While Chevy and Ford trucks are ubiquitous at any regional rodeo, General Motors’ GMC lineup better recalls Rodeo Drive.
With its confident stance, big-rig persona and a somewhat pretentious aura inside and out, the 2015 GMC Sierra 1500 perfectly accommodates today’s movers and shakers, with capable moves … and virtually no shaking.
Still fresh from its 2014 redesign, the Sierra’s changes for 2015 are relatively modest: Trucks equipped with the optional 6.2-liter V-8 now get an eight-speed automatic in place of the previous six-speed, which bumps efficiency while maintaining capability. And as you’d guess, beyond the hardware is software, including features such as text/messaging alerts, Siri Eyes Free and a new built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, all standard on SLE, SLT and Denali trims. See the two model years compared side by side here.
We drove various versions of the Sierra, but this review concentrates on a 1500 crew cab SLT with four-wheel drive and the 6.2-liter V-8, which we pitted against similarly equipped Chevrolet, Ford, Ram and Toyota trucks in the Cars.com/PickupTrucks.com 2015 Light-Duty V-8 Challenge. Aggressively optioned and sporting a window sticker of just under $55,000, our test Sierra would be perfect for a long weekend or longer vacation.
In addition to our full-size crew cab, GMC offers extended (double cab) and regular cabs. While the double cab comes only with a 6.6-foot cargo box, the crew and regular cabs each offer a choice of two cargo box lengths, tied to the truck’s wheelbase (and thus its overall length): As an alternative to our test Sierra’s 5.75-foot box, the crew cab can also be had with a 6.5-foot box; regular cabs come with 6.6- or 8-foot boxes.
With last year’s redesign, GMC and Chevrolet made a real effort to achieve greater design differentiation between their sister trucks, the Sierra and Silverado. All Sierras are fronted by an aggressive, big rig grille treatment. There, the amount of brightwork is variable; on base trims the grilles are adorned with black, while on the top, Denali trim they’re blinged-out. The grilles in the middle of the lineup (SLE and SLT) split the difference, offering just enough subtlety to keep you rooted in the country and just enough chrome to park at the country club.
The Sierra comes with a choice of 4.3-liter V-6, 5.3-liter V-8 and 6.2-liter V-8 engines; the two smaller engines still pair with a six-speed automatic transmission. Our test vehicle, equipped with the 6.2-liter and eight-speed transmission, was as capable as any light-duty pickup you’ll find. Generously supplying 420 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 460 pounds-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm, the Sierra moves with authority: In our Challenge testing, it went from zero to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds with no cargo, and added just 1 second with 1,200 pounds of payload in the bed.
With 6,700 pounds of trailer and cargo, the performance is even more impressive. In our testing against a similarly powered Silverado, F-150, Toyota Tundra and Ram, there was nothing — in my opinion — that towed with the authority exhibited by the Sierra.
Of course, what goes also has to stop. The Sierra was fully competitive in braking, coming to a halt from 60 mph in 138.9 feet, or 148.7 feet with 1,240 pounds of payload. The best braking was achieved by the Silverado (133.7 feet empty and 132.2 feet loaded), while the longest braking distances came from Toyota’s Tundra TRD Pro (159.6/157.8 feet), likely because it was equipped with off-road tires and a raised ride height.
With today’s pickups, trucklike capability doesn’t automatically translate to a trucklike ride. Again in our comparison, we found the GMC to best combine unladen ride comfort with the necessary composure while loaded or towing. The Sierra’s steering feel, comfortable ride and composed handling combined to provide a level of confidence that both a trucking novice and a savvy veteran could appreciate.
With all this over-the-road goodness, the Sierra delivered almost 19.6 mpg on the Cars.com mileage loop without a trailer; it got 10 mpg when towing 6,750 pounds. Those efficiency numbers were helped in no small part by the V-8’s cylinder deactivation and the transmission’s eight speeds. The Silverado equipped with the same powertrain was the best in the unladen test, achieving 19.8 mpg, and the F-150 was the most efficient when towing, with 11.0 mpg observed.
If a buyer’s budget and/or usage demand less displacement and a comparatively lower window sticker, my time behind the wheel of the smaller V-8 and V-6 left me comfortable with the idea of owning either one of those, as well. The biggest surprise was the smallest engine, which had trucklike torque emanating from a small block that was no longer trucklike in its behavior. Regardless of drivetrain, know that GM has done an optimal job combining capability with simplicity — and the feeling of durability that goes along with it.
This isn’t (to channel an old Oldsmobile ad) your dad’s GMC. With the exception of the base Sierra, you’ll enjoy an interior with upscale appointments, careful attention to detail and virtually nothing in its execution that confuses or confounds.
Although the Sierra’s step-in height is higher than your mom’s Buick Lucerne, neither she nor anyone else in the immediate family should be challenged by the Sierra’s accessibility, even if it’s not equipped with running boards. Once inside, both driver and passengers will enjoy comfortable, supportive seating, along with generous headroom, legroom and shoulder room. Up front, aluminum accents frame a premium look, and there’s a soft feel. Contrasting stitching provides an upscale, contemporary aspect to one of America’s oldest vehicle categories. Two glove boxes combine to provide adequate storage, and while the available center armrest/console doesn’t supply enough room to warehouse an office, there is convenient space for the miscellany that often comes with a “mixed use” (business and pleasure) environment.
Functionally, the GMC’s instrumentation provides a full menu of information, including engine speed and mph, along with alternator, fuel, temperature and oil-pressure readouts. The instrumentation is well-lit and appropriately sized, regardless of light conditions or whether your reading glasses are in place. In sum, the Sierra supplies all the info you need in the absence of your own flight engineer.
In the back of our test crew cab, passengers enjoyed easy access and, once seated, almost 2 inches of additional legroom compared with the previous generation. (GMC’s available double cab has 6 inches less backseat legroom — 34.6 inches versus 40.9 inches in the crew.)
Compared with the other crew cabs in the Challenge, the Silverado is identical and the Ram crew cab’s backseat legroom is a half inch shy of the Sierra’s. The F-150 SuperCrew beats them all, with 43.6 inches. The Tundra Crew Max has 42.3 inches of backseat legroom. (See our Sierra’s specs alongside those of the Chevy, Ford and Ram here and against the Tundra here.)
GM made a huge effort to insulate passengers from road noise, and while the quiet may not be library-like, it is notable in the pickup category. And with a generous glass area both front and rear, passengers can enjoy the view while the driver suffers nary a blind spot. Finally, while we drove a Sierra SLT, owners of the Denali will enjoy even more luxurious appointments, fully in keeping with their upscale ZIP codes and expensive pursuits.
Most Sierra models provide a backup camera, which proves to be just the ticket for a big truck confronted with small spaces or congested parking lots. The optional Bose audio does exactly what you’d hope a premium system would: George Strait will sound like George Strait, and George Jones will — correctly — sound like George Jones.
We checked out the Sierra’s OnStar 4G LTE hotspot, the connection speed of which varied by location (as is true of all cellular devices), but it was always fast enough to stream video — something that’s often not possible with a 3G connection. If you’ve checked the appropriate option boxes, the Sierra provides up to six USB ports, four auxiliary power outlets and a 110-volt outlet, all designed to keep both front and rear occupants fully connected and powered.
That connectivity is made easier and more accessible by the Sierra’s available 8-inch touch-screen. Of course, you could also turn the electronic distractions off (I did) and simply drive … .
The 2015 Sierra — in any of its powertrain iterations — is uber-capable of hauling virtually anything you might want to haul. In base form, with nothing under the hood but six spark plugs and an oil filter, you can tow up to 7,600 pounds. Those with a horse trailer, horses and a gas card should opt for the 6.2-liter V-8 and Max Trailering Package; the end result is up to 12,000 pounds of towing capability. Drop down to the 5.3 liter V-8 and that towing number drops to a still-respectable 11,200 pounds.
Towing, of course, is one aspect of capability; payload is the other. Again, with our 6.2-liter V-8 coupled with four-wheel drive and a 3.42:1 rear axle ratio, the Sierra’s available payload was 1,960 pounds (all Sierras have a payload of at least 1,700 pounds). Of course, load the crew cab with five adults weighing 220 pounds apiece, and your remaining payload capability is less than 900 pounds. That remains a substantial amount, though, and comes close to equaling the half-ton descriptive assigned to the light-duty category. The GMC payload was the best in our sampling, besting the F-150 by 80 pounds and almost lapping the Ram 1500, at 1,120 pounds, as equipped.
Beyond the numbers, of course, is the feel. And as mentioned earlier, no pickup in the comparison felt quite so confident — or inspired so much confidence — as the Sierra SLT when towing or hauling. Credit the improved structural rigidity (beginning with the 2014 redesign) of a fully boxed frame, as well as its widened track and wider wheels. GMC’s Max Trailering Package takes all that engineering goodness and supplements it with a 9.75-inch ring gear, trailer brake controller, enhanced cooling, revised shock tuning and heavier-duty rear springs. If you’re going to tow, do it to the Max … .
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, the GMC Sierra 1500 crew cab earned five stars out of five in all crash categories except the overall rollover rating, where it earned four, which is the most you can expect from a pickup. Full results are here.
Beyond passive safety (the ability to survive a collision or rollover) is active safety, which is the ability to avoid an accident in the first place. And here the GMC’s aforementioned stability, braking and steering come to the forefront. Those built-in attributes are augmented by standard StabiliTrak electronic stability control (with rollover mitigation), trailer sway control and hill-start assist.
GMC also has an optional Driver Alert Package, which can notify you of an imminent forward collision and/or lane departure.
Despite harboring a very real disconnect between “pickup” and “$55,000,” I found our test Sierra 1500 SLT to be an extremely good value when compared with its competition, which ranged from the mid-$40,000s for the Toyota Tundra and Ford F-150, to the Silverado Z71 LTZ and Ram 1500 Longhorn, whose stickers nudged the Sierra’s $55,000 (all as tested). With only a few hundred dollars typically separating the Sierra from its comparable Silverado counterpart, I might opt for the smaller, more personal selling environment of the typical Buick/GMC showroom over the big box “splendor” of the Chevy store.
While purchase price is always a consideration, know that the cost of ownership is what you spend minus what you get in return at trade-in. Historically, most pickup trucks retain a higher percentage of initial cost than do most family vehicles. And while I still wouldn’t spread the payments over 72 months, at least trucks provide a level of durability in excess of that six-year schedule.
In short, I’m more impressed by trucks priced below $40K than those nudging $60K, but the Sierra SLT — and its maximum capability — make a compelling argument for spending (or financing) that almost-princely sum.