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2016 GMC Canyon SL 2WD Review (Manual Transmission)

Greetings Gentlemen,

As noted in my New Member Introduction, I am the happy new owner of a GMC Canyon. I would like to thank the prior members of this forum and all who posted information and reviews about their Canyons, as this aided me greatly in deciding to purchase the truck. A plethora of details exist regarding the manual transmission version of the truck, and regarding the transition from a full size truck to a "mid size" truck. However, much of this information is scattered, and makes up a relative paucity of the overall amount of discussion toward the Canyon. It is my hope that this review will serve as a valuable aid to those who are considering making a similar transition to mine.

Many formats exist to tackle this project, and I feel that using a "Question/Answer" method is best suited to "keep me on track." While this may be lengthy, my aim is to provide as detailed and concise of an overview as possible. I have put just over 2,000 miles on the truck, and have conducted an even mixture of city/highway driving, with several road trips mixed in.

1. Why did I purchase this truck?

The GMC Canyon in this format met my needs more closely than any other new truck available. My towing needs are purely recreational; lawn mowers, tillers, yard equipment, small furniture, etc. My wife's Ford Escape serves as the "family hauler," negating any need for a "crew cab" or rear seats (my truck has the rear seat delete package). We take several lengthy trips throughout the year, so comfort and fuel economy are priorities--though we do not need very frill and option available. The Canyon/Colorado was the best option available based upon our needs.

My wife and I both preferred the look of the Canyon over the Colorado, and strangely, our local GMC dealer gave us a better deal on the Canyon than the Chevy dealer offered on the Colorado. We considered the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, as many mid-size drivers do, and we liked both of those trucks as well. Our local Toyota dealer was very uninterested in finding the exact Tacoma I wanted, and our local Nissan dealer did not offer a deal we felt was substantially better the Canyon/Colorado. We are happy to be in the GMC!

Our entry into the mid-size market and away from our loyalty to Ford was based upon needs and prices as well. My 2013 F-150 XL single cab always seemed to have nagging minor issues, and we did not feel the $4-5K premium of the 2016 over the 2013 was worth it to wind up with essentially the same truck. Our schedules negated the opportunity to go out of area to make a better deal on the F-150, so we wound up in the Canyon, and I am happier with it than I ever was in my prior truck!

2. How is the manual transmission?

This may be heresy to the manual transmission fraternity, but I am not a subscriber to the theory that "automatic transmissions are evil." Thirty or forty years ago, maybe. Today, most automatic transmissions in their various forms are quite good. The six speed automatic in my last F-150 was fantastic. That truck was my first with an automatic transmission. And when my wife and I decided to trade it in, she gave me only one stipulation on a new vehicle:

"Make sure you get a standard again--an automatic just isn't you."

I've owned the 1996, 2003, and 2007 model F-150s with the manual transmission, and when we decided on the Canyon, I had to go back to a manual. And it was a sound decision, because this truck has a great manual transmission! For starters, the clutch is very forgiving on beginning--or in my case beginning again--drivers. The mesh point is much higher up on the clutch than past manuals I've owned and driven, and the truck is very easy to take off from a stop. The final drive ratio (4.10) and first gear ratio (4.47) also help, and GM did a great job with this clutch and transmission. One trade off--first gear predictably "runs out quickly." Second (2.46) and third (1.47) gears are the only useful acceleration gears at lower speeds, as fourth through sixth gears are designed for fuel economy--which for me is how I prefer the transmission to be designed. You can easily cruise at 25 mph in fourth gear, 30 in fifth gear, and 38+ in sixth gear and get incredible fuel economy around town (more on that later).

There are a few quirks to the transmission that are worth noting.

A. Building speed to merge onto freeways was tricky at first, because fourth (1.00), fifth (0.85), and sixth (0.73) are so closely spaced. The best way to build speed is to stay in fourth gear once you get into it until you reach the speed limit (or whatever your crusing speed is). I usually shift into fifth as a formality for 2-3 mph before getting to sixth in this situation.

B. Also related to gear spacing: Fifth gear will not aid in passing vehicles on two lane roads; you must shift into fourth to gain any useful thrust in this situation. For interstate driving, I find leaving the truck in sixth is adequate for the vast majority of passing.

C. The toughest mesh is from first to second gear because it is such a large dropoff. It is easier and smoother to take the truck off than to shift from first to second.

D. There is a "hole" between second and third gear that shows up from 13-17 mph, usually when making 90 degree turns in town. In this situation, second gear does not feel tall enough, and third gear lugs the engine slightly.

E. Before purchasing the truck, one of my concerns was the whole "push down in neutral to get into reverse" scenario. It works seamlessly, and it would be very difficult to "accidentally" shift into reverse. When using reverse, the backup camera comes on, and the instrument cluster beeps and displays a large "R," so there is no confusion.

Overall, the manual transmission in the truck is wonderful, and is easily the best one I have had in a vehicle. It is fun to drive, and a great manual to learn on for beginners. If you are interested in getting the manual in this truck for whatever reason, it certainly has my recommendation!

3. Is the four-cylinder in this configuration powerful enough?

For my needs, and in this configuration, the 2.5 I4 is powerful enough for the truck. It makes quite a bit of its torque at lower rpm (Google the dyno chart for the engine), and is spirited enough if you are willing to rev it to 3-4K rpm. I have not even needed to rev the engine past 4K rpm on any occasion yet. You won't win many stop-light races with this engine, and it does not compare to the 3.7 V6 I had in my last F-150, which I imagine is quite close to the available V6 in this truck. If your needs are modest like mine, and you don't need to augment your self-worth with more power, this engine is plenty adequate coupled with the manual.

Where the 2.5 is more than adequate is with regard to fuel economy. I am beating the 19/26 EPA ratings in all facets of driving. My in town mileage has been between 21-23, with 21.0 being the lowest reading after a day of hard city driving (for my area, at least). At 55-60 mph on highway trips, I am averaging 29-31 mpg, and on freeway trips I am getting 25-27 mpg. This is an improvement of roughly 5 mpg over my prior F-150 in each scenario, and I am impressed with the fuel economy of this powertrain.

4. How does the truck compare in general dimensionally with full-size models?

Most of us know that full-size half ton trucks have gotten substantially larger over the last decade. This truck reminds me so much of my old 2003 F-150 in terms of size, maneuverability, road presence, and acceleration. It is much easier to turn, park, and maneuver this truck compared to my 2013 F-150--but it lacks the road presence I had grown accustomed to. From the front, very few people realize this isn't a Sierra 1500 until they get right up close to the truck, but from the back and the sides, it is noticeably smaller. I have had a much larger number of people tailgating me, cutting me off, etc. since getting the Canyon.

The inside of the truck is also noticeably smaller than full size models, which for me has been a welcome change. Everything is well within reach, and I don't have to lean over all over the place to put down a soft drink, change a radio station, etc. The truck feels more like an SUV on the inside than a truck in terms of dimensions, but the seating position is still high enough to make me feel like I am in a full size model. My old 2003 F-150 is again a good comp here.

Since I have the rear seat delete option, my wife and I have an abundance of room to store luggage on road trips, bring groceries home, and things of that nature. We no longer have to take her Escape all the time to do things now that we have the Canyon with extra space. Rear storage in the bed is adequate for our needs; the bed is smaller than I've had in quite a while, but the slightly reduced area has not made a significant impact on my hauling needs.

5. What is the ride quality like, and how does it compare to a full size truck?

The Canyon's ride quality is excellent and very comparable to my last F-150, as the two are roughly the same length. Drivers coming from longer extended and double cab full size trucks may notice a difference in ride quality, but the Canyon in this form is very balanced and composed on the road. The interior is literally so quiet that when the area behind the front seats are empty, my wife and I can hear our voices echo off the windshield! The stock audio system is pretty basic and sounds very good to us; granted, we are not audiophiles in any regard. The middle storage compartment houses a USB port, and you can easily dump music into folders on a jump drive for listening. The entire fit and finish of the interior is very impressive, especially considering the cost of the vehicle. In fact, the entire fit and finish of the truck--inside and out--is remarkable in comparison to the one I just traded in. The Canyon has been very comfortable on long road trips, well composed on gravel and dirt roads, and it holds up fairly well in wet weather also.

One minor personal quibble about ride quality, particularly in wet weather, is the stock tires (Goodyear Wrangler Fortitude HT, P265/70R16). I am not fond of the truck companies' recent trend of installing hybrid "all terrain/all season" tires that lack true all season and off road merits. Being that this is a four cylinder, two wheel drive truck, I would much rather have a true all season tire from the factory. Any buyer who has serious off road needs will more than likely be buying the 4wd version of the truck and the V6 as well (I hope those versions come with actual all-terrain tires!). For the I4/2WD version, all season tires would greatly improve wet weather traction and give a slight bump to fuel economy as well.

6. I am in the market for a mid-size truck with a manual transmission. Why should I buy this truck?

The GMC Canyon is a well priced, well equipped, attractive mid-size truck with great road manners, impeccable ride quality, and outstanding fit and finish. It includes an easy to use clutch and manual transmission, has adequate power for most drivers needs, and attains impressive fuel economy.

My wife and I are very happy with this purchase, and while lengthy, I hope this post is of benefit for those who are considering a manual transmission truck, or making the transition from a full-size truck.
 

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Great and very informative review. I currently drive a 2015 Jeep Wrangler JKU automatic which I'm really not too fond of for highway driving. Prior to that, 1973-2007 it was always a Chevy SWB stick shift, sometimes 2wd, sometimes 4wd. And that is why, crazy as it sounds, I'm thinking of trading the Jeep for a Colorado/Canyon stick shift. My whole driving experience has been stick shift and I miss the tight handling of my former Chevies. It does mean giving up the 4wd capabilities of the Jeep. But one can do some light off-road desert running in the Colorado.

Again, great review, and I'm going to be following the responses.
 

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Great and very informative review. I currently drive a 2015 Jeep Wrangler JKU automatic which I'm really not too fond of for highway driving. Prior to that, 1973-2007 it was always a Chevy SWB stick shift, sometimes 2wd, sometimes 4wd. And that is why, crazy as it sounds, I'm thinking of trading the Jeep for a Colorado/Canyon stick shift. My whole driving experience has been stick shift and I miss the tight handling of my former Chevies. It does mean giving up the 4wd capabilities of the Jeep. But one can do some light off-road desert running in the Colorado.

Again, great review, and I'm going to be following the responses.
Thank you so much! I wrote the review for the person who comes on the forum (or google) and searches for "manual transmission review," as I could not find any comprehensive account of one whatsoever.

Like you, I never felt 100% right with an automatic. Since I bought my Canyon, driving feels natural--and dare I say fun--again. I don't condemn anyone who prefers an automatic, but I never felt like I could accept mine after owning a manual all those years. I'd love to know the take rate for Colorado/Canyon manuals on the base trim with the I4. During daily driving, i've spotted three other people in town with extended cab Canyons, and each has the manual.

As an aside, I have not been in the newer Wranglers, but one of my good friends has an older model (maybe late 90s) Wrangler with the 4.0 and a manual--that thing is a blast to drive!
 

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mamual transmission

This thread is now over a year old, but I thought I should add my two cents because the OP has posted such a thoughtful view of the topic but received so few responses.

Mine is a 2016 Colorado, with the same engine and transmission. Similarly, an automatic just isn't me. I have owned vehicles with standard transmission almost exclusively, and when I finally bought a car with an automatic it was trouble. But, likewise, I am not completely opposed to automatics. My wife's Cruze is automatic and I like it a lot. Partly that's because the manual mode is so sensibly designed, which on the Canyon/Colorado is not.

My take on the gearing is a little different. First is not exactly a "granny" gear, but it's pretty low, and 2nd is a little high to use as a starting gear (although it's doable). My procedure is to use first just to barely get rolling, then get into second. This is especially important when getting onto the highway from a turnout. You don't want to get onto the highway in first gear. I will start in 2nd if I am on even a slight downgrade or already rolling a little bit.

Where I drive most often, in small towns and on winding country roads, 3rd and 4th are the bread-and-butter gears. Fourth is good from 30 to 60, so with a highway speed limit of 55 mph, I can usually stay in 4th the entire way between towns. In my opinion, 25 mph is too slow for 4th gear. That's only about 1200 rpm, well below the torque peak. I don't use 5th under 60, generally, so it's 3rd and 4th, mostly. These gears are in the middle position where the shifter rests naturally when in neutral, so shifting is easy.

The comfort zone in higher gears is about 2000 to 3000 rpm. In that range, the engine seems to respond well when acceleration is needed, so I base my shift points on that. At 2000 rpm, the speeds are: 1st: 10 mph, 2nd: 18, 3rd: 30, 4th: 43, 5th: 51. So while you can cruise along at 25 mph in 4th gear, you won't be able to speed up easily or slow down without shifting. I prefer to just stay in third in 25 mph zones, and in 4th at 30 and above, mostly. I don't think I used 5th for the first few weeks, not being near a freeway. Now I will use it off the freeway in some circumstances. I hardly ever use 6th.

I monitor my mileage on the "last 50 miles" setting, and my best, in the high 30s, was on country roads in 3rd and 4th going about 25 to 40 mph. That's disregarding an anomaly of about 42 mpg, obtained going down the west slope of the Rocky Mountains. It's a common misconception that higher gears give better mileage. The best ways to improve mileage are to slow down and go downhill.

In real-world conditions, mileage is pretty good. On a vacation trip of 4000 miles through several western states, with two drivers, we averaged just over 28 mpg for the entire trip.

I’m happy with the 150 ci (2.5l) engine. It’s plenty for a light truck. I have no plan to tow anything and the most I’ve hauled is a modest load of firewood, which it will do without straining. The horsepower is almost twice that of the 235 ci 6-cylinder engine in 1950s Chevy pickups. The manual transmission feels like a truck, even though it isn’t the long-arm loose-shifting affair we had in old pickups. I drive it like a truck, with slow, careful shifts, easy acceleration, and sensible speeds, and I am completely satisfied.
 
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