There are fun times.. and then there are fun times with class. Somewhere in between chugging beers on the beach and sipping champagne on the terrace lies the GMC Canyon Denali. This midsize pickup truck has plenty of style, good capability, and rugged comfort.
We recently spent a week in the 2018 GMC Canyon in its Denali trim, the top-most trim level in the Canyon’s lineup of five trim options. Highlights include multiple cab configurations, two bed length options (we had the short bed), and both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive. GMC has added trailer hitch guidelines to the backing camera on the Canyon this year, which proved to be surprisingly useful, and made the infotainment screen larger as standard.
The 2018 Canyon has a lot going for it. It’s by far the best-looking truck in the midsize pickup truck market and it’s the only one with a diesel engine option. But it has some downsides too, including less off-road capability compared to like-priced options from Toyota and its larger size when compared to the Toyota or Nissan competitors in this category. But these points aren’t likely to dissuade people who are shopping the 2018 Canyon Denali, which is definitely the most upscale option in this market.
Visually, looking at the GMC Canyon Denali, one gets the overall impression that this truck is robust and ready, while also giving off a hint of sport and fun. It doesn’t have that big-rig muscle and chrome of larger full-sized pickups, but keeps the appearance of capability. It’s a good design that really gives the Canyon an edge.
Under the 2018 Canyon’s hood can be any of 3 engine choices. The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that outputs 200 horsepower to a six-speed manual transmission, which can be upgraded to a like-geared automatic. We’d recommend upgrading that to either of the other two engines, which give more power and capability as well as useful towing numbers.
The upgrade V6 is a 3.6-liter that outputs 308 hp and 275 pound-feet of torque. We drove the Canyon Denali with this engine and found it to be a perfect match for the truck. The engine has a predictable, relatively long power band that is well suited to the automatic transmission.
The final option is also a recommended upgrade, a 2.8-liter turbodiesel. This turbo-four puts out 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Balancing power and economy, this engine is made for torque delivery to get a load moving, offering a 7,700 pound maximum tow rating for best-in-class trailering. We drove this model last year and found it very well done.
The main differences between the 2018 Canyon’s V6 and the diesel option are in everyday driving. The V6 offers faster acceleration and a good about-town and off-pavement presence, but doesn’t have the high towing capability or fuel economy of the diesel. The diesel has those things, but takes longer to get up to speed and its turbo lag is very noticeable around town. So the choice really comes down to which fits what needs better.
The four-cylinder gas option for the 2018 Canyon is EPA-rated at 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The V6 lowers those numbers to 18 in the city and 25 highway. That’s not much of a tradeoff for a much better engine. The diesel rates at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Nobody else can claim those kinds of MPG returns. These numbers are for rear-wheel drive models. Adding in 4×4 capability drops them by about a point each. In the real world, the diesel returned very close to those EPA ratings while the V6 was slightly lower, likely due to our higher altitude (5,400 feet).
Another huge difference between the 2018 Canyon and its rivals, especially in Denali trim, is in interior comfort. This is where GMC focuses its premium brand name, putting together an excellent interior. Seating is excellent with a lot of room for the front passenger and driver. The rear seats are good too, but they have less legroom (even in the crew cab) than expected. Adults can still fit back there, but the center position on the rear bench is really just for kids.
We also like the infotainment system in the 2018 Canyon. With the full upgrade, the 7-inch touchscreen grows to 8-inches, and the base model’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are augmented with GM’s IntelliLink system with its quick responses and easy-to-understand menu tree. We’d like to see more redundant buttons for quickly jumping from one thing to another (say from maps to radio), but once a few of the more advanced controls are learned, those things come quickly. Swiping to the side, for example, switches between main menu elements immediately, allowing a move from the NAV screen to the radio in one gesture.
Speaking of navigation, the built-in system for the Canyon is workable, but it’s not that great. Plugging in a phone and using its NAV (which can cast to the screen) is a far better option. Additionally, voice control of the GMC’s infotainment is really only useful for making phone calls. It’s otherwise iffy on getting commands right. Again, hold the VC button for an extra second and use your phone’s voice controls instead.
The 2018 GMC Canyon Denali is the top-most midsize pickup truck package available on the market today. It’s a strong goer and fun to drive. We took it around town as a daily drive and then out and about on and off the road for fun times here in Wyoming. The Canyon with its V6 is confident and well-mannered with a surprisingly quiet cabin on the highway. The 4×4 package will get you where you want to be without a lot of trouble, so long as the request is reasonable. The Canyon isn’t a hardcore rock climber or mud digger.
We also found that when towing a trailer matched to the Canyon’s capabilities, it does pretty well. It’s more than capable of pulling toys to the lake, getting a few things from the home improvement store, and hauling gear for camping or riding.
The 2018 GMC Canyon Denali is a great little truck with a lot of fun factor built in. The Denali trim starts at $39,600 plus delivery and rang in at $46,400 with delivery as we drove it.
All-New 2019 Jeep Cherokee Is Still A Jeep But Way Prettier
Jeep decided to completely revamp the Cherokee for the 2019 model year. They’ve kept most of the things that made the previous-generation Cherokee a winner, but gave it a serious makeover to get rid of the ugly. We spent a week with the rig and thoroughly enjoyed its new design.
Surprisingly enough, the Cherokee is Jeep’s best-seller. So much so that Fiat Chrysler decided to drop the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart from their lineup in order to free up production lines to make more Jeeps. This despite the beating the car took from the automotive press over the 2015-2018 Cherokee’s beak-nosed design. Buyers were won over by the Cherokee’s excellent dynamics, Jeep-worthy off-road credibility, and smoothly upscale interior.
The 2019 Jeep Cherokee keeps those high points for the crossover, but ditches the beak nose for a more Jeep-contemporary flat face to house the vertical slotted grille. This puts the Cherokee more clearly into the lineup of Jeep crossover-SUVs, where it rides beneath the larger Grand Cherokee and above the smaller Compass. It’s no longer the odd man out in the Jeep family.
Also added for the new 2019 Cherokee are new powertrain choices. A new turbocharged four-cylinder engine is now offered, as is the venerable and well-vetted, basic 2.4-liter four and the smooth 3.2-liter V6 upgrade. The turbo-four is meant to split the difference between the 2.4 and the 3.2 and does a very good job of it. So much so that we’d say it’s our preferred engine for the Cherokee.
The base model’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder “Tigershark” engine has been with the Jeep (and Chrysler) lineup for years as a steady puller in a lot of vehicles. It offers up to 30 mpg on the highway, per the EPA. The V6, on the other hand, has been the go-to for Cherokee buyers who want more oomph and better towing capability. It’s rated at 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque and receives an EPA fuel economy estimate of up to 24 mpg on the highway.
Enter the new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which outputs an impressive 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The EPA rates this engine at up to 31 mpg on the highway. That beats the base model’s highway rating and adds more torque than the V6. Power outputs in the 2.0L are quicker on the draw, coming at lower RPM, and the towing capability between the turbocharged four and the V6 is a mere 500 pounds. All for an upgrade price that is only about $500 over the six. The punchier responses, better fuel economy, and strong torque output while off-road are all good reasons to think of the 2.0L turbo-four as the best engine option for the 2019 Cherokee. Until Jeep decides to make a Trackhawk or diesel version, that is. Then bets are off.
Going inside the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee, we assumed that with all of this opportunity for Jeep to screw things up with the Cherokee’s upgrade, this is where they’d do it. We were disappointed. Jeep kept the upscale interior and smart design of the previous-generation Cherokee largely intact with this new one. They even made it better. The center stack has been redesigned to be less bulky and the cargo area has been tweaked to add more usable space. Our greatest complaint from the previous-gen Cherokee (and all Jeep models) was the continual use of monotone (usually black) colors in the cabin. That’s also changed, with Jeep adding more trim items to give offsets and contrasts for a more interesting look.
The interior of the new 2019 Cherokee isn’t roomier on paper, but it feels more open and spacious thanks to the changes made. New details like the padded slot under the infotainment screen and above USB plugs for a phone or MP3 player and the larger door slots are upgrades in ergonomics too. Remaining are the well-done seating up front and the truly three-across rear seat for the Cherokee.
Infotainment is still the best-in-the-business Uconnect system, of course, which now features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. The crisp graphics, text-to-speech capability, and available Wi-Fi hotspot option are all great things that go along with the easily-understood menus and crisp graphics.
Cargo space in the 2019 Cherokee is measured at 25.8 cubic feet behind the second row, expanding to 54.9 cubes with the second row folded. Which it does in a split-fold as standard. Tie-down points in the cargo area are standard in the Cherokee and side pockets behind the wheel wells are now deeper and more accommodating for milk jugs and the like.
During our week with the 2019 Jeep Cherokee, we drove it on the road, off the road, and off the map. Because #JeepThing. We had kids in it, ran it solo, took it as a couple’s drive, and more. In every way it was a good drive. Ours was equipped with four-wheel drive and the Freedom Drive II transmission option, which has deeper low gears and more off-road capability. Other options would include front-wheel drive and the lighter-duty, more mainstream all-wheel-drive-like Freedom Drive I. For most buyers, FD1 is more likely to fit needs and leaves plenty of off-pavement capability intact in the Cherokee.
The 2019 Jeep Cherokee starts at $23,995 and we drove it at a near range-topping $39,799. Most buyers will be getting one just below the $30,000 mark, well-equipped.
Learning About Towing Fundamentals With The GMC Sierra Denali
The first time I had a chance to drive the 2018 GMC Sierra Denali, I enjoyed the experience, but it felt like something was missing – a trailer loaded with toys. What I didn’t know at the time was that GMC is only major manufacturer that has towing as part of it’s DNA from their smallest SUV (Terrain) to their largest truck (Sierra HD).
We recently spent some time with GMC learning more about towing fundamentals and why the GMC Sierra makes a great choice for anyone who’s weekend plans might involve heading out into the wild to go boating, biking, or exploring with a UTV. While this wasn’t my first time towing, I learned quite a bit here, which I’m here to share with you guys.
Our journey began at the Red Mountain Resort in Saint George, Utah where we learned more about proper towing, before heading off on a road trip that included dune riding at Coral Pink Sands State Park and a road trip through Zion National Park. Throughout the experience it was clear that the Sierra was made for the job at hand!
According to GMC, 75% of all Light Duty truck owners tow – but 30% of those owners don’t know how much weight their trucks can haul. Similarly, outside of professional customers, very few consumers have a solid understanding for what features make one truck a better towing platform compared to another.
It’s Not Just How Much You Tow, It’s How Well You Tow
It’s easy to get lost in the number of max towing ability and think that’s the only thing that’s important. Frankly the 2018 GMC Sierra Denali holds its own there compared to peers, with a max trailer rating of 12,500 pounds (23,300 for the Sierra HD). However, there’s more to getting to the cabin or camp site than simply how much load you can pull. That’s a LOT of weight! Far more than most people will ever need to haul.
Max load limits today are absolutely enormous, and most people won’t even come close. For instance, our trailer contained two Polaris RZRs and it was still only 7,000 pounds.
The important factor is to make sure you can town that weight safely, quickly, and easily. That’s where having the right truck comes into play.
Key Features That Make The Sierra Denali A Great Truck For Towing:
Premium Trailering Mirrors – While I prefer the large compound mirrors on the larger Sierra HD Denali, I was pretty impressed with the smaller more compact ones found standard on the Sierra Denali. It allowed easy viewing of oncoming traffic as well as the end of the bed and I found it very easy to judge distances for passing vehicles. These mirrors are also heated to prevent icing in winter and contain LED rear guidance lamps when backing up.
Trailer Sway Control and Trailer Brake Controller – Sensors automatically detect a trailer that has begun to sway and applies both the trailer and vehicle brakes to restore proper towing control. You can also do this from within the cab to apply the trailer brakes manually.
Tow/Haul Mode – Provides more power to accelerate when hauling heavy loads by raising transmission upshift points.
Hill Start Assist – Sensors detect when your vehicle is at a 5% or more grade and holds the brakes until the accelerator is pressed so as to avoid rollback.
Auto Grade Braking – Senses when you want to slow the GMC Sierra and helps automatically maintain the desired speed.
Rear Vision Camera System – To help align the hitch with the trailer. GMC also offers a dealer-installed accessory produced by EchoMaster that provides multiple camera points to provide simultaneous views of your load all tied into the center console view screen. Unfortunately, that was not available on our model.
On the road, the Sierra performed great on the first leg out to the park. It hauled our load with ease while being nice and roomy for two “full sized” adult men. Inside, the Denali trim offered us the comfort of a Bose premium audio system, heated and ventilated leather seats, power step, and a driver alert package that included features such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and IntilliBeam Headlamps. The Sierra Denali is unapologetically a truck and it feels like it, however the ride is smoother in the Denali trim in part due to the Magnetic Ride Control which helps dampen bumps and rough road surfaces.
While the Sierra with trailer in tow isn’t going to win any speed competitions, it felt very stable with the “Max Trailering Package” that increases towing capacity and performance.
Specifically, the Max Trailering Package in our truck featured a 420hp 6.2L V-8, with a 9.76 ring gear, 3.42 8-speed axle ratio, trailer brake controller, enhanced cooling radiator, revised shock tuning, and heavier-duty rear springs to help support the load better.
Upon arrival at Coral Pink Sands State Park, it was time to unpack the RZRs and have some fun. The sand here was simply amazing, and photos don’t do it full justice. The dunes were created as wind blew through a notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains eroding the red Navajo sandstone over the past 15,000 years. As it eroded, sand was deposited on the valley floor and dunes formed.
While it is a state park, approximately 90% of the dunes are open for riding. Trails range from sandy paths through trees to wide open dunes where you can get pretty aggressive and even catch some air.
After a full day of racing around the dunes (and collecting sand in places sand should never collect) it was time to head home.
This time, we got to drive the Sierra Denali without a trailer to experience how it performed with out a load. Once again, I was very happy with the ride though it felt a bit stiff since it’s really most comfortable with a load pressing down on the suspension.
Despite that, it was a fun drive through the mountainous roads of Zion National Park as we headed back to Saint George. You certainly aren’t going to take tight turns at car speed but sitting above the action a bit and simply cruising down the road is where this truck excels.
All in all, it was a fun day in the desert learning more about the GMC Sierra Denali and the finer points of towing like a pro.
Photo credit: Isaac Brekken for GMC
The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor Raises The Bar In Ultimate Off-Road Performance
There’s no doubt about it, the Ford F-150 Raptor is the ultimate high-performance off-road pickup, and there’s absolutely nothing else like it on the road today. Truth be told, Ford could leave well enough alone and sell every one of these bad boys, but that’s not how they roll.
For 2019, Ford rolled out a trip of new features that makes the F-150 Raptor an even tougher, smarter, more capable trail runner, with upgraded tech including electronically controlled FOX Racing Shox, a new Trail Control system, and all-new Recaro sport seats.
“Raptor’s success is rooted in its incredible suspension, superb vehicle control and confidence the truck instills in its owners,” said Hermann Salenbauch, global director, Ford Performance vehicle programs. “Upgrades to the 2019 F-150 Raptor have improved all three to new levels that the competition will have to benchmark – again.”
The Raptor’s suspension upgrades make it even more capable of clawing away at the terrain. To enhance Raptor’s already proven internal bypass shocks, Ford Performance worked directly with FOX to develop all-new electronically controlled Live Valve technology for the Raptor that continuously adjusts damping in real-time. This setup uses sensors in the suspension and body to maximize comfort, handling and bottom-out resistance.
“By automatically varying compression rates, Raptor can now make the most of its suspension travel of 13 inches at the front and 13.9 inches at the rear,” said Salenbauch. “The 2019 Raptor is not just more capable off-road. It’s smarter.”
Paired with Raptor’s Terrain Management System, FOX’s Live Valve suspension technology can increase the truck’s high-speed off-road capability while also enabling smooth on-road driving performance. “Not many trucks need sensors to detect when you are midair,” said Salenbauch. “Raptor sets the dampers to full stiffness to help smooth shock performance as the truck lands.”
Low-speed performance off-road is also improved. The new Trail Control helps Raptor drivers navigate challenging conditions. Think of it like cruise control for low-speed, rugged terrain, automatically adjusting power and braking to each individual wheel to allow drivers to focus on steering over rugged terrain. Trail Control can be activated at speeds from 1 mph up to 20 mph depending on driveline position.
The system makes everything easier – from driving on a simple two-track trail to traversing a rocky hill climb. Not only can Trail Control automatically draw significant engine torque to overcome steep obstacles, it can individually brake the wheels so the truck comes down smoothly on the other side.
Lastly, Raptor drivers now have enhanced seats to help keep them firmly in place for improved confidence at low and high speeds. All-new Recaro sport seats provide aggressive support with generous bolstering in the seat back and cushion. This available seat features blue Alcantara inserts and accent stitching inspired by the Light Speed interior of the Ford GT supercar.
And of course, the Raptor comes chock full of safety features, including backup sensors, since you really can’t see everything behind you in a truck of this size. Never used one before? Try using a backup sensor and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.
Raptor’s aggressive exterior gets even more intense for 2019 with eye-catching new colors including Ford Performance Blue, Velocity Blue and Agate Black. An enhanced rear appliqué and available newly designed beadlock-capable wheels round out the new look.
Of course, if that $50K+ price tag is too rich for your blood, you can always purchase a less expensive F-150 and search for car parts wholesale to give your truck that off-roading look without breaking the bank.
The upgraded 2019 F-150 Raptor goes on sale in late 2018.