New Car Previews

Preview: 2019 GMC Sierra Denali

DETROIT, Michigan – Like a fraternal twin reluctant to emerge, the GMC Sierra usually makes its appearance shortly after the debut of a new Chevrolet Silverado. It’s awfully hard to top the arrival of the most recent Silverado, delivered by a Sikorsky helicopter to the centre field of Texas motorway as if by giant, rotary-propelled stork; and GM didn’t even try: the new Sierra debuted on a simple stage in a Detroit-based warehouse.

The 2019 Sierra also marks the introduction of the CarbonPro – the industry first carbon-fibre cargo box, claimed to be the most durable in the segment.

General Motors released a teaser image last week leading up to the Sierra’s unveiling. The advance look revealed only the front fascia; but given that the Sierra’s basically always been a badge-engineered Silverado with a re-worked front end, you’d think it was probably the most important peek to sneak. But the latest debut showed the gap is widening between the siblings – Sierra moving up into the high-end luxury truck market; and Silverado the rock-solid workhorse.

Making their world debut in Detroit was the Sierra SLT and the range-topping Denali trim, the upscale derivative that now makes up 30 percent of GMC’s sales and surprisingly, boasts the industry’s highest transaction price – bettering such luxurious brands as Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and BMW.

“The heritage of GMC’s brand is rooted in full-size pickup trucks, of which Sierra is our cornerstone,” said Duncan Aldred, Global VP of GMC. “And SLT and Denali models make up 87 percent of our crew cab sales.”

Less mainstream than its plainer Chevy sibling, the theme for the new Sierra is “powerful”, which is underscored by its upright big-rig-style chrome grille, taller hood, and a more exaggerated version of GM’s signature C-shaped lighting with LED headlamps, tail lamps, and fog lights.

The new truck is larger than its predecessor in every way, with a taller, square-shouldered stance established by larger wheels pushed to all four corners. Denali trim models have available 22-inch aluminum wheels, as well as 22-inch dark aluminum wheels exclusive to the SLT.

The badging isn’t what you’d call discreet – the upright chrome grille wears an enormous GMC, while the tailgate is emblazoned with “Denali” in bold block letters.

The nicely executed cabin claims best-in-class front head and leg room. Upholstery and touch surfaces sport premium materials, conveying a refined and upscale environment. Improved ergonomics reportedly offer intuitive connectivity operation, and new technology includes the segment-first head-up display and an all-new Trailering App.

Exclusive to the Denali model is real open-pore wood (which sounds like a dermatology nightmare but is meant to evoke hand-planed carpentry), dark aluminum trim, and unique pebble-grain leather upholstery. Nearly three inches have been added to rear legroom, and the seatbacks now boast clever, hidden storage areas for laptops and other valuables.

An Adaptive Ride Control suspension system is also exclusive to the Denali model, which senses road conditions and adjusts the dampers accordingly within milliseconds.

Notable is the new MultiPro tailgate that GM calls the “segment’s most innovative tailgate ever”, available on SLT and Denali models. The multi-function tailgate offers six different positions, a “standing workstation mode” that should prove handy on the job site, and a step entry and exit mode with an assist handle. It functions as sort of a tailgate-within-a-tailgate, with extra extensions for longer cargo.

A pair of buttons on the tailgate handle provide an inner gate release. Great for tailgate parties, since with its 170 kg (375 lb) weight capacity, it can provide seating for a couple of people. The corner bumper steps return for 2019, a simple yet clever feature that makes reaching within the truck bed so much easier for we folks of moderate stature.

Like its sibling the Silverado, the Sierra’s box now boasts the highest cargo volume (1,784 litres) in its segment, numerous tie-downs, and is also made with roll-formed, high-strength steel.

It also marks the introduction of the CarbonPro – the industry first carbon-fibre cargo box, claimed to be the most durable in the segment. Instead of steel inner panel and floors, the box is designed with a lightweight, scratch- and dent-free carbon-fibre composite. It’s also 62 pounds (28 kg) lighter than the conventional steel version.

GM’s Global Development Manager, Mark Reuss referred to their much-publicized criticism of Ford’s aluminum box at the Silverado’s introduction: “The working end of every pickup is the bed, it’s like the head of a hammer – it’s the end that does all the work. I don’t think we’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer.” But as with the Silverado, the new Sierra shaves off up to 360 pounds, with an extensive use of aluminum for the doors, hood, and tailgate.

There are a number of new technologies for owners who consider towing one of the paramount requirements when considering a new truck purchase. The new ProGrade Trailering system, standard on SLT and Denali, includes a Trailering App with Pre-Departure Checklist, Maintenance Reminders, Trailer Light Test, Trailer Electrical Diagnostics, and Trailer Tire Pressure and Temperature Monitoring. Some of those functions, such as the light test and checklist, are also available on the myGMC smartphone app.

Hitch Guidance with Hitch View, and the automatic electric parking brake make it much easier to line up the ball and hitch, while side-view cameras and a high-definition trailer-mounted camera will be appreciated by those who haul shifting cargo or live loads. Another cool new feature is Trailer Theft Detection, which sends text or phone alerts by OnStar if the trailer has been disconnected without the owner’s permission.

Sierra really ramps up its tech content for 2019, with the aforementioned 3x7-inch colour head-up display. Connectivity has also been upgraded, and its 8-inch screen now offers faster, “smartphone-like” functionality with voice recognition.

The slick rear camera mirror that first showed up on the Cadillac XT5 is now available as an option on the Sierra. Some find the technology a bit contrived, or complain that it provides an artificial, simulated view, but its ability to provide the driver with an unobstructed view is a boon to those who carry vision-obscuring cargo within the cabin.

Surround Vision provides the driver with a bird’s-eye view of the truck displayed on the connectivity screen, which is a big help avoiding obstacles when backing up – especially when trailering.

Like the Silverado, the Sierra will debut with re-engineered versions of the 6.2L and 5.3L V8 engines, with a 3.0L diesel to arrive later. Lowering fuel consumption is, as always, an important goal. Both V8s are equipped with start-stop technology, and an engine cylinder management system that deactivates from one to seven cylinders depending on work demand. The 6.2L and 3.0L diesel will both come with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The 2019 GMC Sierra Denali and SLT should go on sale this fall, with pricing and more details available closer to their arrival.