Thursday, May 5, 2011

Denali package upgrades new GMC heavy-duty pickups

Thursday, May 5, 2011

NEW YORK ? Flat-screen TVs and pickup trucks prompt owners to play the same game: Mine's bigger. And they trigger the same anxious second-guessing: I shoulda bought the bigger one.

  • The GMC Sierra Denali HD.

    GM, Wieck

    The GMC Sierra Denali HD.

GM, Wieck

The GMC Sierra Denali HD.

Easy to see with TVs, because bigger has meant better more bells, whistles, features, picture. But among pickups, bigger has meant heavier-duty, able to tow and haul more, make the owner look more like a serious truck person. Not necessarily nicer, or more pleasant, or more livable usually less livable, in fact.

Lately, though, truck makers have been shoveling the fancy trim from their half-ton, standard-duty pickups into their heavier-duty models, the so-called three-quarter-ton and one-ton versions.

And that's what General Motors' trucks-only brand, GMC, has done. When it overhauled its heavy-duty Sierra pickups for 2011 only a front stabilizer part is carried over from 2010, even though the new ones don't look much different it added the successful Denali luxury package as an option.

Smart move. Denali now accounts for about 20% of Sierra HD sales, says Kenn Bakowski, marketing manager for the GMC Sierra full-size pickup. "In hindsight, there was a demand," he says. "When a guy spends $7,000 for the diesel, he wants something pretty nice to take him down the road."

Despite the stiff price premium and more expensive fuel, diesel's the choice of most heavy-duty buyers. Diesels have more power to pull heavy trailers while using less fuel than a gas engine would. Diesels also have a reputation for lasting longer.

We wanted to see how such a hefty rig served in ordinary duty. For specifics on how the new GMC and corporate sibling Chevrolet models fared in tougher duty, check with our pals at

Our test truck was a 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD crew cab, diesel, four-wheel drive (4x4).

As a "plain" Denali, it would have been $47,445. Options aplenty brought it to $61,774. Mainly, $7,195 for the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel and the required $1,200 Allison six-speed automatic.

We collected the machine in Manhattan, ran with high-speed traffic down the turnpike and interstate home to Northern Virginia, then used the truck in daily duty around the 'burbs.


•Don't consider such a truck casually. It's too big, too stiff-riding and too fuel-thirsty unless you really need the brawn.

•Diesels have gotten much better, as have the transmissions mated to them. The Duramax was relatively quiet, and emitted no odor or soot, and the Allison shifted quite nicely not the slam-bang gear changes we expected based on previous Allison experience.

•Steering while unladen was tricky on the highway. All that momentum made it hard to change headings, even slightly, without oversteering and then having to compensate. Around town, no problem.

•Back seat still lacks generous knee and leg room. "We absolutely know it's harder to get your feet around the B pillar in our (trucks) than the other guy's," acknowledges Rick Spina, who is what GM calls the vehicle line executive for full-size trucks. The B pillar is the one between the front and rear seats.

"But I have to say, 'How much space do I take from the cargo bed for the back seat'" and still leave the truck short enough to fit a garage? he asks.

•Who let the dogs out? Faint, but quite audible, sound like a barking dog annoys you when you first get in. GMC says it's the whirring of the navigation disc. The 2012 models, on sale this summer, have different navi setups and no barking, GMC says.

•High, wide and handsome. No question, that's how you feel wheeling around in Sierra Denali 2500 HD. As if you're saying, move over, toy trucks; here's a big-boy machine.

No, we couldn't seriously see having this truck or one like it as a daily driver.

But yes, there were moments when the satisfying, grumbly urge of the diesel's amazing 765 pounds-feet of torque, the plushness of the Denali treatment, the practical and sensible layout that General Motors uses for its pickups, and the insouciance of a big truck in a crowded suburb threatened to erase rational, mature judgment.

2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD specs, details, pricing

What? The fancy Denali package is applied to the redesigned full-size, heavy-duty (so-called three-quarter-ton and one-ton) pickups.

First time for a Denali version of the heavies.

When? On sale since June.

Where? Built at Flint, Mich.

How much? $44,645 including shipping for the two-wheel-drive 2500 HD, $47,794 for the 4x4. 3500 series (one-ton) also offers Denali version for similar prices.

Test truck was Denali 2500 HD 4x4 with optional diesel, Allison transmission, navigation and more, priced at $61,774.

How powerful? 6-liter gasoline V-8 rated 360 horsepower at 5,400 rpm, 380 pounds-feet of torque at 4,200.

Optional 6.6-liter diesel V-8 rated 397 hp at 3,000, 765 lbs.-ft. of torque at 1,600.

How big? Enough bigger than a standard pickup to be noticeable.

The test truck, a crew cab with 6.5-ft. cargo box, was 240.1 in. long, 80 in., wide, 78 in. tall on a 153.7-in. wheelbase, weighing a hefty 7,391 lbs. (the diesel drivetrain accounts for 829 lbs. of that), rated to carry 2,631 lbs. of people, cargo, accessories; tows 13,000 lbs.

Turning circle diameter, 50.5 feet.

How thirsty: Very. Trucks in this heavy-duty category do not get government fuel-economy ratings, but test truck trip computer showed 18.2 mpg, with no load in fast highway use, 10.5 mpg in suburban driving without load.

GMC says its tests also show about 18 mpg highway.

For perspective, those mileages are similar to the real-world fuel economy (not the window-sticker rating) of a gasoline V-8 in a 1500-series (half-ton or standard-duty) pickup.

Overall: Wow, whatta truck. Too bumpy and bouncy and big and expensive for casual use, but if you really need to tow or haul in style, or if your serious-trucker fantasies get the better of you …

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