aluminum wheels done in black gloss with all-season tires. Black beltline moldings are standard, as are a black tailgate handle, a body-colored rear bumper, cab-mounted cargo area lamps, a CornerStep rear bumper, and daytime running lights.
The Elevation Standard has black door handles and manually-adjustable exterior side mirrors while the Elevation gets body-colored door handles and power heated side mirrors. The Convenience Package is optional on the Elevation Standard. This means that you get the benefit of having remote keyless entry, a defogger on the rear window, an anti-theft system, cruise control, EZ-Lower and EZ-Lift functions on the tailgate, and a remote locking feature for the tailgate. The Elevation standardizes these features.
Other available features for both trim levels include off-road lights, a soft roll up tonneau cover, a spray-on bed liner, and wheel locks.
Inside, both trim levels share a 2-way manually-adjustable front passenger seat, a monochromatic 3.5-inch driver information center, a 6-speaker sound system, carpeted floor covering, and power door locks. You also get two type-A USB ports up front, front bucket seats, a color touchscreen display (7-inch on the Elevation Standard and 8-inch on the Elevation) that includes smartphone app integration via Apple Carplay and Adroid Auto as well as Bluetooth connectivity, and interior center dome lights.
These vehicles both have power windows with one-touch up/down on the driver's window, cloth upholstery on the seats, a Teen Driver system, tire fill alert, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Optional features include the Sport Bar and Lighting Package and all-weather floor mats.
The Elevation adds more features, such as an optional 4.2-inch diagonal color driver display screen, automatic climate control, door handles done in chrome, illuminated vanity mirrors on both front visors, underseat storage beneath both rear seats, GMC Connected Access, optional HD Radio, optional heating on the front seats and steering wheel, soft-touch materials on the instrument panel, and dual reading lights. There is also leather wrapped around the steering wheel, a manual tilt and telescoping steering column, microphones on both the driver's and front passenger's side, an overhead console, charge-only rear USB ports, and steering wheel mounted controls for numerous functions.
When it comes to safety features, both trim levels are pretty modestly equipped. They both come with a rear-view camera, StabiliTrak, Teen Driver, and a tire pressure monitoring system. On the Elevation, you can add front collision warning, an HD rear-view camera, lane departure warning, and rear park assist.
Compare the 2021 GMC Canyon Elevation vs AT4 - What is the Difference?
Now it is time to look at the AT4 and see how it differs from the Elevation. The AT4 gets upgraded to the 3.6-L V6 engine, giving it a 3.42 rear axle ratio and 6,000-pound towing capacity. The 8-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is an automatically locking rear differential. A 2-speed transfer case also comes equipped, and all-wheel drive is standard.
Hitch Guidance comes with the AT4 and helps you line up your trailer hitch. You also get upgraded to red horizontal recovery locks, an off-road suspension package, Tow/Haul Mode, the trailering package, and a transfer case shield. This vehicle rides atop 17-inch metallic cast aluminum wheels in a chic Dark Argent tone. You can also get a lot of the same options that come on the Elevation, including cargo tie-downs, a keyless entry keypad, and a rubber bed mat.
Inside, the AT4 gets upgraded to a 4-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, the 4.2-inch driver information display, the 8-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, and HD radio. Also, heating is standard on the steering wheel and the front seats. There are dual reading lights, power lumbar control on the driver's and front passenger's seats, a rear folding bench seat, and a wireless charging pad.
The HD rear-view camera and rear park assist also get standardized. But that is the extent of the major differences in safety features. Otherwise, they basically share all of the same safety features which are already pretty limited.
Compare the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 vs Denali - What is the Difference?
The Canyon's line-topping Denali trim makes a few significant upgrades that are worth mentioning. It has a 5,800-pound towing capacity without adding extra equipment. It also comes with black horizontal recovery hooks and a polished exhaust tip. It also adds superbly chic machined aluminum wheels in a diamond cut measuring 20 inches that have painted accents on them, 5-inch Denali chrome rectangular assist steps, and Denali cargo box LED lighting. These little Denali touches are unique to the trim level and help it stand out from the lower trim levels.
Other standard interior features include chrome beltline moldings, chrome door handles, chrome heated power side mirrors, and a spray-on bedliner. The chrome is what really distinguishes the Denali's exterior from the lower trim levels. It adds a layer of sophistication that you should expect with this trim being a Denali.
Inside, the Denali upgrades the Canyon to front USB data ports with an auxiliary input jack that has an SD card reader. You also get to opt for some classy-looking jet black perforated leather-appointed trim on the seats. Ventilation also comes equipped on the front seats.
Front collision warning is finally standardized, as is lane departure warning. That is the extent of the driver aids available on the 2021 GMC Canyon. You will have to look to some of GMCs other trucks and SUVs if you want something with more standard driver aids. Also, the Canyon's rivals tend to equip more driver aids too.
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Which Trim to Choose?
The 2021 GMC Canyon is a line-up that offers a lot of different options. You have four trim levels to choose from with a lot of variations in terms of the cab and bed sizes. The engine options are also pretty exceptional, and either one is a strong choice. The maximum towing capacity is truly impressive, as many of the other midsize trucks out there right now cannot touch the 7,800-pound benchmark that the Canyon sets.
But which trim level is going to best suit the needs of the average buyer?
We are going to go ahead and hand that title to the line-topping Denali trim level. Why the Denali? The Denali has been revamped for this model year, gaining way mroe standard features than ever before. The Bose sound system provides the best audio quality out of all the options in the line. Also, it is hard to pass up heated and ventilated front seats and a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Denali is classy, even though "classy" is not a word you might typically associate with a truck. But the Denali manages to border on luxury. It also allows you to forego having to equip a bunch of expensive packages just to get all of the features that you want. That is something you will feel compelled to do if you go for one of the lower trim levels. That is the biggest reason why we suggest going for the Denali.
Should you opt for the diesel engine though? We would give that one a "pass". The standard 3.6-L V6 engine that comes on the Denali trim is plenty powerful while also managing to get a respectable fuel economy for a midsize truck. We like that the EPA estimates hold up in real-world tests, which shows that you will get what you pay for with the 2021 GMC Canyon.
Overall, the 2021 GMC Canyon is a solidly built, well-rounded midsize truck that offers you a ridiculous amount of options without being too terribly overwhelming. Go all-out this year and opt for the Denali trim level. We do not think that you will regret doing so at all.
• Compare the 2020 GMC Canyon Trim Levels