You know you’ve made it into the big leagues (or at least pop culture) when your brand continues to make it into the lyrics of country music songs.
While my tester for this review isn’t a Chevrolet, it’s the GMC equivalent and for all intents and purposes, the same basic truck.
The GMC Sierra has been winning accolades in the motoring press ever since its debut last year for the 2014 model year. It even won the coveted Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s “Best New Pickup” award, no small feat as this award results from rigorous back-to-back testing and is based on a combination of objective data and evaluation by 80 journalists.
“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.
Even though General Motors says that their Sierra is the most powerful, most advanced, and most refined truck in the brand’s 111-year history, the latest iteration is an evolution rather than a revolution of its predecessor.
My All-Terrain Edition Sierra gave up most of its chrome bits and bobs for body-colour trim pieces as part of the package. I thought that the monochromatic effect was rather sporty and less blingy. But the All-Terrain package includes much more than just a unique exterior appearance. More on that later.
The new snout has been carefully engineered to improve sealing for more efficient cooling. Meanwhile, the roof and tailgate spoiler were shaped in the wind tunnel to smooth airflow over the truck for reduced drag. New inlaid doors, which fit into recesses in the bodyside, reduce wind noise for a quieter cab.
The new cab is also stronger with two-thirds of the structure now made from high-strength steel for improved safety, ride and handling. The main frame rails and cross members have also been upgraded to the same high-strength steel and hydroformed for reduced mass and improved strength.
Crew cab customers, who now represent more than 60% of retail Sierra owners, can choose between two bed lengths: a new 6-foot, 6-inch box is available in addition to the standard 5-foot, 8-inch box. Regular cabs continue to be available with the 6-foot, 6-inch or 8-foot box lengths, while the double cab will come exclusively with a 6-foot, 6-inch box.
Most Sierras also now feature a rear chrome bumper with standard corner steps (a la the discontinued Chevy Avalanche) that make climbing into the bed easy regardless of whether the tailgate is up or down. My All-Terrain package’s monochromatic bumper sacrifices these corner steps for the monotone paint job.
Finally, borrowed from the Toyota Tundra is the addition of a no-slam tailgate. An integrated torsion bar and damper assists with lifting and lowering the tailgate. This is sure to be a feature that everyone will now expect from all future pickup trucks.
Whether it has been in a Chevy, a GMC, or a Cadillac, General Motors’ latest interiors have seemed to hit it out of the park. The new Sierra’s is the rule rather than the exception.
The inside is a really nice improvement over its predecessor and I’m happy to say that the panel gaps and hard plastics are gone. In its place we get a Denali-grade interior with new soft-touch premium materials.
Up front are comfortable leather seats – front buckets with a faux carbon fibre pattern in the case of my All-Terrain model. GM says that the Sierra’s seats use dual-density foam designed to stay comfortable over long hours. Something that I can attest to on a 2.5 hour jaunt out of town to Whistler, BC.
A new upright instrument panel with a large 8” touchscreen infotainment is the one of the stars of the show. The Intellilink-connected system has a relatively intuitive layout with easy-to-read high-resolution icons that control audio, Bluetooth phone, and navigation features.
There are no less than 5 USB ports, 4 twelve-volt outlets, and even an AC inverter that sit in front of a clever rubberized rail in the centre console. This rail is moulded to hold electronic devices steadily without them flopping or sliding while being charged. So simple but yet clever.
Along the centre stack and console are additional cupholders and compartments that are large enough for several laptop computers. A 2nd high-mounted storage box with a flat floor joins the traditional box below.
SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
If you’re a previous Sierra owner, prepare to be extra impressed. Even with an empty pickup truck bed, the Sierra rides well on everyday streets. There is a lack of axle hop and the body motions are well controlled even on poor roads. This is even more impressive given that my All-Terrain model included the Z71 off-road suspension with stiffer Rancho shocks.
New shear-style body mounts are designed to tune out both up-and-down and side-to-side movement for a quieter, more comfortable ride. Double cab and crew cab models now also have a set of hydraulic body mounts to further isolate the cabs. The result is a solid, refined feel with no loss in traditional truck capability.
Steering feel is also surprisingly good for a full-sized truck. Well-weighted, precise, and surprisingly quick. It’s even more impressive when you discover that this is an electric unit and not a hydraulic one.
To motivate the Sierra 1500, my test vehicle was equipped with GM’s new 5.3L EcoTec3 direct-injection V8. This mill is good for 355 hp and 383 ft-lbs of torque. Not only is it pleasantly quiet but also has the ability to shut down half its cylinders to sip less fuel. In fact, GM claims that it offers the best fuel efficiency of any V8 pickup truck and even beats the fuel economy estimates of Ford’s EcoBoost V6 engine.
While I found the V8 to be sufficiently powerful, especially considering the truck’s 5607 lb curb weight, two things bugged me. Firstly, the engine response feels lazy and the throttle response was a bit lacking when compared with the eager-to-rev i-Force V8 in the Toyota Tundra. Secondly, when the engine switches over from V8 to V4 mode, the change in engine noise was more noticeable than expected.
While there was never a lack of power on demand, there is a noticeable increase in coarseness when the engine is in 4-cylinders mode.
Several new active safety features also make their debut including Forward Collision Alert, which uses a forward-facing camera to notify the driver of an imminent collision, and Lane Departure Warning, which uses the same camera to track the truck’s position in relation to a road’s lane markers. Oddly though, the Sierra was not available with a blindspot warning system. Something that would’ve been useful in such a long vehicle.
Paired with Forward Collision Alert and Land Departure Warning is GMC’s first-ever Driver Alert Seat, which generates vibrating pulse patterns on the left and/or right side of the lower seat cushion bolster to alert the driver of potential dangers, such as an un-signaled lane change or approaching another vehicle too quickly.
MORE ON THE ALL-TERRAIN PACKAGE
The available All-Terrain package is much more than just for appearances. To keep going even when the pavement ends, it adds the Z71 Off-Road Suspension with monotube Rancho Tenneco shocks, Hill Descent Control, a high-capacity air cleaner, underbody transfer case shield protection, an auto locking rear differential, and all-terrain tires and unique polished aluminum wheels.
I had a chance to put the Sierra through some light off-roading when meeting a couple of friends who were camping and clay pigeon shooting up in Fury Creek, British Columbia.
In order to access their location, I had drive up and down a few wide but moderately rocky paths. While this was certainly far from exceeding the Sierra’s capabilities, the 4WD low range mode, traction control, and Hill Descent Control all worked as advertised.
Hill Descent Control worked particularly well in utilizing the ABS to keep the truck at a smooth and constant descent speed down the rocky paths. All I had to do was to keep both feet off the pedals and to concentrate on steering.
GMC has been manufacturing trucks since 1902 and their experience in this category is unquestionable. With the importance of the pickup truck segment in Canada, the latest iteration of the Sierra will no doubt delight its GMC fans.
Between it and its bow-tie Chevy Silverado sibling, the Sierra strikes me as the more attractive of the two GM full-size trucks.
As I mentioned in my review of the Toyota Tundra, pickup truck owners are one of the most loyal in the industry and will fiercely defend their choice of vehicles. The question is whether GM can win over these pundits from Ford, Dodge, and even Toyota.
If I have one other criticism of the Sierra, it is the very thing that will make it popular amongst its current customers. That it is too familiar of a shape, and perhaps a tad too evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
In the meantime, consider me a GMC Sierra fan and also my current top recommednation in the pickup truck category.