The full-size pickup truck market in America is huge. For a long time, GMC, Chevy, Ford, and Dodge have had this market to themselves, but now some Japanese brands are stepping up with their entries. It's brutally competitive.
So, GMC needs its brand new Sierra to be a winner.
The Sierra's styling employs bold forms, including a monumental chrome-ringed rectangular grille, stacked sparkly headlamps, arching fender bulges, and big shiny wheels. This new iteration is traditional truck chunky, but the corners are sanded down a little for a more elegant presentation.
The new Sierra follows GM's recent trend towards more handsome interiors. The surfaces are nicely textured, the pieces meet in precise joins and seams, and the materials look durable. Drivers get a full gauge package that is sunk into the dash in a way that makes it look exceptionally substantial. There is a double glovebox on the passenger side.
As usual with trucks, there are lots of choices and configurations, starting with the basic working man's truck, with a regular cab, two-wheel-drive, and the base 195-horsepower 4.3-liter V6. The SLE models pick up from there, followed by the higher-level SLTs and finally, the Denali model at the top. You can order regular, extended, or crew cabs. There are three bed lengths ranging from five-foot-eight through a full eight feet. You can get two-wheel drive or four.
Four sizes of V8 engine are offered, starting with the 4.8-liter, 295 version that's standard on most models. You can select from several flavors of the 5.3-liter V8. The 6.0-liter V8 pushes horsepower up to 367 and is available on models with enhanced trailering capacity. At the top reigns the 6.2-liter, 400-horsepower beast, exclusive to the Sierra Denali flagship.
Hauling capacity is identified as 1500 for the standard type, 2500 and 3500 for the heavy duty models, and the mighty Denali transcendent.
My Stealth Gray Metallic test truck was an SLE model, 1500 level, four-wheel-drive, extended cab. That's somewhere in the lower middle of the chart. The extended cab uses back doors that hinge at the rear and open out and back against the edge of the cargo box to a 170 degree angle-almost flat. The windows roll down on these narrow doors.
The rear area of the extended cab does not provide as much legroom as the Crew Cab, but it is adequate. The rear seats fold up easily so you can load bulkier objects behind the front seats. The front row is so wide that you can put three people across, or two can share an expansive armrest/storage locker.
My tester was upgraded to one of the 5.3-liter engines. This powerplant was interesting for two reasons. First of all, it had cylinder deactivation, which automatically runs the engine on only four cylinders when conditions permit. If you're cruising on level ground or rolling downhill, you don't need eight cylinders burning fuel. Posted EPA mileage is 16 City, 20 Highway. I got 13.4 mpg during my week.
The other interesting factor on my tester's engine was its FlexFuel capacity. It can burn E85 ethanol, gasoline, or a mixture of both. As a responsible journalist and viewer of An Inconvenient Truth, I decided to seek out some ethanol. Lots of luck! In Northern California there are exactly zero stations open to the public. Apparently there are more stations in the Midwest, where corn, from which ethanol is made, is more abundant. Check the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition's website at www.e85refueling.com to see where E85 ethanol stations are located in your area.
The EPA Green Vehicle Guide contains many entries for different models, but it appears that my tester would earn a score of 6 on the Air Pollution index and 2 on the Greenhouse Gas index. I don't know how much difference the different fuels would make.
Sierra prices begin at $18,760. My test truck started at $29,600, but rapidly grew costlier with numerous premium enhancements, including remote vehicle starting capacity (do you need this?), 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic dual-zone air conditioning, power adjustable pedals, and upgraded audio system with XM Radio. The list goes on. My truck, in the end, came to $35,635.
The GMC Sierra is strong and comfortable, looks and feels well crafted, and is surprisingly quiet. The hardest thing was maneuvering in parking lots. And, I didn't care for the sticky feeling of the rubber on the door armrests. The glovebox awkwardly requires two hands to open.
I don't recommend the Sierra for commuting duties, unless you work on a lonely mountaintop, but for normal working and hauling, the Sierra is a contender.