2012 Sierra 3500HD New Car Test Drive
The GMC Sierra HD line of heavy duty trucks has been reengineered from the ground up for 2011, with a new frame, new front and rear suspensions, bigger brakes, and a new, more powerful Duramax 6.6-liter turbo diesel.
At the same time, a luxurious new Denali model brings premium features and styling to the heavy-duty line. The Sierra Denali HD is a 2500HD Crew Cab with a choice of Vortec 6.0-liter V8 or the Duramax diesel with the latest Allison six-speed automatic.
GMC Sierra heavy-duty pickups are well-suited for real-world use and abuse. They can haul tons of brick and cement and tow the concrete pump, then turn around to be used for a night on the town or grocery shopping while the fifth-wheel's left in camp or the horses are in the corral. If your hauling happens once or twice a year or you tow a bass boat or ski boat, then the 1500-series may be better suited. If your load is heavy, however, or you do a lot of towing, then the Sierra HD is the ticket.
Denali pickups are more luxurious than their namesake environment, with more standard equipment than any Sierra HD, bespoke cabin trim and wheels, and options that include a moonroof, navigation, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, and on some versions, polished forged alloy 20-inch wheels. This is GMC's answer to Ford's Super Duty King Ranch, Ram's Lariat, and anyone who thinks a pickup should be as relaxing and comfortable as a good lounge. Towing capacity is slightly less than others because of luxury equipment.
The GMC Sierra HD is built on the same chassis as the Chevrolet Silverado HD and shares all the sheetmetal, including the hood, with it. Different hood trim, lights, grille, wheels and ruby red badges distinguish GMC from Chevrolet. GMC buyers are generally younger, more affluent, better educated and choose crew cabs and diesels more than Silverado buyers, which is why the Denali is a GMC.
As with all heavy-duty pickup lines, the Sierra HD offers plenty of configurations with three cab styles, two bed sizes, single or dual-rear wheels and 2WD or 4WD. A 6.0-liter gasoline V8 is standard, rated at 360 horsepower in 2500 models and 322 hp in everything else. It isn't quite as powerful as the competitions' gas engines. However, the 6.6-liter turbodiesel with 765 pound-feet of torque (more than twice the gas engine's) out-rates the 6.7-liter engines on the Ford Super Duty and Ram trucks. GM and Ford use only six-speed automatics in their trucks. Ram uses a five-speed automatic in gas engines and six-speed manual and automatics with their diesel. Sierra HD offers two distinct interior concepts, one bred for work, function and simplicity the other emphasizes luxury and features over outright seating space. Almost anything you can get in a GMC sport-utility is available here, including OnStar, a subwoofer-equipped sound system, rear-seat entertainment, driver memory system, heated leather seats and a moonroof. For the entry price of around $28,000 you get a functional pickup with real load-carrying ability; for big towing in a properly equipped diesel expect to pay $40,000 or more.
The trick in buying the right GMC Sierra HD is to give fair consideration and choose wisely. Compute the permutations among three cabs, two weight classes, two beds, two engine/transmission combinations, two drive systems and four trim levels, and then sort out options that cover everything from a diesel radiator cover to rear park assist, and you can see why prices run from that base $28,000 to well past double it.
The 2011 GMC Sierra HD offers three cabs, two beds, five wheelbases and four trim levels. The Vortec 6.0-liter V8 and six-speed automatic comes standard, the Duramax diesel with a stronger Allison six-speed automatic is available ($8,395).
From the least expensive version, plan on adding $2,000-$3,000 to step up from regular cab to Extended cab, or from there to Crew Cab. Figure $200 more for a long bed version. Add about $3,000 for four-wheel drive.
Sierra WT models are work trucks with gray vinyl upholstery, rubberized floor covering, black door handles and mirrors, steel wheels and floor-shift for 4WD. They come with air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, driver information center, 40/20/40 manual-recline front seats, rear bench seat, tilt wheel, chrome grille and bumpers, tow hooks, intermittent wipers, and dual dash power outlets. The WT Crew Cab has a 60/40-split rear bench seat. Options on WT include cruise control ($250), stereo upgrades, OnStar 9.0 ($295), 18-inch wheels, camper mirrors, locking differential ($325), trailering equipment, power windows, mirrors and locks, integrated trailer brake controller ($200), deep-tint glass and bucket seats.
Sierra SLE versions improve with cloth upholstery, carpeting (though the WT floor is available), 40/20/40 front seat with locking console storage, split-fold rear seat, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 RDS stereo, OnStar with six months' service, cruise control, aluminum wheels, power heated mirrors/windows/door locks, visor vanity mirror/lights, side moldings and electric-shift for 4WD. SLE options include dual-zone climate control, navigation and backup camera, backup camera in mirror ($450), power passenger seat for the 3500 Crew Cab, steering wheel controls, power sliding rear window ($250), power heated camper mirrors ($243), 20-inch wheels for the 2500, locking differential, Z71 off-road package with shocks, bump stops, 36-mm front antiroll bar, and skid plates.
Sierra SLT upgrades with leather, 10-way power heated front seats and two-person driver memory, dual-zone climate control, Bose DVD audio system, Bluetooth, console, auto-dimming mirrors (3), steering wheel controls, fog lamps, paint-matched trim, power folding mirrors w/signals, 18-inch polished forged aluminum wheels, locking differential, trailer equipment and integrated trailer brake controller. SLT-level upgrades include navigation and rearview camera, rear-seat entertainment, moonroof ($995), power sliding rear window, power heated camper mirrors, and 20-inch wheels on 2500.
Denali models come in 2500 or 3500, single or dual rear-wheel configurations, 2WD or 4WD, short bed or long bed. Denali is Crew Cab only. Denali gets a unique four-bar grille, body-color bumpers, chrome door handles, chrome accents, polished forged aluminum wheels, and EZ-Lift locking tailgate. Inside, Denali adds unique brushed aluminum trim, power-adjustable pedals, a Bose premium surround audio system with 6CD/USB, Bluetooth, and 12-way power seats. Options include a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, moonroof, and rear-seat entertainment. Denali comes only in black, gray, or white.
Optional on most trim levels are roof marker lamps ($55), skid plates ($150), snow-plow prep for 4WD, fast-idle switch ($200), camper/fifth-wheel wiring ($35), myriad dealer options and for diesels, dual 125-amp alternators ($270) and radiator covers ($55) for cold states.
Safety equipment includes frontal airbags, front seat belt pretensioners, and StabiliTrak on single-rear wheel models. Optional equipment includes front-side airbags and front side-curtain airbags (2500), OnStar, backup cameras and integrated trailer brake controller.
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