Review: Comparing the new 2021 GMC Canyon and Sierra AT4
For this model year, GMC added the AT4 package to the midsized Canyon pickup truck, bringing that truck into line with the GMC lineup of trucks and SUVs. We drove both pickups in this package and found them to be very different. One person’s AT4 is not another’s.
The AT4 package is touted as GMC’s light off-road option for its trucks and sport utilities. The trim adds a lot of visual cues to the vehicles in terms of branding, but often adds very little in the way of actual off-pavement equipment.
In the Canyon, the AT4 package adds hill descent control, off-road tuning for the suspension, a shield plate for the transfer case, a locking rear differential, and Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires. Everything else added is cosmetic only, including a unique grille, exclusive wheels, and tow hooks. Like most of the AT4 upgrades in the smaller vehicles of GMC’s lineup, the Canyon fundamentally gets little more than a 4WD upgrade and some knobbier tires. To get real off-road gear on the Canyon, you’ll first have to get the AT4 package and then add the Off-Road Performance Package. This puts it nearer to par with the Canyon’s twin, the Chevrolet Colorado, in its ZR2 package.
Looking over to the full-sized GMC Sierra, the 2021 Sierra AT4 has a lot more going on in terms of bounce and jounce. The AT4 package there adds hill descent control, suspension upgrades with monotube shock absorbers, a 2-inch (5-cm) lift, all-terrain tires (brand depending on market), added skid plates, driver-controlled traction control adjustments, and the rest of the cosmetic changes mentioned before.
The lift and knobbier tires, along with the better underbody protection plates, mean that the Sierra is far more confident to drive off the pavement. The Canyon is a good truck with the advantage of a smaller wheelbase and thinner profile for going out in the wilderness, but the Sierra has a more capable feel than does the less equipped Canyon. It helps that the Sierra is big and beastly in appearance, and that the AT4-specific grille is monstrous.
When the announcement for the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 package was made in mid-2020, the bombastic tones of the press release and materials made it sound like a serious off-road package. A big part of our disappointment here lies in the fact that it's actually not much of an off-road package – it's more of a starter set for the beginner who will soon regret not adding the Performance upgrade option.
This becomes especially true when price tags are compared. The two trucks we drove, while vastly different in size and capability, were very similarly equipped. Both were in the AT4 trim level and both had roughly the same safety and comfort upgrades. Yet the US$40,000-ish price point of the 2021 Canyon AT4 felt like too much for the truck.
The interior was a little cheap – the feel of the materials was below par for a premium brand like GMC – and the truck just all around felt too low-rent for the price paid. The Sierra, which rang in at about $55,000, was a different story. The truck felt premium inside and out, and had the accoutrements and appeal to match the price point.
Most likely, the biggest difference between the smaller Canyon and the larger Sierra is materials and switchgear sourcing. For the most part, the Canyon follows the GMC lineup of SUVs in its interior design, with buttons and sticks taken from the Acadia and others. The Sierra, however, is a truck unto itself with the line of Sierra trucks ranging from the half-ton 1500 that we drove all the way into the one-ton category of the 3500 and beyond. These trucks are their own animal, with shift levers and buttons unique to their kind. And, frankly, all are more truck-like in their design, unlike the smaller Canyon which is fairly dainty by comparison.
The long and the short of it is that the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 is a decent little truck, but to really get off-road value out of it, buyers need to consider either upgrading to add the Off-Road Performance Package – at roughly $5,000 – or going to the aftermarket for more add-ons. Interestingly, the Off-Road Performance Package is also available on the Sierra AT4 at about the same price.