2009 GMC SIERRA

TRUE GRIT

2009 GMC SIERRA
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FAST FACTS

1. Cousin to the Chevy Silverado, Sierra sports unique front-end sheetmetal, grille, headlights and hood..

2. New options for 2009 include a six-speed automatic transmission and chrome clad 18- and 20-inch aluminum wheels.

3. Luxury Denali is competitively priced and offers equipment levels rivaling some high-end cars and SUVs – it even boasts heated and cooled front seats, all for less than $41,000.

4. XFE package, with special tires, wheels, suspension parts and aerodynamic aides boasts 15/25 mpg (city/highway) fuel economy.

Cousin to the ever-popular Chevy Silverado, the Sierra often takes a back stage to its brash cousin, a shame considering that it is a highly capable pickup in its own right. Redesigned extensively for the 2007 model year, for ’09 GM’s ‘professional’ grade truck marches on, with a number of improvements – the introduction of a full Hybrid version, a new six-speed automatic transmission for the 5.3-, 6.0- and 6.2-liter V-8s, plus a rear mounted backup camera for Crew Cab models, BlueTooth capability and upgraded Satellite radio system with built in traffic update features, along with new paint colors and the option of new 18 and 20-inch chrome clad wheels, plus the XFE – Xtra Fuel Economy special with lightweight suspension parts, aerodynamic aides and special powertrain equipment. Sierras are available in five different trim levels – WT (Work Truck), SL, SLE, SLT and perhaps befitting its slightly more upmarket status than Silverado, full-on luxury Denali. Three cab styles, regular, Extended and Crew are offered as are a choice of three different box lengths, 5 feet 8-inch short, 6 foot 6-inch regular and 8-foot long, the last only offered on regular cab rigs. Pricing starts at $18,575 for an entry level W/T, while a mid-range SLE Extended Cab with the 5.3 V-8 will run you $29,325 and the full-boat Denali starting at $40,070.

With five different engines and suspension packages available, not to mention a raft of additional options, you can pretty much custom build a Sierra to your exact requirements.

OUTSIDE AND IN

Although you can clearly tell the family resemblance, the Sierra features unique front-end styling and the grille, headlights, hood and front fenders are not shared with Silverado. Exterior fit and finish is among the best in class, with precision fit panels, quality paint finish and good trim execution. Somehow the Sierra looks more aggressive than Silverado – it’s quite amazing what a new grille and headlight assemblies can do for a truck’s attitude. Chrome trim is fairly low key, even on the Denali, which gets body colored bumpers, giving this rig a more sophisticated look than the brash overtones, of say the 2009 Dodge Ram.

Opening the door and climbing up, reveals much familiarity to Silverado. Switch gear and dash controls are virtually identical, save for steering wheel and other bits of interior trim. Two interior packages are offered ‘Pure Pickup’ and ‘Luxury Inspired,’ though Denali gets specific and even more opulent cabin fixtures. No matter what trim level, plus points are good steering wheel/seat positioning, fine outward visibility and a dual glovebox option on Pure Pickup interiors. That said, the switchgear still feels a little hollow and cheap, even on the Denali and the myriad of stereo controls, both on the wheel and console in more upmarket trucks can make things a tad confusing. Adjustable foot pedals help shorter drivers get comfortable, though the center stack controls on entry-level trucks can be a tough reach for them. Denali also now comes with heated and cooled seats, allowing front passengers to remain comfortable no matter what the climatic conditions outside might be.

In terms of overall interior space and packaging, the Sierra excels – Extended and Crew Cabs in particular make very good use of maximum interior room and even in regular cabs it doesn’t feel cramped, even with three people placed across the front bench.

Three different box lengths also offer a great deal of flexibility and even on the short box, the inner fenders don’t really hinder loading wide and bulky items into the bed, though reaching for stuff at the front can be a bit tricky without a stepladder.

ON THE ROAD

One of Sierra’s key selling points the truck’s quiet, composed, on-road demeanor. The regular Z83 suspension is well-tuned for a variety of road conditions and even over bigger bumps it doesn’t cause the truck to get too ruffled. The coilover front and leaf sprung rear with its splayed shocks, do a great job at absorbing imperfections, as does the chassis. However the steering takes a bit of a pounding and really rough stuff causes it to dart a bit. Feel is also a bit lacking. A wide track gives the Sierra very good on road stability and through the corners it holds its own. The Z85 suspension, designed for towing use, gives the big GMC a definite edge and the Z60 Street Package, that comes with 20-inch wheels, results in cornering manners that are not far off some sedans, with good grip, though again, it’s the steering that lets it down. Somehow it just doesn’t feel as focused as the rest of the chassis. Braking is decent, with good stopping ability, though pedal feel is somewhat numb. Sierras have standard front disc/rear drum brakes, though four-wheel discs are optional on Extended and Crew Cab models.

As far as the powertrains, the base 195 hp 4.3 liter Vortec V-6, is rough, noisy and best avoided, the 295 hp 4.8-liter V-8, which gets comparable fuel mileage 14/20 mpg (city/highway), is much smoother, with a lot more grunt, though it’s somewhat hobbled by the four-speed auto. The 5.3-liter, 315 hp V-8 is a great all-round engine and the best choice for everyday use – thanks to the new six-speed automatic that delivers fuel economy in the low 20s (highway). For towing (as well as serious off-road use), the 6.0-liter with 367 hp on tap is very hard to beat and has more than enough power in reserve. The 6.2, while more powerful, is best for bragging rights and although it offers a few more cubes and corresponding power (403 hp), as well as the ability to run on gas or E85 Ethanol, it still burns more fuel than the 6.0 – around 12/18 mpg versus 14/20. It also, expectedly, costs more. The new six-speed transmission is a gem. The gears are well spaced and the shifts seamless. The only drawback is that in Tow/Haul mode, it tends to hunt through the gears, especially descending hills.

Off-road the Sierra equates itself well, the All-Terrain, which includes the Z71 package with skid plate, locking rear differential, specially tuned off-road shocks and optional transmission and oil coolers, plows through just about anything. It’s also good at towing – the integrated trailer brake control, allows better brake modulation than most aftermarket units and the 3.73 final drive offered on Crew Cab shortbox trucks, allows it pull up to 10,600 lbs in 2WD form (10,400 for 4 x 4s) and with the 6.0 and 6.2 liter V-8 engines, makes light work of hill climbing and passing.

THE VERDICT

When it comes down to the wire, the GMC Sierra offers a fine blend of comfort, capability and value. Aside from minor gripes with the steering and tow/haul, it excels just about everywhere. It’s competitively priced, not only against its cousin the Silverado, (which in our opinion, gives it the edge), but also rivals from Dodge, Ford and Toyota. Throw in a ton of options and the availability of the XFE All-Terrain and luxury Denali and the Sierra looks even more appealing. If you’re in the market for a full-size pickup, you could do far worse than giving one of these a closer look.

POSITVE

Excellent ride, handling, towing and off-road capability Upmarket Denali still offers a lot of truck for the money Huge range of options and configurations

NEGATIVE

Base engine is slow, noisy and thirsty Steering and brakes could use more feel Interior still has a few quirks

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