It's easy to say that it's not about the score when you're down a few points. In General Motors' case, the new-for-2017 turbodiesel V-8 that's optional on its full-size pickups comes up a little short on torque compared to the equally new Ford F-250.
But is there really a difference between the 910 pound-feet the GMC Sierra HD's 6.6-liter V-8 cranks out (shared with its Chevrolet Silverado HD sibling) and the 925 pound-feet offered by the Ford F-250's turbodiesel? If you're playing moneyball, perhaps. But in reality, it's more about confidence and comfort behind the wheel. And to that end, the Sierra HD excels.
The Sierra HD itself isn't new for 2017, aside from what's under its hood. That means its boxy good looks outside remain mostly unchanged (aside from a functional cold air hood scoop on Duramax diesel models). Inside, it shares its dash and seats with the half-ton Sierra 1500. Base SL models are a bit work-like with their easy-clean surfaces and basic audio system, but SLT and especially Denali grades pamper as much as they should for their hefty sticker prices. A well-optioned Denali can run deep into the $70,000 range, and while it's not quite a Range Rover, it lacks for little aside from push-button start and a telescoping steering column.
What you're paying for here isn't leather hides and lots of speakers. It's capability. A properly-outfitted 2500HD can tug upwards of 16,000 pounds with the optional turbodiesel that more than half of all buyers are expected to order, although the four-wheel drive crew cab comes in at 13,000 pounds.
The Sierra's new Duramax V-8 turbodiesel is rated at 445 horsepower and 910 pound feet of torque, 90 percent of which comes on at 1,500 rpm. With a 3.73 rear axle ratio, a crew cab four-wheel drive model can sprint—and that's a term that actually applies here—to 60 mph in just 7.1 seconds. More importantly, it can scoot from 50 to 70 mph for passing in just over 10 seconds with a 10,000 pound trailer attached. Suddenly passing doesn't require planning.
But we're talking numbers when behind-the-wheel confidence is the real name of the game here. We lugged a couple of hefty trailers up and down 7 to 8 percent grades at over a mile above sea level in southwestern Colorado. Accelerating up, the V-8 and its 6-speed Allison automatic gearbox were barely sweating. And down, thanks to a standard exhaust braking system, the Sierra maintained the posted speed limit without any effort on our end. Even with our test Denali's heated steering wheel, our palms weren't sweating.
Heavy duty trucks aren't as much about fleet haulers as they once were. General Motors lets its Chevrolet brand focus on courting those buyers, who may use their trucks to lug car trailers across the country or to visit rigs across West Texas' Permian Basin. GMC sells a work variant of its Sierra, but more than half are loaded up with a pricey Denali package that builds on the already pampering SLT with nicer leather, air conditioned seats, and more chrome than an entire belt buckle collection.
And of those Denalis, about 9 out of 10 are optioned up with the diesel that replaces a standard gas V-8.
This megabuck truck trend isn't limited to just GMC, but GMC's transaction prices are, on average, a little higher than those seen at Ford, Ram, and Chevy dealers.
Maybe it is a numbers game after all.