Calgary – Way back in 1911, when the world was new, GMC bought two existing truck companies, Rapid and Reliance, and combined them to form the General Motors Truck Company, or GMC.
The new division made trucks before Chevrolet did, but since then, they’ve become identical twins under the skin. Just as Chevy has introduced its
all-new 2014 Silverado, so GMC offers a completely redesigned Sierra that I drove on a launch in Alberta.
(Disclosure: Travel, accommodations, meals, and a predetermined route were provided to the author by the automaker.)
It’s more of a big deal north of the border. In the United States, the Sierra only accounts for about 10 per cent of sales. In Canada, it’s split almost evenly down the middle, and includes more than a few buyers who will fiercely argue that their favourite is actually a mechanically-superior model.
The actual differences between the two are in the exterior styling, in the badges in the otherwise similar interiors, and in the content of the trim lines. Previously, the two shared the same base prices. Now, the Sierra in regular cab starts at $26,155; the double cab at $30,050; and the crew cab at $31,615. That’s about $600 more than the Chevrolet versions thanks to a slightly fatter list of standard features. Chevy will offer a new High Country premium trim level, but the GMC Denali will remain the ultimate luxo-loaded package.
My task was to drive the Sierra while towing a trailer—which would be my sleeping quarters for the night at the appropriately-named Sierra West ranch—and then unhook it and continue unfettered. While there are certainly bigger rigs available for towing, my trailer’s approximate 5,500-pound weight was around the average of what most people pull for recreational vehicles.
The new Sierra offers a choice of three engines, starting with a 4.3-litre V6 that makes 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque. My truck contained a 5.3-litre V8, producing 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft. Later in the year, there will also be a 6.2-litre V8, making an estimated 420 horsepower and 450 lb-ft.
Those are the same displacements as before, but the engines are completely new. Each contains three fuel-saving technologies: direct gasoline injection, variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation that drops all of them, including the V6, down to four cylinders when full power isn’t needed.
Whereas the 5.3-litre 4×4 got a published rate of 14.3 L/100 km in the city and 9.4 on the highway, the new version is rating at 13.3 and 9.0.
Towing capacity depends on numerous factors, of course, and the truck companies always trumpet the largest numbers possible. For the Sierra, those will be 7,200 lbs. for the V6; 11,500 lbs. for the 5.3-litre; and 12,000 lbs. for the 6.2-litre when equipped with an optional maximum towing package.
The smaller V8 is a solid performer, although I would have liked better throttle feel; the pedal seemed squishy. For regular towing in hilly country, I’d order a different axle than the stock 3.08 ratio, since the truck did hit some high revs going up steep inclines, but overall it handled the task very well. The Sierra is firmly planted with no front-end float, and the brakes are linear and confident. The trailer brake controller, a $300 option, is conveniently located on the upper dash, alongside the four-wheel dial. (The interior design now groups similar controls together, and uses different backing panels depending on the number of buttons involved, so you don’t get an ugly blank button if you didn’t spring for an extra-charge item.)
The truck’s a pleasure to drive—just a hair below the nimble feeling of the Ford F-150, but better than the Ram, which drives big—and it’s easy to get in and out, thanks to a lower hip point on the seat. It’s also easy to get into the bed thanks to a simple bumper step and corresponding hand-hold in the box rail. It’s just as effective as Ford’s liftgate-integrated step and handle system, but without any moving parts.
The interior is the quietest of any current pickup truck, and it’s the Sierra’s most noticeable change, going from old and dated to among the best, and possibly the top, in the segment. My truck was an SLT with a Premium Package (which added the 20-inch wheels, Bose stereo and side steps), the last stop on the trim train before the Denali, but even the base work models are cleanly styled, with good-quality materials and excellent fit-and-finish.
The crew cab model is now available with a 6-foot-6 box, as well as the 5-foot-8 bed from the previous generation. The rear seats on the crew fold up easily for extra storage space, but unfortunately, there’s still a driveshaft hump. Ford’s floor is flat, which is much easier for sliding in large boxes.
On the double (extended) cab, the rear doors are now hinged at the front, rather than at the rear. It’s good for those who no longer have to open the front doors to let rear-seat passengers disembark, but there’s now a B-pillar instead of a wide expanse for cargo. You’ll have to decide whether it’s better or worse for you or not.
As with its Chevrolet sibling, the 2014 Sierra impresses, but it generally catches up to its competitors without leaving them behind in the dust. Now, more than ever, it really comes down to personal choice: the styling, features and driveability that each buyer prefers. It was a little easier back in 1911. Today, it’s a segment with solid choices that just keeps getting better.