On the Road review: GMC Sierra Denali 1500

Full-size pickup trucks are important for life here, whether you work or play deep in the Maine forest or along the rocky coast. From towing, transportation and just commuting, pickup trucks are practical and an often necessary tool in our vehicle arsenal for a large majority of Mainers.

So it just seemed to fit our sleek ebony Sierra Denali Limited CrewCab ($ 59,600 bass, $ 72,725 shown) to be launched during its early spring visit. From moving furniture and household waste to cousin Ken, to a sunny day picking up free firewood from a newly cut power line, the premium Sierra was used as designed – to work.

General Motors’ GMC division has moved decidedly more exclusively from its Chevrolet counterparts. While sharing much of the mechanical pieces with its sibling truck brand, Sierra operates pickups – now available in no less than eight trim levels with four different power plants, starting at $ 33,495 – more features, more content and obviously higher prices, as the brand positions itself as an electric vehicle leader, as well as with the recently launched Hummer EV. With an electric version of the Sierra coming to dealers in 2023, (estimated price of $ 57,000), the Sierra’s now sold will fund this very expensive endeavor.

After working with Sierra’s innovative Carbon-Pro ($ 1,095) composite pickup box – which does not dent, but scratches – I could not help but daydream about what the perfectly functioning pickupback would consist of, after dragging too many knarly pieces of beech and heavy maple logs.

The ideal pickup would include GMC’s composite bed, which contained several anchors discreetly and strategically placed. GMC’s steps in the corners of the bumper are also an important aid in accessing the bed – it would be good if there were steps in front of each rear tire as well. Cargo lites in the bed and at the back of the cabin, plus the bedside camera are also important – they are standard on the Denali.

It would be good to move the spare tire on a sliding, protected compartment at the back of the cab – as Rivian’s new EV pickup does with an extendable kitchen. This would allow for a lockable, waterproof boot lid in the bed – like Honda’s Ridgeline and Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz. The ideal bed would include Rams CargoBoxes in the mudguards, over the wheel wells so you can store ropes, chains, chainsaws and other tools where you need them – dry and safe.

GMC Sierra Denali 1500 tailgate. Photo courtesy of Tim Plouff.

The taillights must be recessed and better protected from incorrect loading of objects, or the lens should be covered with a cage so that shovels or logs cannot crush them. Rear camera lenses should be mounted here as well, not in the tailgate, where they are irrelevant when you have the tailgate down.

When it comes to tailgates, the double-acting gates on Ram and Ridgeline are the most comfortable – perhaps more so the double swing gates that are optional on Ram. Sierra’s Multi-Pro tailgate is heavy, thick, and all of these slots and multifunction mechanisms will be ripe for trouble if you transport gravel, mud, wood chips, sawdust, etc. And, if you do not remove your trailer before using Multi-Pros steps, you will leave embarrassing dents.

Where Denali was once the top model for GMC, Sierra adds our selected limited-edition backup package with even more premium equipment, including color HID display, front-end collision warning, power-assisted sunroof, rear camera / mirror, surround vision, power sidesteps, plus another level of electronic driving aids. A new Denali Ultimate ($ 82,000) is needed to get the massaging front seats and the larger touch screen that Ram and Ford offer for less money.

GMC Sierra Denali 1500 interior. Photo courtesy of Tim Plouff.

Sierra Denali also has GM’s 420 horsepower Ecotec3 6.2-liter V8 engine, which is basically a tuned Corvette V8 designed for maximum torque. Denali is driven by a velvety 10-speed automatic transmission and provides a real power with authoritative acceleration that beats all but the F-150 Hybrid. The ride control was smooth over tough country roads, the cabin is very quiet, but the desire to use GMC’s abundant power was always present. The Environmental Protection Agency’s rating is 14/19/16 mpg with a realized 21 mpg going from Brunswick to Ellsworth on Route One, but only 17.4 mpg cruising on the superplate.

It is perhaps too critical to say that Denali is not premium enough, as the comfortable buttons and large knobs used to control all functions are smart and intuitive. The 8-inch touch screen is sufficient if not complicated, which gives clear operation, while the color HID is very practical for relaxed driving. The column switch frees up space on the console, while the four-wheel drive AutoTrac control remains a GM standby. To think 25 years after the debut, some rivals still lack this traction efficiency is remarkable. Yes, Toyota is looking at you.

GMC Sierra Denali 1500. Photo courtesy of Tim Plouff.


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