GMC Canyon mid-size truck is even for people who don't know they need one

The GMC Canyon pickup truck is sizable, powerful, capable and attractively styled for 2015, but it's still smaller than a full-size, half-ton truck.

That's a good thing, because the new, mid-size Canyon is a fine alternative for people who need to haul loads or tow on occasion but don't want a big pickup crammed into their garages.

Better still, the Canyon's base, 200-horsepower gasoline engine generates the most four-cylinder horsepower in the class and has the segment-best government fuel economy ratings of 27 mpg on the highway. This is in a two-wheel drive model with an automatic transmission, but the Canyon is offered with a six-speed manual, too.

The new Canyon also did well in federal government crash tests.

Extended Cab Canyons with two- and four-wheel drive earned an overall four out of five stars in government crash testing, with five out of five stars in side crash testing and four out of five in the frontal collision test.

Among the standard safety features on every Canyon are six air bags, electronic stability control and traction control. Additionally, a rearview camera that helps drivers see what's behind the Canyon while the truck is backing up is standard equipment.

Available in two-door extended cab as well as four-door crew cab with short and long pickup beds and with rear- and four-wheel drive, the Canyon is well priced, particularly when the higher horsepower is factored in.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $21,880 for a base, 2015 Canyon Extended Cab SL with two-wheel drive and 200-horsepower, four-cylinder engine mated to the manual transmission. The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2015 Canyon with automatic transmission is $24,225. The lowest starting retail price for a 2015 Canyon with four-wheel drive is $28,860.

Canyons with Crew Cabs, which have a full bench rear seat, carry a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $26,130 with a short pickup bed and $27,650 with long box. Both prices are for models with two-wheel drive. The lowest MSRP plus destination charge for a 2015 Canyon Crew Cab with four-wheel drive is $34,935. This is the SLE trim level.

In comparison, the competing 2015 Nissan Frontier carries a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $18,875 with 152-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive and two-door King Cab. A base, 2015 Frontier King Cab with five-speed automatic has a starting retail price of $21,545. A base, 2015 Frontier King Cab with four-wheel drive and automatic transmission starts at $27,195, or nearly $1,700 less than the corresponding Canyon.

Another competitor, the 2015 Toyota Tacoma, has a starting retail price of $21,650 for a base, Access Cab model with two doors, 159-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive.

Both the Frontier and are available with V-6 engines, too. But the Canyon's direct-injection V-6 produces 305 horses, more than the 261 horsepower and 236 horsepower, respectively, in the Frontier and .

Wearing the GMC brand badge, the Canyon is a true pickup, and its styling is reminiscent of a three-quarter size GMC Sierra truck.

The Canyon is capable in on- and off-road driving, where it's the only truck in the segment offering both manual and automatic four-wheel drive engagement. Manual engagement can come in handy in tricky off-road situations.

In addition, the Canyon can tow up to 7,000 pounds when equipped with a towing package and V-6. This means the Canyon can haul a powerboat to the lake or a modest camper to a campgrounds without fuss.

But pricing can get into big-truck territory.

The test Canyon — a mid-range Crew Cab SLE with V-6, short box and four-wheel drive — topped out at nearly $40,000 and had the extra trailering package, navigation system with 8-inch colorful display screen, off-road suspension, dark metallic wheels, power front seats that were heated, premium Bose sound system and spray-on bedliner, among other things.

The 17.7-foot-long truck rode solidly, and while the ride could feel busy on some stretches of concrete highway, there were never hard jolts. Off-road on a dusty trail, the Canyon's bouncy response to ruts and dips kept passengers from feeling any sharpness.

The truck felt well engineered, even on mountain roads, as the weight shift in slalom maneuvers was nicely managed — better than expected.

The generous horsepower from the 3.6-liter, double overhead, direct injection V-6 kept the Canyon from petering out on highways, though the automatic did a lot of downshifting from the sixth, overhead gear to respond to driver demands for acceleration.

Torque peaks at 269 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm, and brakes on the tester worked strongly.

However, with about 7,000 miles on the test vehicle, brakes began to squeal.

Fuel economy never approached what was on the window sticker. In travel that was more than 80 percent highway, the test Canyon averaged 20.4 mpg. This translated into some 425 miles on a single tank of regular that cost, at today's prices, $50 for a fillup.

Passengers climbed to get inside the tall-riding, four-wheel drive Canyon. Side step bars by the doors were a help when passengers entered but were a bit of an obstacle as passengers tried to slide down to the ground.

Plastic and seat materials inside the truck had a pleasant appearance, and controls, including a knob to tune the radio, were good-sized and understandable.

Last October, the 2015 Canyon and its sibling Chevrolet were the subject of a safety recall.

Connections for the driver front air bag could have been wired incorrectly in 2,283 vehicles. This could disrupt the timing of the air bag deployment during a crash and reduce driver protection.