Somewhere between the $595 “rear seat entertainment system” and the $295 for “100 channels of coast-to-coast digital sound,” I found a truck I really liked.
One that could tow a small home. One that could take 10 bags of cement and not blink a headlight. And one that could remind you why they make steel-toed shoes.
Just, please, wipe those shoes before you get in.
The 2003 Sierra, a Fort Wayne product along with the Silverado, is a truck that would make that long line of GMC trucks proud – sturdy, stable, powerful and ferocious. It’s just hard to be too aggressive when “The Little Mermaid” is running through the DVD in the rear.
Forgive me, GMC. I just want a truck. I don’t want my Sierra 1500 Heavy Duty four-wheel-drive Crew Cab to come with polished aluminum wheels, a Bose stereo system and leather seats. All of those are options on today’s trucks. All of those have become the standard by which all trucks are measured.
Give us a trailer-hitch platform and throw in the movie trailer, consumers say.
This is the life.
“People demand these options now,” one GM spokesman recently told me. “If you don’t include them, you can’t compete.”
Of course, if you’ve watched the industry change and watched the dealer lots expand, all of this is nothing new.
With more and more crossovers in this world, the truck segment has become less defined – more plush, less truck. Buyers are now demanding more out of their work-related heavy-duty pickups. And GM is obliging, having done a fine job of including all the extras, then watching as consumers gobble them up.
When you add in sales of the Sierra and its Silverado cousin, GM’s fleet even knocks off the F-Series for the top spot.
Look beyond the extras, and it’s still easy to see why.
A perennial competitor to the full-size offerings from Ford and Dodge, GMC has now positioned itself as the “professional grade truck” in GM’s lineup. Now into its sixth generation, the Sierra boasts classic styling and some of the most powerful drivetrains available anywhere.
That means a fiery heart of an engine that will haul anything – maximum towing capacity is 8,400 pounds – or power you anywhere.
That means 1,000 ways to build them.
If trucks offer anything for anyone these days, they also offer multiple ways to outfit them. GM has 28 trim versions of its Sierra. That’s 28!
If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you might never find it. (Here’s where the options really fly.)
Three cab styles are available in multiple trim levels with regular-cab, extended-cab and Crew Cab styles. Both styles include a three-passenger rear bench seat. All models offer varying bed sizes.
Sierra offers base, work, SLE and SLT models, plus the flagship Denali, a luxury/performance extended cab with all-wheel drive. Other Sierras come with rear-wheel drive with optional traction control or with a base 4WD that must be disengaged on dry pavement or optional Autotrac 4WD, which can be left on all the time.
No Sierra comes without many of those added touches.
Base Sierras are configured to be used as work trucks but they still include amenities like dual-zone climate control, a driver information center and a tilt steering wheel.
And it only goes up from there – power windows and locks, cruise control, a CD player, remote keyless entry, leather upholstery, the OnStar communications system and premium audio.
There is a professional package that adds features like a hot-cold storage box, an underseat tool locker and a heavy-duty suspension for those who use their Sierra exclusively as a work truck. Top-level Denali models include nearly every available option as standard including the new Quadrasteer steering system.
Here’s the heart of the best for this year. The real bonus the expanded availability of that Quadrasteer, a four-wheel steering system that turns the rear wheels opposite the fronts at low speeds for a tighter turning radius. It means car-like maneuverability in a truck.
Under the hood, there’s no forgetting this is truly a truck.
Several engine choices are available for the Sierra, ranging from a 200-horsepower 4.3-liter V-6 to a 325-horse 6.0-liter V-8, our tester.
Acceleration is swift, especially with either of the Vortec V-8s, and the automatic transmission shifts with authority. The steering sometimes feels a little vague, but it’s light and precise enough for easy driving.
So how does it drive?
A combination of coil springs (torsion bars on four-wheel-drive models) and leaf springs in the rear give the Sierra a comfortable, if not refined, ride in most situations. Which is fine. It is truckish – sometimes bumpy, often a little harsh, but not jarring.
Inside, Sierra buyers will find a logically laid-out interior, with an easy-to-use dual-zone climate control system and clear, uncluttered gauges. The cabin is roomy, particularly on extended cab models and the front seats have been redesigned for better comfort. Standard rear doors on the extended cab make entry and exit to the rear bench seat easy; and if front passengers are willing to sacrifice a bit of legroom, the back of the extended cab is quite comfortable.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on regular cabs. Optional on that model (standard on extended cabs) is a four-speed automatic, which features a tow-haul mode that improves shifting performance under heavy loads.
On safety, for 2003, GMC has added dual-stage air bags for the driver and front passenger along with a passenger-seat sensor system. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a 2002 model-year Sierra earned a three-star rating (out of five) for driver protection and four stars for the front passenger.
One warning: At the gas pump, this is one thirsty ride.
Our test 6.0-liter Crew Cab averaged less than 8 miles per gallon in city driving. Gasp!
Often first to market with unique innovations, the 2003 Sierra continues the tradition. GMC trucks also offer the OnStar communications system that provides the convenience of 24-hour on-call assistance for everything from tow truck requests to dinner reservations. The Sierra is also the first full-size pickup to offer an optional Bose audio system and XM Satellite Radio.
Combine this with new styling on the outside and additional features on the inside, and the Sierra presents a convincing package for anyone in the market for a well-rounded full-size pickup.
It’s a truck. It’s more than a truck.
Just don’t forget the DVD.
High gear: With all the bell s and whistles intact, GMC rolls out a new Sierra with a roomy cab, a strong V-8, all-wheel-drive and innovative features.
Low gear: Steering feels a little numb, and base models get pricey with all the extras.
Vehicle type: All-wheel-drive, front engine, four-passenger, four-door full-size pickup truck.
Key standard equipment: Four-wheel anti-lock brakes; engine overheat protection; long-life ignition, plugs, belts, coolant and exhaust; tinted glass; fold-down rear seats; rear heater ducts; driver information center; dual frontal air bags; auto-control headlamps; daytime running lights; tilt steering; theft-deterrent system; dual front recovery hooks.
Competition: Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra
Test engine: 325-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8
Torque: 370 foot-lbs. @ 5,000 rpm
Wheelbase (ext. cab): 143.5 inches
Length (ext. cab): 227.6 inches
MPG rating: N/A
Manufactured: Flint, Mich.
Warranty: Basic warranty is three years/36,000 mils; the drivetrain is three years/36,000 miles; body corrosion is three yers/36,000 miles; roadside assistance is three years/36,000 miles.
Base price (1500HD, 4WD, Crew Cab): $34,105
Price as tested (including options, destination and delivery): $45,910