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2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Test Drive Review
With a new truck just around the corner, GMC keeps the Sierra 1500 relevant for 2018 with more standard content and safety features.
Once upon a time trucks were simply instruments of work. They were defined only by their utility and sheer size. But times have changed, and as trucks have become family-hauling vehicles, automakers have endeavored to include more creature comforts in these large vehicles. Heated seats, remote start, and navigation are all common on modern pickups.
Then there are the luxury trucks. These vehicles have leather seating and automatically extending running boards and many seldom get dirty. Trucks like the Ram 1500 Limited and Ford F-150 Limited and King Ranch all encapsulate this upscale pickup concept. Every year, they get more expensive and more lavish—and people keep buying them! But if you are looking for patient zero of the luxury-truck trend, look no further than the 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali.
The Sierra 1500 is about to be redesigned for 2019, with many new innovations. So what is GMC offering in the current truck to make you consider it over the forthcoming 2019 version? Most notably, GMC sweetens the pot by making the reversing camera and the previously optional infotainment system standard equipment.
Look and Feel
The GMC Sierra 1500 has a timeless look to it. Consider the upcoming truck, with its large headlights and long, bending LED strip integrated into them. The whole front grille of the new truck feels unnecessarily tall. By comparison, the 2018 Sierra has restrained but strong features. The squared-off grille and headlights are confident without being over-the-top.
This calls into question the notion of design for pickups. Ram trucks are very attractive pickups, and they are defined by their big-rig styling, but Ford’s trucks have a less-coherent design language. They often feel too busy and just look anonymous at times. The GMC Sierra thrives on its simplicity. Like its corporate cousin, the Chevrolet Silverado, its styling is well-defined and has an ethos all its own. That makes these very handsome pickups.
The Sierra also has a welcoming cabin. The controls are familiar, and the design of the dash is warm, yet useful. The cabin of the Sierra is impressively spacious. I remember the first time I sat in a Sierra crew cab—it felt like a living room! As for this modern Sierra Denali? It’s more like a well-appointed study—and the center-console lid is the coffee table.
Trims for the Sierra 1500 are Base, SLE, SLT, and Denali. The Base truck is simply called the Sierra 1500, and it comes standard with Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, a 6-speaker stereo, power locks and a power tailgate. It also comes standard with a tire pressure monitoring system and a 7-inch touchscreen running GMC’s IntelliLink infotainment system.
The SLE adds some creature comforts, like satellite radio, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and the larger 8-inch IntelliLink screen, but mostly opens a world of options packages.
The SLT provides plenty of features, including leather seating, heated front seats, and dual-zone climate control. The SLT also comes standard with the 5.3-liter V8 engine. This trim is available with a locking rear differential and a Bose premium stereo.
But our Denali Sierra test model is where the real luxury features arrive. It comes with the leather seating from the SLT, but includes its own unique “Denali” lettering embroidered into the headrests. It also provides heated and ventilated front seats, as well as a heated steering wheel, a 7-speaker Bose stereo, navigation and a wireless charging pad for your smartphone.
One thing we have to address on the Sierra Denali is the fact that it is still a turn-key starter. The Denali is an overall more luxurious truck than the F-150 Limited, and the Denali provides a ton of luxury equipment, but at least Ford provides push-button start—as does Ram with its 1500 Limited.
Four engines are available on the Sierra 1500. It really breaks down to three, with a slight variation on one, starting with the 4.3-liter V6 engine. It makes 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque.
Moving up from the V6, the 5.3-liter V8 delivers 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. You can get a mild hybrid version of this engine, called eAssist. It makes the same power and torque, but offers an improvement in fuel economy.
The range-topping engine is the 6.2-liter V8. It makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. This engine is an option on the SLT and the Denali trims and was under the hood of our Denali test vehicle.
With the V6 and the 5.3-liter V8, power gets routed through a 6-speed automatic transmission. The 6.2-liter V8 comes standard with an 8-speed automatic. The 8-speed is an option with the 5.3-liter V8 and allows for improved fuel economy and smoother acceleration.
No matter which engine/transmission combination you pick, power gets routed to the rear wheels or available 4-wheel drive (4WD) with low range. When properly equipped, the Sierra 1500 can tow up to 12,500 pounds and carry a payload of up to 2,250 pounds. Trim, engine, transmission, axle, and body-style choices all affect towing capacity. For example, towing capacity for our Denali crew cab with the short bed and 4WD maxes out at 9,100 pounds.
Acceleration is strong. There is a familiar “lurch” with V8 trucks. When you take your foot off the brake and apply it to the throttle, there is a rush of acceleration.
If you are used to driving trucks, the Sierra will be fine in daily driving. But if this is your first pickup or you plan to drive in densely populated areas, getting around town with the Sierra will be a bit of a chore. The big, squared-off angles that make for such a great design unfortunately also make for tough sight lines when parking. The turning radius is far from ideal—even for a truck. Handling sometimes feels cumbersome, especially in those busy areas. But if you live in a more rural area, where you have room to move, the Sierra is commanding and comfortable.
When it comes to fuel economy, the most efficient engines for the Sierra 1500 are the 4.3-liter V6 and the 5.3-liter V8 with eAssist. Both setups return 18 miles per gallon city, 24 highway, 20 combined. The conventional (non-eAssist) 5.3-liter V8 engine with rear-wheel drive (RWD) returns 16 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. Our test model with the big V8 and 4WD returns fuel economy of 15, 20, 17.
Form and Function
Regardless of luxury features or engine choice, the Sierra has to be ready for work and ready to handle whatever gear and/or people have to fit into it. The Sierra comes with a single cab, extended double cab, or full 4-door crew cab. There are also short, standard, and long beds.
In our review of the competing Ford F-150, we noted that the extended cab versions of GM (GMC and Chevrolet) and Ram trucks have conventional, albeit small, doors on their extended cabs. Ford trucks, on the other hand, have rear-hinged half-doors for their SuperCrew models.
While the rear-hinge design on the Ford trucks makes for a great big opening, it also requires the front doors to be open to get into the back seat. This means if you are parked tightly in a spot, you may not even be able to open the rear doors. The conventionally opening doors on the Sierra double cab are a bit tighter to climb into, but they’re easier to open in tight spots.
The Sierra also comes standard with useful features like rear corner steps. They make climbing up into the bed much easier for people of any height—and they don’t require the moving parts of, say, Ford’s bed step-up. It’s a simple solution to the complex problem of climbing into the bed. And with no moving parts, there is nothing to break.
Moving up to the SLE trim adds the EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate. This feature makes it easier to lift the gate and also eliminates the need to slam it. This should make it last longer over the lifetime of the truck.
The big value-add for the 2018 Sierra 1500 making it more appealing than the 2017 is that it now comes standard with GMC’s IntelliLink infotainment system. This system was previously optional on the base model and standard on upper-level trims, but it’s now standard across the lineup.
The base system is the 7-inch infotainment screen, while all other trims but the Base get the larger 8-inch touchscreen display. IntelliLink is rather easy to use compared to other infotainment systems. You can easily swipe through menus, and you can customize the screen by dragging icons.
One nice touch is that AM/FM/Satellite radio and even mobile devices all share the same preset space. On the lower bar across the screen, you can have 98.5 FM, your favorite satellite channels, and even your smartphone all saved as presets. This is much smarter than siloing your favorite music according to the method you listen to it or the frequency that it's tuned into. IntelliLink also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for enhanced connectivity to your smartphone.
For 2018, the Sierra 1500 comes standard with a reversing camera with dynamic guidelines. It joins a list of standard safety equipment, including six airbags, StabiliTrak stability control, and the LATCH child-seat anchoring system, which is now standard for 2018.
The Sierra also adds the Easy Fill Alert to the tire pressure monitoring system for 2018. Typically, if you had to fill up a tire, you’d carry around a tire-pressure gauge, so you can check the levels of each tire as you fill it up. This system provides a visual and audible alert when each tire is properly filled, and it is extremely helpful—especially in the winter, when you need to take only one hand out of your jacket pocket to man the air hose.
Shoppers can enhance their safety equipment with the Enhanced Driver Alert Package. Available on the SLE and SLT and standard on the Denali, It includes forward-collision alert, automatic high-beam control, lane-departure warning, and front and rear parking sensors.
Another key component of the Driver Alert Package is the Safety Alert seat. This feature vibrates the left or right side of the cushion when the driver needs to pay extra attention because of a blind-spot alert or lane-departure warning. If the hazard is behind you, say, and activated a backup sensor, or ahead of you, and triggered the collision-avoidance system—it vibrates both sides of the seat.
Base MSRP for the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500 is $29,000 for a Base version with a regular cab and standard box. Moving up to the double cab version of the base trim brings the price to $32,900. A base Crew Cab starts at $38,700.
There are countless bed/cab/trim configurations, so it’s helpful to highlight one popular configuration—an SLE with a crew cab and 4WD. This configuration costs $42,100.
At one time, that would have been a lot for a truck, but thanks to trucks like the Sierra Denali, it’s become a common price range. The 2018 Sierra 1500 Denali starts at $52,900, and that’s for a short-bed, RWD trim. Our 4WD Denali tester came with the Ultimate package, adding $7,450 to the price. Factor in other packages and features, such as the $300 paint, the 22-inch wheels, and a few other options, and the price tops out at $64,345.
The truck market provides a great deal of variety these days, and trucks like the Sierra Denali show just how opulent and comfortable pickups can be. In fact, due to trucks like the Denali, many truck shoppers don’t even balk at a price tag north of $50,000 anymore. But GMC caters to more than just luxury buyers, and for every luxury truck shopper, there is a truck shopper that needs it for farm work, landscaping, plowing, or any number of jobs. The current Sierra has outstanding capability, and arguably, better looks than the upcoming 2019 version of the truck. So even with a new one on the way, we find the style and capability of the 2018 GMC Sierra worth the price.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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