2024 GMC Canyon AT4X AEV Edition First Drive Review: The business-class Bison


McALLISTER, Mont. – Not far from Montana’s Ramshorn Peak is a beautiful body of water known as South Meadow Creek Lake. It sits just a hair below 9,000 feet and offers beautiful views of the surrounding highlands and — if you’re lucky and the lighting is just right — a clear line of sight to Big Sky Country. To hear the locals tell it, you can’t get there in a pickup truck. Apparently, to a GMC engineer, that comes across as an open challenge.

And so I found myself in the two-horse town of McAlllister (not far from Bozeman), chilly in the fog of an early October morning, inspecting a line of GMC’s midsize trucks in their hardest of hardcore variations. One half of the fleet was made up of the standard 2023 Canyon AT4X finished in a beautiful scarlet red; the other half, 2024 Canyon AT4 AEV Editions in a menacing gray that matched the dreary morning sky.

Yep, that AEV. The Canyon AT4X is an already-capable little trail monster with all the off-road bells and whistles you could possibly ask for. It’s a virtual mechanical twin to the new Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, in fact, down to the 2.7-liter four-cylinder that produces 310 horsepower and a whopping 430 lb-ft of torque. Naturally, American Expedition Vehicles managed to turn that dial up to 11. More on that later.

To the locals’ point above, off-road trucks have existed for quite some time (just ask Marty McFly), but it has only been since their rise in popularity as mainstream commuters that the dedicated four-wheelin’ pickup has really come into its own. The “you can’t get there from here” Maine attitude at Bozeman latitudes betrays somewhat old-school notions about four-wheeling — and the fact that just about everybody in town owns some sort of ATV or side-by-side.

The formula used to be pretty simple: You take the shortest SUV frame you’ve got, add big stick axles to the front and rear, and then jack the thing up as high as you can without it falling over at the first sign of an incline. Today’s torque-monster engines have turned that on its ear. More torque means you can turn bigger tires, and what do bigger tires do? Well, among other things, they lift your truck off the ground. Shove enough tire under a truck and no matter where you’re talking about, you can indeed get there from here.

At its core, AT4X isn’t groundbreaking. Superficially, the package includes a unique front fascia, skid plates and a Baja drive mode for higher-speed desert running, but the fundamentals of a good 4×4 haven’t changed despite the broader trends. Front and rear locking differentials? Check. Beefier springs and a frame lift for more ground clearance? Yep. But its real party trick is a set of Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) dampers. A technical explanation would take up too much space, so read this, watch this, or just be satisfied with knowing their greatest strengths are simplicity and versatility.

Simplicity in that unlike the uber-fancy suspension systems offered on luxury off-roaders, they don’t require fancy electromagnetic systems or air springs to work their magic. Plain, fixed steel will pair with them just fine.

Versatility translates to a beautiful ride and precision control whether you’re on or off pavement, and GMC made sure we got a serious dose of both. Our trek to McAllister took us down the side of a mountain, half on asphalt and half on well-groomed dirt. From the cabin, the two were virtually indistinguishable. Road noise was virtually nonexistent from the 33s on either surface, and the truck remained placid but communicative over patches of ice and mud. October in Montana, man.

Naturally, our route back out of “town” took us up the side of another pointy rock. This time, we were pointed at the lake. We aired down and set off, working our way back down the road surface hierarchy from asphalt to loose gravel and then finally ungroomed dirt and stone as the Aspen trees gave way and the pines closed in around us. The midsize Canyon felt conspicuously huge trying to navigate a path that was probably first carved by caribou — like my two-door Wrangler, a now-nearly-extinct species in these parts.

But like nature’s survivors, the Canyon too has adapted. While it may be unwieldly by old-school Wrangler standards, its extensive camera system makes navigating tight spaces a lot less stressful. I’m not going to sit here and pretend we didn’t pinstripe the heck out of that pretty red paint job, but the multitude of viewing angles certainly helped spare us any embarrassing scrapes. The underbody camera was especially useful, allowing for nearly inch-perfect tire placement over obstacles that had long since disappeared beneath the hood, which does protrude noticeably into the field of view.

Just over an hour (and only one activation of the rear locking differential) later, we emerged into the meadow surrounding the “unreachable” lake. Take that, locals. This was our chance to rest, refresh, relieve and recalibrate — the last because we’d be swapping trucks for the return trip. Out with the “standard” AT4X, in with the AEV Edition.

While the standard AT4X rides on 33s; the AEV sits on 35s. In part due to that difference, the AEV Edition gains 1.5 inches of ground clearance for a class-leading total (tied with its own mechanical twin, the Colorado ZR2 Bison) of 12.2 inches. That translates to 38.2-degree approach, 26.0-degree departure, and 26.9-degree breakover angles. The AEV wheels are beadlock-capable and they’re wrapped in 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory mud-terrain tires — a combo too large to fit in the standard spare tire receiver under the rear of the truck, hence the ridiculous in-bed solution (more on that in a moment). It also sports hot-stamped boron steel skid plates for the radiator, steering gear, transmission, transfer case, fuel tank and rear differential.

If the trip up was easy, the descent was downright trivial. Trailing a standard AT4X in the AEV Edition made the whole thing automatic. If they could clear it, we could — with room to spare. This provided the opportunity to play around a bit more with the in-cabin features and get a sense for what a real-world Canyon owner might experience. We especially appreciated the cushioned knee impact points on the center console and doors, but questioned the choice of white as a contrasting color. Even in our reasonably fresh test vehicles, they were already stained brown from grit and mud.

And while we largely have great things to say about GM’s tech and infotainment choices, there’s one design decision that can’t slip by without acknowledgement: the headlight controls. As in the Colorado, the typical rotary switch has been replaced by to a “button” buried within a touchscreen menu. It’s a clear downgrade. We get that “automatic” is the setting most people will use the vast majority of the time, but like the “recirculate” button in the HVAC, when you need it now, you need it now. Stop forcing us to hunt for things that shouldn’t be hidden in the first place, please.

And while the AEV Edition’s in-bed spare may look cool, it brings with it a couple of pronounced drawbacks. For starters, it completely blocks the rearview mirror. GMC doesn’t equip the Canyon AT4X with a digital version as in the Sierra AT4X, so you’re stuck either relying on your side mirrors or using a rear-facing camera view on the infotainment screen. We also quickly learned that it’s a potential source of rattles in an otherwise serene cabin. Combine these with the aforementioned impact on bed space and the bloom starts to fall off the rose. Of course, you could always carry a slime kit and leave the spare (and its frame) in your garage, or go the Land Rover route and bolt the whole works right to the hood. NHTSA may have something to say about that.

Blessedly, the spare tire frame’s rattles went away after we aired up and returned to asphalt, where we first got to experience the AEV Edition at highway speeds. And remember, this is Montana we’re talking about; two-lane rural roads have 70-mph limits. Open areas of interstate have a posted limit of 80. At these speeds, a tall, heavily kitted out truck would be forgiven for having the grace of an inebriated giraffe. The AEV, despite feeling every bit of its height, was pleasantly planted all the way up to 80 — and perhaps a bit beyond. There’s that versatility again. But despite its healthy power and torque figures, the 35s leave the 2.7T a bit winded. It’ll do 80 all day, but getting there feels like an accomplishment. 

It’s a great time to like trucks. The 2023 GMC Canyon AT4X is a mature offering in a mature but diverse segment. For its mid-$50,000 starting price, your options include every special model offered in the class, from the Wrangler-with-a-bed that is the Jeep Gladiator to the pops and burbles of the 405-horsepower Ford Ranger Raptor. While they’re all off-roaders of one stripe or another, they tend to take very different approaches to the mission. Of course, there’s also the Colorado ZR2. Why choose a Canyon instead? The AT4X takes the ZR2 formula and adds the premium veneer every GMC has over the equivalent Chevy. It’s more than just the badge, though; it’s also the subtle upgrades, such as standard leather upholstery and an available power-adjustable passenger seat — and despite its somewhat outspoken exterior, the AEV Edition takes virtually nothing away from the upscale experience.

Ultimately, the DSSV dampers in both of GM’s midsize trucks make them the undisputed kings of all-around comfort, while the Bison and AEV Editions expand their respective capabilities to rival those of the Gladiator Rubicon. In the end, this one comes down to personality. Do you want the all-out rush of a foot-to-the-floor acceleration run in a Raptor, or the clanging and banging of a rocky uphill slog in the Gladiator Rubicon, Colorado ZR2 or Canyon AT4X? The choice is yours.

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