Review: GMC's Sierra makes a bid for top of the class

When it comes to pickup supremacy, the battle for top ranking rages on. And benefiting from this one-upmanship tussle are the buyers — hundreds of thousands per year — who plunk down their hard-earned dollars and in return get the latest in content and performance innovations.

As with the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra has been completely made over from the roof to the road. Outwardly, the body appears similar to the 2018 truck, including a dominating grille that boldly announces to one and all your chosen brand. In fact, though, every body panel has been reshaped and the hood, doors and tailgate are made of aluminum instead of steel. As well, there’s a carbon-fibre box for the high-end Denali model.

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All told, GMC says up to 165 kilograms of body weight have been pared from the pickup, even though all Sierras are slightly larger than before and the four-door crew cab’s distance between the front and rear wheels has been stretched nearly eight centimetres for additional legroom.

Underpinning the Sierra is a redesigned steel frame that’s claimed to be stiffer by 10 per cent, resulting in a further 40-kilogram weight reduction. Lighter front and rear suspension components save even more.

Along with a distinctive appearance, the extended- and crew-cab models are blessed with some exclusive items that aren’t offered for the Silverado. This includes an available Multi-Pro tailgate with a load-stop feature that keeps cargo inside the bed when driving with the tailgate lowered. The tailgate can also be partially dropped down to form a small work table or a step-up to the bed itself.

Also available is a 360-degree rear camera monitor (replacing the traditional rear-view mirror) that provides unobstructed views in back, which is especially handy when hooking up a trailer.

For 2019, the Sierra can be had with one of a half-dozen powerplants, starting with a 4.3-litre V-6 that makes 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. Optional are two versions of the 5.3-litre V-8, including one with Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM). Its 17 different cylinder-deactivation-mode combinations are constantly working to deliver fuel efficiency in all driving and load conditions. Both V-8s put out 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque.

Also new is a turbocharged 2.7-litre four-cylinder (a first for both the Sierra and Silverado) that’s rated at 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet. A 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbodiesel arrives later in the year, although as of this writing the output and fuel efficiency aren’t known. Lastly, the 6.2-litre V-8 returns with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet.

The V-6 and the base 5.3-litre V-8 are matched with six-speed automatic transmissions, while the 5.3 DFM and the turbo four-cylinder get eight-speed automatics. The 6.2-litre V-8 — and likely the turbodiesel — is mated to a 10-speed automatic. All engine/transmission combos are available with four-wheel-drive, however the crew-cab-only GMC Denali comes standard with 4WD.

Aside from their unique grilles and trim, the premium Denali comes with a wood-trimmed interior, premium leather-covered seats and a 20-centimetre touchscreen (other Sierras get the 17.5-centimetre version). Also standard is an adaptive-ride-control system that instantly adjusts the suspension stiffness according to surface conditions and driver aggressiveness. At close to $70,000 including destination charges, the Denali lists for much more than a $36,200 base Sierra V-6 long-box extended-cab.

New for 2019, the rough-and-tumble $61,400 4x4 Sierra AT4 gets the 5.3-litre V-8 with DFM (the 6.2 V-8 and the turbodiesel are optional) plus off-road shocks that provide five more centimetres of ground clearance. Available off-road rubber is mounted to 20-inch wheels (18-inchers are standard).

Although most of the powertrain combinations overlap with the Silverado, there’s enough (and growing) differentiation with the GMC Sierra to make the latter stand apart with its own brand of style, substance and swagger.

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