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The GMC Sierra 1500 is virtually identical to the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and yet there's something that keeps a certain kind of shopper coming back for the GMC version of this full-size pickup. Whether it's the allure of the GMC badge, the working-man imagery at GMC's roots, or its subtle trim differences, some people simply prefer the Sierra. Along with the Silverado, the Sierra takes on the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 in vying for truck traditionalists.
Although last redesigned in 2007—and without any serious design changed since then—the Sierra is still one of the better choices for truck buyers of all kinds, from commercial users to personal-luxury seekers, thanks to a wide variety in powertrains, pleasant handling, and titanic towing capacity.
The Sierra's conservative, tasteful look totally hinges on the power of the rectangle. The grille says it all: it's a big, squared-off piece, with big, squared-off "GMC" lettering. It's simple, straightforward, and almost stark--like the rest of the truck—until you get inside one of the more luxurious versions, like the Denali and its plush upholstery, soft-touch plastics, and woodgrain trim.
Whether you're happy with the Sierra—and whether it's competitive with the latest from Ford and Ram (Dodge)—depends on which engine you select. The basic workhorse engine is a 195-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-6, meant mostly for fleets and very tight budgets; and it's underwhelming with its four-speed automatic transmission. There's a small-block, flex-fuel, 302-hp 4.8-liter V-8 on some low-mid trims, but it also comes with the four-speed and it's definitely worth moving up a notch to the flex-fuel 5.3-liter V-8 that's the most common Sierra powerplant. That engine has 315 hp and cylinder deactivation that helps mitigate the Sierra's thirst for gas--and it's the basis for the Sierra XFE, the most efficient, non-hybrid Sierra you can buy. Top Denali models include a 6.2-liter, 403-hp, flex-fuel V-8 that's shared with the Cadillac Escalade; unfortunately the Escalade's thirst is also shared.
Four-wheel drive available on every body style and with every drivetrain, though the system on Denali models technically is on-demand "Autotrac" all-wheel drive. Like the Silverado, the Sierra has up to 10,700 pounds of towing capacity. Also for 2013, all Sierra models with the six-speed automatic transmission get a new grade braking feature to enhance stability when towing downhill.
The slow-selling Sierra Hybrid is often overlooked and deserves special mention. With its complex, two-mode hybrid drivetrain—a combination of batteries, motors and a 6.0-liter V-8 with cylinder deactivation—it nets the equivalent of 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. In return you get strong acceleration—close to the output found in the 5.3-liter V-8--but with eerily smooth, quiet acceleration. The Hybrid can run on battery power alone up to about 25 mph.Across the lineup, the Sierra steers and handles well for such a large truck—which at least in part helps you forget that you're driving such a large truck. The only exception is the Hybrid, which has electric power steering that tends to give it a more numb, detached feel. Ride quality is mostly smooth and well-sorted, except on the off-road packages; hefty curb weight and long wheelbases help a lot here.
The Sierra is comfortable inside, but its seats could be a lot better. Although there are a few configurations, front seats are wide and flat, and they could use more lateral support. Meanwhile the back seats in Crew Cabs tend to be underpadded, with a seatback that's tilted too far upright. Five-seat trucks have a wide center console with astounding storage capacity, while six-passenger versions get a simpler dash and a front bench seat. Both versions have clear displays and big controls, meant to be operated with work-gloved hands. Regular-cab versions have a little storage space behind the front seats, and Extended Cabs have just enough space behind rear-hinged access doors for a toolbox and work gear. Bed lengths vary by model. Hybrids and Crew Cabs have a 5'8" bed; a 6'6" bed can be selected on any style except the Hybrid, as can an 8' bed.From stripped-down Work trucks to plush Denali models, the 2013 Sierra offers a wide range of equipment to cover different needs and budgets. Base trucks get vinyl seats and manual door locks, while Denali models have leather ventilated seats, hard-drive navigation systems, Bluetooth and DVD entertainment systems. Hybrids are equipped at the luxury end of the spectrum, and they and Denali versions can easily blow by the $50,000 mark.