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2016 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali 4WD Crew Cab Review By Steve Purdy

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SEE ALSO: 2016 GMC Sierra Models - All Trim Levels and Options


By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I love these big trucks!

When I think about the first pickup I drove at age 13 - my dad's 50s Ford farm truck - the contrast is stark. In those days even a new pickup (and this one was not) would rattle, squeak, grumble and groan with barely adequate power and no hint of car-like amenities. With few exceptions they were made exclusively as work trucks.

Not so any more. Pickups now, including today's version of a “work truck,” are as comfortable, quiet and luxurious as nearly any car, including luxury cars. Our test truck this week, the 2016 GMC Sierra Denali 1500, has all those attributes and is the high end of the trim range.

Sierra's styling gets modestly updated for 2016 with some pretty cool LED headlights, new grille design, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels and LED taillights. Otherwise it is essentially the same sophisticated giant we know from previous reviews. Bulging wheel arches, a terraced hood, chunky character lines and simple structure characterize the Sierra Denali luxury truck.

The solid gray GMC Sierra Denali in our driveway is loaded. The bottom line on the sticker shows just over 60 grand. The Denali designation means it comes with content that would make a luxury car proud showing a base price of $53,565. In this case we also have about 6 grand in options including trailer brake, special 20-inch wheels, Driver Alert Package, sunroof, power step and the bigger engine.

The base Sierra 1500 starts at just $27,715, by the way.

We climb up into the cavernous cockpit using the optional power articulated rocker panel step. As we close the door and settle into the broad, nicely bolstered seat we hear and feel the step retract with a clunk like the cargo door on an airliner. The large, firm leather seats are separated by an expansive console that is both wide and deep with all sorts of utilitarian details designed into it. The engineers and designers had an office concept in mind but if you’re using it purely recreationally you'll also find it handy and accommodating as well. The materials used in the Denali’s interior would be at home in a Cadillac.

The rear seat in our Crew Cab version is also amazingly roomy and the seat base flips up easily leaving lots of room for cargo. A power sliding rear window provides for extra ventilation.

The 5’8” box comes with a spray-on liner, tie downs and two-tier loading capability. The tailgate is damped for ease up and down and a notch in each side of the bumper provides a handy step. The 8-foot box is not available on this one, by the way.

This 6.2-liter Ecotec3 V8, direct injection, gasoline engine with cylinder deactivation is rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque mated to an 8-speed Hydra-Matic transmission, two-speed transfer case and automatic locking rear differential. Fuel mileage is estimated at 15 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway using regular fuel. We managed just about 17.5 during our week of mostly suburban driving without any loads. The Denali 1500 is rated at a ton of payload with a 7600-pound GVWR for the 4WD version. Trailering limit is around 12,000 pounds.

On the road this big, luxurious pickup is a treat to drive if you like big things. My pretty wife does not think she would like it, but I’ll bet she would if she just tried. While you need to be conscious of its bulk and length so you don’t run over the flower beds, it is not hard to get used to. Precise steering and remarkably sophisticated suspension make it easy. Even off-road we’d have an easy time with hill descent control, underbody shield and lots of ground clearance.

Here is another big difference between today’s big pickups and those of yore. In the old days, unless you had a load in the back the rear end would jump all over the place on even modestly bumpy roads, let alone the chatter-bumps on a neglected country gravel road. Give some credit to GM’s MagneRide Magnetic Ride Control suspension. It is a coil spring-based system that reads road conditions constantly and reacts immediately changing dampers to smooth the vehicle’s response to the road. With or without a load this truck rides and handles with impeccable control.

So, perhaps you are wondering whether the GMC tag line “Professional Grade” has any substance and whether the GMC Sierra is any different from the Chevrolet Silverado. The answers are ‘no’ and ‘sort of.’ Professional Grade is purely marketing speak and an attempt to differentiate two products that aren’t much different. And, while the pickups share the vast majority of components some of the combinations of standard and optional content vary. To quote the GMC official line, “Denali is the pinnacle of what it means to be Professional Grade.” Does that make it clear? I thought not. And, Denali is just the name of the most premium level of all the GMC products.

GMC’s new truck warranty covers the Sierra for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles

For me the bottom line is that this is a wonderful truck, if a bit pricey. Competitors from Ford, Ram and Toyota are just as nice, just as competent and just as pricey. If you’re in the market for a lux-truck be sure to take a look at this one, by the way as you can see from the list below, there are so many iterations and trim levels of this vehicle make sure you do lot's of research as to the trim level and options that will keep you happy for the next two decades...

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved