On the Road Review: GMC Sierra Denali 1500

Full-size pickup trucks are essential to life here whether you work or play deep in the Maine woods, or along the rocky coast. From towing, hauling and just commuting, pickup trucks are practical and an often-necessary tool in our vehicle arsenal for a large majority of Mainers.

So, it seemed only fitting that our handsome Ebony Metallic Sierra Denali Limited CrewCab ($59,600 base, $72,725 as shown) be put to work during its early spring visit. From moving furniture and household detritus for cousin Ken, to a sunny day hauling free firewood from a recent powerline right-of-way cut, the premium Sierra was used as designed — to work.

General Motors’ GMC division has moved decidedly upscale from its counterparts at Chevrolet. While sharing much of the mechanical bits and pieces with its sibling truck brand, Sierra pickups (now available in no fewer than eight trim levels using four different powerplants, starting at $33,495) are pushing more features, more content, and obviously higher pricing, as the brand positions itself as the EV leader as well with the recent Hummer EV rollout. With an electric version of the Sierra due in dealerships in 2023 (est. price of $57,000), the Sierras sold now will finance this very expensive endeavor.

After working with the Sierra’s innovative Carbon-Pro ($1,095) composite pickup box, which doesn’t dent but does scratch, I couldn’t help daydreaming about what the perfect working pickup back-end would consist of, after lugging too many gnarly pieces of beech and heavy maple logs.

The ideal pickup would include the GMC’s composite bed, which featured multiple tie-down anchors discreetly and strategically placed. The GMC’s steps in the corners of the bumper are also an important aid to accessing the bed. It would be good if steps were provided in front of each rear tire too. Cargo lights in the bed, plus on the back of the cab, plus the bed camera are important too. They are standard on the Denali.

It would be good to move the spare tire on a sliding, protected compartment at the rear of the cab — like Rivian’s new EV pickup does with a slide-out kitchen. This would allow for a lockable, watertight trunk in the bed — like Honda’s Ridgeline and Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz. The ideal bed would include Ram’s CargoBoxes in the fenders, over the wheelwells so you can store ropes, chains, chainsaws and other tools where you need them — dry and secure.

The taillights need to be recessed and protected better from errant loading items, or, the lens should be covered with a cage so that shovels or logs can’t smash them. Rear camera lenses should be mounted here, too, not in the tailgate, where they are irrelevant when you have the tailgate down.

As for tailgates, the double-action gates found on the Ram and the Ridgeline are the most convenient — perhaps more so the dual swinging gates optional on the Ram. The Sierra’s Multi-Pro tailgate is heavy, thick and all of those slots and multi-function mechanisms are going to be ripe for issues if you haul gravel, loam, wood chips, sawdust, etc. And, if you don’t remove your trailer hitch before deploying the Multi-Pro’s steps, you are going to leave embarrassing dents.

Where once the Denali was the top trim for GMC, the Sierra adds our featured Limited Reserve Package with even more premium gear like color HID display, forward collision alert, power sunroof, rear camera/mirror, surround vision, power sidesteps, plus another level of electronic driving aids. A new Denali Ultimate ($82,000) is necessary to get the massaging front seats and larger interface touchscreen that Ram and Ford offer for less money.

The Sierra Denali also features GM’s 420-hp Ecotec3 6.2-liter V-8 engine, which is basically a retuned Corvette V-8 designed for peak torque. Running through a velvety 10-speed automatic transmission, the Denali packs a big punch with authoritative acceleration that beats all but the F-150 Hybrid. Ride control was smooth over rough rural roads. The cabin is very hushed, yet the urge to exploit the GMC’s ample power was ever-present. EPA ratings are 14/19/16 mpg with a realized 21 mpg running from Brunswick to Ellsworth on Route 1, but only 17.4 mpg cruising on the super slab.

It is perhaps too critical to say that the Denali is not premium enough, as the convenient buttons and large knobs used to operate all functions are smart and intuitive. The 8-inch touchscreen is sufficient if not elaborate, rendering clear operation, while the color HID is very handy to relaxed driving. The column shifter frees up console space, while the AutoTrac 4WD control remains a GM standby. To think that 25 years after its debut that some rivals still lack this traction efficiency is remarkable. Yes, looking at you Toyota.

Next week: Ford F-150 Limited Powerboost Hybrid


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.