A white 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 is parked on a woodland trail.

What’s Special About The 2021 GMC Canyon?

Small pickup trucks are a great alternative for truck drivers looking for something compact, sporty, and effective for light towing, off-road activities, or just leisure driving. However, not every small pickup is designed to take advantage of its full capabilities. Some models lack trims that make them more off-road capable, others are bereft of luxury features, and a few only come with the bare minimum to justify the MSRP. However, the 2021 GMC Canyon does not fit the category of some of its more feature-light competitors and instead embraces all possibilities and avenues available in the compact pickup category.

In fact, the 2021 GMC Canyon comes equipped with quite the stash of features and a commendable powertrain for its size. But what’s really so special about the 2021 GMC Canyon? What makes it stand out from the herd? Well, there are a few features worth highlighting, including a special new trim for the 2021 model year.

First-Ever AT4 Off-Road Trim

New for the 2021 GMC Canyon is the addition of the all-new AT4 off-road trim for the compact pickup. The trim comes with a number of upgraded and improved features to make the Canyon a prime-time player in the off-road category. Some of the features include four-wheel drive with an automatic locking rear differential and a two-speed Autotrac transfer case. The Autotrac system is designed to enable the truck to move through difficult terrain with ease and allows you to select between 4Hi and 4Lo manually. This gives you options in how you make use of the 308 horsepower generated by the standard 3.6-liter V6 engine.

The AT4 also comes with 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires, which utilize convex treads designed to find traction in all manner of ground conditions, including mud, snow, dirt, rain, or gravel. Additionally, thanks to the deep cut, multi-directional tread designs with integrated sipes, the tires are perfect for expelling water and other loose material. The shoulder blocks are also designed specifically for mud traversal, making the Duratrac tires perfect for all-terrain adventures.

LED fog lamps help with navigating low-visibility areas, while the included advanced hill descent control is essential for anyone who wants to take the Canyon climbing through steep terrain. The truck is also specially tuned with the Off-Road Suspension Package, which comes equipped with the aforementioned hill descent control, four-wheel drive system, and the Eaton G80 rear automatic locking differential.

A black 2021 GMC Canyon crew cab is parked on a grassy mountain.

AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition

As if having an off-road capable GMC Canyon wasn’t enough, the 2021 GMC Canyon also comes in a special AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition, which includes some additional features not found in the standard AT4 trim. The Performance Edition removes the front air dam and also comes with a suspension leveling kit, which improves the ride height by an inch thanks to spacers, utilizing e-coated steel and polyurethane for the respective upper and lower spacer.

The suspension leveling kit also helps improve the Canyon’s overall approach angle, with a 35% increase to approximately 30 degrees, giving you more angular dominance when it comes time to climb rocks or attack inclines with the compact pickup. Of course, climbing over hills and traversing rocky terrain is only fun if you can get in and out of the terrain without damaging your truck. Thankfully, the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 Off-Road Performance Edition comes with undercarriage protection in the form of skid plates, with rocker panel protectors and plates to protect the front and mid-sections of the truck, including the radiator, differential, steering gears, transfer case, and the oil pan.

On-Road and Off-Road Luxury Components

What’s interesting about the 2021 GMC Canyon is that GMC still managed to find ways to keep the luxury components intact, even for this rugged, compact pickup. While the big selling point for the 2021 model year truck is to lure drivers into challenging themselves with an off-road iteration of the Canyon, the reality is that they aren’t trying to drive away potential luxury pickup owners.

Both the AT4 and Denali trims of the Canyon are still outfitted with some extravagantly impressive interior components, which might surprise some people who may have been convinced that the Canyon is all rugged without any elements of refinement. You couldn’t be more wrong. The AT4, for instance, is available with premium leather-appointed front seats with Kalahari accents and a specially embroidered AT4 logo on the headrests. There’s also the option for wireless charging for smart devices and a Bose premium audio system for the AT4, features that come standard on the Denali trim.

If off-roading isn’t really your thing, but you still want a luxury compact pickup, the Denali trim swoops in to save the day with the aforementioned premium wireless smartphone charging, the Bose audio system, and 20-inch diamond-cut machined aluminum wheels. The Denali tops off its luxury features with interior accouterments that include heated and ventilated leather seats and open-pore ash wood interior trim. Additionally, cabin quietness is guaranteed thanks to the liquid-applied sound deadener that ensures sound doesn’t escape just as much as sound doesn’t creep in from the outside.

The black leather front seats are shown in a 2021 GMC Canyon.

Compact Power

A V6 may not seem like much of an impetus to give a pickup truck a whole lot of gusto, but the 3.6L in the Canyon is no slouch. GMC anchored the appeal of the Canyon on a compact design paired with an engine that gives it a peppy kick off the starting line. The upper-end 3.6-liter’s 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque aren’t just for the stat sheets. On level ground, the 2021 GMC Canyon manages 0 to 60 in about 9 seconds flat and can complete the quarter-mile run in about 17 seconds. Not bad for a compact truck that can tow up to 7,000 pounds.

Alternatively, you can opt for higher fuel efficiency and equal amounts of torque with a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel available on the AT4 and Denali trims. This powerful engine provides 396 lb-ft of torque and raises the truck’s towing capacity to a best-in-class 7,700. Even better, it does that while achieving no less than 30 MPG on the highway.

Stylish With an Attitude

It might seem easy to dismiss a truck like the Canyon because it doesn’t have the towing capacity of a full-size truck nor the muscle of something like the TRX. But for the price point and the features, the 2021 GMC Canyon is a spirited compact with a lot of attitude. It certainly offers more towing and luxury features than some of its nearest compact pickup rivals and seems to have nestled into a place for someone who wants a truck with rugged capabilities but without the super high price tag.

GMC appears to have found a nice balance with the Canyon as a truck that fits into a niche rather than trying to be an every-truck that spans the market’s gamut. In this case, the new AT4 trim, coupled with the availability of the luxurious Denali trim, make the Canyon an ideal option for someone looking for either a compact and sporty truck or something with an air of luxury. This specialized design and market position is what makes the Canyon unique in a growing field of small pickup trucks.