Is the GMC Canyon AT4x Now the Most Capable Mid-size Truck?

First off-road test

Just five years ago, there were really only two capable mid-sized trucks, and in a half-decade, we now have exceptional offerings from six manufacturers, all with at least rear lockers, taller suspensions, and enhanced protection. Now, the battle is on for the most capable mid-size truck available today, and GMC just put a shot across the bow of the entire industry. And before the “reliability” card comes to mind, it is important to note that the Canyon has two points higher quality and reliability rating (Per 2021 JD Power) than the Tacoma. As is typical in industry, someone decided to move the cheese with 33″ tires, Multimatic Suspension, front and rear lockers, 3 inch lift, and an available factory HD winch bumper. Meet the new 2023 GMC Canyon AT4x.

The interior of the Canyon is like nothing else in the segment. On the piano keys, note the front and rear locker buttons. As a clever addition, it also has an all windows down button.

In late July, we were fortunate to receive an invite to experience the all new AT4x Canyon at the GM desert proving grounds in Yuma, Arizona. This is land leased from the US military, who also conducts testing and validation of vehicles and defense systems in that area. Just to enter the facility requires watching a safety video on unexploded ordinance. We were driven out to a skidpad where two camouflaged Canyon AT4x were staged, along with an uncovered AT4 and the Denali. To say that this new GMC is the most premium mid-sized pickup in the segment would be an understatement. The Denali looks like a luxury sedan inside… but I was there to evaluate the dirt and overland performance of the AT4x.

The stance and ground clearance of the AT4x is immediately apparent. GMC also did a good job of widening the track slightly, and pushing the front wheels forward to allow for maximum tire clearance.

Key Features of the AT4x:

    1. Front and Rear driver selectable locking differentials
    2. Three inch factory lift
    3. Multimatic DSSV remote reservoir, internal bypass dampers front and rear
    4. 33-inch (285/70) Wrangler off-road tires on 17-inch beadlock capable aluminum wheels
    5. HD aluminum and steel skid plates
    6. HD rocker panel guards
    7. Steel rear bumper
    8. High-clearance front bumper with available winch tray
    9. Available ComeUp winch
    10. Advanced multi-mode traction control, vehicle stability control, and ABS algorithms
    11. One pedal drive
    12. 310 hp and 430 lb.ft. of torque from the 2.7 liter turbo I-4
    13. 21.5 Gallon Fuel Tank
    14. 1,550 pound payload in the AT4, and 1,250 pound payload with the AT4x

Off Road Performance

For the low and high-speed demonstration, we needed to ride shotgun (facility policy), but it did give many key insights into the dirt performance of the AT4x. My initial impression was the breadth of capability of the platform, being thoroughly tossable and jumpable at speed, yet being narrow enough, and having sufficient clearance to negotiate technical rock crawling and tight obstacles.

33-inch tires on 17-inch wheels are key to the technical trail performance, and the wheel-wells look suitable for even a 35-inch tire

Our first challenge was a closed course with rally driving segments, whoops, table-top jumps, a sandy wash, and loose embedded rock. My driver (Charlie, aka The Rally Stig) pushed the truck hard, engaging full extension and full compression jounce throughout multiple events, including offset holes and drops into washouts and ledges. The truck was exceptionally composed and head toss was minimal. The tuning of the Multimatics and electronic controls allowed for aggressive driving, but still managed risk at the limits. The chassis felt neutral overall, thankfully without the OEM default of baking in a ton of understeer. Charlie was able to rotate the truck at will, even in 4wd. For those interested in full fun mode options, the vehicle can be set to 2wd, VSC off, and the rear locker activated. Drift to your hearts content.

For low-speed technical terrain, the AT4x showcased the available 11 inches (nearly) of ground clearance, and excellent approach / departure angles. GM actually extended the wheelbase by pushing the entire front suspension assembly further forward by over two inches, which makes room for the bigger tires. The three inch lift made it possible to negotiate large boulders, and to prove its capability, several of the test units were driven through the length of the Rubicon trail in recent weeks. The one pedal drive system is particularly notable, as it is far more effective than any version of crawl control or similar offering from other manufacturers. This is because it pulls the driver into the loop, as only the driver has insight into changes in terrain that cannot be predicted or intervened rapidly enough prevent vehicle damage or the unpleasant brake check. The one pedal drive is both smooth and predictable for the driver, the throttle serving as both acceleration and brake on the trail. My preference is still left-foot-braking, but one-pedal-drive is a suitable alternative.

The AT4x is also available as an Edition 1, which includes additional accessories, like the winch mount and ComeUp electric winch with synthetic line. The only engine is the 2.7 liter turbo I-4, which makes impressive performance numbers, but I cannot help but mourn the loss of the diesel (even though this motor outperforms it in any reasonable metric). The first gear (4.56:1) and final drive (3.42:1) are a bit high in my opinion for a small displacement turbo, particularly with the 33 inch tires. I also noted the lack of boron skidplates. Otherwise, this new AT4x is exceptional on initial inspection in every regard, and serves to elevate the entire segment to improve performance and utility. We look forward to conducting our full battery of tests, and determining, is the new Canyon the most capable mid-sized truck?

Pricing TBD |



Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar travels include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. He lives in Prescott, Arizona IG: @scott.a.brady Twitter: @scott_brady