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2001 GMC Sierra Denali C3 - Rough Country Denali

Posted in Features on February 1, 2006
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We all like race trucks and prerunners that push today's tech-nological limits. Let's face it, though: Unless you have lots of disposable income, a significant other who's very understanding, or belong to a race team or fab shop, the chances that you're going to be cutting up your brand-new, expensive truck to build for extreme off-road use range from slim to none. Lots of us have other uses for our pickups, too, such as bringing home big stuff from the lumber yard or furniture store. Many of us even need to drive our trucks to work!

What to do? Luckily, many suspension manufacturers have realized that we want and need suspension systems to lift our truck to clear larger tires but still afford good performance on the highway and off-road. Most companies have discarded their lift kits that just lifted the truck and destroyed on- and off-road performance.

One of these companies is Rough Country. The very first suspension company in off-roading (can you say Heckethorn?) has offered us good products over the years, along with some of the aforementioned "lift kits" that we didn't think were so good. Those kits are gone now. Mark Turner, Rough Country's manager of product development, has made it his mission to revamp all of Rough Country's offerings, making them competitive with the best in the mass-market suspension industry.

The Rough Country Denali sports the company's new EVO X-Series suspension system. Take a look under the truck. The differential hasn't been dropped and all bracketry ties into the existing frame. The crossmember doesn't hang down in harm's way and features an integrated skidplate. Ground clearance is a great thing to have.

Mark's own truck is an '01 GMC Denali C3 with the excellent 6.0L V-8, perhaps the best V-8 in trucks today. The Denali comes from the factory as an all-wheel-drive truck, but Mark has the transfer case from a GMC 2500 that'll be installed by the time you read this. Power Steps from AMP Research were installed to ease entry, and Firestone airbags were added to help when heavy loads were carried or towed. 35x13.50R20LT Toyo Open Country MTs were mounted on 20x8.5-inch Weld EVO Commando wheels. Some off-roaders like to scoff at the 20-inch wheel revolution that's sweeping the industry. After all, we need flotation off-road, right? Think about it. The truck came with 265/70-17 tires that work well and have approximately a 7.5-inch sidewall. The 35x12.50R20s have a 7.5-inch sidewall, too, along with a much larger contact patch and a greater volume of air. When airing-down off-road, the 20-inch wheel keeps the tire from squirming around laterally. We're not advocating 24-inch wheels with 31-inch tires on them for dirt use, but don't scoff at the 20s with 35s on them. They work.

To clear the tires and make the truck work off-road as well as it does on-road, Mark used the Denali as the test bed for Rough Country's new EVO X-Series suspension system. He installed a DVD player with cameras in every wheelwell to watch the suspension work. And work it does.

The EVO X-Series is a no-cut, no-drill suspension that allows the vehicle to be returned to stock if you ever wanted to. First, Rough Country incorporated its patent-pending constant velocity joints into the system. These CV joints have an operating range of as high as 50 degrees with high-angle boots and a splined slip shaft. Next, Rough Country looked at the torsion bars and asked the question, "Why do the torsion bars have to hang down?" The new suspension features the company's own patent-pending non-torsion bar drop brackets. The torsion bars do not hang down!

The EVO X-Series feature laser-cut cross-members that incorporate a honeycomb design for structural integrity. They have one-piece, cast, machined, and powdercoated knuckles and an integrated skidplate system that not only provides protection but also maximizes ground clearance. No kicker braces are required because the differential has not been dropped and all brackets tie directly into the existing frame.

By keeping the torsion bars at the factory settings, Rough Country has obtained 6 inches of actual lift to accommodate 35-inch tires. The Denali is an IFS truck that is trail-ready. We spent the day driving it around our trails in Southern Utah and can report thatwe had a blast. The ride was like stock on the pavement, yet controlled and supple in the dirt. Frankly, we were surprised that it worked so well and didn't have a high-zoot, custom suspension from the racing suppliers. This Rough Country Denali is clean, simple, and works very well, and is attainable by the large majority of truck owners who need their trucks to do everything well.

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