2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 Review

Ken Glassman
by Ken Glassman

There are trucks, and then there are TRUCKS. If you need a truck for those Sunday garage sale outings, to bring home that oversized wicker rocking chair, get yourself a GMC Canyon. Need to trailer a bass boat, or a pair of Jet Skis, or pick up some plywood at the local Home Depot, get a Sierra 1500. If you want a truck with some styling attitude that rides like a luxury car with luxury amenities, and yet can tow or haul some heavier items, get a Chevy Avalanche. But if you need to haul a load of gravel, or tow your 65-Ft. Cigarette Boat – or haul a load of fresh cut logs down to the sawmill, you get yourself the GMC Sierra 2500 4WD Crew Cab. This is an HD truck, and the HD stands for Heavy Duty, not High Definition. This is a work truck, and it is built to work hard.


1. A new 6.6-liter Duramax makes 397-hp at 3000 rpm and 765 ft-lbs of torque at 1600 rpm and comes with an integrated exhaust brake.
2. Maximum payload capacity on the 2011 Sierra HD is 6,635 lbs, with max fifth wheel towing rated at 21,700 lbs.
3. Denali models come in just three exterior color choices; Black; Stealth Gray or White.
4. The Denali 2500 starts at $46,800 but those who opt for the Duramax diesel will have to add on over $8,000.


It’s about the numbers. The 6.6-liter, V8 turbo diesel engine boasts 397 horsepower at 3000 rpm, and an eye-popping, mother-lovin’, stump pulling, 765 lb-ft of torque at only 1600 rpm! And if you want bragging rights at the drag strip, you can reach 60 mph from a dead stop in just over 7 seconds and cross the ¼ mile in just over 15 seconds. All that power is put to the pavement via an Allison 6-speed Automatic Transmission that keeps the engine pulling in it’s power band, yet somehow manages to shift smoothly all the way up through the gears. A manumatic feature is standard with a small toggle switch on the gear shift lever for up and downshifts.

EPA Fuel Economy Estimates are not required on the window sticker of trucks of this weight, but we managed 12-mpg around town and 17-mpg on the highway doing mostly 75 to 80 miles per hour. So with a 36 gallon fuel tank, you’ll have a range of over 600 miles. Of course with diesel fuel currently selling for $4.20 a gallon, you’ll also get chest pains from the cost if you need to fill the tank all at once.

The next set of working numbers includes the maximum payload capabilities, and those numbers are also impressive. You can haul 3,200 lbs in the truck bed, (which is 78.8-inches long x 62.5-inches wide) and pull 13,000 pounds with a conventional trailer. If you use the truck as a fifth wheel, you can tow up to 17,000 pounds.


To help you keep that trailer going straight down the road, there’s Trailer Sway Control and an Integrated Trailer Brake Controller, which work in conjunction with the StabiliTrak to identify if your trailer is swaying, and then uses the engine, brakes and even the trailer’s brakes to keep the trailer under control. Also standard is the Hill Start Assist which holds the brakes for 1.5 seconds, to give you time to move your foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator pedal, without any backward movement of the vehicle if you’re starting out on an uphill incline. Automatic Grade Braking helps slow the Denali on downhill grades by using the engine and transmission to your advantage, giving the driver increased confidence and reducing brake wear.

Ride quality is something that is hard to judge for any Heavy Duty truck. The Sierra is 240-inches from front to back, and it rides on a 153.7-inch wheelbase. If you’re used to driving a 6-wheel dump truck, the Sierra will feel luxurious by comparison. If you’re used to driving most modern SUVs, this Sierra will feel like a truck. It is jarring over small and large bumps alike, but that’s the trade-off if you require the hauling, towing, and serious off-road capability.


The Denali designation adds a lot of power luxury amenities, some exterior chrome pieces and an upgraded interior with leather seating, simulated wood trim, etc. which depending upon how you compare things, can add about $18,000 to the price over a Sierra 2500 4WD.

Everything in the cabin is neat and clean and well thought out. The controls are easy to use and everything is placed where it should be. The center stack features an optional Nav system with back-up camera and park assist sonar, which has a nice size screen, and it’s easy to use. The console is large and deep so it offers a lot of useful storage. But the size of the glove box looks more like it belongs on a mid size sedan. And while the doors are massive, the storage bins are small. There is plenty of headroom in front and back, but the rear leg room seems tight compared to other trucks in this class, and there isn’t much storage back there for passengers. The 60/40 bench seat cushion folds up, however, to offer a very large flat floor space.

There’s plenty of sound deadening materials making the cabin very quiet and you hear none of the diesel clatter or wind noise at speed. The two-position memory leather seats are comfortable and this truck was fitted with the optional heated/cooled seats, which work quite well on both temperature extremes. The heated steering wheel is also a nice option. Redundant audio controls (plus Bluetooth) are located on the steering wheel in addition to the cruise control. Adjustable gas and brake pedals make it easy for a driver of any size to find a comfortable driving position.

While the Denali’s interior looks much more handsome than the standard Sierra, it still lacks that luxury feel the price tag suggests. Some softer materials have been used in places like on the center armrest, but there’s overall too much hard stuff on the dashboard and on the door sills.


We’re sure that in the corporate directory, somebody’s name is listed as the exterior designer, but from the looks of the truck, that person isn’t overworked. We get the whole “form follows function” theme, but one has to believe that even an HD work truck can have more styling.

And one feature that stands out like a wart on the face of Julia Roberts, is the huge megaphone exhaust pipe jutting out of the right rear quarter panel. It needs to be chrome or at least shiny stainless steel to match the brightwork on the truck. As it is, it looks like a piece of duct work that runs through a basement floor joist.

Looking at the window sticker, the base price of the Sierra Denali is $46,450. The Duramax 6.6 turbo diesel is a $7,195 option, with the Allison 6-speed transmission adding $1,200. The touch Screen Nav system, with Bose CD player, and XM Radio and Traffic-ready sound system costs $2,250, and the rear vision camera adds $450. A power moonroof is a $895 option, and the beautiful 20-inch polished aluminum wheels add another $850. Dealer installed (and very necessary unless you’re 6’5”) 6-inch tubular chromed assist steps cost $689, and the heated steering wheel is a bargain at $150. The bottom line number is $61,829, which sounds shocking but isn’t outside the range of similarly equipped Ford and Dodge products.


This is an alpha male, beat your chest pickup truck. It is capable or serious off-road chores around a farm, ranch, or construction site. It will haul a huge load in the truck bed, and pull a heavy load. And the Denali model has most of the luxury amenities to pamper the toughest cowboy at the end of a hard day. GMC knows how to build strong, quality trucks, with excellent fit and finish.


2011 Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty: First Drive
2011 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Review
2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty: First Drive


  • Excellent power
  • Generous payload and towing


  • Despite upgrades, interior lacking considering the price
  • Exterior styling already needs an update
Ken Glassman
Ken Glassman

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