ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: You know you're getting horribly spoiled when you hop in a heavy duty pickup and, after glancing around the interior, think to yourself: “No sunroof? This is bullshit!”
To be fair, it was a lovely sunny day and I wanted to enjoy the spring air. And it's so easy to get entitled when you're dealing with this segment: The pickup industry is presently locked in a battle to see who can spoil consumers with more comfort and more capability.
Hooray! We're all winners! At least those of us shopping around for big trucks, or dreaming about having an excuse to do so.
This makes it tough to recommend one full-size pickup over another, at least when it comes to Rams and Chevys (I'm sure Ford's new F-150 won't make this debate any easier). All of the domestics boast quiet, comfortable, tech-laden cabins, capacities far in excess of what the average buyer will call on in a typical work week and looks as rugged as creeping fuel economy standards will allow.
Marque distinctions become more apparent when you're dealing with the heavy-duties, as a weekend in this 2015 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali helped illustrate.
Fortunately, the interior is right in line with the high standard set by its smaller stablemate. Get on the road, though, and things get trucklike. Quick. It's not just the extra features, like an exhaust brake, that make you feel like a bona-fide trucker (I'd don a mesh-back cap and my yellow-tinted aviators with confidence if it was a tad louder on a downward grade, though). It's the bulk and -- more than that, the ride.
With the bed more or less unladen, the Sierra was less certain in corners than, for example, the Ram 2500. Fail to slow down enough when hitting an on/off ramp and you can feel hints of a skidding wheel hop developing. Under moderate to high acceleration in a straight line, you'll struggle for traction as the 765 lb-ft of torque have it out with the pavement.
I'm guessing this can be traced to the GMC's rear leaf spring suspension setup; the Ram, by contrast, sports coils. The tradeoff here is less complexity, and theoretically better durability and lower cost to repair/replace, on the GMC than theRam. I'm sure the Ram people would tell me that its system is just as robust, though, so consult your local mechanic if this is a deciding factor for you.
Those who spend their days in and around trucks would probably disagree with me, but I'm not sure the high-falutin' Denali trim is worth the cost. What is essential, however, is the suite of tech features that make piloting a vehicle of this size more or less stress-free.
Don't let the commercials fool you: You're not going to be spending all of your time driving around in rock quarries or lumber tracts or across the open range -- eventually you have to pilot your massive truck back to civilization for provisions and the occasional soccer practice run.
Lane departure warning is indispensible. So is the backup camera. Do wish they could figure out a way to make that camera work with the tailgate down, though. These features, working in conjunction with well-adjusted mirrors, including those little wide-angle ones to have to hand-tune (this is crucial, pickup drivers) mean you won't have any blind spots big enough to swallow up motorcycles, compact sedans or your neighbor's puny regular cab Ford F-150 .
At the end of a weekend of cruising (which did include a trip to an old-school lumber yard, thank you very much) I feel like I had fully embraced this truck's charms and adapted to its few limitations. Given what this 3500HD is capable of, I'm not surprised that some of its workhorse DNA had the audacity to show through -- particularly in its ride. Yet I have no doubt that it will be a tremendous upgrade over whatever you are trading in.
The 2015 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali has plenty of towing power.
SENIOR ROAD TEST EDITOR NATALIE NEFF: I feel I do enough DIY sort of stuff that would warrant a pickup sitting in the drive, but I can't imagine ever needing anything more than a quarter-ton (or, better, my recently memorialized Ranger). But for folks who make a living hauling boulders or moving horses, I totally can appreciate what this fully decked out one-ton beast provides: Luxurious environs from which to conduct what is likely grungy, back-taxing, Duluth-Trading-Company-pants kind of work.
I did get the chance to exercise the Sierra 3500HD a wee bit, though it probably didn't amount to more than a light yoga routine for a machine otherwise accustomed to Karelin-type takedowns. Still, it demonstrated for what that beefy rear end is designed. With the 100-year-old solid oak china cabinet and sideboard tied down, that rough, bouncy ride definitely smoothed out, to which my toddler can testify as we bounded back down my parents' dirt road: His cheeks wobbled like Jell-O on the way there, only slightly jiggled on the return.
It also made it much easier to get the power to the road; even taking corners proved more efficient with a couple hundred pounds cinched down in back compressing the leaf springs somewhat. Mostly I found it interesting how quickly I acclimated to moving like molasses. The Duramax may have a ton of torque, but it still metes it out in slow-mo, and taking off at a stoplight feels much like a semi-truck rowing though 18 gears. I kinda dug it.
The 2015 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali comes in at a base price of $53,995 with our tester topping off at $64,005.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: This truck is a beast. I've heard a lot about pedestrian protection lately, with new laws, new airbags under the hood and new technology all to help save pedestrians from being hit, or from being hurt when they are hit. This truck would splat a person without breaking stride.
It's about as aerodynamic as a 5-foot brick wall, which is about how high its hood is from the road. I will admit the giant chrome grille, accented chrome headlights and huge intakes make this truck look sweet, as long as you don't mind being gawked at a little. I also enjoy the single rear wheel; the duallies look silly to me.
The Denali trim gives this Sierra a near-luxury interior with black leather, robust radio controls and tons of storage space. I always imagine these HD trucks as foreman transportation, and if the foreman needs to yank a stump from the ground or a garage door off its hinges, it can do that, too. There looks like enough room in the back for a family road trip.
Obviously the diesel V8 provides a ton of pull, from nearly any rev range. Passing is a breeze on the highway. My complaint with this truck is that when unloaded, it's hard to get any power to the ground. Try accelerating around a turn; it gets herky, jerky and bouncy inside. It's basically like that any time it's unloaded. Sometimes just accelerating in a straight line over broken pavement is a pain. And, holy smokes, the sound! It literally sounds like you fired up an 18-wheeler in your driveway, at 7:30 a.m. Sorry about that, neighbors.
A buddy was commenting on how badass the truck is, and how he likes commuting in his older Sierra. I couldn't understand that. It feels too big and unwieldy to me, and the blind spots are bigger than a basketball court. Half the cars on the road can be right next to you, but too low to see. It was stressful for me, but I'm also not a truck guy. Or at least I haven't been since my midsized 1980 Ford F-150 with three on the tree.
The 2015 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali produces 397 hp with 765 lb-ft of torque.
2015 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali
EDITORIAL INTERN BRAD WILEY: This 2015 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali is tight! Not to sound over exuberant, but the big truck looks amazing. “Tight” not only works as a slang descriptor for the appearance of the overall truck, but also refers to the ride and space parameters. This 1-ton truck is massive all around, and with the clamoring under the hood it feels like you are driving a school bus. What a beast.
While the front suspension is independent, making it leaps and bounds better than a truck sporting a solid front axle (the benefits of either are for the birds, unless you plan on attaching a snow plow to the front, or changing the front ride height). The behemoth tracks well, remarkably in fact, so much so that correction and wheel guarding is at a minimum. One thing that I should make note of is that in order to have the massive towing capacity, ride comfort falls on the downside. The suspension is stiff, as it should be for having the capabilities to move a house off its foundation with a mere tug of a tow strap. As Graham made mention above, the stiff ride is also due in part to the massive leaf-packs in the rear that leave the backside of the truck high-sprung riding on a positive arch when not loaded. Now the ride is a bit harsh over bumpy roads, and could eject a cup from one of many cup holders strewn across the cabin, but it still is comfortable. The Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra truck lineup has impressed me more and more each time I slide in the cab and go for a spin.
The interior is rather luxurious; it is a Denali, after all. And that nameplate is synonymous with interior and exterior styling and luxury upgrades across the GMC assembly. For a truck, this is what I would consider fancy. And the exterior brutishness is an awesome attribute when parking this beast alongside its other domestic counterparts. It definitely grabs the attention of passersby with the flashy chrome accents and signature grille.
On the top of the high-cowl hood sits in bold text “Duramax Allison” like a rite of passage in the truck world. While brand loyalty remains strong in truck enthusiasts with the Cummins diesel, Power Stroke diesel and the Duramax, they all are generally a good choice. And what's not to love about the sound of a 6.6-liter V8 diesel rumbling under the hood. When you buy the diesel there is something comforting about hearing it pounding away.
While we didn't get to exploit the true towing capabilities of the fancy truck, I am confident it would have no problem dragging around its maximum GVWR without as much as a drop of sweat. The integrated trailer brake controller, tow/haul mode and added exhaust brake actuator would allow it to be a premier tow rig for anyone looking for an attractive and luxurious one-ton truck.
Base Price: $53,995
As-Tested Price: $64,005
Drivetrain: 6.6-liter turbocharged diesel V8; 4WD, six-speed automatic
Output: 397 hp @ 3,000 rpm, 765 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Curb Weight: 7,455 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): N/A
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 15.2 mpg
Options: Duramax plus package including Duramax 6.6-liter V8 turbo diesel, Allison six-speed automatic transmission, driver alert package including lane departure warning, forward collision alert, safety alert seat ($8,845); spray in bed liner ($475); dual 150 amp alternator ($295); off road suspension package including hill decent control, monotube rancho shocks ($255); 18-inch all-terrain black wall tires ($200); high idle switch ($200); height marker lamps ($55); radiator cover ($55); camper/5th wheel wiring harness ($35); Duramax package discount (-$1,500)
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