Monster in metal: GMC Sierra Denali crew cab
A fierce battle is raging in pickup trucks, the most lucrative territory of the vehicle market. There are more than two sides in this fight. Six contenders are engaged: Ford, Chevrolet, Ram, GMC, Toyota and Nissan. The big guys are the four U.S. manufacturers. The last two are minor players, despite the fact that Toyota builds its Tundra in Texas.
Full-size pickups have evolved into capable people and cargo movers that can haul gobs of stuff and tow trailers weighing 5 tons or more. Big sellers these days have four doors and carry up to six people.
The most important pheromone of any pickup is loyalty. Pickup owners generally are slavish disciples to their brands. A Ford owner sniffs at a Chevrolet, but would never take the bait.
That means a manufacturer seeking conquests must hack away at the margins. A serious way to do that is to design a classier conveyance.
That brings us to the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali Crew Cab, a monster in metal with the bragging rights of a 6.2-liter gasoline direct injection V-8 engine rated at 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque, or twisting force. Its fuel consumption is rated 14/20 mpg. More than that, it is a designer boudoir crammed with extravagant accommodations, equipment and appointments that shames almost any luxury car.
Denali, the name of a national park in Alaska, is used on vehicles across the GMC line. It denotes top-of-the-line flagships and has become so ingrained in the customer psyche that owners often say they drive a Denali rather than, say, a GMC Terrain Denali or Yukon Denali.
On the Sierra full-size pickup, Denali means stitched leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, color-keyed carpeting, 20-inch chrome wheels, high-end Bose audio system, a unique chrome grille, projector headlights, 12-way power bucket seats and navigation with GMC’s IntelliLink connectivity system.
On the tested truck, the package also included a motorized glass sunroof, rear entertainment system, an integrated brake controller for towing, upgraded Z71 suspension and a driver alert system.
On the road, the first thing you notice is what you don’t notice: Noise. The Sierra Denali is whisper quiet: no wind or mechanical sounds despite the powerful V-8 under the hood, and tire noise only when the road is particularly potty.
Comfort in the back seat and the big bucket seats up front is first cabin, though climbing up there, especially on the tested four-wheel drive version, can be a challenge for smaller folks. Once settled, however, there’s a commander’s perch to survey the road.
The handling and ride would not be off-putting to almost any driver; it’s nearly as good as that of standard sedans a decade ago. Of course, it’s a pickup truck with rear leaf springs so the rear end bounces around on curves with pockmarked pavement. Other than that, the ride is settled.
At the same time, this is a vehicle that is more than 19 feet long and weighs more than 2.5 tons, so rapid movement is not an option. Figure on driving in slow motion and taking wide turns to prevent the rear wheels from banging on curbs.
But cruising serenely on the interstate or a country road with light traffic is almost relaxing. The big V-8, which has cylinder deactivation, runs on four cylinders to enhance fuel economy and delivers its vast power unobtrusively through the six-speed automatic transmission.
Sure, a fully equipped Denali costs well north of 50 grand. But for sheer customer coddling, it rivals luxury cars costing twice as much. And it can haul nearly 2 tons of stuff and pull a trailer weighing almost 5 tons. Our truck’s base price was $50,960 and as-tested was $56,330.