Trucks & SUVs

Is the GMC Canyon’s Eight-Speed Automatic a Gimmick?

The GMC Canyon came on the scene and had to fight for a spot among midsize pickup trucks. And in an effort to compete with the best, it got a brand-new, eight-speed automatic engine that promised an improved, better-performing Canyon than ever before. How has the eight-speed automatic transmission changed the GMC Canyon? Was adding the extra gears a good move for GMC?

GMC’s change to an eight-speed automatic is well-received

Gear up for the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado, updated with an all-new V-6 engine and class-exclusive eight-speed automatic transmission – a combination that’s unmatched in the midsize segment.

Posted by General Motors on Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trying to compete with other popular midsize trucks in the segment, GMC sought to improve the Canyon’s power and capability while also balancing fuel economy and ride quality. When it was reintroduced in 2014, a six-speed automatic transmission was the only powertrain available. But for the 2017 model year, the GMC Canyon received an optional, new, eight-speed transmission. The new eight-speed automatic would be a welcome respite from the six-speed, which needed improvement with power and fuel-efficiency.

On the test drive, Car and Driver appreciated the 2017 GMC Canyon‘s new six-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission over the previous powertrain. The Canyon became quicker at the line, getting “to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, 1.2 seconds quicker than a similar 2015 model with the old V-6 and six-speed auto.” It was also quicker at the quarter-mile, beating the six-speed’s time by 1.1 seconds. And while the engine was deemed “uninspiring,” the new transmission paired with it was found to be “adept at serving up the ideal ratio.”

Did the Canyon’s eight-speed turn out to be a bad idea?

2019 GMC Canyon
2019 GMC Canyon | GMC

It wasn’t long before the Canyon’s eight-speed transmission needed some improvement. The extra gears in the new transmission gave the assumption that the GMC Canyon‘s fuel economy would improve, according to Car and Driver. But when tested, the 2017 GMC Canyon received the same fuel ratings as the previous version. And with horsepower and torque output only minimally increasing, it seemed the Canyon’s eight-speed automatic wasn’t doing what it intended.

But GMC’s new transmission didn’t just lack performance value. According to GM Authority, the eight-speed automatic transmission has always had “strange tendencies, such as waiting too long to upshift, downshifting at odd times and lurching when coasting or coming to a stoplight.” While Consumer Reports gave the 2017 Canyon’s transmission an initial rating of four out of five, the same Canyon received an astoundingly-low overall reliability score of one out of five. And transmission issues are listed as the most common trouble spots for owners, rated a poor score of one out five in transmission reliability. The same low-reliability ratings follow the GMC Canyon through to the 2019 model year.

Where the future of GMC’s transmission may be heading

2019 GMC Canyon
2019 GMC Canyon | GMC

It has only been a few years since the eight-speed automatic transmission was introduced in the Canyon, but it may be time for a change already. Consumers aren’t just dissatisfied with the Canyon’s transmission, as General Motors was recently hit with a class-action lawsuit regarding the eight-speed automatic transmission in multiple GM vehicles, from 2015-2019 model years.

According to AutoBlog, owners of many GM vehicles, including the Canyon, claim the transmission has a defect that causes it to perform poorly. These complaints and issues have been well documented on the internet, but also by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Owners involved in the lawsuit claim that the eight-speed automatic transmission hesitates, shakes, clunks, jerks, shifts, and even sometimes shifts “so violent, they feel as though they have been hit by another vehicle.”

But the 2020 GMC Canyon has the same eight-speed automatic, so a new transmission will have to wait at least another year. While Consumer Reports found the new Canyon’s ride much improved, it still receives poor reliability ratings, especially with the anticipation of issues with the eight-speed automatic.