As the navigator and I meet delivery driver Tom, a man approaches us and wants to engage. We are exiting the new Acura Integra, while Tom has been waiting for us in an Ebony Twilight Sierra Denali we are about to receive, the utter blackness of the massive truck almost menacing. The visitor is smitten by the GMC, craving it for his work, his young family. But when the Acura parks between him and the Sierra, his lust changes to personal satisfaction. He instantly knows that the Integra is all new and he just has to inspect the details. Telling him it is just a pricier Civic does not dim his enthusiasm. Such are the frequent encounters when you meet at the Shell station.
After visiting all of the principals, we point the big Sierra south on the Maine Turnpike, stroking the diesel up to pace the quickest vehicles. This is an easy task; the 445-hp, 6.7-liter Duramax V-8 turbo-diesel quickly settles into a high-speed rhythm that barely moves the tachometer needle. Two average-sized citizens aren’t much of a load for this 4-ton luxury workhorse.
GMC has fast become GM’s luxury truck division, trying to put some distance between its sibling brand, Chevrolet. The age of electronic driving aids and vast entertainment options — all of the pieces that devour computer chips — has certainly helped. However, the bean-counters apparently still have a role at GM, as the designer efforts evident in recent Cadillacs and the new Corvette haven’t been allowed to express themselves in the stout Sierra, as the Denali’s interior lacks the panache of the most recent Ford and Ram heavy-duty truck interiors.
The plastic surfaces prevail, where others have leather, wood or suede. The touchscreen is much smaller, too, yet there are virtues to be found. The screen works as intended, as rivals are having issues (those chips?) and the Sierra’s physical controls are conveniently placed and very user-friendly — not layered in menus that are difficult to access while actually driving. Plus, the GMC has several tow-haul modes and brake assists (our sample was equipped for fifth-wheel towing) as well as massive dual-pane side mirrors.
Those mirrors presented a conundrum. They have marker lamps, spot-lamps, plus blind spot detection, yet the giant plastic shroud all around the mirrors was a constant spectacle in my peripheral vision, like a small car was always beside me. The mirrors also hide what is behind them — like a small child.
Denali trim brings a heaping load of accessories, from heated/cooled memory seats to power released tailgate, yet a new problem confronts diesel truck buyers who need this power for serious towing duty — a problem with DEF supply. Never mind the price of diesel fuel, which is creating angst among millions of diesel truck owners. If baby formula proved to be a supply problem, the absence of DEF fluid in the marketplace will have vastly more far-reaching consequences as diesel trucks built since 2012 need the exhaust fluid in order to operate.
Pushing up and down 495/Route 128, the Duramax slips into the fast lane and pushes traffic along — the big grille filling Tesla and Prius mirrors to move along. Fender-bender accidents on the trip back north clog traffic flow several times, grinding progress to a halt as folks rubberneck. It becomes clear that way too many drivers on the road today are not very good. And far too many are distracted by devices, or in-car screens. It’s easy to determine that the recent increases in highway traffic deaths is not accurately reflecting the ineptitude of too many of today’s drivers — despite many recent safety enhancements.
The big Sierra glides along on freshly paved surfaces in New Hampshire and past the new toll plaza in York — toll now $4. Poorly executed bridge expansion joints — aren’t they all? — result in a big kick from the stiff solid rear suspension.
After a detour in scenic rural Cumberland, another observation is obvious. The traffic in Massachusetts was predominantly cars, including many EVs. The traffic in Maine is mostly crossovers and pickup trucks like our Sierra, often pulling a load.
With dusk approaching, the traffic outside Newport has dwindled to a few cars in front of us — a vast disparity from earlier in the day. In Holden, we stop for fuel, over 380 miles on the Denali so far — well over 500 miles of driving for the day. I stop the pump at 16 gallons, subconsciously not wanting to see triple digits yet for the fill-up at a diesel pump charging $5.999 a gallon.
The Denali’s price reflects another point: $65,500 for a loaded Sierra. Adding the Duramax engine and 10-speed Allison transmission plus special wheels, paint and other features pushes the price to almost $83,000. As great as this robust tool is, are we really prepared for $6 and $7 motor fuels and $80,000-plus pickup trucks — gas, diesel or electric?
Next week: Subaru WRX Premium