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The GMC Sierra delivers stout towing and hauling ability, a quiet cabin, and distinctive styling. GMC Sierra is built on the same platform and shares many mechanical pieces and body panels with the Chevrolet Silverado. Front-end styling and some details vary, but if you ever needed service either dealership could do it.
Sierra was redesigned for the 2014 model, and the 2015 Sierra gets some noteworthy updates. All 2015 Sierra models offer a spray-in bedliner with molded GMC logo, OnStar and 4G LTE with built-in wi-fi, and tow ratings adhere to SAE J2807 standards. New towing mirrors have LED guide lights for reversing, and IntelliLInk adds text messaging alert and Siri eyes free. The 6.2-liter V8 option now comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission. And the 2015 Sierra Denali comes with magnetic ride control.
The GMC Sierra 1500 offers a choice of three cabs and three bed lengths: Regular Cab standard and long bed, Double Cab standard, and Crew Cab standard or short bed. Nearly all offer 2WD or 4WD.
Three engines include a V6 and two V8s, all favoring torque over horsepower and sharing the same fuel-saving technologies often reserved for optional engines. The V6 has the highest torque of any full-size base V6, and the 6.2-liter V8 is the most powerful engine in a light-duty full-size pickup. The smaller engines use a 6-speed automatic and can run E85; the 6.2 uses an 8-speed.
Sierra trim levels vary from work truck with wind-up windows to Denali in stitched perforated leather trimmed with genuine aluminum. Front rows offer seats for two or three, rear seats have three belts, and multiple child-seat anchors, but we don't recommend them for three adults.
Beyond the appearance relative a Silverado, the Sierra offers LED front position lights and Elevation and Carbon Edition specials Silverado does not. Sierra Denali has a unique instrument panel and magnetic ride control not offered on Silverado. Sierra has a higher level of standard equipment. GMC's Pro Grade plan covers some routine maintenance for the first two years or 24,000 miles.
Sierra competes against the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra and Chevrolet Silverado. If Sierra is too small, try GMC Sierra HD; if it's too big, try GMC Canyon.
Regular Cabs come with a standard bed (6-foot, 6-inch) or a long bed (8-foot), seating for two-three, in Sierra and SLE trim. Double Cabs have two rows of seats and four doors with roll-down windows. They come with a standard bed, in Sierra, SLE, and SLT trim. Crew Cabs have larger rear doors and cabin space than Double Cab. Crew Cabs come with a short (5-foot, 8-inch) or standard bed, in Sierra to Denali trim levels.
Sierra ($26,605) comes standard with vinyl 40/20/40 front seating surfaces, air conditioning, full instrumentation, tilt steering wheel, corner step bumper, AM/FM stereo with USB, aux and SD inputs, cruise control, trip computer, 17-inch steel wheels, power door locks, locking tailgate, power windows on four-doors, chrome grille surround and bumpers, and a two-year maintenance program. Options: 5.3-liter V8, rearview camera, trailering pack, power windows, block heater, ATF cooler, integrated trailer brake controller, side steps, bed accessories, heated power mirrors, all-terrain tires, Bluetooth, OnStar with 4G LTE with wi-fi hotspot (3-month trial period), SiriusXM radio and a snow-plow package for 4WD regular cabs.
Sierra SLE ($32,935) upgrades with cloth upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum wheels, body-color door handles and side moldings, LED box lighting, EZ-lift and lower tailgate, deep-tint glass, heated power mirrors, 8-inch touch-screen with IntelliLink, CD, SiriusXM and HD radio, OnStar with 4G LTE, Bluetooth, carpet, color driver information display, lit visor mirrors, power windows, rear camera, remote keyless entry and steering wheel audio controls. Four-doors also get body-color mirrors, folding rear seats and rear wheelhouse liners. SLE options include the Z71 off-road package, All Terrain package, 18 and 20-inch wheels, navigation, heated leather seats, driver alert package, remote start, bucket seats, security system and Carbon and Texas special edition models.
Sierra SLT ($40,240) adds leather seat trim, power heated front seats, telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, power-adjustable pedals, chrome exterior trim, fog lamps, LED daytime running lights, power-folding mirrors, trailering package, 110-VAC outlet, remote start, and universal home remote. 4WD models get Autotrac. SLT options include the 5.3 and 6.2-liter engines (the latter with active noise cancellation), heated steering wheel, heated/cooled leather bucket seats, Bose sound system, the All Terrain pack, and some safety and mechanical upgrades.
Sierra Denali ($49,005) upgrades further with unique leather and trim inside and out, a unique instrument panel with 8-inch display, 5.3-liter V8, heated steering wheel, Bose sound system, power sliding rear window with defrost, locking differential, magnetic ride control shock absorbers, spray-in bed liner, machined-face 20-inch aluminum wheels, navigation and front/rear park assist. Denali options are limited to the 6.2 V8, moonroof, driver alert package, Z71 pack, rear entertainment package, floor mats, bed accessories and seven 22-inch wheel designs.
Safety features include dual front airbags, front side airbags, side curftain airbags front and rear, StabiliTrak electronic stability control and tire-pressure monitoring. OnStar and its suite of functions are available on every Sierra.
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Sierra handles half-ton pickup and second-car jobs with almost equal ease. It feels comfortable, solid and quiet.
Every Sierra save the Denali comes with a 4.3-liter V6 engine standard. Unlike domestic brand-name competitors this is a truck engine that stresses torque rather than high-revving horsepower, and as one competitor often advertised, torque is what matters in pickup trucks.
The 285-hp 4.3 makes 305 lb-ft of torque, clearly superior to F-150's base 3.5 (255 lb-ft) and Ram's 3.6 (278 lb-ft) although the Ram gets more power multiplication from its 8-speed automatic. The GMC 4.3 also gets the same fuel-saving measures applied to its bigger engines, a first for a base pickup in our recollection. EPA ratings are 18/24 (2WD) and 17/22 (4WD). We found the 4.3 sufficient to pull a tandem-axle travel trailer estimated at 5500 pounds behind a 2WD Crew cab with no trouble, while making less noise than the rev-requiring competitor V6s and a very quiet idle. Buyers whose budget precludes a bigger, thirstier engine should not be disappointed.
A 5.3-liter V8 is around $1000 more, upping horsepower to 355, torque to 380 lb-ft and it's a bit smoother than the V6. EPA ratings drop slightly to 16/23 (16/22 4WD) but we guarantee if you regularly use 70 extra horses it'll cost more than 1 mpg. The V8 doesn't add payload capacity but it could increase towing capacity by 5,500 pounds. Our GM sources note that of 1500-series owners that do tow, the average trailer is 3500 pounds.
Both the 4.3 and 5.3 switch to four-cylinder operation when power's not needed, automatically. It appears the V6 runs as a four more than the V8 does; 2/3 of the V6 is more displacement than half of the V8. Unless the majority of your driving is level highway cruising, we'd get the highest-number axle ratio available. Both engines are also E85 capable; on E85 they make about 10-percent more power but the mileage percentage drop approaches three times that.
GM's proven 6-speed automatic with tow/haul mode works as expected, and comparably to Ford and Toyota's 6-speeds; we'd label the Ram's 8-speed more advanced.
However, for 2015 the top GMC engine, a 420-hp 6.2-liter V8 that prefers premium unleaded and includes active noise cancellation, comes paired to an 8-speed automatic. This allows taller axle ratios for highway economy, think 60 mph at just 1350 rpm, but also improved acceleration performance and a more-effortless in-town drive. It also makes it much easier to back a trailer uphill and control downhill speed using engine braking.
The 6.2 is rated for trailers to 12,000 pounds; that a 2WD four-door base-trim truck with tow package and driver. At post, that's 200 pounds less than F-150's top rating and well ahead of other competitors content to not contest the half-ton towing war. At this level the Sierra's power-to-weight ratio is ahead of the F-150. Were we towing five tons or more regularly we'd step up to a -ton truck, and every Sierra should handle a 3500-pound trailer with the truck fully loaded. The integrated brake controller option is handy for any trailer using electric brakes, warranted with the truck, and may help resale value.
Payload (includes people, cargo, and trailer tongue weight) ranges from 1660 to 2270 pounds on base trim trucks (deduct a few hundred for lots of options), a 4WD Double Cab the highest rated. Unlike competitors, the top payload and tow rating are available on the same truck. These loads are typical for the class but four of the forty-odd permutations of the F-150 are rated to carry 3,000-plus pounds; previously only dual-rear wheel heavy-duty pickups have been rated to carry 70 percent (or more) of their own weight.
On the road Sierra is quiet and stable. The feel from steering assist to ride is substantial, not necessarily a bad thing. Electric-assist steering maneuvers better than hydraulic assist and turns just as tight despite a wider track for crisper response. Like any pickup it rides better with a little weight on board, and cruising it is quiet, almost serene inside.
For 2015 the Denali model gets magnetic ride control, employing a shock-absorber design used by the likes of Cadillac, Corvette and Ferrari that adjusts damping rates in five milliseconds to deliver the best combination of ride and control. We noticed the biggest difference on washboard, rippled surfaces, but also noted a less-fancy Crew cab on 18-inch tires covered decent roads just as comfortably.
The Z71 off-road package is available on most Sierra, and historically has given the best balance of ride comfort and handling, whether on pavement or off. Trail performance is good, with many sporting a locking rear differential, and the economy-inspired front air dam will scuff plenty.
The GMC Sierra offers plenty of power choices, realistic load and excellent towing ratings, and models spanning less than $30,000 to more than $60,000 mean one should fit your needs, whether you need a tow rig, work truck, or merely a second car with four doors and a 6.5-foot bed that fits in a standard garage.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles and San Antonio.
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