2013 GMC Sierra 1500 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 18, 2012

Among increasingly bold full-size trucks, the 2013 GMC Sierra is simple in looks and strong in performance—with the Sierra Hybrid remaining a fuel-efficient standout.

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.

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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.
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2013 GMC Sierra 1500

Styling

The 2013 GMC Sierra is tasteful and handsome--refreshingly restrained from the over-the-top boldness that's somehow become the norm.

It's been about six years since the GMC Sierra got its last full redesign (for the 2007 model year), but this truck's rather formal, conservative look has stood well to the test of time.

Just as its Chevrolet sibling, the Silverado 1500, the Sierra 1500 is very conservative from the outside, and it doesn't depend on a lot of styling tricks to convey what it's selling--durability, dependability, toughness. The big rectangular grille is simplicity itself, and the corners are just a bit more pronounced than on the essentially identical Silverado. With the big GMC logo on the grille, there's little risk of mistaking the 2013 Sierra for any other model, but from the side or rear, it can appear just a little too plain for some tastes. That plainness is a pleasing contrast to some buyers next to the somewhat overwrought Toyota Tundra toe a weirder line, and while the Ram 1500 gets even softer and more carlike on the inside for 2013, it remains intimidatingly (for some, embarrassingly) tall and tough on the outside.

The Sierra's interior is where it's starting to look a bit dated. Less expensive versions still sport a simple, upright design with larger controls and door handles--taking aim at those who want a work-duty truck--while pricier versions get a cabin that feels almost directly borrowed from GM's full-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe. With the latter design comes a lower, smoother instrument panel design, with materials and trims upgraded accordingly. The only trims that don't quite fit are the woodgrain ones, which are neither convincing on a luxury basis or fitting in with the Sierra's mission.

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2013 GMC Sierra 1500

Performance

The 2013 is smooth, strong, and well-mannered; though the base V-6 has performance that lags rivals' base engines.

The 2013 GMC Sierra still compares well to most other full-size pickups, especially in terms of handling, although its base V-6 isn't quite up to snuff.

With four different gasoline engines as well as a gasoline-electric Hybrid model on offer, the Sierra allows plenty of room for the widely varied needs of truck shopper--some looking for low-cost fleet truck, others seeking a personal-luxury vehicle capable of towing a large boat, for instance. The base 4.3-liter V-6 makes just 195 horsepower, and it's not all that refined; it's really only aimed at those fleet buyers, and contractors. While the price is good, fuel economy isn't so impressive with the four-speed automatic--the sole transmission offered--and it strains to extract power from the six. The next step up is a a flex-fuel 4.8-liter V-8 with 302 horsepower, but this engine too is aimed at fleet use and has the four-speed automatic.

For most buyers, the flex-fuel-capable 5.3-liter V-8, making 315 hp and with cylinder deactivation, is the best pick, with strong acceleration and reasonable gas mileage. Standard in the fuel-saving Xtra Fuel Economy (XFE) models and optional on other Sierras, this engine delivers a ripe exhaust note, smart acceleration and the best non-hybrid fuel economy of the lineup. It pairs with a six-speed automatic that shifts pretty smoothly, and helps it get that improved fuel economy while cutting down on noise.

A 6.2-liter, 403-hp V-8 is at the top of the range. It can run on E85 and is identical to the V-8 found in the Cadillac Escalade. Acceleration is downright blistering when there's no cargo, and gas mileage is predictably very low. But it remains the best choice for those who tow heavy loads regularly.

Across the entire lineup, 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. Towing ratings range up to 10,700 pounds.

The 2013 GMC Sierra Hybrid comes with a vastly more complex drivetrain, pairing 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. Altogether, it makes the equivalent of 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque, giving the Hybrid acceleration pretty close to that of models outfitted with the 5.3-liter V-8 engine. There's an eerie smoothness to the way in which the Hybrid's powertrain goes about its business, and it can go about 25 mph for short distances with electric power alone. About the only thing we don't like as much about the Hybrid is that its electric power steering is more vague in feel.

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Across the rest of the Sierra 1500 lineup, you get quick, almost carlike steering and well-sorted handling. It's one of the easiest full-size pickups to drive quickly, thanks to communicative steering that's better than that in 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.
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2013 GMC Sierra 1500

Comfort & Quality

The GMC Sierra rides well, but its seat comfort lags that of other full-size trucks.

The 2013 GMC Sierra isn't quite as comfortable as some of its direct competitors, although cabin quality remains top-notch across most of the model lineup.

Rather flat, wide, and unsupportive front seats are at the root of why we find the Sierra not to be all that comfortable--especially for longer trips--even though they do fit wide folks quite well. Crew Cab models also have a back seat that's more thinly padded than expected, with a seatback that's too close to vertical. Six-passenger versions have a higher, more workmanlike dash that leaves enough space beneath for a middle passenger to find decent leg room.

The Sierra can also be configured as a five-seater, one with a large center console that splits front passenger space, while it also give the dash a more upscale appearance. Big controls and clear displays make the Sierra's climate and audio systems easy to decipher.In back, there's less good news.

Three different body styles are available, as well as three different bed lengths (4'-8", 6'-6", and 8'), with the standard Regular Cab having very little space behind its front seats for anything other than narrow objects. The Extended Cab gets a bit more room--enough for gear and tools--and a pair of rear-hinged access panels to make that space more accessible. Sierra Crew Cabs have four front-hinged doors that can accommodate up to six passengers.

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Road and wind noise are quite low, either compared to other full-size pickups or to previous versions of GM's trucks. And throughout most of the lineup, materials feel better than utility-grade, with high-end versions offering richer trims.
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2013 GMC Sierra 1500

Safety

A strong set of safety features helps mask an otherwise unimpressive set of ratings.

The 2013 GMC Sierra has a puzzling mix of crash-test scores that might put some doubt into your mind, although its list list of safety technology is reassuring.

Although safety scores hadn't yet been extended to the 2013 Sierra at the time of posting, the 2012 model received a mix of five- and four-star ratings from the federal government, depending on body styles. Crew Cab four-doors get an overall rating of five stars, as Regular and Extended Cab models earn four stars overall. Every Sierra gets the NHTSA's top score for side-impact safety.

On the other hand, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls the Sierra's front-impact protection "good," and says its side protection is "acceptable"--but in a new roof-crush test, the Sierra gets a "marginal" rating.

Side curtain airbags, stability control, and anti-lock brakes are included in all Sierra models, as is OnStar hardware. Power-adjustable pedals may help very short drivers get more comfortable, and we do recommend the optional rearview camera system, which can help visibility over the tall tailgate when backing up. Also for 2013, all Sierra models with the six-speed automatic transmission get a new grade braking feature to enhance stability when towing downhill.

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2013 GMC Sierra 1500

Features

There's strong value for the money in base Sierra work trucks, but Hybrid and Denali models are equipped like Cadillacs.

Truck shoppers considering the Sierra have vastly different expectations and needs, so it's not surprisingly that this truck comes in hundreds of different configurations, with choices for everything from powertrains, body styles, bed lengths, trim levels, and options. On one hand, you can get a Sierra that merely does the task as a work truck; or you could pay thousands more for a rugged off-road-capable truck or a lavish tow rig.

From Work Truck editions, through SL, SLE and SLT versions, into the luxurious Denali versions, the 2013 Sierra gathers more equipment and progressively plusher interior appointments. At the base level there's a minimum of standard gear:a basic AM/FM radio, and the option to delete it; vinyl bench seat; manual locks; and crank windows. Most Sierras have a standard USB port and an auxiliary jack for media player connectivity; Bluetooth is offered, too. More expensive Sierras now can be had with DVD navigation and real-time traffic data; a sunroof and a power-sliding rear window; 22-inch wheels; leather upholstery; even a factory-installed bedliner.

And at the top of the line, the Denali includes Bose premium audio, heated-and-cooled power front seats, a heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, a universal remote, dual-zone climate control, rear parking assist, a trailering package, and skid plates. Hybrid models are equipped nearly as well as the Denali (with a navigation system, Bose audio, and leather in a Premium version), while for off-road specialists, the Sierra's All-Terrain package adds on tow hooks, skid plates, and rescue fittings.

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2013 GMC Sierra 1500

Fuel Economy

The 2013 GMC Sierra Hybrid remains a standout for gas mileage among full-size pickups, but the other models are unremarkable.

The 2013 GMC Sierra Hybrid is one of the most fuel-efficient full-size pickup trucks--although neither the base V-6 versions nor the other V-8 are particularly frugal.

As you might expect, the GMC Sierra Hybrid earns the best EPA gas mileage ratings, at 20/23 mpg. Just behind that, however, is the 5.3-liter V-8 edition, which has cylinder deactivation technology and six speeds in its transmission, plus an XFE model with aerodynamic add-ons. It's rated as high 15/22 mpg--better than the Sierra with the base 4.3-liter V-6 and its 14/20 mpg. Both the V-6 versions and those with the 4.8-liter engine have an outdated four-speed automatic transmission, which puts a dent in gas mileage. And the luxury-edition Denali's big V-8 is by no means, at 13/18 mpg.

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Styling 7
Performance 8
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Features 8
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