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2013 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 Review By Steve Purdy

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2013 Sierra Denali 1500

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

When I mentioned at dinner the other night that I would be reviewing this beautiful pickup soon my tablemate, a lovely young PR gal, asked, “Why would anyone want to drive one of those things every day?” She obviously doesn’t understand.

I asked her, “Have you ever driven one?” Then I went on to extoll the virtues and the describe the sensation of getting up behind the wheel of a big, luxurious pickup and heading out for a long drive in one of these modern haulers. One of my most pleasant long-distance, solitary road trips in recent years, I told her, was a 19-hour drive to Jacksonville, Florida for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in a Ford F250 Super Duty diesel.

This week’s tester is the GMC Sierra Denali, top-of-the-line, medium-zoot, three-quarter-ton pickup. As nearly as I can tell there is little difference between it and its Chevy Silverado cousin. Platforms, powertrains and overall design are about the same. If there are tuning, calibration or other differences I’ve been unable to find them.

The traditional GMC tag line of “Professional Grade” is rather non-specific. Both Chevy and GMC 1500 pickups are large, competent, well-designed “light trucks” competing in just about the biggest selling segment of the vehicle market in the U.S. Main competitors, Ram and Ford F150, have been redesigned and updated since the GM entries as has the Toyota Tundra. We’re promised updated versions of Silverado and Sierra is this summer with no price increase on the Silverado and just a few hundred dollars up on the Sierra. Though we’re testing the outgoing model, there is little to criticize as being outdated.

Denali, as you probably know, is GMC’s top trim level and essentially a sub-brand for GMC that is also available in heavy duty models. While the base pickup with regular cab and long box starts at $23,590, this Denali with crew cab, short box and lots and lots of luxury features starts at a substantial $48,635. That seems a huge premium but take a close look at features of each if you’re shopping in this segment. Sierra comes in a multitude of trim, cab sizes, box lengths and powertrains, including a completely competent hybrid we reviewed a couple years ago.

With touch-screen navigation, power sunroof, tubular assist steps and integrated trailer brake our sticker shows $53,694. Recall now that this is a crew cab, short box with the most powerful engine in the lineup.

Under the high, massive hood we find the Vortec 6.2-liter V8 making 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque mated to a tough but sophisticated Hydra-Matic 6L80 6-speed automatic transmission. Without a load, that makes for quite amazing acceleration for such a large vehicle. We did not have an opportunity to load her up in my short week behind the wheel so we’ll reserve judgment on the feel under load. Weighing in at just about 5,000 pounds the Sierra Denali can haul about 1,700 pounds of cargo and tow almost 10,000 pounds. The EPA rates the Sierra Denali at 12-mpg in the city, 18 on the highway and 14 combined.

Suspension in a pickup truck, of course, has to be able to perform under substantial load and still provide a comfortable ride when empty. A few generations ago an empty pickup was a terrible thing to drive as it would jump all over a rough road. You particularly took your life in your hands on washboard country roads as the rear would chatter sideways. That is not the case with a modern truck, and this Seirra Denali, while noticeably stiff, is not jumpy or erratic.

The Sierra Denali’s interior is very nice with excellent quality of construction but certainly a full step below Ford and Ram premium models in materials and design panache. The seats are comfortable with a driving position that felt natural for this big guy. I was surprised that the power window had an express-down function but not express-up. Not sure why they would design it that way. Otherwise I found nothing to criticize in terms of functionality.

Assembled in Mexico with 67% U.S./Canadian content the GMC Sierra comes with a 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty covering the whole vehicle and 5-year, 100,000-mile coverage on the powertrain.

Looking ahead, you may want to take another look this summer when the new Sierra and Silverado’s come out. GM promises a new base powertrain that will achieve a 22-mpg highway rating. That’s 1-mpg better than Ford’s 6-cylinder EcoBoost. We’ve seen the new models from the outside and they are little changed. But, expect substantial interior upgrades and more technology.

My pretty wife, a fairly adventurous automotive soul, declined the opportunity to drive this lovely truck. She, too, thinks it’s just too big. I, on the other hand, would love to have this as my daily driver - the cost of this dressed-up truck and cost of fuel aside.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved