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2014 GMC Sierra Denali road test: A pickup truck with a dual personality

2014 GMC Sierra Denali 4WD piickup truck
2014 GMC Sierra Denali 4WD piickup truck
Nick Yost

2014 GMC Sierra Denali 4WD pickup truck

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It used to be that a pickup truck was a rugged, single-purpose vehicle with a variety of commercial uses and little to no appeal as an alternative to the family car.

Not anymore. You can now have all the luxury and comfort of an expensive sedan in a vehicle that is still designed primarily as a beast of burden. Consider the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali.

The all-new model is more comfortable, more capable, more sophisticated and more high-tech than the model it replaces. It could easy roam around construction sites or tow bulky landscaping gear, yet that’s almost certainly not the mission its buyers have in mind for it.

No, this top-of-the-line Denali is meant for the well-to-do buyer who tows boats, transports horses to dressage events or travels the country with a mobile home trailing behind. These people may need the strength of a pickup truck, but they also want to travel in style.

Of course, luxurious pickup trucks are nothing new, and even the less generously equipped GMC models offer conveniences that were unheard of before the pickup was re-imagined as a comfortable substitute for an automobile.

Still, the top-of-the-line Denali, with a base price of $51,060 (including the $1,095 delivery charge), attracts about 20 percent of GMC Sierra buyers. More than 60 percent of Sierra buyers opt for the crew-cab model.

Among the first things you will notice about the test truck, a four-wheel-drive 2014 Sierra Denali 1500 Crew Cab, are the large, in-your-face grille and the 20-inch chrome wheels. They highlight an overall design that is more aggressive than the previous model.

They also emphasize that this truck is big. That’s big, as in B-I-G. With a 6-foot, 6-inch bed, this Sierra is an inch short of 20 feet from stem to stern. Subtract 10 inches if you are traveling in a Denali with the smaller 5-foot, 8 inch bed. Figure in a width of 6-feet, 8-inches and you are talking about walking from the back of the parking lot to the shopping center. Pulling into and out of a space between two large sedans is just not worth the effort, even with the front and rear parking assist warnings and a standard rear-vision camera.

With the new model, Sierra offers three new engines --- a standard 4.3-liter, 285-horsepower V-6; a 5.3-liter, 355-horsepower V-8; and a 6.2-liter, 420-horsepower V-8. All of the engines are mated to 6-speed automatic transmissions and will automatically deactivate to 4-cylinder operation when traveling under light loads.

The engine in the test truck was the optional 6.2-liter V-8. With 460 pound-feet of torque and a 3.42 axle ratio it is capable of towing 9,400 pounds. For those who need more, a Denali with the maximum trailering package is capable of towing 11,700 pounds.

The truck is pretty fast, too, Testers at Car and Driver magazine clocked a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds and found the Sierra Denali could hit 99 mph in 14.1 seconds on a quarter mile run.

As one would expect, a heavy truck (5,429 pounds) with a big engine is going to be pretty thirsty. The EPA-estimated fuel economy for the test truck is 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway. Merely cruising around mostly suburban roads with one passenger I averaged 17 mpg.

A big upside to this pickup truck is the spacious interior, where five adults of any size can relax in true comfort. Standard power adjustable pedals will accommodate drivers of most any size.

In the Denali, the comfort quotient is emphasized with standard leather seating, soft-touch surfaces, superb sound system, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated seats for the driver and front-seat passenger, and lots of cup holders, cubby holes and a bin with lots of space for storing items up to the size of a laptop computer.

The Intellilink infotainment system features an 8-inch color touch screen with controls for premium sound system, Bluetooth hands-free telephone connectivity, and navigation. It is not the easiest system to learn, but many of the features can be accessed by voice command.

For the Sierra pilot, the new instrument panel contains a centrally located Driver Information Center which contains the trip computer, a convenient view of the navigation system, and audio information. It also transmits information on the vehicle’s status.

Passengers traveling long distances will certainly appreciate the isolation from the outside world. Inside, this is a very quiet truck.

The Sierra Denali’s ride quality is firm, but more compliant than one might expect from a heavy-duty truck with a solid rear axle. The electric rack-and-pinion steering is properly responsive and the beefy four-wheel disc brakes can bring the truck to a quick halt, with or without a full load of cargo or nearly 12,000 pounds of trailer.

Behind the passenger cabin, the bed can handle 53.4 or 61 cubic feet of storage space, enough to accommodate most travelers’ needs.

A long list of safety features is included in the Sierra Denali package. In addition to a full complement of airbags and curtains, the Sierra features stability control with trailer sway control, hill-start assist, front and rear park assist, rear-view camera and 6 months of the OnStar emergency communication system.

A braking feature automatically shifts the transmission to a lower gear when the truck is going down a steep hill to enhance driver control and cut down on brake wear.

In addition, a $450 Driver Alert Package adds lane departure warning, forward collision assist and a safety-alert seat, which vibrates the lower seat cushion to warn the driver of potential danger, such as lane departure or if the Sierra is approaching another vehicle too quickly.

Other options include the big V-8 engine ($1,995), power sunroof ($995) and a trailer brake controller ($230). Add everything up and the total for the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 4WD Crew Cab comes to $54,730.

If your business needs demand an industrial strength pickup truck, GMC has a variety of other models that might fill the bill. But if you are looking for a vehicle that is part-time workmate and a part-time playmate, the Sierra Denali can get you where you are going in style and comfort.