Full-size pickup buyers tend to be a conservative group, so GMC played things safe in redesigning the Sierra 1500 for the latest model year - at least in terms of styling. Beneath its evolutionary exterior, the new Sierra features a tougher frame, increased power and fuel economy, and a classy interior that can be loaded up with high-tech features.
Along with the standard Sierra 1500 discussed in these pages, GMC also offers the pickup in luxed-up Denali and heavy-duty 2500HD and 3500HD forms.
Like the mechanically-identical Chevrolet Silverado 1500, the new Sierra 1500's sheetmetal sees the most changes up front, where a taller hood, reworked headlights and a larger, more chrome-packed grille allow aficionados to tell it apart from the last-generation model.
Look beyond the largely familiar styling, and the Sierra's clever new details begin to reveal themselves. Steps mounted in the rear bumper along with reworked stake holes make it easy to climb into the bed, while an easy open/close option allows the tailgate to be accessed using just a pair of fingers.
Beneath the exterior lies more newness - a stiffened frame, a retuned suspension and a new electric power steering system. Thanks to these revisions, the Sierra possesses a better-controlled, more comfortable ride along with more predictable handling than before.
The Sierra is offered with a choice of three new engines, all of which blend an old-school pushrod design with modern technologies like direct injection, variable valve timing and a cylinder deactivation system.
The base powerplant is a 4.3-liter V6 that produces 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque. That torque figure is tops among naturally-aspirated pickup six-cylinders, making the 4.3-liter a good fit for fuel efficiency-focused buyers who also need to do some light towing from time to time.
A 5.3-liter V8 with 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque is optional for those who need more motor to get the job done, while the range-topping mill is a Corvette-derived 6.2-liter V8 that churns out 420 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on all Sierra models. Both rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations are available.
Fuel economy for the 5.3-liter Silverado is rated at 16/23 city/highway mpg with RWD, while 4WD variants fare one mpg worse on the open road. GMC is quick to point out that those numbers give its pickup a slight efficiency advantage over the Ford F-150's 3.5-liter twin-turbo "EcoBoost" V6.
The EPA has not yet released data for the 4.3-liter and 6.2-liter models.
The Inside Story
In place of the old Sierra's two available dashboard designs is a single setup that features vastly more upscale materials and oversized, user-friendly HVAC and sound system controls along with a 4.2-inch display or 8.0-inch touchscreen depending on trim level.
All Sierra except the base model are equipped with GMC's IntelliLink infotainment system, which integrates entertainment and navigation functions (when equipped), and also offers access to smartphone-based apps like Pandora radio and Stitcher radio.
The system can be controlled through dashboard knobs, steering wheel buttons or the eight-inch touchscreen, and there's also a voice recognition system for hands-free calls, destination entering, song selection and more. Its "natural language" functioning can recognize a staggering number of phrases - effectively eliminating the need for the clunky and cumbersome memorized commands.
A number of key revisions ensure that the cabin is sufficiently quiet for even whispered voice commands. These include triple-sealed doors, acoustic-laminated glass, lined front wheel wheels and smaller exterior mirrors, while shear-style body mounts help to quell noise and mellow out the ride.
Buyers can spec the Sierra with regular cab, double cab or crew cab bodystyles. The regular cab features two doors, while the double cab features two small front-hinged doors that replace the rear-hinged units in last year's extended cab model. The crew cab boasts full-size rear doors with expanded rear cabin space.
Three box lengths are available: 8' (regular cab), 6'6" (regular cab, double cab, crew cab) and 5'8" (crew cab).
When properly equipped, towing capacity ranges from a maximum of 7,200 lbs. with the 4.3-liter V6, 11,400 lbs. with the 5.3-liter V8 and 12,000 lbs. for the 6.2-liter V8.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Sierra is offered in three different trim levels: an eponymous base model, the SLE and the SLT.
The base model Sierra comes standard with A/C, full power accessories, cruise control, an AM/FM stereo with a 4.2-inch display, two USB ports, and AUX input, an SD car slot and 17-inch painted steel wheels.
The SLE ups the feature count with an 8.0-inch touchscreen display, IntelliLink, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM and HD radio, a rear vision camera, an EZ-Lift tailgate, cargo box LED lighting, a 4.2-inch driver information screen mounted in the instrument cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, keyless entry, body colored bodyside moldings, body-color door handles, power-adjustable heated exterior mirrors and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels.
The SLT brings a standard 5.3-liter V8 in addition to heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED running lights, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, an anti-theft system, a HomeLink garage remote, expanded chrome exterior trim, a 110-volt AC power outlet and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels.
Those looking to hit the trails should spec the optional All-Terrain Package, which adds specially-tuned chassis monotube Rancho shocks, hill descent control, front recovery hooks, a transfer case shield, unique wheels and tires, and an automatic rear locking differential as well as a host of additional exterior apperance and interior comfort extras.
Other highlights from the lengthy options list include a Bose audio system, 20-inch chrome wheels, a navigation system, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a sonar-based parking assistance system and a sunroof.
All Sierra models are equipped with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a tire pressure monitoring system and traction and stability control systems.
Several new optional safety features are also available. A lane departure warning system alerts the driver should the Sierra begin to drift into an adjacent lane, and a forward collision alert system provides a warning if it detects an imminent collision with a vehicle or object up ahead. Notably, warnings can be conveyed via audible alarms or, more subtly, by a vibrating driver's seat.
Aside from its Chevrolet Silverado 1500 sibling, the Sierra 1500's main competitors are the Ford F-150, the Toyota Tundra and the Ram 1500.
The F-150's main selling point is a variety of strong engine options - including the popular " Ecoboost"3.5-liter twin-turbo V6. The Tundra brings a reputation for reliability to the table, while the Ram 1500 impresses with a refined ride and a well-trimmed interior.