The world of heavy duty pickups can feel like a testosterone-laden high school gym class, with each guy aiming to outdo the others' max bench press. Once completed, you can bet there will be no end to bragging about the latest eye-popping figure. That is, until the next guy comes along. Helping to fuel these claims, the current cadre of macho trucks from the Big Three domestic automakers boast diesel engines that put out over 900 lb-ft of torque.

The 2017 GMC Sierra HD is the latest to join the 900 club. Its revamped, muscled-up Duramax 6.6-liter V8 now makes 910 lb-ft of torque, nearly 20 percent more than the not-exactly-dainty 765 lb-ft of the outgoing version. Horsepower is also up, to a class-leading 445 ponies. Believe it or not, that stump-obliterating torque isn't tops in its class. The all-new 2017 Ford F-Series Super Duty has a Power Stroke turbodiesel that puts out 925 lb-ft (Ram's heavy-duty line has a diesel capable of an even 900 lb-ft).

In real-world applications, this kind of torque is made for towing. Here, too, these rivals are in a constant race to one-up the other. Ford and Ram have models rated to pull over 30,000 pounds, several thousand more than the GMC's 23,300-pound figure. The catch with them all, though, is that figure only applies to select configurations. 

Premium appeal

With its latest diesel heavy-duty truck, GMC has taken a slightly different approach to both its Ford and Ram rivals, and its own brand stablemate Chevy, whose Silverado HD is available with the same engine choices. Rather than reaching for the highest tow figure, the 2017 Sierra HD, especially in Denali form, is touting its premium appeal while striving to make towing less stressful.

While not forgetting that this truck is first and foremost meant for work, the 2017 Sierra Denali HD is made to pamper even the most calloused hands. To showcase how its intended buyers would actually use such a truck, GMC invited us to drive its latest Sierra 2500 and 3500 HD Denali models from the snowy mountain town of Telluride, Colorado, to another natural playground in Moab, Utah. As we descended from nearly 9,000 feet above sea level to Moab's majestic red-rock landscape, we'd tow trailers and haul big-boy toys as part of the experience.

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Hauling made easier

We began our journey in a 2017 GMC Sierra 2500 Denali HD with roughly 1,100 pounds of snowmobiles strapped in back. Granted, this payload is only about a third of what this truck can handle, but part of the challenge was the height at which the snow toys were mounted, and what effect the higher center of gravity would have on maneuverability. Not much, it turned out.

It was hardly a surprise that this truck would barely notice the extra weight. More notable was the Sierra's planted feeling. If we hadn't seen the snowmobiles in our mirror, we'd forget they were there.

A bigger challenge, literally and figuratively, came when pulling a 10,000-pound trailer up an 8 percent grade. Yet here again, powered by this truck's new diesel engine, the 2017 GMC Sierra HD simply shrugged. It never seemed out of breath, and that massive torque—90 percent of which arrives at just 1,550 rpm—made acceleration easier and linear from both a dead stop and while already in motion.

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A trick up its sleeve

One of the Sierra HD's most impressive features is the exhaust brake. This latest version has also been enhanced, and when activated it creates additional backpressure in the exhaust that helps keep the truck at an even speed. Utilizing the exhaust brake feature and traveling back down the hill and its 8 percent grade, we hardly needed to touch the brakes. Earlier in the day, GMC reps said they strove to make the latest Sierra Denali HD a truck that you could use in a such a manner without your knuckles turning white. Mission accomplished.

Our one gripe with the exhaust brake system is the placement of the activation switch, which is the furthest button to the right among a row of others, requiring a longer reach.

For the last leg of the trip we climbed into a Sierra 3500 with dual rear wheels that was carting an ATV. Again, the extra weight was hardly noticeable. In fact, the biggest challenge was making sure the dual wheels stayed within lanes, which proved easier to keep in check thanks to the extended-length side mirrors, each with a top and bottom mirror.

Over roughly 150 miles of various and sometimes-challenging terrain, the 2017 GMC Sierra Denali HD proved to be extremely competent and capable, and impressively quiet for a diesel. It made towing and hauling sizable loads far less stressful than we imagined, all while offering premium amenities inside.

The 2017 GMC Sierra HD is currently on sale, with prices ranging from roughly $35,000 for a base, regular-cab work truck with the standard gasoline V8 engine to double that for the kind of leather-lined crew-cab Denali diesel models we tested.


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