First Drive Review: 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500HD, Part 4


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2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD Crew Cab SRW With 6.0-Liter Vortec V-8 Gasser ($51,855) towing about 10,000 pounds

The last truck we spent a lot of time in was the new Denali trimmed Sierra. It’s about time GMC finally added this upscale option to the HD lineup to compete against the unchallenged King Ranch Super Duty.

Checking the Denali box on the order form adds a unique four-bar chrome grille, along with body-colored bumpers, chrome door handles, chrome accents and 18- and 20-inch polished forged aluminum wheels. We had the 20s with LT265/60R20 tires.

Where other trucks in the HD segment are slathered with chrome on their noses, we really liked the Denali’s lower chrome-to-paint ratio. It’s classy and distinctive and doesn’t shout for attention.

But we’re not fans of the new giant plastic louver that sits dead center on every 2011 Sierra HD’s hood. From what we’re told by GM staff, GMC dealers had a case of “louver envy” after they saw the faux heat extractors on the 2007-10 Silverado HD and demanded GMC get its own unique decoration. We can see many owners taking it off and shaving and repainting the hood to delete the plastic pad.

As with other GMC Denali models, the Sierra HD’s cabin included brushed aluminum trim, power-adjustable pedals, a Bose premium surround audio system and 12-way power seats. It also had a (very useful) heated steering wheel and heated and cooled leather buckets in the front row.

Our truck had the 6.0-liter small-block V-8 gas engine with 360 hp and 380 pounds-feet of torque, though Denali livery can also be ordered with the Duramax. A $51,000 price tag is huge for an HD pickup, especially one with a gasser under its hood instead of an oil burner. We can speculate that when the 1-ton Denali 3500 diesel dually version arrives later this year, it’s going to cost at least $10,000 more.

We hooked up the same 10,000 pound Case front-end loader and trailer combo that we towed earlier in the day with the Silverado 3500 dually diesel.

Photo by Jim Fets, courtesy of GeneralMotors

The pushrod 6.0-liter V-8 performs well in the HD pickup. While we couldn’t merge onto the freeway as quickly as with the Duramax, we still had plenty of power to get the truck up to highway speed. Now that Ford has relegated its 360 hp, 457 pounds-feet 6.8-liter V-10 gas engine only to its chassis cab trucks, the torque difference between the all-new 385 hp, 405 pounds-feet Ford overhead cam 6.2-liter gas V-8 and GM’s overhead valve 6.0 is much narrowed .

With the truck in tow/haul mode, we left cruise control off as we climbed and dropped through Maryland’s hills on the freeway. To keep momentum up, we often had to use near-wide-open throttle up the steeper 6 percent and 7 percent grades. The engine revs climbed to 5,500 rpm before dropping back down to 3,500 rpm with each upshift and starting the slow march up the tach again. The 6.0 has a broad torque curve with about 90 percent of peak torque available at only 2,000 rpm, and as it climbed near the upper end of the rev range, we could feel it get a bit breathless. Most of the time, the truck was in fourth or fifth gear.

The 6.0 engine has new heads and a new camshaft, but GM has also updated its 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission by increasing the cross section size of the transfer case adapter for greater strength and a stronger output shaft. We believe this is preparation for a significant jump in horsepower and torque that’s coming for the 6.0 in the next year or two.

The 6L90, like the Allison transmission, can be manually shifted by the driver in “M” mode. As we drove, we tapped the +/- button on the shift stalk to force the transmission to upshift and downshift and lock out its top-end gear. As we drove a circular route in M mode, there was a spot slowing down before a stop sign where we downshifted manually from fourth to third and felt a poor gear swap. We thought it might be an anomaly, but we felt the same thing again at the same place on our second lap when we let the transmission decide shifts on its own. It seems that GM may still have some calibrating to do after all of the 6L90 improvements, but just on the 3-2 downshift. The rest of the shifts were clean and smooth.

Updated June-16-2010 10:27 am: Changed 4-3 downshift to 3-2 downshift

We had one interesting observation: While the Allison hummed along with transmission temperatures ranging between 160 degrees and 175 degrees, the 6L90 climbed all the way up to 202 degrees. This was in weather in the mid-70s as we tested the truck hard through the hills.

Photo by Jim Fets, courtesy of GeneralMotors

Since GM’s gas trucks don’t offer an exhaust brake, we appreciated the larger wheel brakes even more on the 6.0 truck. We never felt them fade or strain during all of our driving.

Like Ford, GM has also added trailer sway control to its HD pickups for 2011. But only GM's SRW trucks have sway control while Ford offers it for both SRW and DRW pickups. Sway control is not currently available for Ram HD pickups.

By the end of our time in the Denali gasser, we were impressed with its performance pulling 10,000 pounds. If you’re not going to tow cross-country or through mountainous terrain and you’re looking for a high-end pickup, the Denali 2500 6.0 is a solid choice.

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