2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on November 13, 2011

Stylish Sierra 2500HD Denali delivers heavy-duty capability with unique styling and premium-grade features. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Body-colour bumpers are a nice touch. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

The Denali's grille looks custom. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Luxury features make for a much more appealing cabin than most heavy-duty pickup trucks. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on November 13, 2011

User-friendly centre stack feels upscale, but the faux woodgrain is a bit over the top. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Rear seating room is generous, but not class leading. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

It might feel like a luxury SUV, but the functionality of its full-size 6'6" bed will never let you forget that the Sierra HD Denali is a fully capable heavy-duty truck. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

Published on November 13, 2011

What do you do if you want luxury but you need a heavy hauler? You can load up just about any three-quarter or one-ton pickup truck with options galore, reaching up and over the $60k threshold quite easily, but few do it with the visual elegance of GMC's Sierra Denali.

For 2011 GM's truck brand has bestowed its Denali nameplate and all the grandeur that goes with it onto its totally revised Sierra HD line, and the result is one sweet looking heavy-duty pickup truck. Added to an updated Sierra that already looks as stately as anything in its class, the Denali gets a custom chrome grille, a colour-keyed front fascia and rear bumper, chrome door handles and unique polished alloy wheels, and then ups content to include a lockable EZ lift tailgate, a heated leather and woodgrain steering wheel, and a 6-CD changer. Extended and Crew models also get power-adjustable pedals and a rear parking sensor, whereas 4x4 models add underbody protection with front and rear skid plates.

GM offers two instrument panels in its full-size pickups, and of course the Denali gets the higher end one with lots of woodgrain surfaces and some nice metallic trim as well. Forward of the rear doors it looks a lot more like a premium SUV than a truck. There's more faux wood than I personally like, but overall the interior portrays a minimalist look that's easy on the eyes and hardly difficult to get comfortable with. The gauge cluster is attractive and easy to read in any light, and the centre stack is simple and straightforward. The infotainment system in my tester incorporated high-end audio with rich sound, and the navigation system is easy to use and never led me astray. The optional reverse camera is a must-have with a vehicle this size, making parking less of a chore. The Sierra HD Denali couldn't be classified as a luxury vehicle without dual-zone automatic climate control, but this truck's setup is not only highly effective it's truly good-looking. That it also boasts well-damped buttons for premium tactility is a bonus.

The Denali's perforated leather seats are couch-like comfortable, then again I don't know of any sofas that have 10-way power adjustability and heated cushions. These are features already included in the slightly lower end Sierra SLT, a truck that also shares the Denali's driver's side memory, power-folding mirrors, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth phone connectivity, premium Bose audio with satellite radio and USB, remote start, electric trailer brake controller, trailer package, and locking rear differential. All Sierras get keyless entry, automatic headlights, tilt steering, variable intermittent wipers, OnStar with Turn-by-Turn Navigation, and a driver information centre, while the Denali includes some SLE features like powered windows, heated power mirrors, cruise control, and an auxiliary input.

While upscale in look and features the Denali stops short of delivering many premium-like soft-touch surfaces and the wood, other than the steering wheel, doesn't even attempt to look real, appearing more like tortoise shell. Although now that I think of it maybe that was their design. Either way, I would like more of the brushed metallic look of the lower end SLT than the domestic old school "just add more fake wood" approach to luxury that the Denali delivers.

Enough said, because the Denali delivers big on ride quality thanks to a new independent front suspension now standard across the Sierra HD range. The redesigned frame attached to it doesn't hurt either, now stiffer and stronger and partially responsible for the Sierra HD's max tow rating of 7,711 kilograms (17,000 lbs) and maximum payload of 3,009 kilos (6,635 lbs).

The other feature responsible for these maximum ratings is its optional powertrain, a new 6.6-litre turbo-diesel that puts out an impressive 400 horsepower and 765 lb-ft of torque, with full torque available way down at 1,600 rpm. This engine is monstrous, with near full thrust at takeoff and passing capability galore. It's mated to a commercial-grade Allison 1000 automatic transmission with six forward speeds, and is one of the best in the business, delivering quick, smooth shifts and from what I've been told bulletproof dependability. The standard Vortec 6.0-litre V8 is a workhorse too, making 322-horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque and connecting through to a Hydra-Matic 6L90 6-speed automatic transmission.

A new feature for 2011 is Smart Exhaust Brake system, which, once selected via a button on the centre stack, adjusts vanes in the exhaust side of the variable geometry turbocharger to generate engine backpressure thus allowing more progressive braking while increasing brake life. Smart Exhaust Brake further enhances control by working in conjunction with the Sierra's cruise control, and the Allison transmission's Tow Haul Mode and Automatic Grade Braking, giving greater control on downhill grades and minimizing brake pedal use.

So how much does all this luxury truck goodness cost? First, the Denali can only be had in Crew Cab guise and then again only with the regular 6'6" bed plus 4WD, but you can get it in either 2500HD or 3500HD classification and with either engine. So that said the "base" 2500HD Denali starts at $59,345 plus $1,450 for destination for $60,795. Move up from the standard 18-inch multi-spoke polished alloys to an optional set of 20-inch 5-spoke aluminum rims at $1,015 and the price moves up to $61,810 including destination, while the 6.6-litre diesel and Allison transmission combo will spike the price by $11,115 ($9,670 for the engine and $1,445 for the tranny) which raises the total to $71,910, according to the online configurator, which doesn't quite add up but comes close. If you fully load up a 2500HD Denali you'll have to buck up to the tune of (are you sitting down?) $84,850! Yes, and that's not even a 3500HD! That model starts at $60,695 plus destination and cannot be had with the optional 20-inch wheels, while it tops out at $85,975 including destination. At the time of writing GM was prepared to knock off $7,000 for cash, and I'm guessing you could also negotiate with your dealer if interested in a completely optioned Denali, but I'm also guessing most buyers don't go for every last feature being that the list is extremely long and detailed down to oddities such as snowplow prep provisions and a sliding bed divider.

What's good is that there's such thing as a luxury heavy-duty pickup truck and only GMC offers one with unique branding and style. The 2011 Sierra HD Denali combines upscale design cues and lavish features with rugged capability and stalwart expected reliability resulting in one impressive ride.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Pickup, GMC, 2011, Sierra HD Denali, $50,000 - $74,999,

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