General Motors has rolled out big guns in its truck shootout with Ford, and the GM arsenal includes two brands, not one. I've already told you about the all-new 1999 Chevrolet Silverado pickups, introduced in September, the first major redesign of the full-size Chevy trucks in a decade. But the GMC truck division also has its version of the new pickups, called the Sierra, and if you thought the new Chevy trucks were something special, you've got to check out the 1999 Sierra. Granted, the Silverado and Sierra start out the same underneath. But GMC has been positioning itself as a premium-vehicle marketer, so the Sierra models have much more standard equipment and amenities than the Chevy, and you can't buy a stripped-down version. The two vehicles also look different: the Sierra has the distinctive GMC hood and grille, as well as unique fenders, bumper, fascia and headlights. Engine choices are identical: a V-6 and three V-8s. GMC trucks come in three trim levels: base SL, SLE and top-of-the-line SLT. The differences between the GMCs and Chevys make the Sierra the Cadillac of pickups. Our test model -- the four-wheel-drive 1500 extended-cab model with the Sportside (step-side) short cargo box and Z-71 off-road package -- is about as fancy as an off-road-capable pickup can get. Of course, you pay extra for all the amenities that come with a GMC pickup, so the list price for ours was a hefty $33,416 (including $640 transportation). But lesser-equipped models start at $15,955 (with two-wheel drive). The Sierra SLE comes with lots of standard equipment -- including power windows/door locks, air-conditioning, four-wheel disc brakes with antilock system, dual front air bags with a passenger-side cut-off switch, five chrome-plated steel wheels, chrome front bumper, fog lamps, dual electric outside mirrors, fancy instrument cluster with a driver information center and tachometer, leather-wrapped steering wheel, swing-out rear quarter-panel windows, tilt steering wheel, and cruise control. The frame is stronger than before, the V-8 engines are all new and more powerful than ever, and even the brakes are far superior to those of the previous Chevy trucks and any of the competition. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard across the line. The base engine for the Chevy and GMC models is a 4.3-liter V-6, standard on two- and four-wheel-drive 1500s. It cranks out 200 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. Three all-new Vortec V-8 engines are available on the GMCs, but the biggest, a 6.0-liter, 300-horsepower mammoth is not offered on the half-ton (1500) trucks; you have to go to the three-quarter-ton (2500) models for the big engine. The two V-8s on the 1500 series are based on the legendary GM small-block V-8 design. The 4.8-liter is rated at 255 horsepower and 285 foot- pounds of torque; the 5.3-liter at 270 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. Our SLE came with the 5.3-liter, at an extra cost of $700. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on lower-priced models, but our SLE came with the smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission with no extra charge. This transmission and engine combination gave the Sierra outstanding power in all situations: starting from a dead stop, merging into freeway traffic, passing on two-lane roads and even climbing hills. As an avid off-roader who has spent countless hours in the wild, I heartily recommend the automatic transmission for serious backwoods and desert exploring. A manual transmission might seem more macho, but you'll hate it the first time you lose traction shifting gears on a steep, slippery uphill slope. Ride and handling for the Sierra are remarkably carlike, and braking power is awesome. I've never experienced brakes this good on a pickup; they are racing quality. One of the Sierra extended-cab's best attributes is its roominess. The back seat is almost as big as that of a ew-cab pickup, and three adults will find it very comfortable, especially when compared with the Ford F- 150 or Dodge Ram. For serious off-roading, our Sierra was equipped with the optional locking rear differential ($270), and we also had off-road tires ($365), front fog lamps ($140) and a heavy-duty trailering package ($285). With this package, the four-wheel-drive Sierra can pull a trailer of up to 8,000 pounds. Other extras included a "comfort" package ($565) with front bucket seats and an excellent AM/FM/cassette/compact-disc stereo; an electric rear-window defogger ($154), and deep-tinted glass ($107). EPA fuel-economy ratings are 15 mpg gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway for the 5.3-liter V-8. The fuel tank of the Sportside short-bed model holds 26 gallons of gasoline.
THE GMC SIERRA The Vehicle: 1999 GMC Sierra 1500 SLE Z-71 Sportside extended-cab pickup.
The Package: Full-size, three-door, five- or six-passenger, V-8 powered, four-wheel-drive, short-bed four-wheel-drive step-side pickup, all new for 1999.
Highlights: Two V-8 engine choices offer a broad range of power and trailering capabilities; roomy interior with a comfortable back seat; new styling but definitely not radical.
Negatives: Longer and wider than previous models, which makes it harder to maneuver in tight spaces.
Major competitors: Ford F-series, Dodge Ram.
EPA fuel economy: 15 miles per gallon city, 18 highway (5.3-liter V-8, automatic transmission).
Base price: $27,210 plus $640 transportation.
Price as tested: $33,416, including transportation.
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||July 24, 1999|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||May 22, 1999|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||February 12, 1999|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||December 20, 1998|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||December 20, 1998|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||December 17, 1998|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||November 25, 1998|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||November 5, 1998|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||August 21, 1998|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||July 26, 1998|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||June 11, 1998|
|Al Haas||July 18, 1999|
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