Midsize trucks are popular with the off-road crowd. They are durable, handle well, and offer power under the hood that can boost capability without the weight of a larger truck. The Toyota Tacoma is known as a rugged off-road truck, with resiliency at its core. GMC has altered the Canyon’s off-road variant into the new AT4 trim for 2021, and it’s looking a lot more like its larger sibling with the new styling. That’s not a bad thing, especially with a lower price point and better fuel efficiency. Each of these trucks delivers similar equipment for off-roading, but which one is the better truck? We’ll compare the 2021 GMC Canyon vs 2021 Toyota Tacoma to discern which off-road truck is better suited to both the trail and the road.
Powertrains and Capability
Both the 2021 Canyon AT4 and the 2021 Tacoma TRD Pro are powered by V6 engines, though the Canyon’s engine has an edge over the one in the Tacoma. With a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 308 horsepower with 275 lb-ft of torque, the Canyon has a slightly higher towing capacity of 7,000 pounds. This engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and it uses active fuel management to improve fuel efficiency. Because the engine shuts down half of the cylinders when they aren’t needed, fuel economy picks up. The 2021 Canyon gets a resulting 17 MPG in the city and 24 MPG on the highway, which is fairly good for a truck of any size, especially with standard four-wheel drive.
In contrast, the 2021 Tacoma moves with the help of a 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes only 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. With less available power, the Tacoma can only tow up to 6,800 pounds, a small but noticeable difference. The Tacoma’s engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, with the option for manual, and it gets up to 18 MPG in the city with only 22 MPG on the highway. Even though the Tacoma also comes with standard four-wheel drive, it does not share the typical fuel efficiency of the other vehicles in the Toyota lineup. It’s worth mentioning here that the GMC Canyon AT4 comes standard with hitch guidance and a trailering package, among other equipment suited for towing.
With the intention to head off-road clear in the sights of both of these trucks, it stands to reason that each truck would come with certain standard off-road equipment. When you plan to hit the trail, it makes a big difference if you have equipment like tow hooks for extraction, skid plates to protect the underbody, a sturdy suspension to handle rough terrain, and good shocks. Fortunately, both the Canyon and the Tacoma share one important off-road feature: an electronically locking rear differential. This is standard on both the AT4 and TRD Pro, as it should be, and both vehicles have specially-tuned suspension systems and shocks. Both trucks also come standard with skid plates, but the Canyon AT4 has front and mid skid plates compared to a front-only skid plate for the TRD Pro.
Tow hooks for the GMC are standard and bright red at the base of the front bumper. For the Toyota, tow hooks are not part of the standard equipment, which is a big miss. Anyone purchasing the Tacoma for off-roading will have to install them. The Tacoma does come with a cat-back exhaust and a hood scoop for keeping the engine cool under strenuous workouts on the trail, while the Canyon offers advanced hill descent control and a one-inch leveling kit. Each of these features has its merits, and it may boil down to preference about which is more desirable. For what it’s worth, each truck does come with all-terrain tires.
Ride Quality and Interior Space
Most people who buy a truck are not going to be able to keep it just for off-roading adventures, which means you are likely going to need your truck for daily driving. Even when you rig out your truck for the trail, you probably need it to pull double duty for runs to the grocery store or to get you to work. When you drive on the roadways, you really don’t want to feel like you’re getting a workout behind the wheel every day. Truthfully, ride quality in the Tacoma is not going to be great for daily driving. It rides on an old platform that feels very much like trucks from more than a decade ago when ride quality was bumpy and harsh. The Tacoma is also noisy, and the turning radius makes driving in tight spaces a challenge.
For better daily driving, the Canyon drives like a much smaller vehicle, even though it looks like its bigger brother. Ride quality is smoother and quieter, and you won’t feel like you’re being tossed around in the cabin. Seat quality in each vehicle is generally good, with leather in the Tacoma and available leather or cloth in the Canyon. Legroom is another story. If you’re tall, the 2021 Tacoma may not be your truck. Both front and rear seats may be challenging for taller drivers and passengers, where the 2021 Canyon has more space for all passengers. Technology is fairly comprehensive in both trucks, with standard eight-inch touchscreens, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth. The GMC features OnStar connectivity with navigation, and the Toyota offers its own connected service.
Certain features are nice to have, especially when you plan to drive your truck for more than just off-roading. Here is where each truck differs more than in other areas. In some ways, the Toyota Tacoma offers fairly upscale features like a powered moonroof, wireless charging, and dual-zone climate control. It’s great to have some of these conveniences for daily driving, especially with the addition of heated front seats for those chilly days. The 2021 Tacoma TRD Pro also comes with a tailgate dampener to make opening and closing easier, and it has a composite bed liner to protect it from scratching. Having the smart key with push-button start is another added convenience buyers will appreciate.
On the other hand, the 2021 Canyon AT4 offers buyers keyless entry with a remote starting feature and includes heated seats in the mix. Remote starting is handy when you want your vehicle warmed up on cold mornings, and the AT4 also has the GMC EZ lift tailgate, which is power-assisted for easier opening and closing. GMC gives the AT4 a pair of safety-related features which are great if you ferry your kids in the truck or have younger drivers, with a rear seat reminder and the Teen Driver feature that lets you set driving parameters for specific drivers. You also get LED fog lights for the Canyon, a spray-in bedliner, and rear park assist. Under-seat storage in the rear of the cab is one more difference between the two trucks in terms of convenience, as storage is always a plus in a truck.
Pricing may be a deciding factor for buyers, if not several other features that could sway an off-road enthusiast. The 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro has a starting price of $47,030, which does not include any towing options or packages. In comparison, the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 starts at $38,400, which is almost $10,000 cheaper. Whether you prefer the conveniences and some of the off-road-oriented equipment on the Tacoma or not, it stands to reason that the Canyon is so much cheaper you may want to go with the truck that has wiggle room to add equipment more to your liking with packages or after-market accessories. Remember, if you plan to use your truck for daily driving, the GMC has better ride quality and more responsive steering, too. For the money, the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4 is the better deal.