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GMC Sierra is redesigned for 2003. It comes with a bolder, raked front end. Its interior is new as well, redesigned for improved function and appearance. The brakes have been upgraded, and the engines run cleaner. New options include a Bose sound system. Crew Cabs even offer a rear-seat DVD entertainment center, making for an attractive alternative to an SUV.
Sierra offers some of the best and most advanced engineering among pickup trucks. It does everything pickups have always done, only better, with first-class hauling and towing capabilities. Sierra rides and handles better than any pickup ever did before.
Of course, much of this is equally true of the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra's mechanical twin. We think the Sierra looks a bit classier than the Silverado. GMC's styling is more conservative, more mature, with smoother, more sophisticated lines. Sierra also offers the intangible value of GMC's 100-year heritage of building trucks and only trucks.
GMC also offers model and equipment variants that Chevrolet does not, including the high-performance, high-luxury Sierra Denali and a Professional Package designed for, well, professionals.
Engine choices include 4.3-liter V6, 4.8-liter V8 (standard with 4WD or an extended cab), and 5.3-liter V8 (standard with an extended cab and a long box). 1500 HD and 2500 models come with a 6.0-liter V8. Five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are offered.
The basic trim level for 2003 is the W/T work truck, which comes with vinyl seats and air conditioning but not carpeting. The Standard Sierra upgrades to cloth seats and carpeting. SLE adds niceties such as a CD player, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. SLT trim, available on extended cabs and crew cabs, adds fog lamps, automatic air conditioning, and OnStar telecommunications.
Denali is the flagship, available only as an extended-cab, short-bed 4x4. Denali packs a 325-horsepower version of the 6.0-liter V8, along with automatic transmission and an exclusive, sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system. Denali comes with OnStar, tone-on-tone leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, extra sound deadening, a Bose audio system with separate controls for rear-seat passengers, a unique console and other exclusive amenities. Eight buttons on the steering wheel operate OnStar, along with the sound system, trip computer, and other programmable functions. Denali also provides a lockable floor console large enough to hold a picnic lunch for a family of four; it comes with a reversible, removable cup holder tray and a storage nook in front of the lid.
Quadrasteer is available on Sierra 1500 short-bed extended cabs, 1500 HD crew cab, and Denali. An electronically controlled four-wheel-steering system, Quadrasteer reduces Sierra's curb-to-curb turning diameter by 21 percent, to just 37.4 feet, similar to a mid-size car. Quadrasteer also enhances high-speed stability. Quadrasteer comes packaged with a limited-slip differential and a trailer-tow package.
Professional ($2457) is an option package available on all Sierras that includes a special full-length console with concealed storage for a personal digital assistant (PDA), cell phone, and other items; a seven-quart cooler; a cooled or heated cup holder, and a second Big Gulp-sized cup holder. The console can be converted for hanging file folders. The Professional also features additional lockable storage under the rear seat, a bold chrome grille, 16-inch alloy wheels, a bed liner, and the Z85 handling/trailering suspension.
Sierra prices cover a broad range, starting at $19,391 for a 1500 2WD V6 Work Truck, and more than doubling to $44,250 for the luxurious, high-tech Denali. A short-box, 4WD extended-cab SLE would include the 4.8-liter V8 for $29,963; and many popular 2WD models list in the $24,000-$28,000 range.
On the road, the GMC Sierra is quiet and well behaved.
The extended cab model's long 143.5-inch wheelbase improves its ride and enhances high-speed stability.
The 1500 HD 4WD Crew Cab does not ride as smoothly as the Chevy Avalanche, but the ride was reasonably good for what is practically a three-quarter-ton truck with no weight in the bed. Adding some weight back there would undoubtedly smooth it out.
Two-wheel-drive 1500s have rack-and-pinion steering, but there is still a fairly wide dead spot in the center when cruising. (GMC says this is intentional, to minimize steering corrections on the highway.) The steering feels a bit light, but the truck tracks beautifully and handles well on pavement, loose dirt, deep dirt and even off-road. Recirculating-ball steering comes on 2500, four-wheel-drive, and Quadrasteer models.
Quadrasteer works amazingly well. Backing a long trailer into a parking space at a 90 degree angle is much easier with Quadrasteer than without it. The system shortens turning circles with trailers and makes backing up more intuitive. On the road, our Quadrasteer-equipped truck felt more stable, especially on winding roads, where it was easier to drive, and where the trailer tracked better behind it. If you tow frequently, you really owe it to yourself to test out a truck with Quadrasteer. Even without a trailer, Quadrasteer makes it much easier to park in tight spaces, such as underground garages and crowded parking lots. Quadrasteer is built on a heavy-duty rear axle, however, which offers a rougher ride.
Our extended-cab Sierra had the larger 5.3-liter V8, an enjoyable motor around town and on the Interstate. The 5.3-liter (327-cubic-inch) engine is rated 285 horsepower with 325 pounds-feet of torque, plenty for light towing and hauling. The V6 produces 200 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque, but most Sierra buyers opt for a V8 and automatic transmission. The 4.8-liter small-block V8 is the most popular engine for this truck. 2003 V8s come with new electronic throttle control and more efficient oxygen sensors for smoother operation and reduced exhaust emissions. (For 2003, the 5.3-liter offers flexible fuel capability, allowing it to run on a mix of up to 85 percent ethanol.)
A Tow/Haul mode on the four-speed automatics helps the transmission keep its cool when towing. Press the Tow/Haul button on the end of the shifter and the transmission holds gears longer before shifting up or down, reducing the annoying tendency to hunt between third and fourth gears in hilly terrain. Shifts are harder and quicker in Tow mode, reducing heat buildup in the transmission. We find it improves the performance of the truck when pulling a trailer and reduces driver annoyance levels.
The Sierra 1500 HD can tow trailers weighing up to 10,200 pounds, or haul up to 3094 pounds of payload (2783 with 4WD). It comes standard with the Z85 handling/trailering suspension designed to provide a smooth ride. Though its bed is short, this truck is a great choice for people who tow horse trailers, race cars, or campers. The 6.0-liter V8 that comes standard in 1500 HD models is tuned with considerably more torque in the four-wheel-drive versions (488 pounds-feet) than in the two-wheel-drive versions (360 pounds-feet); the 4WD model trades off 76 peak horsepower to the 2WD model to do this.
Brakes are large, heavy-duty discs on all four corners; ABS is standard on all models. The brakes are excellent. For 2003, they offer increased stopping power, improved pedal feel with less pedal effort, and quieter operation.
Dynamic Rear Proportioning improves stability under heavy braking whether the truck is loaded or empty and can reduce stopping distances. Jam on the brakes and most vehicles without ABS will lock up the rear tires because most of the weight is being transferred to the front wheels. With ABS, the rear wheels won't lock up, but you still lose some braking performance as most of the weight is tran
GMC Sierra delivers lots of power, big payload capacities, and lots of towing capability. It looks classy and distinctive. The extended-cab SLE is among the smoothest, quietest, most civilized, best equipped, and most enjoyable pickup trucks we've ever driven. The GMC Sierra is a must-see if you're buying a new full-size pickup.