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Mid-size seems counterintuitive for pickups, which were primarily designed for hauling and towing and, well, why would anyone buy a truck to do less of either?

On the other hand, the advent of the six-figure pickup makes clear that while many a rancher and tradesman value them for work, in truth most pickups are headed not for pastures and work sites but for ballparks and drive-up windows. These days, buying a pickup is much less about practicality and durability and far more about prestige and aspirations.

In that vein, a well-outfitted GMC – the Cadillac of pickups – delivers a message pleasing to Texans, where more pickups are sold than anywhere else in the nation. Glitzy, muscular, and sophisticated, GMCs are the top-selling pickup among urban dwellers. With a median income of $83,000, GMC buyers are just an eyelash below the pickup market’s most affluent buyers, the Toyota Tundra crowd.

For those seeking luxury on the cheap, then, a GMC Canyon is a smart way to project the desired image without raiding the 401(k). A base Elevation starts at $38,095, delivered. The most popular model, the AT4 sells for $45,395 before reaching into GMC’s huge bag of optional goodies. A nicely equipped Denali will set you back $52,495. 

Those who can’t wait to cover their new pickup with mud and dents can have a trail-ready AT4X, starting at $56,995, or just $35 more than the Ford Ranger Raptor, but nearly $8,000 more than the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. 

That may seem pricey but consider this: the median price of a new full-size pickup now is approaching $60,000. Midsize suddenly begins to make sense. Plus, a smaller truck should get better fuel economy, right?

Not really. Though there is an amazing array of powertrain and equipment variations on the market, according to the mean full-size pickup gets about 22 mpg in combined city/highway driving.  The mean midsize pickup gets around 21.

Bear in mind we’re painting with a broad brush here, but most pickups come with six- and eight-cylinder, naturally-aspirated engines. Smaller ones are often powered by small-displacement, turbocharged ones. That means they work harder and have more things that can go wrong. Toyota, Honda and Nissan still power the Tacoma, Ridgeline and Frontier with proven six-cylinder engines, a minor point worthy of major consideration.

Expensive gas guzzler

All of which brings us to GMC’s latest Canyon version, the AT4X AEV, which sells for around $70,000 and when driven with as light a foot as we’ve ever applied to the gas pedal, delivered 13.2 mpg.

“Arrruhhooo?” Tim the Toolman might ask. Costs more and uses more gas?

I remained unconvinced that anyone would plunk down the equivalent of the average person’s annual salary on a vehicle just so it can be taken out and ravaged by nature, but if you’ve caught any of the off-road recovery channels thriving on YouTube, apparently this is now an American thing.

I don’t know which is more mind-blowing, the money wasted, how people overestimate their driving abilities, or how they miscalculate their vehicle’s capabilities, but they do all three, and watching the aftermaths is a downright entertaining way to waste time. Beats watching the Cowboys. In these videos, the good guys usually win.

If you enjoy rolling sideways down mountainsides or burying your $950-a-month plaything up to the motor mounts in mud, the AT4X AEV is not a bad place to start. The final three letters in that alpha-numeric salad stand for American Expeditionary Vehicles, a well-respected after-market outfit that works directly with manufacturers to beef up pickups, Jeeps©, and the like.

Seriously, trail-ready

Taller, wider, and more rugged than the AT4X, the AEV version rides on 35-inch Goodyear mud-terrain tires with bead lock-capable Salta wheels. Protection front, rear, and along most of the undercarriage is enhanced by boron steel skid plates and bumpers.

To accommodate the tires, which are also a full 12 inches wide, GMC pushed out the suspension corners and gave the truck a 4.5-inch lift. With 12.2 inches of ground clearance, the AEV version stands 1.5 inches taller than the regular AT4X.

The AEV-specific front and rear bumpers hew closely to the body and give the truck a 38.2-degree approach angle – the steepness it can handle in front – a 26.0-degree departure angle, and a 26.9-degree breakover angle, which measures the relative angles of an obstacle that can be traversed without high centering.

I once high-centered a Toyota Land Cruiser near the top of a mountain in Montana. That day sucked, and it wasn’t even my truck. I would have given anything for a hydraulic jack, several strong backs, or even the regular AT4X’s approach, breakover, and departure angles, which measure 36.9, 24.5, and 25 degrees, respectively.

To counter Ford’s use of Fox racing shocks and Tacoma’s Bilstein dampers, GMC went with DSSVs, which stand for dynamic suspension spool valve.

Have you ever flopped down on a bed and noticed that it bounced up and down a few times before settling? In a motor vehicle, that would be dangerous and shock absorbers are used to keep the vehicle from bouncing all over the place. They work by moving a piston through oil inside a sealed tube.

DSSVs move that action to an outside chamber, which allows for longer shock travel, more precise control, and better cooling, which is vital when suspension arms are forced to make big up-and-down movements.

Luxurious cabin

Inside, the AEV version is quite like the AT4X, which is plush. It includes a digital gauge cluster, a 6.3-inch head-up display, and an 11.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which can display the truck’s 10 cameras, including HD Surround Vision and waterproof underbody cameras with a camera washing system.

Standard are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Beefy four-banger

Under the hood, the AEV Edition has the same engine as every AT4X. A turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four makes 310 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are also standard. A Baja drive mode includes launch control.

Mash down hard on the throttle, and the little engine sure takes off like a nicely powered pickup, but don’t expect the beefy roar of a Raptor or Ram Hemi©. It has more of an Asiatic whine.

With a crew cab, the only available bed is a five-footer, which is perfect for a pickup that will rarely be used to pick anything up.

On the other hand, the short wheelbase and beefy suspension give the AT4X AEV one of the bouncier pickup rides around. On the Wamba run, we were quite content to stay within an eyelash of the speed limit. This is not a truck for fast driving.

Probably the most important question for a buyer of this truck is how it will be used. If you’re going to be up on the deer lease 36 weeks a year, OK. If you’re only going to drive it around town, do you want a truck that will cost $77 to fill every 282 miles?

Even if you’re among the third of the American public that still thinks global warming is a hoax, driving something that gets 13 miles per gallon is a lot like sitting on the top deck of the Titanic, sipping brandy, swaying to the band, and taking pity on those poor wretches stuck down below where the hole is.

In four decades of journalism, Bill Owney has picked up awards for his coverage of everything from murders to the NFL to state and local government. He added the automotive world to his portfolio in the mid '90s.

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