General Motors’ GMC Truck Division has created its own sub-brand within the entire lineup. Using the Denali title on a version of each GMC offering has increased not only sales, but net margin across the board — making GMC the most profitable part of GM.
Also helping GMC’s status within the organization is the continued expansion of heavy-duty HD versions of the Sierra pickup line. In 2019, GMC trucks had a record sales year and helped offset the decline of Chevy’s Silverado. In the first quarter of 2020 (before the coronavirus decimated auto sales), Sierra HD models enjoyed a 38 percent sales gain over the very successful previous year.
The new GMC Sierra HD gains the improvements that populated the half-ton Sierra truck lineup last year. Pickup beds are longer and wider. The cabin is also longer and wider — with several inches of legroom gained in the rear seating area, plus there is a lengthy list of new technological features, several of which are not available on the competition. At least not yet.
Styling revisions also help separate the Sierra further from the Silverado models. With a bold, wide, muscular face, complemented by numerous LED lighting fixtures, rooftop lighting and new wheel-flare marker lamps, the Sierra HD makes a great visual impression and muscles its way to the top of the pack.
In the chassis, the Sierra and the Silverado remain the only HD pickups that feature an independent front suspension for improved handling and ride responses. The Sierra HD features an auto-locking rear differential, plus the AutoTrac 4WD transfer case now includes an automatic AWD setting that engages the front axle when the rear wheels slip. The Ford and Ram lack this exclusive driving aid.
GMC engineers even streamlined the airflow under the Sierra’s body, tucking all hardware up tight to the massive frame. Even the megaphone-style exhaust pipe is strategically located higher now, so aerodynamics are better, as well as off-road ground clearance.
At the working end, there are new fender side-steps that greatly increase access to the front of the pickup box. This is such a no-brainer; consumers should have gained this feature 30 years ago, when HD trucks adopted their elevated stance. There are also the rear bumper steps, LED lights in the pickup box, power sockets in the bed, a cab-mounted bed-camera, plus our Denali-themed Sierra carried the MultiPro Tailgate — the innovative, six-way, multi-function tailgate that includes remote interior release.
Key to this new Sierra is not only the competitive components that have found their way into work trucks, and essentially created luxury pickups for the urban cowboy, but the numerous features like heated and cooled front seats, heated rear leather seats and steering wheel, dynamic cruise, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert with blind spot detection, plus front and rear parking programs that please consumers.
There is also the trailer braking assist (diesel braking here with the 6.6-liter Duramax Turbo-diesel) plus the trailering package with trailer brake controller, and Hill-start assist.
That Duramax is stout. Now making 445 hp and 910 pound/feet of peak torque running through a new 10-speed Allison transmission, the Sierra is responsive, swift and very strong. The powertrain worked flawlessly, with perfect tuning for low throttle settings, helping the Sierra HD driver whisk down the road when necessary, or, loaf along when appropriate. Diesel clatter is held at bay until you “roll smoke,” an essential element to a premium truck.
The features that will impress are difference-makers. Color heads-up display, rear-seat reminder system (check in back to make sure nobody is left behind), multi-mode surround-view camera system with invisible trailer, plus rear mirror camera is all tech that rivals don’t yet offer.
Which is all good, because the one area that the Denali falls behind its rivals is the interior presentation. The seats work great, the controls are user-friendly (including the finger-tip steering-wheel audio buttons) plus the expansive console will swallow lots of traveling gear. Everything is easy to find, intuitive to access, and you won’t need a weekend with the owner’s manual to utilize the touchscreen.
But the look and the feel of the Denali’s cabin materials isn’t as opulent, nor as luxurious, as the premium versions of the Ford Super Duty and especially the Ram. With a sticker price a whisker under $80,000 (that includes the impressive $9,750 Duramax powertrain), those new tech components are needed to sway consumers who are not brand-loyal.
The styling, the tech, the performance, the functionality all add up to a handsome workhorse. The GMC Sierra Denali Duramax can tow your house, haul your toys or just let you and your Stetson cruise on Saturday night. It’s got the muscle and the manners to please many new owners.