ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: There's really no getting around it: The newest generation of full-size pickups is more capable, more luxurious, more butch…more everything, really, than the average buyer probably needs.
Sure, one could conceive of a scenario in which a general contractor regularly faces the prospect of driving his family of five to church while hauling a load of 4x8 plywood sheets and towing a trailer full of purebreds through the ice and snow. But it's probably not all too often that the typical member of the pickup-buying masses fits that profile.
After driving the 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali crew cab for nearly two weeks, I say to that: So what? We don't question why someone feels compelled to spend six figures on a luxury barge when a used Chevy Impala would fit the bill. Why should trucks be any different?
This, I guess, is the Mercedes-Benz S-class of pickups: Incredible power delivery thanks to the optional 420-hp 6.2-liter V8, refined road manners (rolling and bouncing around in an old truck is admittedly fun, but I wouldn't want to do it at all times in my daily driver) and a cabin that is better than Detroit's cars were a few short years ago.
Granted, the new Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 keep getting better with each generation as well, and you're never going to mistake the fit and finish or road feel of this thing for a German sedan. But all the reasons we selected the Chevrolet Silverado as our 2014 Best of the Best Truck winner apply here -- plus you get the luxury attitude of the Denali line, if that's what you're looking for.
I don't care too much for the Denali package with all its bling and woodgrain (though those massive wheels seem correctly proportioned -- what does that say about how big these trucks are getting?). But that's all a matter of taste, and a similarly equipped SLT 4WD crew cab, standard box Sierra sits at just about the same price point.
One of the things I did with/in the Sierra Denali included taking my parents and sister to various family dinners, loads of stuff and food in tow. I might as well have been driving a Terrain crossover with a bed welded to the back; that crew cab makes for a mighty spacious cabin.
Then, I turned around and packed the bed with furniture, appliances, etc. -- stuff that wouldn't have easily fit inside a minivan or my friend's old Dodge Dakota. All of this happened during a stretch where we saw some pretty wild swings in the weather, with Mother Nature dishing out everything from snow to ice to rain (sometimes at the same time).
I like to think I put the truck though its paces; about the only thing I didn't get to test was the towing capability. The truck never faltered. In fact, I'd say I didn't even get close to maxing it out. But I did get to explore most of its features. Pickup-makers have responded to the needs of buyers admirably, and the resulting factory bedliners and cargo lamps that actually illuminate the bed are really, really nice little features. And I did take to its commanding presence -- on the road, it's like a personal Sherman tank with comfy seats. It makes a statement.
Ultimately, it's probably not the ideal truck for me (it barely fit in my circa 1929 driveway, anyway), but that's tough to say until I can try out the smaller alternatives in the pipeline. I'm eager to see how the midsized 2015 Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon feels when it arrives later this year; it'll probably rise to any challenges I can cook up, and hopefully it'll spark some competition in the segment.
But the Sierra Denali will do anything you want it to do and more with comfort and what passes for style in some circles. At $55K, it's not something you stumble into by accident -- and you definitely don't buy it because it's easy to park and good on gas. If you do end up in one, either out of choice or necessity, you'll quickly come to find it indispensible. And so will your friends who need things moved.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I'm on record often about how good I think the new GM full-size pickups are, and the GMC Sierra is naturally part of it. The truck's refinement level, on-road smoothness and quiet operation are the best in the business.
The 6.2-liter V8 in this tester is stout with good acceleration and excellent midrange punch. In fact, I don't know that I wouldn't just get the 5.3-liter V8 and shave the sticker price a bit and perhaps save a little fuel. There's nothing wrong with the 6.2-liter; it's smooth and well mated with the six-speed automatic. For my needs, though, it's kind of unnecessary. Depends how much you want to tow.
Out on the freeway, the Denali is like the Chevy Silverados I've been in: smooth and quiet. I like to joke that there are some German automakers who could take a lesson in quiet and smooth operation from GM's new big pickups. Thing is, I'm not completely joking. They're that pleasant and refined. As I've said before, these latest GMs are arguably the best non-air-spring trucks I've driven. There is no secondary wiggling through the structure like the outgoing model, or like the current but soon to be replaced Ford F-150 and especially the Toyota Tundra. No question the truck is huge and thus takes up at least its fair share of a parking spot. But it doesn't drive as big as it is; you just need to know where the sheetmetal's outer limits are. All that said, I wouldn't hesitate jumping in one and driving to, say, Bozeman, Mont., for a little fishing and barbequing.
The cabin is ginormous and comfortable, there are plugs and storage cubbies everywhere, and the rear-seat room is outstanding. And it's all well built with quality materials.
Overall, the GMC Sierra (and Chevrolet Silverado) goes about its business like a gentleman, quietly and smoothly -- it reminds me of a high-end SUV rather than a pickup truck.
2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Crew Cab
Base Price: $51,060
As-Tested Price: $54,730
Drivetrain: 6.2-liter V8; 4WD, six-speed automatic
Output: 420 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
Curb Weight: 5,216 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 14/20/17 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 13.0 mpg
Options: Power sunroof ($995); driver alert package including lane departure warning, forward collision alert, safety alert seat ($450); trailer brake controller ($230)
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