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2019 GMC Sierra First Drive Review: Mo’ tailgates, no problems

The full-size truck market is booming and the players within that ultra-competitive segment just keep on getting bigger and better. At this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chevrolet rolled out a new Silverado that finally brought that truck to a point of modernity. And, as our recent first drive confirmed, it did a damned fine job, too.

Of course GMC couldn’t be far behind, and indeed the new 2019 Sierra 1500 was unveiled just a few months later. And now, we’ve driven that too. Whether you’re looking for that unique mixture of posh and practicality of the Denali or perhaps something a bit more aggressive in the lifted AT4, GMC has a Sierra for you. Having driven them all, I can confidently say that they were worth the wait.

All-new features

The 2019 GMC Sierra is wholly new from top to bottom, stem to stern, having grown a few inches overall but, more significantly, gained more than 3 inches of wheelbase. Despite this growth, the truck is up to 360 pounds lighter than its predecessor. That means a bigger truck with more room and cargo capacity, yet lighter weight for bolstered towing and handling.

Those weight savings come down to a variety of factors, including some aluminum body panels like doors and hood, but the most significant savings comes from an industry first: a carbon fiber bed. Yes, General Motors, a company that had a lot of fun poking holes in Ford’s aluminum bed in the F-150 (literally and figuratively), will offer what’s called the CarbonPro bed on GMC Sierras. This tweak alone shaves 62 pounds off the weight of the truck while offering even more durability and of course corrosion resistance than the existing steel bed.

You don’t need to be a pro to appreciate the MultiPro tailgate.


GMC

The other big innovation with a camelcase moniker is the optional MultiPro tailgate, which splits the standard tailgate in two, allowing each to be opened independently. What seemed like a gimmick to me on first glance turns out to be surprisingly useful, but more on that in a moment.

Driving all this will be one of four motors, on the top-shelf sitting GMC’s 6.2-liter V8. It delivers 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque through a 10-speed automatic and, in the Sierra Denali, is expected to manage 15 mpg city and 21 highway. That rig will tow up to 9,300 pounds, but opt for the more work-focused Sierra SLT trim and that number soars to a whopping 12,100 pounds.

The other V8 is the 5.3-liter, with 355 hp and 383 lb-ft, and both this and its big brother offer a new generation of cylinder deactivation that, in theory, allow the engines to keep spinning on just one cylinder. Other options include a new, 2.7-liter, 310-horse turbo-four that replaces the old V6 and a 3.0-liter turbodiesel is coming as well. Efficiency figures for both of those choices have yet to be disclosed.

Intellilink is a solid infotainment option, and the new HUD is a welcome addition.


GMC

All-new smarts

It isn’t just the sheetmetal that’s received a thorough once-over. The 2019 Sierra’s interior takes a quantum leap forward with a bevvy of new tech toys and safety features that finally give this truck the smarts to match its brawn.

Last year’s Sierra didn’t even offer blind-spot monitoring, but now the truck offers that plus a host of other adaptive safety features like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure assist and enough cameras mounted on all angles to make parking this behemoth a breeze.

In the dashboard sits a touchscreen running GMC’s latest flavor of IntelliLink, which we’ve seen re-skinned in various colors for various other General Motors properties. Regardless of dressing, it continues to be among the best, offering a simple but comprehensive experience and, most important, responsive performance. Best of all? Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are supported right out of the box.

Climb on up into the driver’s seat and look forward and you’ll see the Sierra’s new heads-up display, which is bigger and wider than any I’ve seen on a car before. On here you’ll of course get current speed, plus the current limit and even roll and pitch data from the inclinometer. Curiously, though, navigation information is not displayed there.

And the final new toy? It’s GMC’s latest digital rear-view monitor, an evolution of the tech we first saw in the Chevrolet Bolt EV that now offers a wider view and a much clearer image.

All that’s bolstered by a slew of both USB Type-A and the newer Type-C ports, plus a 110 outlet and an optional wireless charging pad that not only kept my Galaxy Note 8 topped up during a lengthy drive, it kept it nice and cool, too.

Top-shelf trailering

While the new carbon bed and trick tailgate will rightfully get the most attention, those who trailer will find the new Sierra a very able companion. I had a chance to hitch up a boat trailer carrying a Zodiac boat and found the process to be very straightforward.

A lot of that comes down to that bevvy of cameras. When backing up, the Sierra showed the rear-view and extended a line showing the path of the hitch, making initial alignment easy. Then, when I got closer, I was able to toggle to a zoomed-in, top-down view of the ball itself, meaning I could see exactly when it was in-line.

After that I still had to do the hard work of lowering the hitch onto the ball and connecting the chains and all that, but the infotainment system on the Sierra can help there, too, displaying a custom checklist with images and animations to help if you’re new to this sort of thing — or are just forgetful as I increasingly am.

Once connected, the new Sierra trailering app enables you to test the lights on the trailer just by tapping a button, a process much quicker than calling on your significant other to stand behind the trailer and yell when the blinker comes on.

Finally, the 2019 Sierra can optionally be outfitted with a secondary TPMS receiver that slots in behind the rear license plate. From here, it can wirelessly detect trailer tire pressures and even temperatures, the kind of information that could save you from a high-speed blow-out and a very lengthy pit stop.

Once loaded, the Sierra’s adaptive suspension will automatically adjust and enable you to even see behind the trailer with the use of a secondary, remote camera.

It’s all perhaps a bit much, but as the sort who can sometimes get a little stressed while trailering, I can definitely see the appeal.

If muddin’ is your thing, the lifted Sierra AT4 is for you.


GMC

Hitting the trail

I spent most of a day crossing the beautiful roads outside St. John’s, Newfoundland in a 2019 Sierra Denali, a top-shelf model with nearly all the literal bells and figurative whistles, including that big 6.2-liter lump of a V8. Its effortless torque surges the empty truck forward with aplomb, and while in default trim I found its sound to be a little unremarkable, the optional sport exhaust fixes that nicely — at the cost of some drone.

My initial impression behind the wheel of the Denali was one of composure, a hallmark of the Sierra and, indeed, the Silverado. While you wouldn’t confuse it for an S-Class, the Sierra handles uneven pavement and unexpected potholes without drama and offers a clean, comfortable cruise on the highway. You could cover big, big miles in the heated and cooled front seats without much discomfort.

And you won’t be missing much from the rear seats, either. That extra legroom back there means the Crew Cab version of the truck can properly handle a crew of any size. Or, fold up the rear seats and there’s plenty of room for bicycles, large dogs, polar bears or whatever else you’re traveling with.

For whatever won’t fit in the cab, that MultiPro tailgate really does make filling the bed easy. With both portions folded down and the internal lip extended, it turns into a wide, sturdy step that made it mighty easy to climb on in while handling a bale of hay. Flip up the inner tailgate and that extended lip turns into an integrated bed extender. Or, close the tailgate and extend the inner bit and you have a passable workshelf.

It works well and it’s the kind of thing that we’ll surely see copied on other trucks in the near future, but for now you can only get it on Sierra. Were I in the market I’d surely be ticking that box.

It’s pretty hard to not like this thing… if you can afford it.


GMC

Wrap-up

The 2019 GMC Sierra, especially in Denali trim, is hard not to like. Sure, its styling is perhaps conservative, but given its market and the varied reception to Silverado, that seems like a wise move to me. It drives cleanly, hauls and tows capably and has the smarts to be competitive in the marketplace.

But all that will come at a price, of course. The 2019 GMC Sierra starts at $29,600, but if you want all the toys you’ve been reading about expect to pay more. The off-road focused AT4, with its 2-inch lift and Rancho tubes, starts at $53,200 while the Denali is $54,700 and up.

Spendy? Yes indeed, but last year the average Denali buyer dropped a whopping $55,656, and with all these fun new options boxes to tick in 2019, that number is only going up.


Editors’ note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content. 


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