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First Drive: 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

Posted in Features on November 19, 2018
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Photographers: Courtesy of GMC

Right off the bat, the ’19 GMC Sierra Denali catches your eye. No longer sharing any body panels (save for the rear doors and roof) with a certain sibling, the Sierra’s tough, yet elegant, exterior demands attention. A unique face, asymmetrical wheel openings, and a ton of exclusive tech and innovation finally allow the Sierra to stand on its own. In order for us to get more familiar with GMC’s new 1/2-ton, we headed out to picturesque St. John’s in Newfoundland and rolled on some miles, er, kilometers.

The Sierra features a new platform, known internally as T1, to replace the older K2 trucks. These new trucks have grown in most dimensions, with a mixed-materials strategy (steel and aluminum) in order to retain strength, while lowering the curb weight up to 360 pounds over the outgoing trucks. The wheelbase is stretched, which has allowed the cabin to grow by about 3 inches, improving the already generous accommodations, especially in the rear seating area.

From our first few moments behind the perfectly centered steering wheel, we could feel the impressive rigidity of the chassis, thanks to a high-strength steel frame. The precise steering, the suspension isolation, and the wonderfully responsive brakes with great feedback had us falling in love with the Sierra’s new chassis.

The GMC Denali has its own unique styling that manages to look aggressive and sophisticated at the same time.

Available with a standard 5.3L V-8 with an eight-speed automatic, or optional 6.2L backed by a stellar ten-speed automatic transmission, the Denali has the brawn to match its looks. We spent our time in the 420hp 6.2L, which proved to be a powerhouse that belted out mechanical sounds that were nothing short of enthralling. With an intoxicating exhaust note under hard acceleration, we think most drivers would be hard-pressed to get anything close to the 6.2L’s EPA rating of 15 city/21 highway. The good news is that with a light foot, we confirmed those are realistic numbers in the real world, thanks to direct injection, variable valve timing, start/stop technology, and a new Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM) system that replaces Active Fuel Management (AFM) on the top-tier trucks. DFM takes AFM to the next level by having the ability to drop between one and seven cylinders, depending on load, therefore increasing efficiency. Unlike AFM at times, DFM is truly imperceptible to the driver.

Another Denali-specific feature is the Adaptive Ride Control system that enhances ride quality and body control by using computer-controlled adjustable dampers. These shocks maintain chassis composure and comfort over the harshest roads by responding to road conditions in milliseconds. The system can also sense when there is a load in the bed (or when a trailer is attached) and adjust the firmness of the shocks, removing the sensation of a higher center of gravity and enhancing sway control.

Speaking of towing and hauling, the Sierra features a new cargo box that has been sculpted to provide an impressive 62.9 cubic feet of volume on the 5-foot, 8-inch box—giving it more stuff-hauling space than either Ford or Ram’s 6-foot, 6-inch boxes. Inside the bed, you can expect to find stronger tie-downs, enhanced LED lighting, 120V electric outlet, and deeper corner steps on the bumper that can accommodate work boots. Standard on all Sierra Denalis is GMC’s exclusive six-position MultiPro tailgate (see sidebar) and an optional CarbonPro carbon-fiber bed that is said to have class-leading resistance to wear, scratches, and dents.

The Denali 6.2L 4x4 Crew Cab we tested tops out at 9,300 pounds of towing capability, and thanks to a suite of ProGrade Trailering technologies, towing is as easy as ever. A camera system offers hitch guidance, side view, Surround Vision, and even the capability to add an auxiliary accessory camera that can be mounted to the back of a trailer. An electric parking brake assist automatically engages when shifting into park, preventing the truck from moving out of position when hitching up.

GMC goes a step further with a new trailering app that is designed to be useful for drivers of all skill levels. The system can detect up to 10 trailers and assign specific profiles that can keep track of multiple parameters, such as mileage, tire pressure, and maintenance intervals. There is a step-by-step trailering checklist that can be accessed in the driver information center, as well as the ability to perform a trailer light check sequence. Another nice feature is trailer theft detection that will flash the lights and honk the horn if the trailer is disconnected while the Denali is parked and locked. The Sierra even has a provision for monitoring trailer tire pressure when the trailer is properly equipped.

A new vehicle-specific information label on the door now calls out curb weight, GVWR, GCWR, maximum payload, maximum tongue weight, and rear GAWR, helping to make sure vehicles aren’t loaded beyond their max.

The Denali interior adds real aluminum and open-pore Ash trim, as well as expanded use of leather.

Getting inside the extremely quiet and spacious new cabin is easy with larger openings and passive entry (finally). The Denali interior is upgraded over the standard Sierra, with the addition of real aluminum and open-pore Ash trim, as well as the expanded use of genuine leather. Storage areas are abundant in the new truck, and even include hidden storage cubbies in the rear seatbacks. While the interior is functional and the controls are nicely laid out, we expect a little bit more character from a top-of-the-line luxury truck, especially when considering just how far the competition has come. That being said, the Sierra still has a few class-exclusive tricks up its sleeve, such as the slick 3x7-inch multicolor Head Up Display and a camera-based rearview mirror system. By using a remote-mounted camera and a screen in place of the traditional rearview mirror, the Sierra allows you to see behind the truck, regardless of any passenger heads or loads blocking the view out the back. Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the 8-inch head unit with a new user-friendly interface and improved Apple CarPlay and Android Auto stability, or the fact that push-button start has finally made it to the Sierra.

The crew cab of the ’19 GMC Sierra has an additional 3 inches of legroom.

Overall, we are incredibly impressed with all the work that has gone into the ’19 Sierra, and specifically the Denali model. For those who are interested in less luxury and more off-road capability, the AT4 off-road model is available and mirrors the Chevy Silverado Trail Boss that we reviewed in the January 2019 issue of Four Wheeler. Thanks to exclusive innovation, class-leading technology, and styling that goes beyond the typical grille-and-badge change, GMC finally has a truck that is no longer stuck in the shadow of its Bow Tie–wearing sibling and can stand on its own in a crowded pickup market.

A class exclusive and industry first, carbon-fiber bed is said to have class-leading resistance to wear, scratches, and dents.
The Denali can haul up to 1,610 pounds of payload and maintain unladen-like chassis and sway control thanks to Adaptive Ride Control

MultiPro Tailgate

GMC’s MultiPro Tailgate is one of the smartest innovations we’ve ever seen on a pickup, with the ability to completely change how people interact with their truck bed. Exclusive to GMC and standard on SLT, AT4, and Denali, this revolutionary tailgate offers the user six distinct modes of operation and has been tested to the same durability standards as a traditional tailgate.

Primary Gate: Can be electronically deployed and is used like a traditional tailgate.
Primary Gate Load Stop: Can keep long items, such as plywood, from sliding out of the bed.
Easy Access: Makes loading pallets or accessing items closer to the cab easier.
Inner Gate Work Surface: With just the inner gate deployed, a standing-height work surface is revealed, as well as extending the bed for longer items.
Inner Gate Load Stop: When using second-tier bed storage, the inner gate can extend the length of the bed and keep items from sliding out.
Full-Width Step: With the tailgate and inner gate down, a convenient step and handle is revealed for easy access to the bed.

Quick Specs (as tested)

Vehicle/model: ’19 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Crew Cab 4x4
Base price: $59,495
Engine: 6.2L V-8 VVT w/Dynamic Fuel Management and Start/Stop
Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 420/460
Transmission: Hydra-Matic 10L80 10-spd auto
Transfer case: Autotrac
4WD system: Auto, 2-Hi, 4-Hi, 4-Lo
Frame type: Ladder
Suspension, f/r: Independent coilover-shock; Adaptive Ride Control/Solid axle with semi-elliptic, variable-rate, two-stage multi-leaf springs; Adaptive Ride Control
Axle ratio: 3.23:1
Steering: Electronic assisted power rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r: 13.5-in vented disc, 14.1-in disc
Wheels (in): 20x9 or 22x9
Tires: P275/60R20 all-season or P275/50R22 all-season
Wheelbase (in): 147.5
Length (in): 231.7
Height (in): 75.5
Width (in): 81.2
Base curb weight (lb): 5,443
Payload (lb): 1,610
Max Trailer (lb): 9,300
Fuel capacity (gal): 24.0
Fuel economy (EPA mpg, city/hwy): 15/20

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