New & Used GMC Sierra 1500: In Depth
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The GMC Sierra 1500 is one of the hallmark vehicles in the full-size pickup truck class. It's almost identical mechanically to the Chevy Silverado 1500, but unique features, design, and pricing help the Sierra stand out. GMC also offers very luxurious trim levels like Denali, and some unique technology, like an advanced all-wheel-drive system.
With the Sierra, GMC has a rival for the Ram 1500, the Ford F-150, the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra, and of course, the Silverado.
MORE: Read our 2015 GMC Sierra review for pricing with options, specifications, and gas mileage ratings.
The Sierra nameplate was first used in 1999, when General Motors switched the old C/K pickup trucks to a new architecture and a new body style. With slightly rounded sheetmetal, the Sierra presented truck buyers with an alternative to the wildly successful Ford F-150, which had adopted aerodynamic styling in 1997. The Sierra's interior didn't change as much, though, and while it was spacious, it seemed lower-grade than the concurrent Ford cabin.
With extended-cab and crew-cab versions, short- and long-bed editions, and a choice of V-6 and V-8 powertrains that mated with manual and automatic transmissions, the rear- or four-wheel-drive Sierra offered something for nearly every truck shopper. The luxury Denali edition arrived in 2002, and four-wheel steering became a short-lived option; in 2003, the Sierra got a mild restyling; and in 2005 a mild hybrid edition arrived, with the ability to recapture some energy and charge batteries that powered drivetrain and onboard accessories.
For the 2007 model year, GM began the roll-out of its "GMT900" trucks and SUVs--fully redesigned models with new body styles, new powertrains and new technology. The Sierra 1500 emerged from this renovation with a conservative but tasteful exterior, and a very attractive, very high-quality interior to match its improved drivetrains. Engines ranged from a 4.3-liter V-6 with 195 hp to a 6.2-liter V-8 with 403 hp -- the latter, essentially derived from the Corvette's V-8. Four- and six-speed automatics helped fuel economy rise a bit on most versions.
The real gas-mileage boost came with the introduction of the 2009 Sierra Hybrid, which teamed a V-8 with batteries and motors and a unique two-mode transmission for fuel economy of 21/22 mpg. It was discontinued after the 2013 model year.From 2010 to 2013, the GMC Sierra saw only minor changes--with new Powertrain Grade Braking for 2013 (in six-speed-automatic models) one of the most significant improvements.
The new GMC Sierra
For 2014, both the Sierra and its sibling Chevy Silverado received new powertrains, nicer cabins, weightier styling, and a raft of new infotainment and safety features.
Styling is refined and muscular on the new Sierra, but doesn't stray too far from previous designs, with a tall, blunt front end. The Sierra's cabin has a lovely, well-organized dash with big controls and a high quality of materials, especially for a truck.
GM offers three engines with the new Sierra, all with direct injection, variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation. The base 4.3-liter V-6 performs admirably for most drivers, especially in fuel economy; the 5.3-liter V-8 makes 355 horsepower, and can handle almost any towing task up to 11,000 pounds. A 6.2-liter V-8 producing 420 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque is also available for dedicated fifth-wheelers--and for 2015, the bigger V-8 comes with a new eight-speed automatic.
All Sierra 1500 pickups now use electric power steering, and get four-wheel disc brakes with long-life brake rotors. Ride has improved a bit on this new truck, but the steering is even better, with quick reflexes and just-right weight. Sierra Crew Cab models come with a choice of 5’8” or 6’6” beds, while regular-cab Sierras come in 6’6” or 8’ lengths. Extended-cab versions get the 6'6" bed.
Safety upgrades were included in the Sierra's 2014 redesign, including forward-collision alerts and hill-start assist. Crash-test scores have been very good, with the NHTSA awarding the 1500 five stars overall.
As for other features, all Sierras get air conditioning, keyless entry, and an AM/FM radio with a 4.2-inch color display. GMC’s IntelliLink connectivity system is optional on the Sierra; it combines full voice-command Bluetooth connectivity with Bluetooth audio streaming, a Pandora app, and available navigation, with an eight-inch reconfigurable touch screen. Special models are decked out with important features--off-road suspension and gear in the Sierra All-Terrain, and luxury touches like a standard V-8 engine and Magnetic Ride Control suspension for the Sierra Denali.
Changes for the 2015 model year are few, but include the addition of an optional 4G LTE system. It can turn the Sierra into a WiFi hotspot for mobile devices and also speeds up the connection for OnStar services like driving directions that get sent to the vehicle from a live operator as well as diagnostics. There's also the eight-speed automatic that's being paired first with the 6.2-liter V-8 but will eventually proliferate throughout the Sierra lineup once GM gets the transmission plant up to capacity.