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A choice of potent V8 engines, a suave, quiet ride, decent towing capability, off-road prowess, and a plethora of safety equipment keeps the 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 a worthy choice for the truck-savvy shopper.The Bad
Some handling issues, bland interior materials, limited cabin storage, rising gas prices, and a huge turning radius somewhat diminishes the 2011 Sierra’s appeal.
The CarGurus View
Make no mistake: Jimmy’s 2011 Sierra 1500 lineup can do the heavy lifting. It’s also a good-looking pickup, as comfortable at the mall as it is on the job. With plenty of power and awesome off-road manners, this truck can be tricked out to tackle any load over any road.
At a Glance
Nearly unlimited cab configurations, drivetrain choices, feature levels, and upgrade packages keep GMC’s 2011 Sierra 1500 full-size pickup truckin’ along. This Jimmy is a workhorse, make no mistake about that, but when decked out in elegant clothes, it looks equally comfortable at the theatre, the ball, or even the mall. The latest generation of this three- to six-passenger heavy hauler is essentially the same truck as last year’s, with the next-gen OnStar 9.0 system, featuring improved audio and voice recognition, the only worthy upgrade. Along with its Chevy Silverado cousins, the Sierra 1500 line offers an off-road-capable workaholic with long-haul comfort, competent road manners, and doodads enough for almost every taste. The base Regular-cab Work Truck starts at around $20,900, but beware that upgrades can get expensive in a hurry, with the top-shelf trim level going for over $42,200 before throwing in options.
The Sierra 1500’s trim levels run from the basic Work Truck to the lower midlevel SL, the upper tier SLE and XFE, and the top-shelf SLT. Work Trucks and the SLE trims are available in three-passenger Regular cab, six-passenger Extended cab, and Crew cab versions, with four independently opening doors, while the SL and SLT trims run with only Extended cab and Crew cab configurations. The XFE, meantime, comes solely in the roomy Crew cab configuration. Both the Regular and Extended cab 1500s can be delivered with either the 6.6-foot (SB) or 8.2-foot bed (LB), while Crew cab trims come with only a 5.8-foot bed, making them just a hair shorter than your typical 18-wheeler. All trims, of course, are standard rear-wheel drive (RWD), and all except the RWD-only XFE Crew Cab are available with part-time four-wheel drive (4WD). Work trucks are, of course, just that, with few frills and, in the Regular and Extended cab versions, a standard V6 engine. A 4.8-liter V8 engine powers Crew cab configurations. The SL, SLE, and XFE trims sport a standard V8 engine and some of the more traditional creature comforts, while the top-shelf SLT is delivered with the standard 5.3-liter V8 and a boatload of added amenities.
Competition in the lucrative full-size truck market tends to be fierce, with Ford’s F-150, GM’s own Chevy Silverado, Dodge’s Ram lineup, and Toyota’s up-and-coming Tundra all rivaling the Jimmy’s 1500 trim offerings. All have various strengths and weaknesses, and all are worth a look-see, especially from those looking for their first full-size pickup.
The standard powertrain for the 2011 Sierra 1500 Work Truck trims is a 4.3-liter V6 and its accompanying 4-speed automatic transmission. This matchup puts out 195 hp at 4,600 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. When properly equipped, V6 Work Trucks have a maximum towing capacity of 4,800 pounds for RWD versions and 5,100 pounds in 4WD configurations, while mileage estimates run from 15/20 mpg with RWD versions to 14/18 in 4WD configurations.
Available for the Work Truck and standard with SL and SLE trims is a variable-valve-timed (VVT) 4.8-liter Flex Fuel (FFV) V8 engine, again with the standard 4-speed automatic transmission. Expect 302 hp at 5,600 rpm and 305 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm, 7,100 pounds of towing in RWD versions and 7,500 pounds of towing capacity in 4WD configurations, all with proper towing equipment. Mileage with the smaller V8 is estimated at 14/19 in RWD 1500s and 13/18 in 4WD trucks on regular unleaded. Additionally, the 4.8-liter V8 is E85-ethanol compatible.
Moving up to the XFE Crew Cab and SLT levels, the standard powerplant is a 315-hp (at 5,200 rpm) 5.3-liter V8, also E85-capable (FFV), that mates with a standard 6-speed automatic transmission. This potent V8 pounds out 335 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, good for towing up to 10,000 pounds in RWD configurations and 9,600 pounds in 4WD versions, depending on axle ratio and with the proper equipment. Mileage estimates with the standard Active Fuel Management system and VVT are pegged at 15/21 in both RWD and 4WD configurations of the SLT, and 15/22 in the XFE Crew Cab. In addition, this potent V8 is an option with the SLE trim level.
Finally, SLE and SLT Extended cab and Crew cab trims are available with the monstrous 6.2-liter Flex Fuel V8 engine that’s managed by a standard 6-speed auto-manual transmission. This hefty combo puts out 403 hp at 5,700 rpm and 417 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm, with towing maxed out at 10,700 pounds. Mileage with this beast is estimated at 13/18 in RWD trims and 12/18 in 4WD versions.
Part-time 4WD is managed by a center mechanical differential and auto-locking hubs, with the 1500 Work Truck and SL 4WD trims sporting manual hi-lo gear selection and the 1500 SLE and SLT 4WD trims boasting Autotrac electronic hi-lo gear selection with rotary dial controls. Additionally, the SLT RWD and 4WD pickups are delivered with a standard rear locking differential.
Most reviewers, though wary of the V6 powerplant, find the 4.6-liter V8 at least adequate to the task and the 5.3-liter V8 more than capable. The 6.2-liter V8 that’s available to the Sierra 1500 Extended cab and Crew cab configurations is noted as especially adept at maintaining highway speeds while hauling a heavy load, as well as a more-than-respectable time of 6.6 seconds from 0-60 mph. In addition, almost all reviewers find this monster motor doing its job in a refined and unobtrusive manner. While numerous reviewers are impressed with the alacrity and responsiveness of the 6-speed automatic transmission, most find the 4-speed automatic to be past it’s prime, performance-wise.
Ride & Handling
As is traditional, the 2011 Sierra 1500 lineup is offered in three suspension configurations, the standard Z85, the available Z60, and the available, off-road-designated Z71. All three begin with a short and long arm front independent suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, and a solid live axle rear suspension. Standard 17-inch wheels grace the Work Truck, SL, SLE and XFE Crew Cab trims, while the SLT boasts standard 18-inch alloy wheels.
Ride comfort with the standard Z85 suspension is described by many reviewers as tolerably comfortable for a full-size pickup, while the available Z60 suspension gets a tad shaky, due, some say, to its accompanying 20-inch tires. Most reviews note that the off-road-oriented Z71 suspension will win few accolades for on-road comfort, but it has more than what it takes to handle terrain that would give mountain goats pause. Unfortunately, a massive turning radius also comes with Sierra 1500 territory, allowing little leeway in crowded parking lots.
Most reviewers complain that the Z85 suspension fosters some noticeable body lean in tight turns, but that’s to be expected in such hefty haulers. Steering, meanwhile, is noted by many reviewers as compliant, if a tad numb, with the Z60 and Z71 suspensions doing little to improve things. Braking, on the other hand, is powerful and true, according to most reviews, with a solid feel to the pedal.
Cabin & Comfort
Because many folks drive a full-size pickup simply because they enjoy its sheer size, cabin amenities have been improved upon and added to exponentially, and Jimmy’s 2011 Sierra 1500 lineup is no exception. The base 1500 Work Truck trim, for example, though Spartan, with vinyl upholstery and an in-dash AM/FM stereo, also boasts tilt-wheel steering, air conditioning, and four or six speakers, depending on cab configuration. A sliding rear window is a standalone option, meantime, with a number of the standard features found in the higher trims available to this base version.
Moving up to the SL trim begets such additional standard goodies as cloth upholstery, rear heat ducts, remote power door locks, power windows, heated power outside mirrors, and cruise control. Entertainment and telematics, furthermore, include a standard, MP3-capable single-CD player, XM satellite radio, and new OnStar 9.0 Directions and Connections navigation and communications services. Amping things up a bit, the SLE and XFE Crew Cab trim levels boast such added standard amenities as premium cloth upholstery, driver’s side adjustable lumbar support, front and rear floormats, and leather and simulated alloy steering-wheel accoutrements.
Finally Jimmy’s top-shelf Sierra 1500 SLT trim features leather upholstery, multi-level heated, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate controls, simulated wood and simulated alloy dash and door trim, and memory for two drivers' settings, all standard. Standard entertainment and electronic amenities include seven Bose premium speakers, including a subwoofer, and a USB connection for added music storage.
Available options packages in the SL and above trim levels include a heavy-duty trailer towing package with hitch, wiring, and an integrated trailer brake controller, as well as a Bluetooth communications package. Additionally, there is the Off-Road Suspension, including the Z71 suspension system featuring skid plates, beefed-up suspension components, and off-road tires, and two All-Terrain packages with added trim and trailer-towing accoutrements. The sportier Power Tech Package, and trim-specific Preferred and Convenience packages, meanwhile, with 18- or 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, DVD navigation, dual-zone climate controls, upgraded audio components, and universal remote garage door opener is available for those who may be doing more pavement pounding than mountain climbing. Standalone options include a 6-CD changer, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, rear-seat DVD entertainment, power-adjustable pedals, and power-extending mirrors, all contingent on the trim level selected.
Most reviewers find the 2011 Sierra 1500 Work Truck to be a tad classier than expected, with easily readable gauges, but audio and climate controls set too high on the dash for easy access. Higher trim levels are noted by several reviews to be comfortable but not anything extra special, with a bit too much hard plastic and few concessions to shorter drivers, unless the optional power-adjustable pedals are selected. Visibility is described by many reviewers as generally good, though interior storage is at a premium across the lineup. Finally, seats are found to be reasonably comfortable lineup-wide by most reviewers, with head- and legroom more than adequate for most adults.
Though the 2011 Sierra 1500 lineup provides a margin of occupant safety through its sheer size, this sharp pickup also sports much of the usual standard safety equipment. Such equipment includes four-wheel ABS (front disc, rear drum), electronic brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control, dual front side-mounted airbags, front and, in Extended and Crew cabs, rear head airbags, and daytime running lights. The SL and above trim levels throw in a remote antitheft alarm, OnStar 9.0 Emergency Service with Airbag Deployment Notification and Stolen Vehicle Tracking, standard, and the SLT adds standard turn-signal-integrated mirrors and front fog/driving lights. Four-wheel disc ABS is available with all-terrain and trailer-towing packages. Front fog/driving lights are additionally available on the SL and SLE trim levels.
In testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 1500 lineup received four and five stars in front impact testing, depending on cab configuration, five stars across the board in side impact tests, and four stars for rollover protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meantime, gives the 2011 Sierra 1500 it’s best rating of Good in front impact protection, and its second-highest rating of Acceptable in side impact testing. Roof-strength tests were not conducted.
What Owners Think
Build quality issues, including squeaks and rattles and some glitches in a few techno-gadgets, seem to top the list of owner complaints with the 2011 Sierra 1500. Tepid (at best) gas mileage, though understandable in the minds of some owners, is still thought to be worthy of improvement. Finally, the lack of adequate cabin storage cubbies, undersize gloveboxes, and a bland base cabin with too many hard plastic surfaces also causes some grousing from owners.
On the positive side, most owners are more than happy with this big pickup’s exterior styling, powerplant options, 6-speed auto-manual transmission, towing abilities, and quiet cabin. Comfortable seats, including special kudos for the SLT's standard leather upholstery, a more-than-acceptable ride, and all that off-road capability have an overwhelming majority of owners well satisfied with their choice of the Sierra 1500.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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2011 GMC Sierra 1500 Top Comparisons
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Looking for a Used Sierra 1500 in your area?
CarGurus has 37,119 nationwide Sierra 1500 listings starting at $2,599.
GMC Sierra 1500 Questions
Start Truck. Step on brake. Shifter won't come out of Park.
My 2011 GMC Sierra will not crank unless boosted off with another vehicle and jumper cables. I check the battery with a multimeter and it shows 12.8 volts. Jumped it off and it started and the m...
Gas dripping off tank, only when running whether full or low of gas. Have any idea?
I have a 2011 GMC Sierra that’s constantly dies. Always have having to give it a jump after every time i drive it. It has a brand new alternator, starter, +- cables, and upgraded battery to a plat...
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