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2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Test Drive Review
Completely redesigned, the 2019 GMC Sierra is better equipped to wage war against other full-size half-ton pickup trucks.
Bigger, more capable, and more useful than ever, the redesigned 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 has been improved in every way. That’s a good thing, too, because it faces fierce competition in the most popular vehicle segment in America. The question is, has it improved enough to rank as the best full-size, light-duty pickup truck you can buy, and if not, does that even matter?
Look and Feel
Driving this redesigned half-ton pickup truck through my middle-class neighborhood and across local ranchlands, the chrome-encrusted Sierra turned heads everywhere it went.
Bigger inside and out than the truck it replaces, the redesigned 2019 Sierra possesses what GMC calls a “more dominant presence.” I’m not entirely sure what the truckmaker intends to convey there, but it sure seems to be walking a fine line between appealing to the male ego and acknowledging its fragility.
Personally, I think the Denali trim is garish. The oversize grille (which is a massive pain to clean), the silver front skid plate, the chubby-cheeked running light surrounds, and the big Denali lettering on the tailgate overwhelm an otherwise appealing design. But it’s actually toned down in comparison to the standard Sierra, if you can believe that.
Inside, the new Sierra looks just as raucous as the old one did, despite improved materials. There are seams everywhere, and this, combined with the dashboard’s widely variable surface topography, gives the truck’s cabin an unrefined appearance. This is true even in the Denali, which includes premium leather, open-pore wood trim, and real aluminum accents to add a level of luxury commensurate with the truck’s lofty price.
Still, all the buttons, knobs, and switches do make the Sierra’s interior useful. You can easily find what you need, and use the controls while wearing gloves. The Sierra’s dashboard might look like a mess, but it works well.
If you don't like the Denali, or it simply doesn’t fit your budget, GMC offers the new Sierra in a wide range of cab styles, trim levels, and powertrains.
Base, SLE, SLT, and Denali trim designations carry over from last year. New versions of the 2019 Sierra include the Elevation, which builds on the SLE trim with a customized look, and an SLT-based off-roading model called the AT4. Prices start at $29,600 for a standard Sierra regular cab with 2-wheel drive and range up to $58,300 for a Sierra Denali crew cab with 4-wheel drive and a long cargo bed.
My Denali test truck came in crew cab, 4WD, standard bed configuration. The base price was $58,000, before you add the $1,495 destination charge. To this, my test truck added gorgeous Dark Sky Metallic paint, a 10-speed automatic transmission, the Ultimate Package, the Trailer Camera Package, and it swapped the 5.3-liter V8 engine for a 6.2-liter V8. The price tag came to $68,085, including the destination charge.
Equipped with the most powerful of the new Sierra’s six available drivetrains, my Denali test truck delivered impressive performance.
Making 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, the optional 6.2-liter V8 powers all four of the Sierra’s wheels through a new 10-speed automatic transmission and an Autotrac 4WD system. Acceleration is downright quick, and on my test loop, the transmission never missed a beat despite its 10 ratios. It is, however, worth mentioning that I did not tow a trailer or haul any payload with the Sierra, so it's possible that people who buy full-size pickups for their intended purpose might experience drivetrain flaws that I did not.
Speaking of towing and hauling, the new Sierra can handle up to 12,200 pounds of trailer and 2,240 pounds of payload. That isn’t as much as a new Ford F-150 or Ram 1500, but an engineer working for one of GMC’s competitors once told me that most half-ton truck buyers actually use about half that capability, and that’s if they ever toss significant weight into the bed or connect a trailer to the hitch in the first place.
With the redesigned Sierra, GMC is touting the next generation of its fuel-saving cylinder deactivation technology, now called Dynamic Fuel Management. Thanks to 17 different deactivation combinations, the truckmaker promises optimum performance and efficiency from its V8 engines at all times. As a result, my test truck’s EPA estimate is 17 mpg in combined driving.
But on my test loop, the Sierra averaged 15.4 mpg with Autotrac in “Auto” mode. After a week and nearly 350 miles of driving, the truck had improved to 16.3 mpg, and the trip computer wasn’t budging further from that number. Based on my experience, and given the truck’s 26-gallon gas tank, you’ll be stopping for fuel every 400 miles or so.
For 2019, GMC debuts a new Traction Select system with different driving modes that tailor the truck to specific types of weather and terrain. In combination with the Autotrac 4WD system, which includes push-button settings for both 2WD and automatic 4WD engagement—in addition to 4-Hi and 4-Lo—the Denali was ready for just about anything.
When driving the new Sierra, you tower over most other vehicles on the road – including older Sierras. The hood is massive, both tall and wide, and despite the Denali’s front parking sensors and a forward-view camera, I had some trouble judging distances. It doesn’t help that both of these technologies activate later than they’re required.
Great brakes are critical with a full-size truck. GMC uses long-life brake pads for the Sierra, and they work well, but it took some time to get used to the brake pedal’s calibration. Initially, I found it necessary to brake earlier and harder than expected in order to bring the Sierra to a halt where I wanted it to stop. However, once you’re accustomed to the truck’s pedal calibration, this ceases to be a problem.
Every Sierra Denali is equipped with an exclusive Adaptive Ride Control suspension, and it’s terrific. For a big pickup, ride and handling qualities are impressive. My test truck’s 22-inch wheels, part of the optional Ultimate Package, did erase some of the benefits of the adaptive suspension, telegraphing sharper bumps and cracks in the road right up into the cabin. Noise isn’t much of a problem, though, in spite of the massive P275/50R22 tires.
Form and Function
Included in the Ultimate Package, my Denali test truck came with power side steps, which made it easier to get into and out of the Sierra. Once everyone climbs aboard, they find wide, oversized, and supportive seating that is quite comfortable. Denali trim also includes heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
Like any full-size truck, the Sierra is loaded with storage space. Also, one of the big improvements with the Sierra’s 2019 redesign is 3 extra inches of backseat legroom in the crew cab models. This, in combination with rear air vents and USB ports, makes the truck more comfortable than ever.
The extra cab space does not come at the expense of cargo-bed volume. In fact, the new bed is deeper and wider than the previous Sierra’s, and according to GMC, its roll-formed, high-strength steel floor is 50% stronger.
Loading the truck is easier, too. Several versions of the new Sierra come standard with GMC’s new MultiPro Tailgate design. With six different configurations, you can use it as anything from a workstation to a low-mounted step for climbing into the bed.
Additionally, in response to complaints that they were too small, the GMC has enlarged the 2019 Sierra’s rear Corner Step bumper cutouts. The bed has 12 cargo tie-downs, and the ones in the corners of the floor are rated to handle 500 pounds of force.
A factory spray-in bedliner is available, and GMC plans to offer an exclusive CarbonPro carbon fiber reinforced plastic cargo box liner for increased durability.
GMC takes several technological leaps with the new 2019 Sierra, and my test truck had ‘em all.
Starting with the next-generation infotainment systems, which are faster to respond and more graphically pleasing, all Sierras include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as GMC Connected Services through OnStar and a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. Unfortunately, GMC offers only a 1-month free trial to its subscription services and hotspot connection, which hardly seems enough time to make either a gotta-have-it part of daily driving.
My loaded Denali test truck also included an 8-inch touchscreen display, a navigation system, a Bose premium sound system, and a head-up display (HUD). The Sierra is the first light-duty pickup to offer an HUD, and I found it especially helpful in making sure I kept the Sierra below the posted speed limit.
Visibility improvements include a Rear Camera Mirror, which uses a camera to show a live video feed of what’s behind the Sierra, shown on the rear-view mirror display. If you don’t want to use this, flip the mirror switch for a standard reflective vantage point.
A slew of other cameras on the truck help make maneuvering and towing easier, too. For instance, a new HD Surround Vision camera gives you a 360-degree view of the Sierra and its surroundings, while a Trailer Camera Package with side-mirror cameras on both sides of the truck helps you to see around whatever it is you’re towing.
Another new upgrade, the ProGrade Advanced Trailer Package equips the Sierra with Hitch Guidance with Hitch View technology and a Trailering App for your smartphone that makes it easier to prepare for towing and to monitor the trailer while towing.
Depending on the version of the Sierra you select, it will come standard or be available with a Driver Alert option package or two.
Every version of the Sierra includes or can be fitted with the Driver Alert Package 1. It equips the truck with a blind-spot-monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors. The SLT, AT4, and Denali offer an optional Driver Alert Package 2 that further installs forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and automatic high-beam headlights.
What’s not on either of these lists is adaptive cruise control, full-speed-range automatic braking, or lane-centering assist. Personally, this doesn’t bother me, but I can see some people wishing GMC offered these features, especially folks who take long highway trips.
GMC does, however, equip every 2019 Sierra with its Teen Driver monitoring and report card technology, and the crew cabs have a Rear Seat Reminder system designed to prevent you from accidentally leaving your kid, a pet, or something otherwise important in the truck’s cab.
I wish I could tell you that GMC has improved the Sierra’s crashworthiness, but the jury remains out. Neither the federal government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had rated the truck as this review was published.
Think about the design and engineering that goes into a modern full-size pickup truck. From robust frames and creative lightweighting strategies to multiple drivetrains and the latest technologies, these are capable, durable, and sophisticated vehicles. It's a miracle that the basic versions are typically priced below $30,000—and that’s before the ever-present rebates and incentives.
When it comes to the new Sierra, however, a couple of GMC practices degrade the truck’s cost-effectiveness.
First, metallic paint costs extra. We’re not talking about a pearlescent hue or two. Any metallic color is at least $495. Second, GMC offers a 30-day trial period to the GMC Connected Services you’re likely to find the most appealing, including the WiFi hotspot. This is less generous than all competitors except for the Chevrolet Silverado.
Furthermore, the new 2019 GMC Sierra still isn’t class leading when it comes to power, payload, or towing. Frankly, I don’t think that really matters. People who are serious about such things don’t buy half-ton trucks. They get heavy-duty models.
In real life, people choose a full-size light-duty truck for how it looks, how it feels, how it makes them feel, and yes, even for how it sounds when accelerating. No doubt, given the popularity of the Sierra Denali in years past, this new version will find plenty of eager buyers in truck-loving America.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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