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C&G Drives - 2004 GMC Canyon

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The truck for those who want a truck

2004 GMC Canyon Z71

A Tama Review

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.


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!


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

1. They let Isuzu engineer it.

2. They let Isuzu engineer it.

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 damned 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.


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.


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!)

Good Calls

-solid powertrain

-super ergonomics

-handsome good looks

-great work truck

Not so Good Calls

-piss-poor interior

-no long bed option

-cost cutting abound

The 2007 redesign will determine whether or not GM wants to remain competitive in the midsize market. For now, legitimate truck buyers rejoice – the General’s got your midsize refreshment on tap…


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I don't know what it is, but I've always like the Colorado and Canyon pick ups, my store (CarQuest) has two of them as delivery trucks and if I get a chance to move from slinging parts every day as a parts sales guy and get to drive, then I always go for them. I dunno what it is about those two trucks, but to me, everything fits like its supposed to with them, they're great little trucks, and even for a delivery vehicle, they're very reliable, much more so than our two Rangers that we have (somehow they always seem to break).

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The GMT-355's are such a disappointment on so many level. From really poor up front decisions, anemic engines, small size, high prices, terrible quality, to pathetic interiors. GM really missed the boat on these vehicles. Nothing innovative came out with these trucks - nothing. They are so outclassed by their newest rivals that it boggles the mind. You can blame Isuzu for some of this, but I think the blame falls on on GM.


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The GMT-355's are such a disappointment on so many level. From really poor up front decisions, anemic engines, small size, high prices, terrible quality, to pathetic interiors. GM really missed the boat on these vehicles. Nothing innovative came out with these trucks - nothing. They are so outclassed by their newest rivals that it boggles the mind. You can blame Isuzu for some of this, but I think the blame falls on on GM.


Cool. And to what long-term, hands-on experience with these trucks can you reference your claims?

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