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Expert Reviews 1 of 4
By Jim Flammang
February 10, 2003
Vehicle Overview GMC has redesigned its complete line of full-size Sierra pickup trucks for the 2003 model year. While the automaker positions its trucks as professional grade, the similar Chevrolet Silverado ranks as the high-volume member of the duo.
An advanced electrical architecture in the Sierra helps make many of the 2003 changes possible. A passenger-sensing airbag system for the front occupants determines the force of inflation according to crash severity. The driver information center is mounted in a revised instrument panel, and it offers up to 27 functions. A Bose audio system will be available later in the model year; it will be the first such application in a full-size pickup. Redundant steering-wheel controls are new.
The Sierra Denali 1500 model gets exclusive use of a distinctive instrument-panel cluster with blue backlighting and white pointers. The Denali is a performance-oriented extended-cab pickup with a 325-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 engine, permanent all-wheel drive (AWD) and a specially tuned suspension. Chevrolet does not offer an equivalent to the Sierra Denali but will add a new Silverado SS model during the 2003 model year.
GMs Quadrasteer four-wheel-steering system is standard on the Sierra Denali and optional on other extended-cab Sierras. Introduced in 2002, Quadrasteer is an electromechanical system that turns the rear wheels up to 12 degrees in relation to the front wheels, which greatly improves low-speed maneuverability and stability.
Sierra trucks come in base, midrange SLE, upscale SLT and Work Truck trim levels.
Sierras differ from Silverados mainly at the front, which is dominated by a bolder grille and a prominent red GMC badge. Light-duty Sierras now exhibit greater kinship to the heavy-duty models. The Sierra 1500s front end was inspired by the Terra4 concept truck. Sierras differ from Silverados mainly at the front, which is dominated by a bolder grille and a prominent red GMC badge.
Regular-cab and extended-cab 1500 models come with either a 6.5- or 8-foot cargo bed. Short-bed models may have flared rear fenders, called Sportside, whereas Wideside models have a slab-sided cargo bed. Four wheelbases that range from 119 inches to 157.5 inches long are available.
All extended-cab Sierra trucks have two front doors and a pair of narrow back doors that open toward the rear and cannot be opened unless the front doors are open.
Only the Crew Cab body style is available on the 1500HD series, which is equipped with four conventional doors that open toward the front. The Wideside (slab-sided) cargo bed is 6.5 feet long. Mounted on a 153-inch wheelbase, the 1500HD Crew Cab truck is 237.2 inches long overall. A Ride Control suspension package is optional.
All Sierra 2500, 2500HD and 3500 versions have a slab-sided cargo bed and are known as Wideside models. Crew Cabs on 2500HD and 3500 models have four conventional doors that open toward the front.
Five wheelbases are available for the 2500HD, ranging from 133 inches to 167 inches in length. Regular-cab 3500 pickups come on a 133- , 157.5- or 167-inch wheelbase. Chassis-cab models, without a cargo bed, are offered in longer sizes, and all of these versions are equipped with dual rear wheels.
Sierra regular-cab models seat either three occupants on a bench or two people on twin buckets, while extended-cab pickups have a rear bench seat and can carry five or six passengers.
Models with bucket seats gain a standard center console that flows up into the instrument panel. Optional uplevel mirrors have a power-folding feature that eases parking in narrow spaces. Except in the SL models, stereos in the Sierra have Radio Data System (RDS) capability and can work with XM Satellite Radio.
A new Panasonic rear-seat DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones is available for 1500HD Crew Cab models. Buyers of an SLT edition get such extras as a six-way power drivers seat, GMs OnStar communication system and leather-surfaced seat trim.
Under the Hood
Other than the Denalis 325-hp, 6.0-liter V-8 engine, the powertrain choices for the Sierra 1500 match those of the Silverado. Regular-cab models have a standard 200-hp, 4.3-liter V-6. The two optional V-8s are a 4.8-liter that makes 275 hp and a 5.3-liter rated at 285 hp. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional. Three four-wheel-drive (4WD) systems are available for the Sierra 1500, depending on the model. The Sierra Denali is equipped with AWD.
All Sierra 1500HD models use a 6.0-liter V-8 engine that produces 300 horsepower and teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Four-wheel-drive pickups get Autotrac. The Sierra 1500HD Crew Cab pickup can haul a 3,094-pound payload or trailers weighing up to 10,200 pounds.
Sierra 2500, 2500HD and 3500 pickups have a standard 6.0-liter V-8 engine that produces 300 horsepower and 360 pounds-feet of torque. Either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission may be installed.
For greater hauling capacity, Sierra 2500HD and 3500 pickups can be equipped with a 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel V-8 generates 300 hp and 520 pounds-feet of torque, or a big-block 8.1-liter gasoline V-8 churns out 340 hp and 455 pounds-feet of torque. These engines can mate with a six-speed-manual gearbox or an Allison 1000 Series five-speed-automatic transmission.
The Sierra 2500HDs payloads range from 3,076 to 4,047 pounds. Payloads for regular Sierra 3500 trucks range from 4,941 to 5,559 pounds. But Sierra 2500HD and 3500 trucks equipped with the 8.1-liter V-8 or the 6.6-liter diesel engine and a weight-distributing hitch can tow as much as 12,000 pounds.
At the SLE and SLT trim levels, Sierras offer Insta-Trac, an on-demand system with a floor-mounted transfer case. Autotrac is an automatically engaging system that transfers power to the front wheels, as needed, on slippery surfaces.
Sierras are also available for operation on compressed natural gas.
Dual-level front airbags with a passenger-sensing system are standard on all Sierras. A newly enhanced antilock braking system requires less pedal force during rapid stops.
Like the Silverado, GMCs Sierra 1500 can be equipped with simple features for basic hauling capabilities, or it can be fully decked out with extras that resemble a luxury automobile. High-end models are quite appealing for regular driving. Though its certainly not carlike, drivers may occasionally forget that theyre inside a truck.
The Sierra 1500s quietness is above average. The ride isnt cushiony, but the luxury edition is about as smooth on the pavement as youre likely to find in a pickup. The 5.3-liter V-8 engine delivers plenty of zip, and its matched up with a well-behaved quick-responding automatic transmission.
Even though Quadrasteer is expensive, it provides great benefits in maneuverability; this system makes the Sierra even easier to steer. Because of their manageable size, these pickups are relatively easy to judge while parking, and climbing aboard a 4WD model isnt an arduous task.