The 2018 GMC Canyon Denali is an unbeatable pickup truck at its price

Key Points
  • The Canyon Denali represents a new era for midsize trucks, with refinement and civility leagues ahead of where the segment was just four years ago.
  • Despite its double-duty as a near-luxury vehicle, the Canyon remains capable and undeniably tough.
  • The only real drawback to the Canyon was the optional diesel motor, which compromised the otherwise-refined driving experience of the truck.
  • Stick with the gas motor and the Canyon is a fantastic buy.
CNBC | Mack Hogan

It's been more than three years since GM re-entered the midsize pickup truck market with two cars, the GMC Canyon and its twin, the Chevy Colorado. To keep things fresh, GM later added a diesel model of the Canyon for the more heavy-duty users out there.

After a week with the most high-end model -- it's called the Canyon Denali -- with a diesel engine, I'm sold on the GMC Canyon. It's comfortable, confident and capable, but it's hard to make a case for why someone might want the diesel version.

Here's what you need to know about it.

The Good

CNBC | Mack Hogan

When they arrived, the Canyon and Colorado ushered in a new era of refinement and civility in the class.

The Toyota Tacoma instantly felt outdated. Even when Toyota updated it shortly thereafter, the Tacoma was still rougher around the edges than the GM entries. Now, a new Honda Ridgeline truck probably wears the comfort crown, but its unibody construction and car-like demeanor make it tough for truck-buyers to take seriously.

The Canyon is the happy middle. It's a real truck with an actual truck frame, but it's also adorned with leather and high-quality interior trimmings when ordered in its top-of-the-line Denali trim.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

Priced at $48,290, it's also adorned with leather and high-quality interior trimmings including cooled seats, CarPlay and a Bose stereo. GM's infotainment system is also much easier to use than others.

More importantly, it feels luxurious on the road. We'll talk engine noise below, but the well-insulated cabin keeps any other harshness out. It's also comfortable, with a well-damped ride that doesn't exhibit the traditional bounciness of a pickup truck.

Handling, too, isn't as ponderous as the trucks of yore. Don't get any wrong impressions: this is not a sporty vehicle, but its slightly smaller size and confident handling help make parking far less annoying than other trucks

CNBC | Mack Hogan

Should you need to test that toughness, the Canyon is up to or above the standards of the class. Ignore the lowly 189-horsepower rating on this motor because, with diesel cars, you care about torque. The Canyon delivers a massive 369 pound-feet of torque, good for towing up to 7,600 pounds in four-wheel-drive spec.

Finally, the diesel engine is rated for 30 miles per gallon on the highway. That's class-leading, but you're also likely to pay more for diesel at the pump.

The Bad

CNBC | Mack Hogan

You're also going to pay more at the dealership, as GMC charges $3,730 for the Duramax diesel option. Even if gas prices get high and the math works out in the diesel's favor, you're probably not seeing a return there until far down the road.

In the meantime, you're dealing with a decidedly less refined power-train. When GMC dropped off the Canyon, I didn't actually know I was getting a diesel. But in the 15-second drive from the entrance of my garage to the parking space, it was evident that I wasn't burning gasoline. This car is louder, vibrates more harshly and feels more lethargic than the gas V6 of the standard vehicle.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

I wouldn't get the diesel.

I don't have many other complaints about the Canyon. The fake wood trim adoring the gear lever is tacky and the $48,290 is expensive for faux materials. But subtract the diesel premium, and you're under the $45,000 mark. For a top-of-the-line midsize pickup that's this refined, it's really quite fair.

How you should configure it

CNBC | Mack Hogan

A Canyon Denali Crew Cab 4x4 with the shorter bed option starts at $44,295. $495 gets you this lovely red or a premium silver paint job, which classes up the truck significantly. The Denali comes with everything else you need as standard. The total price comes to $44,790 with a premium color paint.

Final Thoughts

CNBC | Mack Hogan

If you want a near-luxury body-on-frame pickup but don't want to step up to the full-size market, GMC is the only game in town. Lucky for us, it happens to be quite good at its job.

Besides the sometimes-talkative engine, the Canyon's cabin is remarkably quiet. There isn't the trademark bounciness that typically soils the ride of a pickup. Plus, despite this being a "midsize" truck there's a massive amount of room in the cabin.

For people looking for a premium truck at a good price, the Canyon is unbeatable. But more than that, if you're considering a premium car and a work pickup, you won't be sacrificing much if you get one vehicle that can handle both duties.

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Exterior: 5

Interior: 4

Driving Experience: 3.5

Value: 4.5

Overall: 4

Price as configured: $48,290