Alberta Road Trip: Behind the Wheel of the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali

Riding the Range

I’ve been out to Longview, Alta., before to Eau Claire Distillery, award-winning producer of artisanal spirits, and for dinner at the Longview Steakhouse, where you can get some of the best beef in Alberta, but never to OH Ranch where the cattle are actually raised. In the foothills of the Rockies, the ranch is about an hour and a quarter drive from Calgary. Surrounded by more than 8,000 acres and as many as 300 head of cattle, I felt like I’d stepped into a scene from Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western, Unforgiven.

I was here courtesy of GMC Canada to check out two kinds of horsepower: a truck and a quarter horse. Confessions first though. Despite being a dedicated rider and dressage judge, I almost never go for a trail ride. And I have never driven a truck. All my driving is inner city in a compact SUV and I ride my dressage horse in an arena so I was definitely up for the adventure.

First, the test drive in the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali. The smallest of GMC’s lineup of trucks, the Canyon’s performance was by no means compromised by its size. With a 2.8 L Duramax diesel engine, the Canyon delivered abundant torque and horsepower with a six-speed automatic transmission that could tow up to 7,700 pounds, diesel model only. That meant a single-horse trailer would work.

The truck also came equipped with a variety of safety features including forward collision alert and lane departure warning. Love the fact that the truck lets you know when you drift. A quick blast through a trail where conditions varied from hard-packed dirt to gravel allowed the electronic four-wheel drive Autotrac system to kick in. Although a rotary dial allowed me to switch manually from two- to four-wheel drive depending on my whim, the system is programmed to adjust the settings automatically.

I was impressed with the ability of the GMC Canyon Denali to conquer challenging terrain. But it wasn’t just the fact that I could go cross-country safely that mattered. The Canyon’s interior was extremely comfortable. Heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, leather interior, Apple CarPlay, rear-vision camera and remote starting system had me sold. It’s also easy to drive.

It would equally be at home running errands or going “to town.” After a quick inspection of the cattle, it was time to put the car in park, saddle up and ride the range on horseback. While scrambling up the mountain taking in the breathtaking view from the back of a quarter horse, I could suddenly feel myself relax and just enjoy the moment.

Albertans have an expression – “big sky” – that refers to the endless wash of blue that is the Prairies’ horizon. I was certainly seeing it today, from the driver’s seat and in the saddle. After a day riding the range and piloting the Canyon through rivers and gravel trails and over railway tracks, I only had one regret – that I had to hand back the keys.