2019 GMC Sierra Denali First Review
- New platform makes Sierra larger, lighter, more efficient and roomier
- Six new engine/transmission options, including a 4-cylinder and a diesel
- Innovative tailgate for loading/unloading gear
- Tows up to 12,200 pounds, hauls 2,140 pounds
- Base price about $31,000; SLT at $48,590, Denali from $56,195 | Price yours
Sibling rivalry can bring out the best in both relatives. The same can apply to trucks, which is the case with the all-new 2019 GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado. Both benefit from the same new foundation that makes the trucks longer and roomier inside, while weighing less, which improves fuel efficiency. GM achieved this without sacrificing the trucks’ capability to work. And while there is a very strong family resemblance with both trucks, the GMC Sierra has separated itself from its Chevrolet kin with a slate of features that aren’t available on the Silverado.
GMC is rolling out sales of the Sierra with the first models arriving at dealerships in SLT and Denali trims, Available as crew cabs with short beds, both come standard with the 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain has the same horsepower as it did in the previous Sierra but now uses Dynamic Fuel Management, which is a more precise way of balancing fuel efficiency with power demand. The optional 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter engine, also the same horsepower as last year, is backed by a 10-speed automatic transmission. As the rest of the lineup goes on sale, there will be a 4.3-liter V6, a 5.3-liter V8 without DFM, a 2.7-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, and a 3.0-liter inline-six turbodiesel. In addition to the SLT and Denali, other trim levels include the base Sierra, the SLE, and the new Elevation and off-road-ready AT4. The GMC Sierra offers a regular cab, double cab and crew cab, with a choice of 5-foot-8-inch, 6-foot-6-inch, or 8-foot beds. (Note: not every bed length is offered with every cab.)
Driving the Denali
Our first experience driving the Sierra was behind the wheel of a crew cab short bed Denali with the 6.2-liter V8, which is a $2,495 option. The 6.2-liter engine has a wonderful, throaty muscle-car-like sound, and its 420 horses come to life very quickly. As is the case with the 5.3-liter V8, the 6.2-liter uses Dynamic Fuel Management, a complex system that works seamlessly in operating the engine on as few as two cylinders. Aiding the quick response time of the engine is the excellent 10-speed automatic transmission, with quick, fluid shifts. Unfortunately, you can only get a column shifter to control the 10-speed. The Sierra’s ride quality is excellent, and braking is nicely predictable, the response natural.
Our biggest complaint with the Denali, though, is with the interior. On the plus side the engineers managed to make what was the quietest interior you could get in a truck even quieter for 2019. The cabin is spacious, with three more inches of rear-seat legroom in the crew cab and a flat rear floor. In addition, the Sierra finally comes with pushbutton start and a smooth auto stop/start that can be shut off. The overall design is attractive, and there’s a good amount of soft-touch material on the doors. The center storage bin is quite large, and there are clever storage cubbies in the seatbacks of the rear seats. Controls are easy to reach and use. However, the Denali’s interior isn’t different enough from that of the Chevrolet Silverado. Yes, there are elements that are unique, such as the gauge cluster design and different accents throughout, but the Denali is where GM could’ve put a floor-mounted transmission shifter, power tilt/telescoping wheel, and adaptive cruise control to set it apart. The Denali is the highly popular premium (and more expensive) GMC line, and as such its interior should be head and shoulders above that of the Silverado, let alone the rest of the truck segment.
Unique to the Denali
Aside from clear styling differences, the best way to see how the Sierra is set apart from the Silverado is the innovative new tailgate that comes standard on the Denali, SLT and AT4. It can be reconfigured six ways, incorporating features that make it easier to load and reach cargo. Folding the MultiPro tailgate specific ways creates a stop for long cargo (like a bed extender), reveals a step and handle, allows you to get closer to the cargo that’s further back in the bed, and more. We will be interested to see how this system holds up over time. Between this clever system and power side steps that can be angled toward the truck bed for easier access to gear, the Sierra has definitely upped its cargo management game.
Also available exclusively on GMC models is a carbon-fiber bed, designed for excellent corrosion, scratch and dent resistance. Adaptive Ride Control, only offered on the Denali, is a suspension system that constantly monitors the road surface and quickly adjusts for bumps, as well as for driver input. This results in a smoother ride, also working well while carrying payload or towing a trailer.
The Sierra or the Silverado?
For those who aren’t fiercely loyal to a specific truck brand, this question is going to come up. If the Silverado and Sierra share a lot of the same DNA, which truck makes the most sense to buy? They offer the same engine choices, and trim levels that range from work truck to upscale. Both have the same towing capacity and very similar interiors. Both offer an impressive slate of safety features and a cool trailering app. While the starting price of the base model is expected to be a touch higher for the Sierra than for the Silverado, if you like your truck luxurious, it’s just as easy to find a Silverado High Country for over $65,000 as it is to find a Sierra Denali for about the same price. What it will come down to are two key factors: styling and features. If the GMC-exclusive features like the MultiPro tailgate and Adaptive Ride Control resonate with you, then the Sierra is the way to go. If you’re looking at the entire half-ton market, keep in mind that the Ford F-150 offers more towing technology, such as blind-spot monitoring that also factors in the trailer, and the Ram 1500 has best-in-class interiors.