On the Road Review: GMC Sierra Denali 1500

Full-size pickup trucks are essential to life here, whether you’re working or playing deep in the Maine woods or along the rocky coast. From towing, salvage and just commuting, pickup trucks are practical and an often necessary tool in our vehicle arsenal for a large majority of Mainers.

So it seemed only fitting that our handsome Ebony Metallic Sierra Denali Limited CrewCab ($59,600 base, $72,725 as shown) would be put to work during its early spring visit. From moving furniture and household waste for cousin Ken, to a sunny day picking up free firewood from a recent power line, the premium Sierra was used as designed – to work.

General Motors’ GMC division has moved decidedly more upscale from its counterparts at Chevrolet. While sharing many of the mechanical bits with its sibling truck brand, Sierra pickups—now available in no fewer than eight trim levels with four different powerplants, starting at $33,495—drive more features, more content, and obviously higher prices, as the brand positions itself as the electric vehicle leader, as with the recent rollout of the Hummer EV. With an electric version of the Sierra coming to dealers in 2023 (estimated price of $57,000), Sierra’s on sale now will fund this very expensive endeavor.

After working with Sierra’s innovative Carbon-Pro ($1,095) composite pickup box—which doesn’t dent, but scratches—I couldn’t help but daydream about what the perfect working pickup back would consist of, after hauling too many knarly bits off beech and heavy maple logs.

The ideal pickup would include GMC’s composite bed, which featured multiple tie-down anchors discreetly and strategically placed. GMC’s steps in the corners of the bumper are also an important aid for accessing the bed – it would be nice if there were steps in front of each rear tire as well. Cargo lites in the bed and in the back of the cab, plus the bed camera are also important – they are standard on the Denali.

It would be nice to move the spare tire to a sliding, protected compartment at the back of the cab – as Rivian’s new EV pickup does with a slide-out kitchen. This would allow for a lockable, waterproof trunk in the bed – like Honda’s Ridgeline and Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz. The ideal bed would include Ram’s CargoBoxes in the fenders, 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 improper 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 too, not in the tailgate, where they are irrelevant when you have the tailgate down.

As for the tailgate, the dual-action gates found on the Ram and Ridgeline are the most convenient—perhaps more so the dual swing gates available on the Ram. Sierra’s Multi-Pro tailgate is heavy, thick, and all those slots and multi-function mechanisms will be ripe for trouble if you’re hauling gravel, mud, wood chips, sawdust, etc. And, if you don’t remove your trailer before using the Multi-Pros step, you will leave embarrassing dents.

Where the Denali was once the top model for GMC, the Sierra adds our select Limited Reserve package with even more premium equipment, including color HID display, forward collision warning, power sunroof, rearview camera/mirror, surround vision, power sidesteps, plus another level of electronic driving aids . A new Denali Ultimate ($82,000) is necessary to get the massaging front seats and larger touchscreen that the Ram and Ford offer for less money.

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

The Sierra Denali also features GM’s 420-horsepower Ecotec3 6.2-liter V8 engine, which is basically a retuned Corvette V8 designed for maximum torque. Running through a velvety-smooth 10-speed automatic transmission, the Denali packs a punch with authoritative acceleration that beats all but the F-150 Hybrid. Ride control was smooth over rough country roads, the cabin is very quiet, but the desire to tap into the GMC’s abundant power was always present. Environmental Protection Agency ratings are 14/19/16 mpg with a realized 21 mpg going from Brunswick to Ellsworth on Route One, but just 17.4 mpg cruising on the superflat.

It is perhaps too critical to say that the Denali is not premium enough, as the convenient buttons and large dials used to control all functions are smart and intuitive. The 8-inch touchscreen is adequate if not elaborate, providing clear operation, while the color HID is very practical for relaxed driving. The column shifter frees up console space, while AutoTrac all-wheel drive control remains a GM standby. To think 25 years after its debut some rivals still lack this traction efficiency is remarkable. Yes, looking at you Toyota.

GMC Sierra Denali 1500. Photo courtesy of Tim Plouff.

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