2014 GMC Sierra First Drive, Santa Barbara
True to form
Settled into base camp and parked--easily, as it turns out--at GMC base camp, we spend all of the next day touring the fringes of Neverland Ranch and just-as-wacky Solvang in the Sierra V-8 Crew Cab as well as the new V-6. The looks don't lie: the Sierra's new body says rugged, and so does its hardware.
In hindsight, we'd have spent even more time in the V-6 if our 30 Day Ram 1500 had been on hand. The two are convincing evidence that it's time for truck drivers to take a second look at the latest six-cylinder powertrains, and judge how much and how often they're really towing. The V-8 doesn't extract that much of a gas mileage penalty--not at 23 mpg highway--but does everyone really need 11,500 pounds on call? Or the 12,000 pounds of towing coming later this year with the 420-hp Sierra Denali?
The Ram may ride better, but GMC's caught up to its steering feel. Electric power steering's having the inverse effect on trucks that it's having on cars. It's welcome here.
Given our bias to on-road driving, we'd opt for a Crew Cab with either the six or the 5.3-liter eight, but some of the Sierra's new features are not up for discussion. We came away with better impressions of the stock cloth seats than of the leather-covered, ventilated ones--which feel flatter, probably due to the ventilation system's packaging.
IntelliLink's an obvious choice for anyone with a smartphone, but we'd also spec out the five USB ports and the 115-volt outlet on the order sheet, especially handy when you're toting a GoPro, phone, all kinds of batteries, and an iPad--which gets its own perch on the console, on five-passenger models.
We'd choose the five-seat model, with its wide console and oodles of cupholders, because dehydration is probably the number-one public danger of our time, after a low phone battery. As for the cargo space, the bed's already outfitted with handy basics like tie-down hooks, an LED spotlight and rim lighting, and a step bumper. The spray-in bedliner's the next must.
We can even see a time and place where we'd spend up for the Sierra's optional Z71 off-road suspension, the All-Terrain package's automatic locking rear differential, or the coming Sierra Denali's Bose audio and ventilated seats. But that time and place would probably include an Airstream parked in our driveway, on call at all times.
The skunk? Ah, he would be a factory delete.