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tama z71

Midsize Refreshment: GMC Canyon One Year Review

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10,000 miles. 365 days. 1 Truck.
2004 GMC Canyon Z71 One-Year Update
A Tama Review

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Accurate assessments of the GMC Canyon have been few and far between. More power! Bigger cabin! Isuzu? These and other cries of misinformation would leave the media sheep to believe that this little piss-bucket is yet another sign of GM’s inability to shake its old ways.

Despite having been on the market since December of 2003, this truck has been misrepresented even by those who would defend it. The constant flow of inaccuracies about the GMT-355 twins pains me, and it pains me to the point where I feel the need to forego hour’s worth of study hall time this past week in order to assemble a comprehensive and unbiased review of my own vehicle, one GMC Canyon z71.

Many of my fellow enthusiasts have become quite accustomed to the Car and Driver School of Foreign Preference in Automotive Journalism. Please understand that this article is being written in a fashion that many of you will find slightly unfamiliar and somewhat frightening at first: sensibly. I will be judging this truck not on its ability to gracefully maneuver the figure-eight track, nor its ability to comfortably move a family of four and the occasional load of groceries. Rather, I will grade this truck on its ability to perform truck-like duties. I am not Car and Driver. I don’t give a darn about car-like attributes. Despite media forecasts, I believe that the great percentage of truck owners still buy trucks because they didn’t want a high-riding car. Before you take a swig of that Tacoma Kool-Aid, have a taste of what the General has to offer the midsize segment.

Bottoms up.

First Impression

From a faraway glance, there is no mistaking this truck for anything but a GM. The tear-drop headlights and aggressive nose instantly allude to cues of the Canyon’s bigger brothers, the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado. Take a gander around the truck, and meaty 31-inch treads are set off by excessively large fender flares. Riding two inches higher than the standard z85 suspension and set off by the aforementioned exterior cues, the Canyon z71 looks to be a competent off-roader. Square-edged fender flares form the illusion of movement while at rest, and help what is normally an afterthought add to the edgy styling of the truck. BUT, closer inspection reveals large body panel gaps that lend some evidence to the influence of Isuzu engineering on this truck. The large, chrome-framed grille with black crossbars is a page right out of the GMC family style-book. I can’t help but wonder how good the front clip might look with a chrome honeycomb grille and cleaner fascia. Let’s all pray for a Denali in 2007.


Exterior

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While purely subjective, of those who have reviewed the truck (professional or otherwise), the great majority agree that the GMC Canyon is the best looking of the midsize batch. Not only good, looks are also deceitful. Line the Canyon up against a similarly equipped Toyota Tacoma, and the Canyon instantly appears better suited to accompany the lone Ranger (hah!) in the now nearly-abandoned compact class. While appearing much smaller than it’s greatest sales competitor on the outside, clever packaging inside allows for very comparable passenger room. More on that later…

Next to kicking the tires, knocking on the sheet metal is a test of new-car durability that has survived every trend from big muscle to noisy rice. A healthy knock to the panels of the Canyon, and one is greeted with a hollow-sounding, confidence-diminishing thack! It’s a shame, and one of a series of needless cost-cutting measures that serve only to diminish the perceived value of the truck.

As far as work purposes, the Canyon falls right into the middle of the mix. Not quite as useful as the Nissan Frontier’s standard bedliner and Utilitrack system, but not as useless as the Honda Ridgeline’s sloping bedrails and 5-foot long exterior trunk. The bed is easy to reach into from all angles and is fairly deep. The six foot bed of the extended cab provides plenty of item-space, and six tie-down hooks at the corners are passable. However, with standard bedliners becoming common and cargo management systems finding favor amongst those who carry stuff in their beds, the scheduled 2007 refresh is looking like a mighty fine time to let these features find their way into the ass-end of the Canyon.

*Note* Here’s a nifty trick! Visit your local truck-outfitter and purchase a tonneau cover for your GMC Canyon. Voila! You’ve just doubled the locking waterproof cargo capacity of the $35,000 Honda Fridgeline. Congratulations!

Interior

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When creating the insides of the Canyon, the General made two mistakes of biblical proportions:

1. They did let Isuzu engineer it.
2. Where's the Bobby Lutz touch?

Hop on in and the first thing that catches your eye is the darn near Kia-like level of fit and refinement. Panel gaps are tremendous; there’s over an inch of atmosphere between the interior door panel and the b-pillar. Dashboard pieces are too numerous and fit crudely. Door-mounted armrests are completely unpadded, not an issue with even the S-10 of years before. The center console is small, hard and flimsy. Exert any pressure on it and you find yourself pulling back quickly for fear of breaking it. Seats are relatively flat and unsupportive; great for hopping in and out, but hard on one’s back during those hour or more treks. Buy an extended cab, and you will be greeted by a cacophony of squeaks and rattles coming from the jump seats and other equipment from the rear of the cab. My quarrels with this truck are few and far between, but the incessant rattling from the back of the cab is nerve-wrenching. Make sure you vie for the optional six-speaker sound system and one good Metallica album; you’ll want them to override all that d*mned ruckus. Interior quality: 0 out of 10.

Now, move away from the notion of matching the vaunted foreign quality standards for just a moment -- think of yourself as a construction worker, a farmer, a utility man -- think of yourself as someone who uses a truck for truck purposes. If you are now in the utilitarian mindset, or are indeed one of the many truck shoppers who still buys a truck for just such purposes (and I know there are more of us left than the media would love to say), you have found your ideal machine. Where GM falls short in quality, they make up for it with their legendary ergonomics. Overall interior room is surprisingly spacious; headroom is generous, legroom is cavernous, and ingress and egress are so fluidly painless that it the thought of smacking your head never presents itself. I stand at six feet two inches, and with the seat pushed all the way back I can nearly straighten my legs entirely out. Horizontal legroom is EXCELLENT. With a column-mounted shifter and the absence of the high center console found in the Canyon’s competitors, knee room is generous and allows precious stretch-room for those longer trips.

Move onto the dashboard, and the theme of simplistic operation is ever present. Three big HVAC knobs - one for temperature, fan speed, and direction - are placed under the radio faceplate, just as God Himself intended. Radio controls feature one dial for volume, one dial for tuning, and all other controls are placed intuitively. Finding the appropriate button without lifting your eyes from the road is a feat accomplished in a day or so of driving, making this an incredibly easy truck to command. The ease of use continues in front of the driver, also. Two big gauges for speed and rpm command most of the space behind the steering wheel, and they are superbly legible (even during direct sunlight.) The leather-wrapped steering wheel is big and meaty, and makes the drive that much more enjoyable. The digital Driver Information Center is helpful, but isn’t quite as comprehensive as the nifty little self-statistician that can be found in the Canyon’s bigger brother Sierra.
Interior Space and Usefulness: 11 out of 10.

Overall, the sheer ease of use in the Canyon will leave the truck purists salivating, but those who seek even a minimal amount of refinement will leave disappointed.



Essentials

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Often in the crosshairs of the Canyon’s harshest critics is the powertrain. Even from those who own and love their Canyon, the battle cry for more power and more cogs is loud and never-ending.

After a year and nearly 10,000 miles behind the wheel of my truck, I can honestly say the controversial Atlas inline-5 is an acceptable engine for the truck. It’s acceptable. Meaning, it could be incredible.

Anyways, the 3.5L is a perfectly suitable powerplant for the application. Low end torque is plentiful; nice for those who don’t like to wind out their motors to get ‘em going (ahem, japan cars). Take-off from zero is good, and the truck gets to 35 without breaking a sweat. However, a few more cabbittees at mid to high revs would be helpful. Passing at turnpike speeds, while not difficult, is a calculated maneuver. An increase in displacement would likely ease this discrepancy.

The push-button four wheel drive is an excellent feature. The 4x4 system in the Canyon is very effective, and can push the underachiever Generals uphill through a foot of snow like a hot knife through butter. However, I have had one buzzkill experience with the four wheel drive. When in 4x4 Low, the gearing wouldn’t set back into 2 wheel drive, resulting in an hour delay from the trip home: a one-time only occurrence, but disappointing nonetheless.

The General seems to have no greater target on its back than its liberal use of 4 coggers in this time of 5 and 6 speed transmissions. While the extra gear would be nice to have during some extended uphill driving, the tried and true 4L80-E is a tough little gearbox. GM’s transmissions have proven their longevity and durability to be better than the gearboxes of anyone else in the business. “Slushbox” seems to be the popular term with the media; and if “slushbox” refers to liquidy-smooth shifting of the Canyon’s automatic module, then so be it.

As far as overall driving experience, the Canyon provides one that is surprisingly fulfilling, even in high-stance form. Steering is very predictable and comparably sharp, though the slow-speed turning radius is unacceptably largenormous. The suspension is rather bouncy, as is expected from the stiffer z71 package, but large potholes are well isolated and don’t seem like they will shake the truck into oblivion. Find a windy road and you’ll have fun tossing the Canyon in and out of corners. If the truck provides this much pleasure in off-road form, the ZQ8 package must be a delight.


Overview

For all its shortcomings, the GMC Canyon is a great little truck for those who don’t want a pussified high-riding car. The General’s truck-building experience and reliability are second-to-none, and so far sales have reflected that (combined Colorado/Canyon sales well exceed that of the Toyota Tacoma). With a bigger motor on the horizon and promise sent from GM’s media-doll Hummer H3, the next iteration of the truck is shaping up to be a humdinger (oh thank heaven for twenty-0-seven!)

PROS
-solid powertrain
-super ergonomics
-handsome good looks
-great work truck

CONS
-piss-poor interior
-no long bed option
-cost cutting measures abound


With Bob Lutz at the helm, we can expect GM to add refinement to a solid basis to create one stellar little truck. For now, legitimate truck buyers rejoice – the General’s got your midsize refreshment on tap…

Cheers.

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Great review. Very professional. The Colorado and Canyon have been punching bags for a lot of reasons, but what it all comes down to is GM built a merely adequate truck instead of a great truck.
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Great review.  Very professional.  The Colorado and Canyon have been punching bags for a lot of reasons, but what it all comes down to is GM built a merely adequate truck instead of a great truck.

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Agreed. After having my s-10 for a few years...then driving these new trucks,
I thought they were cool, but they weren't a "wow" kind of impressed....
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As a Chevrolet salesman, the biggest complaint is the ride and the powertrain. The ride is just too bouncy across the suspension packages and though it does have 220 HP, in today's day and age that doesn't even sound like enough. Another thing is the price: a fully loaded crew cab Z71 can, correction: could (forgot about the new "value pricing") get really close $to 33,000
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I find that the ride and handling are light years ahead of my S-10s. I've owned 5 S-10s, the last being a '98 extended cab ZR2. My '04 Colorado Z71 4X4 extended cab is a much more comfortable, solid-feeling vehicle. On trips, I get 4 mpg better mileage than with the 4.3L. Both trucks had 3.73 rear ends.
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Nice review, tama. Fair, balanced, and very-well written. If you could churn out quality pieces like this regularly, you could have a future in automotive journalism.
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A VERY WELL THOUGHT OUT AND WELL WRITTEN REVEIW PIECE. REINFORCES MY DECISION TO LOOK INTO AN 06 COLORADO. THE INTERIOR IS A BIT LACKLUSTER(TO PUT IT MILDLY) IMO. OVERALL A STRONG LITTLE TRUCK THOUGH. GREAT JOB TAMA B)
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That is the first picture of the front of this truck I've seen that makes it look attractive.

Rear styling? Quite nice. Side? Edgy and well done. Headlights? Grille? *barfs*
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Yes, this was a well written article that would definitely make me want to consider a Canyon if I was small-truck shopping. Of course I really, really, really like the Canyon. However, I think the top-of-the-line SLE/SLT models interior sucks. The so-called titanium trim is really plastic that is painted and looks very cheap (at least in my '04 Malibu the trim looks close to being the real deal). I'm use to having steering wheel buttons for upgraded DIC's and radio controls - of course the loaded $33K Canyon doesn't offer this feature! Too bad the Canyon wasn't planned from the beginning so that GMC could have made some differences over the Colorado. IMHO, The Canyon and the Savanna are the cheapest looking "Professional Grade" GMC's on sale.
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the piss poor interior, plastic grill, and fake plastic bolts on the wheels were the reasons I did not buy the colorado and ended up with a dakota.
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My buddy works at a Chevy dealer and says the major turn offs for many customers is lack of long bed option, too expensive, horrid interior with no padding whatsoever and god aweful cheap seat material, limited towing and lackluster power on 4 door models. Also some people commented on the weird sounds that 3500 makes on the test drive. On that note my curiosity got the better of me so I rented a 2005 Colorado 4WD 4 door 1SB package fleet model for 3 days. It was a very handsome truck overall with the sport red paint, optional bodyside moldings, alloys and no white letter tires. I was instantly turned off the momment I turned the key and the 3500 L5 throbbed to life. It reminded me of my parents old Tech-IV 2.5 Olds Ciera, loud and throbby. Out on the road I was impressed overall with the ride and handling. This truck had the smaller quieter riding tires which don't appear to be available to the public. They afforded a surprisingly compliant ride. Interior room was good. Seat comfort acceptable. The material on the seats felt and looked very cheap. The door panals equally so with no padding whatsoever. The dash was well laid out but it looks like these new gen of smaller trucks aren't giving us full guage clusters anymore. The Dakota is no exception to this either. Back seat room with my front seat moved half way back was ok but not as good as the Dakotas. Gas mileage was good at 20 mpg overall but a good friend of mine has a fully loaded Siera with the 5.3 and routinely sees 19-20 in combined driving with that so this trucks mileage was not outstanding. Power improved slightly the more I drove the truck to acceptable levels and the engine even seemed to idle better. My truck only had 1500 miles on the clock so maybe the engine needed more break in miles. Overall my pro and con chart would look like this: Pros- nice styling, decent gas mileage, roomy interior, ride/handling better than expected Cons- powertrain refinement not as good as Dakotas V8, engine could use more power, tranny needs to be replaced with more modern 5 speed auto with closer spaced gears, interior materials lackluster, towing capacity behind all others, no 4 wheel disk brakes, no longer bed option, pricey.
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I hope the 3.7l I5 atlas engine will be enough to compliment any other refignments made to this truck. I believe GM did not go with the I6 for the simple fact that they set out to have each ATLAS engine (I4, I5, I6) as equall in production as possible. However, I have read that they may add the I5 at the Flint plant (which now produces only the I6-Tonawanda produces the I4 and I5 curently) due to the H3's popularity. I can't help but wonder if maybe they should offer the I6 in the pickups to off set the I5's demand (H3) and pacify those who want more ponies in their 355's. I'm not an engineer (just work at GM) but I can't believe the I6 wouldn't fit in the 355's as it does in the 360's. Just my thoughts... :AH-HA_wink:
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