As far as the full-size half-ton pickup market goes these days GMC’s Sierra 1500 and its Chevy twin the Silverado are amongst the segment’s elder statesmen. They’ve been around since the 2007 model year and while fresh at the time, today they’re perhaps starting to look a little dated, especially next to the likes of Ford’s F-150 and the Ram 1500.
|1. Four engines are offered, including a 4.3L V6, as well as 4.8, 5.3 and 6.2-liter V8s.
2. The 2WD XFE fuel efficiency package with a front spoiler, high rolling resistance tires and other features enables the Sierra to achieve 22 miles per gallon on the highway.
3. Denali models feature standard 20-inch wheels, four-wheel disc brakes and Z60 suspension with skid plates.
4. A leather wrapped steering wheel is available on all models, including the base Work Truck.
5. Sierra 1500 models start at $22,195 and top out at $45,460 for the Denali.
Nevertheless, the T900 twins remain popular trucks and collectively outsell the Ford F-150 (though GM never groups sales figures together).
For 2013 little is new for the GMC Sierra, save for two new exterior colors (Sonoma Red Metallic and Heritage Blue Metallic) plus a powertrain braking feature that applies engine torque on downhill sections to reduce wear on the brakes when the transmission is placed in normal mode (previously it was operational only in tow/haul mode).
LOTS OF OPTIONS
Sierras are offered in base Work Truck (W/T) as well as XFE, SL, SLE, SLT and luxury Denali trim levels, with a choice of regular, extended and crew cab configurations, plus three different box lengths (5 feet 8-inches, 6-feet, 6-inches and 8-feet (the last offered on regular and extended cab rigs only). Four different engines are available, 4.3-liter V6, as well as 4.8, 5.3 and 6.2-liter V8s. The base motor and the 4.8L are teamed with a four-speed slushbox, while the others come standard with GM’s 6L80E six-speed auto-box.
In the last decade, GM has tried to more distinctively differentiate the Sierra from its Chevy counterpart and this has so far been most evident in the current truck, which sports different headlights, marker lights and fenders as well as a new bumper, grille and hood. In our eyes it’s arguably more handsome than the Silverado, though compared to the likes of the big, bold Ram and even the F-150 and Toyota Tundra, it doesn’t really deliver that mean, in-your-face attitude we’ve come to expect of full-size pickups.
Inside, the Sierra contains vestiges of old GM interiors. On our test victim, an SLE Crew Cab, the door panes and dash had a cheap, somewhat flimsy feel to them, with notable sharp edges on the instrument panel top cover and around the edges of the center console.
SLT and Denali trucks come with a luxury inspired interior, like that found in the Yukon and Yukon XL sport utilities. You get leather, wood trim and niceties such as built-in satellite navigation, MP3 compatible music player and USB connectivity, however, quality still seems to be wanting next to the likes of Ford’s F-150 Platinum or Ram’s Laramie trimmed trucks.
That said, out of all the full-size trucks we’ve tested, the GM machines still sport one of the most comfortable driving positions, with nicely laid out controls and an excellent steering wheel to seat relationship. The chairs themselves are flat and wide, yet provide a good amount of support that even after hours of driving doesn’t result in you wanting to stretch your back.
Standard in crew cab models is stadium rear seating, giving rear riders a higher seating position than the front chairs. The back 60/40 bench is also easily stowable, simply pull or push the bottom pad and up or down it goes, no fumbling for levers.
The optional console area is big and nicely laid out, with logically placed cup holders and a storage bin large enough to swallow most items required, whether for work or recreation, including file folders and even small drinks coolers.
SMOOTH V8S, MIDDLING FUEL ECONOMY
From the captain’s seat, outward visibility is good, with big wide mirrors, a fairly low cowl height and ample glass. In terms of powertrains, the hoary old, 195 horsepower 4.3-liter V6 isn’t really worth bothering with these days and even if your budget doesn’t stretch that far, the 302 hp, 4.8L V8, which delivers more torque (305 versus 260-lb-ft) is a far better engine. It’s smoother, sounds better and delivers comparable fuel economy (14/19 mpg city/highway, versus 15/20 for the V6).
The garden variety 5.3-liter V8, as fitted to our test example, is actually offered in two guises, one with a cast-iron block, the other with an aluminum unit. Both motors are rated at 315 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque as well as being E85-capable. Fuel economy is actually slightly better than the 4.8, with extra torque demanding less effort most of the time, aided by two extra gears. Expect to get around 14 miles per gallon in town and 21 on the open road. (The EPA rates both 2WD and 4WD versions equipped with this engine the same in terms of fuel economy numbers).
Top of the heap is a larger 6.2-liter unit offered in extended, crew cab and Denali trucks only. With 403 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque on tap, it’s got ample juice to get the job done and if you’re doing a lot of towing, this is the motor to go for, though fuel economy suffers, with around 13-mpg possible in the city and just 18-mpg on the highway, not helped by a 3.73:1 rear axle ratio.
In terms of acceleration, the pushrod V8s need a few revs to get them to come into their own, though under normal driving, especially at highway speeds or steady suburban running they feel satisfying. The six-speed automatic is one of the best transmissions offered in a full-size pickup, with superbly calibrated gearing and smooth cog swapping. That said, in Tow/Haul mode it feels a bit overtly aggressive, especially when descending steep grades, hunting gears and really boosting the engine revs to slow the truck and trailer combination. If you’re doing an extended drive while pulling a load behind, this can get rather tiresome, especially if you’re negotiating roads in places like the Smokey Mountains or the Rockies.
As for payload and towing, the Sierra doesn’t quite match the likes of Ford’s F-150, though properly equipped, it can yank up to 10,700 lbs behind it and haul 1,937 lbs worth of gear in the bed.
AGING, YET REFINED
In terms of ride and handling, thanks to its hydro formed frame rails and coilover shock front suspension; the Sierra is truly hard to fault, boasting some of the best dynamics in its class. The hydraulically actuated rack and pinion steering boasts good feel, with fairly crisp (by truck standards) on-center feel and responsiveness through corners. That said, the Sierra still boasts a turning circle equivalent of the Exxon Valdez, so tight urban spots require plenty of thinking when planning turnarounds.
Ride, like handling is very good by full-size pickup standards, the suspension and frame doing an excellent job at soaking up bumps, potholes and other road blemishes. Along with seats, they help make the Sierra [and it’s Silverado counterpart] some of nicest half-ton trucks to drive over longer distances. Even when the bed is empty, the leaf sprung rear end is notable for absence of choppiness on bumpy pavement, aided by the splayed shock configuration. This becomes all the more remarkable when considering that the basic engineering is roughly a decade old.
PICK YOUR SUSPENSION
Five different suspension setups are offered on the Sierra, ranging from the Z83, designed for a smooth highway ride (thanks to specifically tuned monotube front and rear twin-tube shocks), the Z85 which is designed for enhanced trailer towing and handling with unique monotube front and rear shocks, the Z71 off-road package (as fitted to our tester) with specifically calibrated monotube dampers designed to limit travel on bumpy terrain, the Z60, which delivers a firm ride and maximum on-road handling performance and finally the NHT, which combines capable off-road performance and maximum trailer towing with specially tuned monotube rear shocks and higher capacity leaf springs to withstand higher payloads.
For off-roading, 4×4 models, such as our tester are equipped with an electronically selectable transfer case. It’s dead simple to use and easy to engage high or low range. With the Z71 suspension, it enables the truck to work rather well on the rough stuff, with good suspension control, while a wide footprint enhances stability when tackling corners through trails. The combination of the 5.3-liter V8 and gearing also provides ample traction and for the factory equipped tires, with our Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts actually working rather well for boonie bashing.
Front disc/rear drums are standard on the Sierra, with rear discs being available as an option. Braking is good and the ABS doesn’t feel as intrusive as some other trucks we’ve tested (Ram and Tundra) yet pedal feel remains good, even when you’re hauling or towing a 5,000 lb trailer. The standard brake controller and trailer sway control function are better than most aftermarket systems, though we did find there’s still a bit of buffeting when you engage the brakes when descending steep hills, which can feel a little unnerving at times.
The great thing about the Sierra is there’s a trim level and configuration to suit just about every taste and budget. With prices starting at $22,195 for base W/T, running to $26,740 for an SLE crew cab like our test victim and $45,460 for the top of the line Denali, the Sierra is definitely price competitive against rival full-size trucks and as it nears the end of its life-cycle both GM and its dealers are likely to be offering numerous incentives to move examples off the lot.
Although we still don’t know what the next generation version (due in 2014) will be like, one thing’s for certain, despite its interior fixtures, this truck is going to be a fairly tough act to follow.