GMC has completely redesigned its line of Sierra pickup trucks. The new Sierra has smoother ride, better handling, better brakes and new, more powerful engines. It's quieter and more comfortable than just about any pickup truck out there.
At first glance, it looks almost exactly like the 1998 Sierra. But park a '99 and a '98 alongside one another and the differences are quite apparent. GMC changed every panel, every angle, every square inch of sheet metal on the Sierra. But compared to what Ford and Dodge have done with truck design, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch.
The Sierra will come in 1500 and 2500 series models, in regular cab, extended cab, and cab-and-chassis versions. They come in both Wideside and Sportside bed styles (with and without fenders), with short or long beds, in both two- and four-wheel drive, and in SL, SLE, and SLT trim levels. Extended cab trucks come standard with a third door that adds tremendously to convenience.
The Sierra SLT is kind of like a tall, long-wheelbase limousine. It's as quiet as a luxury car, supremely smooth, and well behaved, mostly because of the new chassis, which offers a 23-percent increase in stiffness, and the strong new cab design. New mounting and isolation hardware reduces noise and vibration, and there's a cast magnesium beam behind the instrument panel and a lateral steel beam to further reinforce the body. Squeaks and rattles have been virtually vanquished. This strong truck lets its suspension soak up all the road irregularities so well that its behavior is near-luxury. Its 133-inch wheelbase improves the ride further and enhances high-speed stability.
Sierra's four-spoke steering wheel connects to a new rack-and-pinion steering system that has a big dead spot on center, which GMC says is designed to minimize steering corrections. The steering feels a bit too light, but we found it tracks straight and handles well on pavement.
Our Sierra SLT test truck carried the 5.3-liter (324 cubic-inch) engine, rated at 270 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. This engine has a tall torque curve, which makes it useful for light towing and hauling, but it's also excellent for commuting and touring.
The Tow/Haul shift mode that comes as part of the optional towing package does a great job of keeping the automatic transmission in a lower gear, improving response and reducing wear on the transmission. Overall, we found the Sierra provides a stable platform for towing and the 5.3-liter engine had enough torque to pull a 3,800-pound trailer through the mountains.
Sierra's brakes have been greatly improved compared to the previous model. The four-wheel disc brakes are huge and powerful and come standard with ABS. Braking force comes into play only an inch into the pedal travel, a major improvement over the clunky pedal action on the previous C/K pickup. Dynamic Rear Proportioning improves stability under heavy braking whether the truck is loaded or empty. GMC promises huge improvements in fade resistance, pad life and heat dissipation, and after our desert test drive, we believe it.
After having driven them both, we can say with some authority that the GMC Sierra and its Chevrolet Silverado sibling are the best all-around trucks among the newest generation of full-size pickups from Detroit. The Sierra SLT is smooth, quiet, well behaved and well equipped, among the most capable pickup trucks we've ever driven.
Pricing is always a factor in these things, and GMC, like everyone else in Detroit, is holding prices to the absolute limit in order to attract customers. The base Sierra starts at $16,580 (including the $625 destination charge); that's a 2WD regular cab, short bed, Wideside with the 4.3-liter V6 in SL trim.
Our test truck was $23,644 plus $1,720 for the SLT upgrade. If you're looking for a pickup truck this year you owe it to yourself and your family to test-drive the Sierra. After a couple of miles, pull up to a stop light, close your eyes, and tell yourself you're in an American pickup truck.