Drive to Five Review: 2015 GMC Canyon & 2015 Toyota Tacoma – Tackling Schnebly Hill

Odometer (Legend):  533,651


Odometer (ILX):  126,281


Trip Distance:  269 Miles



As if I didn’t get enough dirt caked in my nostrils the last time I left the pavement (see the blog write-up from March when my friends and I took an Acura MDX off-road), we were determined yet again to explore the great outdoors in the interest of real-world automotive evaluation.  This time, instead of crossover SUVs, we took a pair of pickup trucks.


The GMC was finished in Bronze Alloy Metallic, with specs as follows:

  • 2.5 liter Ecotec Inline-4 Engine
  • 6-speed Manual Transmission
  • $24,915 As-Tested

The Tacoma came in “Inferno” exterior color, with these features:

  • 4.0 liter V6 Engine (236 hp)
  • 5-speed Automatic Transmission
  • $39,579 As-Tested

Now, certainly this isn’t a “fair fight.”  The Tacoma costs 58% more than the Canyon and it’s a good deal more capable in an all-terrain situation.  Our intent was not to put these pickups head-to-head, but rather to review them independently of one another and bring up the merits and criticisms of each.  The icing on the cake was getting to explore one of Arizona’s many gorgeous regions, that of Sedona.


Contender Details

About that Tacoma:  TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development – the company’s performance line (or “in-house tuning shop” as they call it).  The division dates back to the 1990s when it was first created with a focus on performance parts for racing applications (NASCAR, Baja racing, and the like).  (EDIT:  A savvy reader has corrected me – the TRD concept dates all the way back to 1957 and the American division was founded in 1979).  Today, TRD goodies have trickled down to the everyday passenger cars & trucks available at your nearest dealership.  The TRD Pro package brings in a few special things including upgraded wheels, Bilstein shocks, different front grille / badging / shift knob / floor mats.


Since our test Tacoma was a 2015 model year, it represented the last of its generation.  For 2016, the model has been completely redesigned.  I already got a closer look at the new 3rd generation Tacoma at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, but it hasn’t yet gone on sale (estimated deliveries starting in 3rd quarter of this year).


The GMC Canyon and its twin, the Chevrolet Colorado, debuted in 2004 as replacements for the GMC Sonoma and Chevrolet S-10 midsize pickup trucks.  The Color-anyan twins are now in their second generation, having gone on sale in 2014 as 2015 model year trucks after a reveal at last year’s Detroit Auto Show.  The Canyon comes in three trim levels and is styled similarly to its larger GMC Sierra full-size pickup truck sibling.  Our tester was the base model with 4-cylinder motor the manual transmission.


About the Road

Schnebly Hill Road is only about 13 miles long, but due to the rugged and challenging terrain it can take up to 45 minutes to traverse.  It drops over 2,000 feet in elevation from its start at Exit 320 on Interstate 17 to where it arrives in the beautiful red rock landscape of Sedona.  We were well-equipped for virtually any type of terrain, since both trucks have long-since been proven as capable rigs.  Just in case the terrain got a little too tough, James took along a 30-foot-long tow strap.  Suffice it to say, at the end of our drive, his first words were, “Dammit, I didn’t get to use the tow strap.”  That means both these trucks showed their skill and reigned victorious.


Aside from those 13 rocky miles, we did get another 256 miles behind the wheel of these trucks – on pavement.  Our paved route took us on a variety of road conditions, from 75 mph two-lane freeway to 35 mph in-town driving, to a few curvy twists, turns, and roundabouts in the towns of Sedona and nearby Oak Creek.  So this evaluation reflects the real world driving experiences of both on- and off-road nature.


Who’s Going?

For this drive, we had just four participants:  myself, James, Chris, and Mike.  Each is a certified ‘car nut’ and highly qualified to criticize or compliment anything on 4 wheels.  We ended up having a blast in the process.  After putting the trucks through their paces on a variety of terrains, we dined in style on the outdoor patio at the Javelina Cantina in artsy Sedona.  That chicken chimi was one of the best I’ve had.  But, this isn’t a food review, so let’s get to the “real” meat & potatoes of why you’re here.

GMC Canyon Review

The Canyon needed to rev out to crest the elevation change on I-17 between New River and Flagstaff, because it only had 200 horses at its disposal.  Still, both Chris and I commented at how smooth the gearbox was and how refined the ride was for a $24k base model pickup.  There are certainly no frills – the sideview mirrors are completely manual in nature, there’s no sunglass holder… but all the critical pieces are there.  The seats were comfy and the ride quiet.  I had to take a conference call about NSXPO for about 30 minutes while Chris drove.  I had no problem with background noise despite the fact that we were cruising between 75 and 80 mph for most of the time.


As we exited the pavement at Schnebly Hill Road, I got a little nervous for a few reasons.  1)  There were clouds in the sky and I knew if we got into a muddy situation, 2WD wasn’t going to do us much good.  2)  The plastic front air dam on the Canyon is so low to the ground it makes clearance a concern.  And 3)  We passed at least three bold “in-your-face” signs explicitly warning us about the rough nature of the 12 miles of road ahead.  Was the Canyon up to the task?  Without a doubt.  Twice, we had obstacles present themselves that required someone to be outside the vehicle guiding the driver.  But both times, we made it through with nary a scuff.  The biggest challenge – and one that I actually turned the keys over to James for – was when a large set of rocks blocked the road and it was inevitable that low air dam would make contact no matter how we traversed them.  With a look of determination like I’ve never seen before, James threw the truck into first gear, gritted his teeth, and powered through.  I felt like giving him a round of applause.


The Canyon is a perfect all-around pickup truck.  It’s composed and comfortable enough to use as a daily driver without that whole “it rides like a truck” driving dynamic.  The stick shift makes it engaging to tool around in.  Visibility was good.  It was easy to park.  And while the cabin was tight – especially the rear seats – the use of space is thoughtful and there was never a moment of discomfort for us in the front.

The Canyon is a winner.  I’d drive one.

Toyota Tacoma Review

This truck is so “in your face.”  There’s a TRD emblem slapped on just about every panel.  Combined with the highly visible front skid plate, Inferno red color, and aftermarket-looking wheels, it’s a truck that looks like it has a point to prove… even when it’s standing still.


Here’s the weird thing about my take on the Tacoma:  Even with all that 4×4 garb, I found it more behaved ON pavement than it is OFF.  Let me elaborate.  At 75 miles her hour, I found it more comfortable than anticipated.  The V6 revs effortlessly.  The ride is nice, and high level of visibility gives a great sense of confidence.  Off road, it’s almost like the suspension has been too stiffened.  The truck would probably have handled better with some sandbags in the bed to add a little weight – we felt like the tail end wanted to dance around too much.  A little disconcerting to me was how much the steering wheel jerked around while on the rough stuff.  It seemed to require a high level of constant re-centering – more so than the Canyon did.


Criticisms aside, the Tacoma TRD Pro succeeds effortlessly at what its engineers designed it to do.  It took one look at the biggest road obstacles we encountered and laughed out loud.  I remember driving behind it at one point and thinking to myself, “There’s no way he’s going to straddle that rock and not hit it.”  And, without a flinch, the truck made it.  That high ground clearance was truly a blessing.  The Tacoma was extremely sure-footed.  Where the Canyon spun its wheels a couple of times on sand-covered rocks, the meaty BF Goodrich tires on the Tacoma gripped like a pair of steel pliers.  Look at how the Tacoma’s color make it almost camouflaged in the desert!


Just because I was IN a Tacoma for a good chunk of the day, I started noticing just how many of them there are on the road.  Toyota has hit a home run with this truck, and it’s no wonder the platform has been changed so little since its debut in 2004.  Resale values are sky high even on well-used models.  I remember looking for a used one for my dad and being amazed at what people were asking.  So that’s good news for anyone looking for a great return on investment.  Bottom line on this one is:  It feels like a fun “last hurrah” for the outgoing body style.  Toyota has thrown everything except the kitchen sink at it, reflected in the $40k pricetag.  Personally, I’d encourage potential buyers to hold off on pulling the trigger until the new 2016 model has hit the streets.  It’ll probably be worth the wait.

Thanks for joining for the drive!  The rest of the pictures and a short video are below.

Northbound I-17 with some fairly heavy holiday weekend traffic


Passing the Tacoma in the Canyon


Here, knowing that the dirt road is not suitable to most passenger cars, travelers are given alternate route options to Sedona


Last shot of the trucks before we got them dirty


Chris showing how tight the rear seats in the Canyon are.  Great for kids, though!


Couple pictures from Schnebly, an awesome viewpoint about 6 miles into the dirt road portion



Tyson and Chris


Canyon in the canyon


Mike and Tyson in the bed of the Tacoma


James, Chris, and Mike, enjoying a few minutes of fresh air before getting back into the pickups


Javelina Cantina in Sedona


I couldn’t not post a picture of the best chicken chimichanga I’ve had in months!


Quick last plug for a friend.  Looking for an IMMACULATE and rare Acura Legend?  Here you go:

12 Responses to “Drive to Five Review: 2015 GMC Canyon & 2015 Toyota Tacoma – Tackling Schnebly Hill”

  1. STL Dave Says:

    I was just talking about your last off-road adventure last night! Thanks again for the ride-along.

    • Haha, thanks Dave. For some reason or another, I was thinking of you last week too – probably wondering if you had a “century” bike ride or something similarly crazy going on for the holiday weekend. When’s your next competitive cycling event?

  2. I’m still upset we didn’t get to use the tow straps. We’ll save them for later… I’m sure we’ll be doing another one of these in the not too far off future. 😉

    • That’s for sure. Hey, at least you’ll have a set in case of emergency. You never know. Maybe you’ll find a mud puddle to get the Buick Regal hopelessly stuck in sometime during the next 7 days.

  3. Awesome write up! I’ve always had a soft spot for the Tacomas since growing up with my dads 2000 SR5 TRD Offroad. If only I could find a 4WD V6 with a manual then I might just get one.

    • Thanks Nate! And yes I agree a 4×4 V6 stick shift would be awesome. My family bought one new (black extended cab TRD) back in 2004 and I wish we had kept it. Great trucks.

  4. High mileage Says:

    There are at least 5 Tacomas in my neighborhood which consists of only 3 streets.
    They are solid.

    • That’s for sure. Toyota has the light truck market in the bag. They’ve never really stood a chance against the full size pickups though. Remember the T100? Even today’s Tundra I don’t think comes anywhere near the sales numbers that the F-series, Ram, and Silverado do.

  5. At only $25k and with a 6 speed, I’d take the Canyon!

    • It’s a great value! Fun little pickup truck. Not a lot of power, but it wasn’t built to be a hot rod. Would be handy to have a truck around. Though, friends & neighbors would I’m sure constantly be asking me to help them move…

  6. Nice to get “out” with the help of those 4WD vehicles every once in a while! A very tempting chicken chimichanga! Hey its around lunchtime isn’t it?!?

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