The current Dodge Dakota Club Cab stands with a 131-inch wheelbase, 62-inch track, 215-inch length and 71.6-inch width. The new Canyon has almost as much headroom and shoulder room as the current Dakota and about two inches more legroom but falls short by about an inch and one-half in hip room (again, front seat only). The 2005 Dakota, however, is expected to grow on the inside when the next generation is introduced.
Where the Canyon really grew was in the weight category. Curb weight for a 2003 Extended Cab model with manual transmission was just less than 3200 pounds. A comparable 2004 Canyon tips the scales at just over 3600 pounds. That means the base 4-cylinder engine is going to work harder, so GMC developed a new engine based on the Vortec 4200 inline-6 that powers the popular Chevy Trailblazer and GMC Envoy. This 2.8-liter engine pumps out 175 horsepower, 55 more than the old I4 in the Sonoma and equal to the power output of the base V6 in the current Dakota. For those used to driving V6 engines, or even V8 engines in a midsize or compact truck, the 4-cylinder will seem sluggish. But in all reality it gets the job done. We had no problem accelerating to reach freeway speed or maintain pace up steep grades. The I4 is a reliable engine, but with the 220-horsepower I5 being just a $1000 option (the same cost as our 6-CD player, XM radio and trailer hitch), more shoppers are likely to demand the extra power, especially if they have plans to tow. The 5-cylinder engine is from the same inline family as the Envoy and helps boost the tow capacity to 4000 pounds with an automatic transmission (which costs almost $2000 more).
The overall driving experience of the new Canyon, even with the 4-cylinder engine, is pleasant and competent. We found no problems with the manual shifter or controls on the dash. Our test run covered 240 miles in mostly urban travels. We recorded 13.6 miles per gallon with the 4-cylinder, not even close to the 21/27 EPA estimates. Maybe we shouldn’t be shifting at 5000 rpm all the time?
Handling is crisper than previous models, especially since rack-and-pinion steering is standard. GMC doesn’t offer the hard-cornering ZQ8 suspension available on the Chevy side, but the Z85 is set up for more comfort. It’s been noted that GM lowered the tow ratings on its smaller trucks to improve the ride, thinking that anyone who tows 4000 to 5000 pounds and higher will end up getting a full-sized truck, anyway. We have no argument with that strategy as the GMC Canyon SLE probably appeals more to a cosmopolitan lifestyle than hard-working or hot-rodding clientele.
From a utilitarian standpoint, the Extended Cab comes with a 73-inch-long bed equipped with eight tie-downs. There is under-seat storage in the rear. Rated payload capacity for the 2WD Extended Cab is 1429 pounds, and the GVWR is 5000 pounds.
The GMC version is a little more expensive than the Chevy model as GMC tries to separate itself from its fraternal twin. But the GMC also is expected to have a little more content and sharper image for the money. We like the look of the Canyon, although the massive headlight treatment is a little imposing. The sculptured wheel flares are composed but this truck definitely needs larger wheels to complement the stylish treatment around the wheel wells.
It was once thought that GMC wouldn’t build the Canyon and just let Chevy have the compact/midsize entry from General Motors while concentrating on full-sized pickup customers and upscale SUVs. But GMC is enjoying success at bringing new buyers to the GM family. The brand is currently has the third highest percentage of previous non-GM buyers at 37 percent, trailing only Hummer and Saab. Since GMC is the company’s second-highest selling GM division, behind Chevrolet, it makes good marketing sense to offer a lower-priced, downsized pickup and provide a few models that will appeal to buyers on a budget. The Canyon, even with the 4-cylinder and manual transmission, fits that role perfectly.