Vital Stats

Engine:
Turbo Diesel 6.6L V8
Power:
397 HP / 765 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Auto
Drivetrain:
4x4
Curb Weight:
7,391 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
60.7 CU-FT (bed)
MPG:
16.5 MPG as tested
Big Diesel Power With A Touch Of Class



We're not exactly sure when it happened, but pickup trucks have long since elevated themselves beyond mere tools of the trade. Once bare-bones, utilitarian hardware with more capability than comfort, the truck has evolved into a status symbol. Move out of any urban center and into the surrounding sprawl, and lifted, diesel-chugging, three-quarter-ton pickups are fairly commonplace nowadays. And we're not just talking about rides parked outside work sites, mind you. These days, you're every bit as likely to see them parked outside the local Panera.

As you might expect, automakers are happily feeding the fire, offering a range of trucks that few will use to farm or do backbreaking labor, despite monikers that suggest otherwise. Names like GMC Denali line now extends to its monster-sized pickups. We slid behind the wheel of the 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 4WD Crew Cab to see just how the big gilded beast fits into America's pickup truck landscape.
The Sierra Denali 2500 wears the same squared-off sheetmetal as its less gentrified counterparts, though GMC has slathered chrome everywhere to help set it apart from the rest of the line. Most of it adorns the Denali's new latticework upper and lower grille. All of that flash certainly helps draw attention, but it's the sheer height and width of the truck that ensure you'll have no problem spotting the crew cab in the parking lot. At 78.3 inches tall, the heavy-duty Sierra's roofline towers over its neighbors.

With 20-inch polished aluminum five-spoke wheels wrapped in relatively thin 265/60R20 Goodyear Wranglers, we'd be wary of hopping any curbs at speed for fear of popping a tire. The street-oriented wheel/tire package is obviously geared more toward downtown grazing than foraging out in the wild. A set of optional chrome running boards and door handles match the wheels nicely, looking sharp against our tester's black paint.

2011 GMC Sierra Denali side view2011 GMC Sierra Denali front view2011 GMC Sierra Denali rear view

Inside, it's the familiar GMC Sierra layout, though the cabin is finished with slightly nicer materials and options. Dark faux wood trim adorns the dash, center stack, center armrest and door panels as well as the steering wheel. Our tester was fitted with black leather touches on the wheel, shift lever and seats, though the hides felt cheap to the touch. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the majority of this GMC's cabin. With its dated touchscreen navigation system and chunky center stack, the Sierra's dash is beginning to look its age, especially when compared to similar offerings from the Ford Super Duty and Ram HD teams. The GMC cross-town rivals have taken the time to work over their cabins to provide better quality leather as well as dash and center console designs that don't look or feel like they were lifted from 1997.

The good news is that there's nothing functionally wrong with the equipment. Thanks to the familiar design, all of the controls are intuitive and easy to use without getting lost in a sea of buttons or confusing navigation drop-down menus. While we can forgive a work truck its bare-bones innards, our tester came packing a $61,774 MSRP, including a $995 destination charge. That kind of coin could leave buyers itching for a little more when it comes to materials and design, especially when it comes to the navigation's price tag. Our tester featured the company's $2,250 touchscreen navigation package – ludicrous money in a time when every smart phone comes with a serviceable nav app for a buck.

2011 GMC Sierra Denali interior2011 GMC Sierra Denali front seats2011 GMC Sierra Denali navigation system2011 GMC Sierra Denali rear seats

The Denali trim level includes dual-zone climate control, a 12-way power adjustable driver's seat and Bose audio, but if you want extra goodies, you're going to have to pay for them. Heated and cooled front seats add an additional $650 and a rearview camera tacks on another $450. We were also treated to a sunroof with an $895 price tag. Given how useful the camera is on this truck, it's money well spent. Otherwise, we could probably get by just fine without most of the additional equipment.

The biggest option on our Sierra's Monroney was the beast under its giant hood: a $7,195 Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 engine making 397 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 765 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm. The engine uses Diesel Exhaust Fluid to keep its emissions clean; a full tank will cover around 5,000 miles depending on your driving habits before putting the truck in limp mode. We took the time to top off the exhaust fluid tank on our tester. Check out the Short Cut below for a look at the process.


In our tester, the Duramax was bolted to an optional Allison six-speed automatic transmission for $1,200 and four-wheel drive, making for one of the most desirable drivetrain options in the GM fleet. For 2011, GMC has made a variety of towing equipment standard, including tricks like intelligent brake assist, a diesel exhaust brake, trailer sway control and hill-start assist. Our tester was also wired with an integrated trailer brake controller.

With all of that gear, the Sierra Denali 2500 can tow up to 13,000 pounds from a regular ball hitch and 16,800 pounds using a fifth-wheel setup. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to hook any toys up to the rear of the 2500 during our time with the truck, so we can't accurately say how it performs under load. As it's one of the key attributes of this truck, next time, we'll make a point of doing so.

Even without pulling any earth-moving equipment around the neighborhood, we observed in-city fuel economy of around 16.5 mpg, not shabby at all once you remember that the 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 has enough torque to snap most driveshafts like takeout chopsticks.

2011 GMC Sierra Denali engine

Despite its polished image, there's no hiding the fact that this is a three-quarter ton ox. Though the revised Duramax diesel starts on the first flip of the key and idles quietly enough, this isn't really a vehicle designed to be comfortably driven every day. The large seats, while highly adjustable, are equipped with stiff cushions that only serve to amplify the truck's rigid suspension. Will it probably ride better with a full load? Undoubtedly, but the truth is that the majority of owners will probably spend more time driving empty than under a full load.

The six-speed Allison automatic rows its gears precisely and accurately. It's far and away the best gearbox in the line, and it handles the big diesel eight's grunt without biting its nails. Unfortunately, in their quest for Ford-besting power figures, the engineers at GM have designed a surprising amount of turbo lag into the 6.6-liter Duramax. Sixth gear allows the engine to churn along at well below 1,000 rpm, but jumping on the fuel in anticipation of an interstate pass will keep you waiting as the engine builds enough revs to hit the magic 1,500 rpm mark. The power, while impressive, isn't instantaneous. That lag is noticeable compared to the 2010 Duramax, which brought a still-muscular 365 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque to the engine bay.

2011 GMC Sierra Denali rear 3/4 view2011 GMC Sierra Denali grille2011 GMC Sierra Denali hood scoop2011 GMC Sierra Denali wheel

Fortunately, few buyers are going to be pulling jack-rabbit takeoffs or jumping lanes in traffic. The Duramax is built to haul big loads over long distances, not to sprint. GM has made certain that its diesel offering remains competitive against the Powerstroke and Cummins competition, albeit at a price. Dialing up the power has had an impact on the Sierra 2500's basic drivability. While buyers who use the vehicle at the upper limits of its towing capacity will likely enjoy the extra muscle, most consumers who purchase at this trim level simply want the on-demand power of the 2010 engine. If you're looking for a capable truck that looks as sharp in the office parking lot as it does on the job site, you may be better off sticking with the smooth power of the base 6.0-liter V8.

A simple solution to the diesel's power delivery problem would be to offer buyers selectable program modes similar to what the diesel aftermarket currently delivers. By altering boost and fuel levels, a clever computer could easily tailor the engine for fuel economy, power or drivability.

Even with its turbo lag and aging interior in place, the 2011 GMC Sierra Denali remains an impressive truck. If it were our money on the line, we'd likely skip the silver-plated belt buckle treatment of the Denali package and opt for the standard 2500 HD. Buyers looking for a few more creature comforts may be more satisfied with the interiors of the Ford Super Duty King Ranch or the Ram Trucks 2500 Laramie lines, but in terms of outright capability, the Sierra Denali is built to work.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 38 Comments
      razrrick13
      • 3 Years Ago
      Still doesn't piss me off as much as seeing a woman driving around in a $50K+ Tahoe or Suburban. It's like holy hell that's way too much truck for you!
        • 3 Years Ago
        @razrrick13
        [blocked]
      nick
      • 3 Years Ago
      Don't mean to be harsh guys, but really? Didn't haul/tow ANYTHING during your time with it? This review is useless. Of course people will still buy it and never tow a damn thing like you said, but for those of us who actually tow, this review is as useful as a turd flavored lollipop.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @nick
        [blocked]
      brgtlm
      • 3 Years Ago
      My dad bought a 2011Chevrolet Silverado 2500 LT Duramax diesel. He likes it a lot. And yes, he does tow a fifth wheel trailer and boat with it so it does get an actual work out. The interior definitely needs a makeover on it though: materials and style-wise. It's purely functional, which is not a bad thing compared to the Tundra's nightmare. And also - is GM so cheap that the still need to make side air bags optional on their vehicles? In this day and age - it should be standard on the entire Silverado line. That's penny pinching, especially compared to Ford which makes safety equipment standard across the board.
      Hazdaz
      • 3 Years Ago
      $62,000 for a pickup. Insane. What is most ridiculous about all this is that the same Suburbanite Cowboys that would buy one of these trucks are also the type that would scoff at spending more than ~$30k on an American-branded car.
        jimmyt505
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        Though I wouldn't buy one of these myself, they seem to sell pretty well. Believe it or not, there are those out there who think that paying $41k for an economy car (Suburu STI) is also "insane"
        Frisky_Dingo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        Hazdaz, you are completely off the mark. The poeple who buy these trucks do indeed drive Challengers, Camaros, and the like. How do I know?? I sell them. You wouldn't believe how many people buy these as farm trucks. And then trade them in a year later. It's unreal. They're just keeping up w/ the Jones' though. And depending on their spouses age, the other car that occupies their drive way is a Lincoln, Cadillac, or Chrysler 300 for respective branded trucks. Trust me, most of these rednecks think a new Camaro is the greatest, fastest cars on the road. Let's ignore the fact that a box stock LS1 4th gen will run door to door w/ one, or that a 6 cylinder Cayman S or 1M would murder one.
        Shiftright
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        Yup and this will be worth $15 k in 4 years
      nvedamuthu
      • 3 Years Ago
      The interiors in GMT900s couldn't be worse. For 60k, all of the Denali line still has the roughest plastic dash you'll ever see, and leather that cracks and gets obnoxiously shiny within 5000 miles. I guess thats the price you pay for a proven powertrain.
        PeriD
        • 3 Years Ago
        @nvedamuthu
        powerstroke is a proven powertrain and the king ranch blows away the interior of the denali. GM desperately needs to rework these trucks and the tahoes. I loved my 08 tahoe but the interior really is unforgivable for the near $50k price- same with this truck.
          72CJ5driver
          • 3 Years Ago
          @PeriD
          How do you figure that the new for 2011 powerstroke 6.7 and 6-speed a "proven" powertrain?
          Frisky_Dingo
          • 3 Years Ago
          @PeriD
          On the contrary, the new 6.7 Powerstroke is completely UNproven. It makes slightly more power, but the GM's have a better trans, and actually make lighter work of towing. And the Ford is retardedly massive. Even by heavy duty truck standards. Interior is def nicer, though.
        Renaurd
        • 3 Years Ago
        @nvedamuthu
        Tuck your head back under your wing, it's still dark, and it would be bad if you fell off the limb,........something might getcha.
      kmanning83
      • 3 Years Ago
      This vehicle makes absolutely no sense on functional and economic levels, but I'm sure the suburban cowboys here in Central California will buy them in droves. I can think of few other vehicles on the market that scream "poser" quite like this one.
        Robert Ryan
        • 3 Years Ago
        @kmanning83
        Add the rare big Pickup buyers in Australia. Bought primarily for "bling". The only "work" US Pickups are diesels bought to tow 5th wheelers or very heavy Caravans.
      Burabus
      • 3 Years Ago
      good for driving to the grocery store
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Burabus
        [blocked]
      KCyclone
      • 3 Years Ago
      The problem with this truck is summarized neatly in the last line of the article: "Buyers looking for a few more creature comforts may be more satisfied with the interiors of the Ford Super Duty King Ranch or the Ram Trucks 2500 Laramie lines, but in terms of outright capability, the Sierra Denali is built to work." No, the regular Sierra 2500 is built to work. This is built to work and give you luxury. I would say it clearly fails in that mission.
      gtv4rudy
      • 3 Years Ago
      Pickups have also grown bigger and bigger to the point they are not that practical anymore. Compare a 1995 Ram half ton to todays Ram pickup and the '95 Ram looks more like a midsize Dakota. Today you need a step ladder to even get in these things. Try reaching for the glove box in todays trucks and see if you can comfortably reach it !
        Phillip Thomas
        • 3 Years Ago
        @gtv4rudy
        Looks are deceiving. As far as length and width, they're no larger than their similarly configured classic cousins. Try reaching the glove box of my '69 CST/10 from the driver's seat.
          gtv4rudy
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Phillip Thomas
          I still think your '69 CST/10 is more like a new Chevy Colorado in size. Call me crazy but a new Silverado is i.m.o, a monster truck next to your old truck. just sayin'.
      Frisky_Dingo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Okay, first off, the Allison is NOT optional. It's REQUIRED w/ the Duramax. Secondly, from a funcionality standpoint these things are absolutely retarded. Yet, in a strange way they're kinda cool, and fun even. I sell these things, and they can be fun to drive through town in. Coming down that dead litle industrial park street?? T/C off and black marks as long as a semi. That V6 Mustang next to you at the light w/ it's unsuspecting street racer-wannabe teen driver?? Done. Laying down rubber on dry pavement at 30mph when passing a turning car or merging?? Check. An exercise in immaturity and irresponsibility?? Absolutely. But that's part of their appeal, imo. W/ all that said, however, I wouldn't buy one unless I needed it's capabilities. And for those complaining about the price, if you option up an SLT to the same equipment, there's little difference in price. AB's complaint about the turbo lag, I don't think it's that bad, but it can easily solved w/ any of the plethora of aftermarket tuners available. Be careful w/ these things, though. Turning them up to 12, and romping on them all the time does them in in a hurry. And that that engine is hideously expensive to work on/replace. As for the 6.0, it's garbage. For motivating this thing, anyways. It's underpowered, and should've been left to the 1500's. In fact, it SHOULD be the standard V8 for the 1500's. The 4.8 makes a good anchor, that's about it. The 5.3 is on the weak side. The 6.0 would be perfect for them. And the 6.2 could make a little more power, too. But again, a good tuner can easily solve that. That's the great thing about the GM smallblocks, they respond extremely well to bolt-ons. And I'm done.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Clipper44
      • 3 Years Ago
      I love the people who buy these trucks..in 2014 I can pick one up for 30 grand with 40k easy miles. I usually drive the wheels off my cars, so I'd be good for at least a 150 thousand more miles on that diesel.
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