On the Road Review: GMC Sierra 2500 Denali Duramax

When the navigator and I meet the delivery driver Tom, a man approaches us and wants to get involved. We leave the new Acura Integra, while Tom has been waiting for us in an Ebony Twilight Sierra Denali that we are about to receive, the massive truck’s total blackness almost menacing. The visitor is smitten by the GMC, craving it for his work, his young family. But when the Acura parks between him and the Sierra, his desire changes to personal satisfaction. He knows right away that the Integra is brand new and he just has to inspect the details. Telling him it’s just a more expensive Civic doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm. Such are the frequent encounters when meeting at the Shell station.

After visiting all the principals, we point the big Sierra south on the Maine Turnpike, revving up the diesel to speed the fastest vehicles. This is an easy task; the 445-hp, 6.7-liter Duramax V-8 turbodiesel quickly settles into a high-speed rhythm that barely touches the tachometer needle. Two mid-sized citizens aren’t much of a burden for this 4-ton luxury workhorse.

GMC has quickly become GM’s luxury truck division, trying to put some distance between its sibling brand Chevrolet. The age of electronic driving aids and great entertainment options – all the parts that gobble up computer chips – have certainly helped. But the bean counter apparently still has a role at GM, as the design efforts seen in recent Cadillacs and the new Corvette haven’t found expression in the beefy Sierra, as the Denali’s interior lacks the panache of recent Ford and Ram heavy-truck interiors.

The plastic surfaces prevail, where others have leather, wood or suede. The touchscreen is also much smaller, but there are advantages to be found. The screen works as intended, as rivals have issues (those chips?) and the Sierra’s physical controls are conveniently placed and very user-friendly — not buried in menus that are hard to access when you’re actually driving. Plus, the GMC has multiple towing modes and brake assist (our sample was equipped for fifth-wheel towing) as well as massive dual-window side mirrors.

Those mirrors presented a conundrum. They have marker lamps, spot lamps, plus blind spot detection, but the giant plastic casing around the mirrors was a constant spectacle in my peripheral vision, like a small car was always next to me. The mirrors also hide what is behind them – like a small child.

The Denali trim brings a host of accessories, from heated/cooled memory seats to a powerless tailgate, yet a new problem confronts buyers of diesel trucks who need this power for serious towing — a problem with the DEF supply. Never mind the price of diesel fuel, which is causing concern among millions of diesel truck owners. If infant formula turned out to be a supply problem, the absence of DEF fluid on the market will have much more far-reaching consequences because diesel trucks built since 2012 need the exhaust fluid to function.

Pushing up and down 495/Route 128, the Duramax slips into the fast lane and pushes traffic on—the big grille fills the Tesla and Prius mirrors to move along. Fender-bender accidents on the trip back north clog traffic several times, halting progress as people rubberneck. It becomes clear that far too many drivers on the road today are not very good. And far too many are distracted by devices or screens in the car. It is easy to determine that the recent increase in highway traffic fatalities does not accurately reflect the ineptitude of too many of today’s drivers—despite many recent safety improvements.

The big Sierra glides along on freshly made surfaces in New Hampshire and past the new toll plaza in York – toll now $4. Poorly executed bridge expansion joints — aren’t they all? — result in a big kick from the stiff solid rear suspension.

After a detour in scenic rural Cumberland, another observation is apparent. Traffic in Massachusetts was predominantly automobiles, including many electric vehicles. Traffic in Maine is mostly crossovers and pickup trucks like our Sierra, which often pull a load.

As dusk approaches, the traffic outside Newport has thinned to a few cars in front of us – a big difference from earlier in the day. In the Holden we stop for fuel, over 380 miles on the Denali so far – well over 500 miles of driving for the day. I stop the pump at 16 gallons, unknowingly I don’t want to see triple digits yet for a fill up at a diesel pump that charges $5,999 a gallon.

The Denali’s price reflects another point: $65,500 for a loaded Sierra. Adding the Duramax engine and 10-speed Allison transmission plus special wheels, paint and other features pushes the price to nearly $83,000. As good as this rugged utility is, we’re certainly prepared for the $6 and $7 motor fuels and $80 000 plus pickup trucks – gas, diesel or electric?

Next week: Subaru WRX Premium

Tim Plouffe

Tim Plouff has reviewed cars on the pages of The Ellsworth American every week for nearly two decades.

Tim Plouffe

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