Most any shopper will be satisfied by one of the refined and responsive powertrains found in the 2011 GMC Sierra.
For workhorse duty there's a base 195-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-6, but it's really meant only for fleet use and for those on the tightest of budgets. A flexible-fuel-capable, 302-hp 4.8-liter V-8 gives buyers their first choice, but the better option is the next step up the Sierra's powertrain ladder, to a flex-fuel 5.3-liter V-8 with 315 hp and cylinder deactivation. This engine's standard in XFE models and optional in other versions. Top-line Sierra pickups sport a 6.2-liter, 403-hp, flex-fuel V-8 that also shows up in the Cadillac Escalade. We'd choose the 5.3-liter V-8 for its blend of power and fuel economy, but with the bigger V-8, sports-sedan acceleration is available.
The base V-6 and base V-8 are teamed with a four-speed automatic that's fairly outdated by passenger-car standards. The rest of entries in the Sierra lineup use a six-speed automatic that shifts pretty smoothly, and help it to achieve better fuel economy while cutting down on noise. The Sierra can be had with either rear- or four-wheel drive; a single-range transfer case is standard on base versions, while dual-range 4WD is an option. An "Autotrac" electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system is featured on Denali models.
The Sierra matches its competitive 10,700-pound towing rating and payload numbers with quick, almost carlike steering and well-sorted handling. It's one of the easiest full-size pickups to drive quickly: it has communicative steering that's better than most other full-size pickups, though the Ford F-150's new electronic power steering sets a new high-water mark among trucks. Body lean is a given in any truck, but the Sierra manages it well, while providing a ride that's not jouncy or brittle, except possibly in the most extreme off-road versions.
The Sierra Hybrid earns special mention here because of its vastly more complex drivetrain. The combination pairs a 6.0-liter V-8 with cylinder deactivation to an electrically variable transmission (EVT) with two electric motor/generators, four fixed-ratio gears, and a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. In all, the drivetrain pieces generate the equivalent of 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque, which gives the Hybrid acceleration pretty close to that of models outfitted with the 5.3-liter V-8 engine. A key difference: eerily smooth and quiet acceleration on battery power alone, up to about 25 mph. With its electric steering and regenerative brakes, the Sierra Hybrid feels more detached and the brakes are more spongy than on other models, but it's nothing that can't be mastered over time.