So this is professional grade...
IntroductionGMC Sierra – First Drive: The whispers started probably two years ago. You remember: GMC is hurting...there’s no need for it...someone should introduce GMC to Olds... Ahhh. Nothing says professional grade like rumors about your demise. Then again, nothing says “I told you so” like a good run of new vehicles, which is exactly what happened. The new Sierra full-size pickup aims to continue the run, and it offers a big advantage over its mechanical twin, the Chevrolet Silverado: A model with a six-speed automatic transmission and a whopping 400 horsepower. Ouch. Now that’s a professional grade smack upside the chops if we’ve ever felt one.
According to GMC: The First 100 Years, and GM, General Motors purchased GMC in 1909, and they didn’t get around to swallowing up Chevrolet until around 1916. Given seniority, it’s fair to say that the Silverado is junior to the Sierra. Add to that questionable logic the fact that GMC has the one thing Chevrolet doesn’t: a Denali trim, a 6.2-liter V8 and a – gasp – six-speed automatic. Other than that, the trucks are identical save for the front ends, and trace their lineage back to GM’s GMT900 line of vehicles, which includes a bunch of SUVs. Hey – it all winds up in the same corporate pie in the end, right?
The Basics: Model Mix – Configurations
The Sierra has three cab configurations – regular, extended, crew – and five trims – Work Truck (WT), SLE1, SLE2, SLT and Denali. All come with either two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD), and bed choices range from short (5 ft. 8 in.) to standard (6 ft. 6 in.) and long (8 ft.). There are two interiors. Pure Pickup in WT and both SLE trims features larger knobs and handles; Luxury for the SLT, the same as what's found inside GM SUVs. Cloth seats are standard on WT/SLE models with leather available on SLT trims. Sierra SLTs come with a chrome front bumper and a heated, 12-way, power leather driver’s seat. A lockable in-seat storage bin built into the new 40/20/40-split rear bench is large enough to store a laptop.
The Basics: Model Mix – Powertrains
All Sierras except the Denali come with a four-speed automatic transmission. What changes is the engine. Choices start with a 4.3-liter V6, standard on the WT Regular Cab/2WD Extended Cab models. One step up is a 4.8-liter V8, standard on WT 4WD Extended Cabs, SLE Regular Cabs and Extended Cabs, and WT/SLE Crew Cab models; that’s followed by a 5.3-liter FlexFuel V8, available on all; a 5.3-liter V8 standard on SLE and SLT models but available on all, and a 5.3-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management (AFM) on 4WD Crew Cab models. A 6.0-liter V8 with AFM is part of the SLE/SLT Extended and Crew Cab towing package. The Denali Sierra gets a 6.2-liter V8, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Basics: Model Mix – WT, SLE1
The Sierra Work Truck includes few frills. Standard features include a stereo, two power outlets, a heater, a rubber floor and a dual glove box. You get an overhead console, tilt-steering and a year's worth of OnStar. Options include air conditioning, cruise control, and power windows and door locks. The WT Convenience Package includes power door locks, remote keyless entry and stereo with a CD player. Moving up to the SLE1 nets WT options plus an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass/temperature display, leather-wrapped steering wheel and extendable sun visors. SLE1 options include a power sliding rear window on Extended and Crew Cabs, a sunroof, steering wheel-mounted controls, a remote vehicle starter system, adjustable pedals, dual-zone climate control, and side curtain airbags.
The Basics: Model Mix – SLE2, SLT
The SLE2 trim makes dual-zone climate control standard, along with a center console that swallows 20 liters of storage with two power outlets and two cupholders. Options available on the SLE2 trim include a DVD entertainment system for Crew Cabs, and an SLE2 Convenience Package which cobbles together a remote vehicle starter system, universal home remote, heated windshield washer fluid, and power-adjustable, folding and heated outside rearview mirrors. The SLT trim adds the universal home remote transmitter as standard, along with a sunroof and the remote vehicle starter. GM's safety package is an option on the SLT trim, as are side-impact curtain airbags, DVD entertainment for Crew Cabs, adjustable pedals, and a power sliding rear window.
The Basics: Model Mix – Denali
The Denali could very easily be the Cadillac of pickups. Standard features include roof-mounted side curtain air bags, power-adjustable pedals, electrochromic (auto-dimming) inside mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing automatic windshield wipers, remote vehicle starter system, EZ Lift tailgate, and rear parking assist. Interior features include leather seats, 12-way power and heated driver’s seat and a six-CD stereo with MP3 capability, Bose speakers, and XM satellite radio. Options include a cargo management system, power sliding rear window, roof rack, navigation system, power sunroof, and a DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system.
The Basics: Pricing
For 2007, you get an all-new Sierra pickup with a new five-year/100,000 warranty for pretty much the same price as the outgoing 2006 model. Buyers interested in a Sierra without the trimmings – including the 4.3-liter V6 engine in lieu of the V8 – pay $18,760 for a Work Truck Regular Cab, including a $900 destination charge. Work Truck Extended Cabs with the 4.8-liter V8 engine start at $23,605, moving up to $27,000 for Crew Cabs. The same vehicle in the SLE1 trim has a starting sticker of $26,565; the SLE2 trim with the 5.3-liter V8 engine begins at $28,295 and the SLT trim goes for $32,105. Denali prices start at $38,995. All prices apply to 2WD models; there’s a $3,100 premium for 4WD/AWD.
What's New: Outside
One look and it’s easy to see the difference a complete redesign makes: More pronounced, yet subdued fender blisters front and back, a strong new grille and headlight casings that make the Sierra more muscular and more uptown. Gone is the GMC face, replaced by a bolder chromed front assembly that looks as if it’s been molded to the truck. The most significant changes made, however, are harder to detect but speak of GM’s renewed mandate of quality construction. Exterior gaps on the new model, especially between the cab and the bed, have been significantly reduced, and the hood now fits flush inside the fenders instead of capping fender and grille.
What’s New: Outside – Denali
Shout out to your friends, associates and neighbors that you bought more than a truck – you purchased a Denali. The striking chrome grille says it all, as do the additional chrome trim and body-color bumpers. Available in three exterior colors including Onyx Black, Summit White, and Silver Birch Metallic, the Denali is about style that starts with its unique 18-inch alloy wheels.
What's New: Inside
What’s new about the Sierra depends on what you buy: The SLT trim gets the same interior as the new Yukon, while WT and SLE trims feature a “Pure Pickup” interior. The Pure Pickup variant seems able to hide scuffs and dirt better than the SLT trim and offers bigger control switches, door handles and a dual glove box. Other additions include a lockable in-seat storage bin built into the 40/20/40-split bench. All Sierra models enjoy more room inside, including more storage capacity. Design changes include what GM refers to as a “low and forward” instrument panel, which really did improve visibility and usability during our test drive. Entry to the rear seat of Extended Cab models is eased with doors that open 170 degrees.
What's New: Inside – Denali
The GMC Sierra Denali offers something different then the rest of the GM truck line, such as a Denali-style leather-wrapped steering wheel with wood grain accents and auxiliary controls, a unique center console, and embossed sill plates. The unique center console has a faux wood grain door trim that conceals the lid and cupholder pockets.
What's New: Under the Hood
The story here isn’t only what’s new, but what isn’t: the same ‘ol four-speed automatic transmission. Granted, it’s a good transmission, but you can feel the gears struggling to meet up with the engine power from time to time. What is new, however, is impressive: rack-and-pinion steering, a new fully boxed frame, wider tracks and a coil-over-shock design. Put it together and you’ve got yourself one smooth-riding and nimble truck, empty or under load. Also new are a tow capacity of 10,500 pounds when properly outfitted, and a maximum payload of 2,160 pounds. There are five suspension systems, ranging from smooth to tow. All are superbly engineered.
What's New: Under the Hood - Engines
GM boasts among the most powerful and efficient engines in the truck segment, thanks to AFM, though our experiences have been disappointing. Only the Denali’s 6.2-liter engine gets the six-speed auto; all others are mated to a four-speed. There’s a 4.3-liter V6 rated at 195 horsepower at 4,600 rpm and 260 lb.-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm; a 4.8-liter V8 making 295 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 305 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm; and a 5.3-liter FlexFuel V8 with AFM that gets 315 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 338 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. For even more power – and maximum towing – there’s a 6.0-liter V8 with AFM that makes 367 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 375 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm.
What’s New: Under the Hood – Denali
So this is where GM is hiding the real good stuff, namely a 6.2-liter V8 engine that makes 400-horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 417 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm, and is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission and either two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It also features a 9.5-inch rear axle (2WD) or 8.6-inch rear axle (AWD) with 3.42 gears and a locking rear differential. Standard chassis features include a heavy-duty Z85 suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and StabiliTrak, along with skid plates and tow hooks. Eighteen-inch aluminum wheels are standard and unique 20-inch chrome-finish aluminum wheels are available. The wheel designs are unique to the Denali.
What's New: Towing and Payload
The maximum towing package combines the 6.0-liter V8 engine and four-speed automatic transmission with a heavy-duty 9.5-inch rear axle, locking differential, 4.10 axle ratio, heavy-duty cooling system and other enhanced features to enable a towing capacity of 10,500 pounds (4,763 kg). The payload maxes out at 2,160 pounds. Denali models tow up to 8,500 pounds and accommodate a payload of 1,719 pounds. Our experience towing at 10,000 lbs. was superb, with plenty of vehicle control under braking, at speed, and through corners. The cabin was civilized while towing a large horse trailer, with just some minor additional noise.
Driving: Test Car, Location
We traveled to GM’s Proving Grounds outside of Phoenix, AZ to drive the new GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups and were treated to an exhaustive display of the new truck’s capabilities. Over the span of two days and about 250 miles we were able to drive virtually every main configuration under load and off, drive 2006 model-year competitors back-to-back on an autocross course, and take part in a revealing, maximum capacity towing exercise. General Motors officials opened doors and allowed complete scrutiny during the trip.
It’s got good iron, this truck. With plenty of torque and horsepower, it starts fast and cruises nicely. When towing, under load or empty, the truck remains composed and comfortable on highways, city streets and dirt roads. In terms of power and delivery, most of our complaints centered on that four-speed automatic transmission. At times the transmission felt as though it was playing catch up with the engine. This must have a negative impact on fuel economy though GM says its trucks are the most fuel efficient in the segment. We were unable to get a valid rating on our drive, but as with any vehicle, EPA ratings are probably a bit optimistic. Stopping, meanwhile, was improved with a sharper pedal feel.
Driving: Ride and Handling
An all-new chassis and rack-and-pinion steering do wonders for the Sierra’s road manners. At times it barely felt like a truck, such was the smooth ride and quiet cabin. This may be the most mannerly truck we’ve ever driven. On corners, it sets up nicely, with less sway than you’d expect. Dirt road driving under load and empty was remarkable. The Sierra kept its footing with little hop or shudder even at speed, and absorbed many ruts and bumps that would rattle other trucks. When we dialed in a steering correction, the truck responded promptly and accurately. Overall, the ride and handling is where these trucks really shine: Quiet, with a comfortable ride and improved steering, it may offer the most composed behavior in its class.
With more people using trucks for daily commutes, cabs must be comfortable, and the Sierra provides ample room and nicely built and upholstered seats. Up front, those seats are gently sculpted with firm padding, a wide seat surface and an acceptable amount of support, making for a comfortable ride. Hip and shoulder room is excellent, though drivers may feel as though their feet are a bit restricted in the way they point forward. Extended Cabs have plenty of leg room in back compared to other trucks, though the seat backs weren’t very comfortable. As it is, complaints about the comfort of the Sierra (or Silverado) are few. This is a well-designed and nicely appointed interior, no matter which trim you choose.
Simplicity and quality. Those may be the hallmarks of the new GM controls, but one issue with the Pure Pickup layout is that the gauges are set deep into tunnels, making the smaller ones hard to read. The SLT trim has a hood protecting the gauges from glare. Quality-wise, items such as the turn signal stalk have a nice heft; the turn signal even produces a refined click-clack when used. The radio (as a standalone) is straightforward, though the readout washes out badly in the sun. Visors built with extenders actually block the same sun when you swing one over to the side. Light controls, hot/cold temperature and other elements are ringed in chrome, with a soft surface for fingers.
Advice: Selling Points
Look closely at the Sierra, or the Silverado, if you prize V8 power with a smooth and responsive ride and a comfortable, nicely designed interior made of quality materials and with ample room to move around. This newest truck offers all of that as well as impressive markers when it comes to the work part of truckdom: maximum towing of 10,500 lbs. and maximum payload of 2,160 lbs. Sure, there are trucks out there that offer more torque (Nissan Titan), larger interior bins and other truck-type benefits. But top to bottom, the Sierra is a truck for grown ups who appreciate a smooth ride and a comfortable seat, no matter what they’re hauling.
Advice: Deal Breakers
A brand new truck with an old four-speed automatic transmission is disappointing, as is the dual gloveboxglove box on the Pure Pickup interior trims; there’s not very much space, and it’s a little hard to use. Negatives also include the lack of a real effective tailgate-assist mechanism, and the absence of a composite-lined bed. Perhaps as a dealer accessory? Yes, there is an optional rail system, but without a protective sleeve inside the bed it likely won’t take long for your Sierra to show its age. For some truck buyers, however, that’s a good thing, for it shows a truck in use, and we can’t argue with that logic.
2007 Toyota Tundra: The all-new Tundra is as big and as powerful as the Sierra, and with oversized compartments, controls and seating surfaces, the Tundra is built to compete for the hearts and minds of the contractor/worker segment. Time will tell whether this group makes the switch.
2007 Ford F-150: The F-150 has legions of loyalists who won’t convert easily, though improvements made to the GM trucks make for a compelling reason. While there’s a new Super Duty for sale in 2007, a redesigned F-150 won’t come around until 2008.
Specifications - Price, Powertrains
Test Vehicle: 2007 GMC Sierra
Price Range: Reg. $18,760 / Ext. $23,605 / Crew $27,000 (inc. $900 dest.)
Engine Size and Type: 4.3-liter V6 / 4.8-liter V8 / 5.3-liter V8 FlexFuel / 5.3-liter V8 / 6.0-liter V8 / 6.2-liter V8 (Denali only)
Engine Horsepower: 195 at 4,600 rpm / 295 at 5,600 rpm / 315 at 5,200 rpm / 315 at 5,200 rpm / 367 at 5,500 rpm / 400 at 5,700 rpm (Denali only)
Engine Torque: 260 lb.-ft. at 2,800 rpm / 305 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm / 338 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm / 338 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm / 375 lb.-ft. at 4,300 rpm / 417 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm (Denali only)
Transmission: four-speed automatic / six-speed automatic (Denali only)
Specifications - Weight, MPG, Payload and Towing
Test Vehicle: 2007 GMC Sierra
Price Range: Reg. $18,760 / Ext. $23,605 / Crew $27,000 / Denali $38,995 (inc. $900 dest.)
Curb Weight, lbs.: Reg., 4,448 – 4,950 / Ext., 4,797 - 5,426 / Crew, 5,061 – 5,290 / Denali, 5,323 – 5,281
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway):16/20 mpg
Max. Payload: Reg., 1713 - 1952 / Ext., 1,603 - 2,160 / Crew, 1,658 - 2,010 / Denali, 1568 – 1,719
Max. Towing Capacity: Reg., 8,000 - 8,900 / Ext., 7,500 - 10,500 (with tow pkg) / Crew, 8,500 - 10,500 (with tow pkg) / Denali, 8,500
Photos courtesy of General Motors