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CANYON TOUR
A little engine freshening gives ‘07 GMC mid-size pickups a much needed power boost

By Bruce W. Smith

With all the hoopla over the major re-design of the new Sierra and our seemingly endless love of full-size trucks, the “other” GMC pickup, the Canyon, sits relatively unnoticed in the deep shadows. 

That’s a shame, too. The 2007 Canyon does a nice job filling a niche not addressed by its full-size stablemate—the mid-size market.

No, the Canyon hasn’t received any major design changes since it replaced the venerable GMC Sonoma way back in 2004. It’s still the same reliable, solidly-built, co-operative design effort in which GM's North American operations, GM's Brazil operations, and Isuzu came together for a brief period of time to build a new world-type pickup platform. (The Chevy Colorado, Isuzu’s i280/i350, as well as the Hummer H3 share the same platform as the Canyon.)

What is new about the ’07 Canyon is it has more power—and even a little more power in a pickup as light as this one makes a big difference in its overall performance.

POWER BOOST

GMC has bestowed two larger-displacement powerplants on the Canyon. A new, 2.9L DOHC four-cylinder with variable valve timing (VVT) replaces the previous 2.8L four-cylinder and delivers 185 horsepower and 190 lb.-ft. of torque.

The 4x4 Crew Cab 4x4 we tested was sporting the other new engine—the 3.7L double-overhead-cam five-cylinder with VVT that is standard in the 4x4 Crew Cabs and an option in all the other models. The new I-5 replaces the previous 3.5L engine and is rated at 242 horsepower and 242 lb.-ft. of torque—a full 10-percent increase in horsepower (22hp) over the old motor.

Both new engines have larger valves, better-flowing heads, and a slightly larger bore than the previous designs. Both are still based on GM’s modular inline engine design, which also serves as the foundation for the 4.2L inline-six engine of the GMC Envoy. Their state-of-the-art electronic features that contribute to high levels of operating efficiency and fuel economy.

Inlines can be troublesome in making them run smooth. But GM has done a nice job using balance shafts help ensure smooth operation of the engines, providing a higher level of refinement—not to the level of a V6 on the inline-five, but close.

A QUICK RIDE

Despite it feeling just a little course, the inline-five is quite responsive when it’s plopped in the engine bay of a pickup like the Canyon test truck, which tips the scales at a shade over 4,000 pounds.

Our Sonoma Red Metallic truck was equipped with the optional 3.73:1 axle ratios and a limited-slip rear differential, so it ran strong. Passes with the four-speed-automatic-equipped Canyon at Gulfport Dragway registered consistent 0-60mph sprints in 8.8 seconds and ¼-mile runs of 16.3 seconds at 85.1mph. We could have gotten quicker times if it wasn’t for considerable wheel-hop.

Those numbers are nearly identical to those of a Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 Hemi, which runs 0-60s in the mid-eights and hits the 1320-foot mark around 85.6mph in 16.2 seconds. (Imagine the look on a Ram owner’s face when a half-pint Canyon stays door-handle-to-door-handle down the strip!)

OFF-PAVEMENT

Traction wasn’t an issue off-road. We put the 4x4 Crew Cab through its share of mud and bad roads—and tested the suspension travel to the fullest at one point during our off-pavement forays.

A locking differential is available on 4WD models and was part of the upgrades in the truck we tested.  Additionally, three rear-end gear ratios are available: 3.42:1, 3.73:1 and 4.10:1.  

The electronic Insta-Trac four-wheel-drive system in our truck wasn’t the smoothest or quickest engaging: When the control knob was turned to either 4Hi or 4Lo, it took up to five seconds for the transfercase to engage—and when it did it was with a loud and disconcerting clunk that reverberated throughout the truck.  It did the same going back into 2WD mode.

What was most disappointing, though, is that our truck came shod with cheap street tires instead of an all-terrain or other semi-aggressive tread tire designed for “off-road” use. One would think when you pay $30,000 for a four-wheel-drive mid-size pickup the least the manufacturer could do is make all-terrain tires part of the standard off-road package. Not in this instance.

Other than a lack of traction because of poor tire selection, the Crew Cab Canyon’s firm suspension and hydraulic-assisted rack-and-pinion steering work well in the off-pavement environment. Ground clearance is acceptable and the engine has plenty of mid-range torque for quick throttle response.

 GMC offers several suspensions for this pickup. Our suggestion is to opt for the Z71 suspension package if you really plan on using the truck much off the beaten path. It has the best shocks and suspension setup for such use.

The Z85 suspension our truck came standard with is acceptable for everyday use, driving country roads, and light off-pavement forays. But it’s not the best for long and frequent off-road adventures.

COMFORT ZONE

  Canyon’s lineup includes Regular Cab, Extended Cab or Crew Cab body styles, and either a 6’1” bed or, on the Crew Cab, a 5’1” bed. Standard features include rack-and-pinion steering, intermittent wipers, air conditioning tilt steering wheel, cruise control and folding outside mirrors.

The seats and fit/finish are on par with the competitors. The instrument panel has large, easy-to-read analog gauges, with switches and controls designed for easy operation with gloves. The Crew Cab models offers a 60/40-split/folding rear seat capable of accommodating three adults—and the seats are easy to fold so you can store a moderate amount of cargo inside the cab.

Legroom in back is what you’d expect in a mid-size pickup; adults can ride in back for short trips, but it’s still an area best left to the younger, smaller family  members and friends if it’s hours on the road instead of mere minutes.

Of course, you can get a lot of upgrades, as our test truck showed. Available equipment includes remote keyless entry; XM Satellite Radio; fog lamps; self-dimming inside rearview mirror; running boards; power, heated leather seating; high-back bucket seats; a rear sliding window; and power-operated outside rearview mirrors.

LIGHT DUTY EFFICIENCY

As for fuel economy, the GM five-cylinder in the Crew Cab Canyon 4x4 gets about the same fuel economy as its V6 competitors.

We averaged 15.2mpg around town and 20.2 during our highway tests. The EPA numbers are 16/22, which are comparable to those of the V-6-equipped Frontiers, Tacomas and Rangers competing for the same type of buyer.

The Canyon is rated to tow 4,000 pounds, which is more than enough to tow the typical 18- to 20-foot sport or fishing boat, a pop-up travel trailer, or a trailer loaded with a couple ATVs, PWCs, or snowmobiles. Be sure to get the tow-package option and order either 3.73 or 4.10 axle ratio to maximize its performance if you plan to tow a lot.

The Canyon would make a very good work truck/family transport for thoe with a young family. In fact, overall, the GMC Canyon is a well-balanced, light-duty pickup. It would meet the needs of any buyer who is comfortable in smaller truck and doesn’t need the pulling power or cargo carrying capacity of a full-size pickup.

The list price, however is a little scary, so when you do go shopping for a new Canyon, look for those rebates and special deals before you buy.—Bruce W. Smith

Full Specifications (http://media.gm.com/us/gmc/en/product_services/r_cars/r_c_canyon/index.html)

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