New & Used GMC Sierra 1500: In Depth
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The GMC Sierra 1500 is one of the main players in the full-size pickup truck class. It's almost identical mechanically to Chevy's Silverado 1500, but some unique features and design elements help the Sierra stand out. GMC 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, Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra, and, of course, the Silverado. The 1500 is considered a half-ton pickup; Sierras are also available in 2500 (three-quarter-ton) and 3500 (one-ton) strengths. GMC unveiled the latest version of its mainstay pickup for the 2014 model year.
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 (GMC called it Quadrasteer) 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 aided the drivetrain and powered onboard accessories.
For the 2007 model year, GM began the roll-out of its GMT900 generation of 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 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 high-quality materials, especially for a truck.
GM offers three engines in the new Sierra, all with direct injection, variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation. The base 4.3-liter V-6 performs admirably for most tasks, especially in fuel economy; the 5.3-liter V-8 makes 355 horsepower, and can handle almost any towing job 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. The other trucks use six-speed automatic transmissions for now.
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 Sierra beds come in 6’6” or 8’ lengths. Extended-cab versions get only the 6'6" bed; unlike in previous generations, the extended-cab model uses forward-hinged doors for better access to the second row; the doors can also be operated independently of the front openings, unlike with the old overlapped, rear-hinged design.
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.The IIHS has tested it only in the moderate overlap front crash test, where it scored a top 'Good' rating.
All Sierras include 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 functionality with Bluetooth phone, Bluetooth audio streaming, a Pandora app, and available navigation, with an eight-inch reconfigurable touch screen. Special models are decked out with other features--off-road suspension and gear in the Sierra All-Terrain, while the Sierra Denali gets extra luxury touches, a standard V-8 engine, and Magnetic Ride Control suspension.
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 should eventually proliferate throughout the Sierra lineup and replace the six-speed auto in all trucks. GMC also now offers a spray-in bedliner on all Sierras, with the Denali getting it as standard equipment.
GMC also added a new trim package for 2015, dubbed Sierra Elevation Edition. This collection of options and appearance pieces creates a monochrome-look truck based on the 1500 crew cab 1SA model. It can be had with either the 4.3-liter or 5.3-liter engine and rear- or four-wheel drive.