GMC Sierra: Big, Comfortable and Capable

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CHATHAM, Mass. – That’s BIG! First impressions are always significant and my initial response after walking around the redesigned 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 Denali 4WD Crew Cab pickup truck concerned how I was going to pilot it out of my driveway and then through some of the tight villages scattered around Cape Cod.

The fixed running boards, grab handles and steering wheel played a major role in enabling me to climb up and into the enormous cabin of the Sierra HD (the 2500 designation indicates this is a heavy duty version of the Sierra) and looking over the massive hood, with its dropping-off-the-end-of-the-earth front edge, I wondered how I would maneuver through traffic.

Full transparency – I’m not and never have been a pickup truck owner, nor do I have extensive time behind the wheel of full-size trucks, so I thought the Sierra was going to take some time for stress-free motoring. Thanks to large windows, an extensive suite of advanced drive-assist systems (ADAS), a very responsive power train and strong brakes, the transition was much quicker and less painful than I could imagine. It was even fun to drive!

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And the surroundings in the Denali – GMC’s designation for their luxury truck and sport-utility versions – rivaled many of the more “common” up-scale vehicles I’ve driven during the past year.

2020 GMC Sierra Denali

A Bose amplified premium audio system sounded crisp and clear thanks to careful attention to keeping the diesel clatter out of the cabin (under most conditions there was no sensory indication a massive diesel powered the truck). Steering wheel switchgear, separate knobs and buttons on the dash as well as the eight-inch color touch screen command the infotainment system’s AM/FM/satellite radio with both Apple CarPlay and Android Audio.

Voice activation is another means of controlling many of the infotainment systems including standard navigation. Connectivity also includes numerous USB ports front and rear (and there are both 12 Volt and 120 Volt outlets to power virtually any electrical device).

Of course, the steering wheel and seating surfaces are both leather covered and heated (the front seats ventilated as well and feature 10-way power adjustment).

The view from those seats is magnificent thanks to those large windows and truck height. One advantage of driving a vehicle this big is the ability to see more of your surroundings, a great aid in maneuvering. The comprehensive collection of ADAS further made circumnavigating tight Cape streets a much simpler and reassuring operation.

ADAS and safety features

These included in our Sierra with Denali Ultimate Package:

  • 1SA Driver Alert Package including Front and Rear Park Assist, Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Driver Alert Package II including Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, IntelliBeam headlamps, Following Distance Indicator and Safety Alert Seat
  • Rear Vision Camera
  • HD Surround Vision with two Trailer View camera provisions
  • Rear Camera Mirror
  • Six standard airbags, including dual-stage frontal airbags for driver and front outboard passenger; seat-mounted side-impact airbags for driver and front outboard passenger; head-curtain airbags for front and rear outboard seating positions; includes Passenger Sensing System for frontal outboard passenger airbag
  • Standard StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover mitigation technology, trailer sway control and hill-start assist
  • Tire Fill Alert

Suffice to say – the GMC Sierra 2500 Denali was not nearly as difficult to drive as I had imagined. And it was a lot more enjoyable, as well. The ride in the empty truck was somewhat stiff  and bouncy, but not overtly so (my wife thought it very comfortable, which is high praise).

A key word here is “empty.” I was not able to use the Sierra beyond its role as a transportation device, which is how so many pickup trucks are now used in the United States (where full-size ones are the top selling vehicle type). At its heart, though, the GMC Sierra, especially the heavy duty 2500 and 3500 versions, are work trucks. They are designed to carry and pull heavy loads in a variety of conditions. As such, they are sold in a myriad of configurations in terms of engine size and capability as well as capacity ratings.

The truck we sampled came with the brutally powerful 6.6-liter Duramax diesel engine producing 445 horsepower and a beefy 910 pounds-feet of torque all working through a 10-speed automatic transmission and two-speed, four-wheel-drive transfer case.

Making use of the truck bed easier and more efficient is GMC’s pioneering MultiPro, the world’s first six-function tailgate,  which allows easier loading, unloading and bed access – even turning into a convenient step.

MultiPro tailgate in its step position

ProGrade Trailering Technology

The folks at GMC think trailering is the most important consideration for Sierra Heavy Duty customers, so the company, when it redesigned the 2020 model, paid close attention to this.

First introduced with the 2019 Sierra light duty, the ProGrade Trailering System leverages technology advancements to offer additional features and functionality for the 2020 Sierra Heavy Duty.

Our truck had all the trailering bells and whistles including a class-leading 15 unique camera views on the touch screen, including an industry-first transparent trailer view. The goal of this feature is to help optimize the driver’s view around the truck and compatible trailers to provide added confidence when towing. The transparent trailer feature uses the tailgate-mounted camera and an available accessory camera (requires installation) mounted on the rear of the trailer. The resulting display helps the driver to virtually see through the trailer5, a benefit when navigating parking lots, merging into traffic or making tight turns.

Looking “through” the trailer with the GMC Sierra’s transparent-trailer view camera (the front of the trailer can be seen in the bottom third of the screen above, while the rest of the trailer is invisible to the drive who can see the truck behind him)

The ProGrade Trailering System also includes an in-vehicle Trailering App9 with Trailer Light Test, Trailer Electrical Diagnostics, Trailer Tire Pressure and Temperature Monitoring, Pre- Maintenance Reminders and Departure Checklist. Many of the Trailering app’s functions, including the lighting test and pre-departure checklist, are also available with the myGMC mobile app, a feature that offers great convenience when outside the truck or trailer.

There are no federal Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy figures for this configuration; we hovered around 20 miles per gallon during our several hundred miles of mixed driving, which would have been an unheard of figure years ago for a vehicle of this size (7,587 pounds/3,441 kg) and capability.

All this capability and comfort does not come cheap. Our “loaded” Sierra Denali had a base price of $63,700 and the options – including $9,750 for the Duramax engine and $2,870 for the Denali Ultimate Package – helped bring the total to $78,455 (plus a $1,595 destination charge). You can build one for less (the 2500 HD models start at $41,595) or for more (move up to the 3500 HD version which starts at $42,795) which means you can tailor your trucking to just what you need, want and can afford.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.