The full-size truck market is one where manufactures tread lightly. First off, truck owners are among the most brand-loyal buyers. Second, trucks sell. There’s no reason to rock the boat with radical redesigns, which is why you’ll find almost all of the design cues on this 2014 GMC Sierra Denali as you did on a GMC from a decade ago. Visually, every truck on the market has gotten squarer and more chrome-clad. That seems to be the prevailing recipe for success. There is, however, always room for improvement. And in GMC’s case, improve they have.
The most noticeable change is the all-new interior. The center console is now build around an 8″ touchscreen with Intellilink. It’s the nerve center to operate all of the Sierra Denali’s standard infotainment equipment. It made finding a new restaurant, connecting a Bluetooth phone, and operating the Bose audio system simple and intuitive. The Sierra Denali also has another 4.2″ customizable driver display in the gauge cluster. Configurable with the steering wheel controls, it displays four operating gauges and can cycle through vehicle status, trip computer, radio settings, or a navigation display.
The rest of the center console consists of glove-friendly dials, buttons, and switches. Just above the center console are more charging opportunities than you could possibly need. Our tester came equipped with the optional Driver Alert Package and trailer brake controller. Those settings, along with the 4×4 selector and lighting controls are mounted to the right of the steering column. The Driver Alert Package also includes the safety alert seat that we first experienced in the Cadillac ATS. With the full-size Sierra Denali, it was very useful in tight spaces. Speaking of spaces, there’s no lack of storage in this truck. The center console is large enough to store a medium-size camera case and there are two glove boxes. If that’s not enough, each door has its own storage bin. Still not enough? The rear seats fold up to reveal a flat floor perfect for piling cargo that isn’t suited for the open bed.
There’s new-found refinement in the cab of this truck that goes beyond the comfortable leather-clad front bucket seats, soft-touch materials, and high-tech electronics. The interior panels feel solid, not hollow, and pulling the door closed doesn’t result in a dull thud but an authoritative thump. There’s substance in this truck that GM lacked in the past. That substance extends to the exterior. The “squareness” might be too bold for some palates, but we think the Sierra Denali pulls off the look better than any of the other GM variants. The new headlights with LED DRLs, standard 20″ chrome wheels, and svelte body-colored bumpers help the Sierra Denali stand out without being flashy. Other small improvements make a noticeable difference as well. The tailgate is sprung for ease of use, the bed comes painted from the factory, and there’s built-in LED bed lighting. If you’ve had a truck in the past, these are useful features that you immediately notice. One oversight, however, is the lack of mudflaps behind the front wheels. There’s a natural gap between the wheel arch and the running boards. Road spray, debris, and mud build up on the side step right where the driver gets out.
We can’t drive a truck without talking about engines and towing. The GMC shares its powertrains with the Silverado. As we learned when Chevrolet came to Albany last year, that means a choice between three EcoTec3 engines; a 4.3L V6, 5.3L V8, and 6.2L V8. All three engines come with Active Fuel Management and are connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The top-end Sierra Denali comes standard with the 335hp 5.3L V8. However, our tester came equipped with the 420hp, 6.2L V8. With 460lbs-ft of torque on tap, our truck was rated to tow 12,000 lbs. The GMC pulls strongly off the line with the V8 rumble transitioning into a big-block roar as redline approaches. When you’re not intimidating nearby motorists, the V8 quiets down and becomes a more efficient V4. This happens so seamlessly that you don’t notice the transition until you glance at your speed. For some reason, I found myself losing 5-10mph on the highway without noticing. The new GMC may be more aerodynamically efficient, but it still needs all 8 cylinders to maintain a consistent highway speed. Even with the cruise control set, the V8 stayed fully engaged according to the display.
Perhaps the biggest surprise behind the wheel of the Sierra is that it still feels like a truck. That stands in contrast to the previous truck we tested. New for 2014 is the GMC’s electric power steering system. It combined ease of use with good feedback. Parallel parking in the city was a breeze thanks to the lighter operation. The 6-speed transmission works well enough on its own that we didn’t feel the need to use the silly column-mounted buttons. When we tried, they responded slowly. Of course they’re calibrated to do “truck things” like towing or hauling rather than racing. The suspension is firm but not bouncy. Leaf springs have come a long way. Braking was adequate, but the pedal feel wasn’t confidence inspiring. With the large V8, you don’t get a sense of the size and weight of the truck until you step on the brakes.
We didn’t have an opportunity to tow anything during our testing, but the GMC’s numbers speak for themselves. The other numbers of importance are the 14 city/20 highway EPA rating for the 6.2L Sierra Denali. The truck covered 540 miles while it was with us and returned an impressive 17.2mpg. But you don’t buy a full-size truck to save fuel. The GMC Sierra Denali offered an exceptional balance of practicality and comfort. It has the ability to carry 4 adults while towing a small house, carrying a bed full of material, or traversing most terrain. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of modern transport. The interior improvements made for 2014 add refinement and a premium feel that the GMC deserves. Outside, the classy styling gives the truck a bold and tasteful appearance. The GMC Sierra Denali’s improvements might be enough to make a few converts from other brands. In the full-size truck market, that’s really something.
|2014 GMC Sierra Denali
|6.2L V8 ECOTEC3 engine||$1,995|
|Driver Alert Package||$450|
|Trailer Brake Controller||$230|
|As Tested MSRP||$54,730|