2012 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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To call the Sierra Denali the Cadillac of pickup trucks wouldn't be too much of a stretch, but for the time being at least Cadillac already has a pickup truck of sorts in the Chevy Avalanche-based Escalade EXT, so maybe we should dub it the Buick of pickup trucks.

After all, Cadillac has brought its game up to the point that most of its cars can compete directly with bestselling European premium brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and while the Denali is plenty nice for a full-size pickup, it's interior doesn't measure up to the refinement of the crested wreath brand. Nor does it need to.

Let's be clear, pickup truck drivers don't usually care if interior plastics are soft to the touch or hard, or for that matter whether the glossy woodgrain is real or not. No, that kind of snob appeal is hardly an issue for most in this hard work and serious play crowd. Dodge went to the extra effort of adding soft-touch plastics throughout much of the higher-end Ram's cabin, but it's an anomaly in this segment as no other heavy-duty player has gone so far to woo buyers. And besides, the Denali has an altogether different look to it that's more appealing to my urban tastes. Where the Ram's interior theme is all country and western, the Denali looks clean, simple and dare I say sophisticated. There's a bit too much faux wood for my taste, but at least it's applied to an interior design that shows a certain understated elegance.

Likewise for the Sierra HD Denali's exterior design. Where both heavy-duty competitors appeal to fans of highway rigs with massive chrome grilles and other go big or go home unsubtleties, the Sierra Denali looks almost like it's not even trying to be cool. Sure its grille is big and you really couldn't get more chrome on it if you tried, but the overall look from front to back is more that of a traditional full-size pickup truck and less like it was inspired by a Kenworth 18-wheeler.

It'll tow much like a Kenworth though, or at least its maximum 10,432-kilo (23,000-lb) capacity should be more than ample for your needs. That's with a fifth-wheel, mind you, and in 3500HD trim. The 3500 can haul 8,164 kilograms (18,000 lbs) with its conventional hitch, while the 2500HD I tested can pull 7,892 kilos (17,400 lbs) with the fifth-wheel or 5,897 kg (13,000 lbs) with the ball hitch. It can carry a sizeable load on its backside too, with a maximum payload of 3,272 kg (7,215 lbs) and GCWR rating of 13,834 kg (30,500 lbs). All of these numbers have increased for 2012, incidentally.

The Denali has all the capability of a work truck with the refinement and features of a big American luxury SUV. In fact, much of the Sierra Denali's interior is pulled directly out of the Yukon Denali, which is only fair being that the Yukon originally sourced its underpinnings from the Sierra. Compared to the base Sierra HD work truck, the Denali is a much nicer place to spend time behind the wheel. Features include a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, power-adjustable pedals, a six-disc audio system, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera, not to mention work-related functionality like a lockable EZ lift tailgate. Visual cues include a colour-keyed front fascia and rear bumper, plus chrome door handles and the aforementioned chrome grille.

All of the Denali features get added to an SLT that already offers ten-way power-adjustable heated leather bucket seats with driver's side memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-folding mirrors with integrated turn signals, an auto-dimming driver's side mirror with tilt-down reverse, an auto-dimming centre mirror, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, plus a premium Bose sound system featuring XM satellite radio and a USB plug, and much more. Really, this short list just scrapes the surface, as the standard Denali items menu grows from the base Sierra WT (Work Truck), through the SLE and then on past the SLT to this Denali. Prices start from $37,490 including destination for the base Sierra 2500 Regular Cab Long Bed 2WD WT, to $64,340 for the 3500 Crew Cab Long Bed 4WD Denali. My 2500 Crew Cab Short Bed 4WD Denali tester started at $62,655, destination in, while the diesel option added $9,670 and required Allison transmission another $1,445, plus extras like a set of 20-inch wheels, power tilt and slide moonroof, navigation system, etcetera, could add more if so desired.

As with any domestic pickup truck, the Sierra HD comes in myriad configurations of cab size and bed length, not to mention drivetrain possibilities. While a gasoline-powered 6.0-litre V8 is available, making 360-horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm, my Denali tester came with GM's rugged 6.6-litre turbo-diesel that produces 397-horsepower at 3,000 rpm and an awe-inspiring 765 lb-ft of torque from a mere 1,600 rpm. It literally jumps off the line, the Allison 1000 six-speed automatic locking up and shooting it out of the gate as if it were a pit bull being held back and then finally let go to chase a neighbourhood cat. The engine transmission combo was faultless during my test week, combining for smooth and efficient operation, a pleasing complement to the truck's best-in-class ride and adept handling.

After towing and hauling prowess, fuel-efficiency is the key reason to step up to the diesel. I averaged about 14 L/100km, which is very good for this class of truck, albeit nothing was in tow and I only loaded the bed up once for a single dump run. To that end the EZ lift tailgate is a nice touch, although I'd like GM to get a little more creative with respect to bed access and offer a stowable step for climbing inside. Optional side steps can be added, however, so ask your dealer about all that's available.

The Sierra Denali HD might not be the Cadillac of pickup trucks, but it's one of the nicest full-use pickups on the market and can be had for substantial savings over an Escalade EXT. For a successful independent contractor or jobsite manager needing a nicer than average truck for their work, or an adventurous family or retired couple who just wants to tow their fifth-wheel trailer on vacation, a Sierra Denali HD is ideal.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Pickup, GMC, 2012, Sierra HD Denali, $50,000 - $74,999,

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