What It Is
GMC's heavily fortified all-new full-size pickup truck.
Refined and business-smart with luxury and technology aplenty.
Its advertised 22 mpg highway is a myth at best.
A great truck, indeed, but its competition is moving much faster.
America is only as strong as the trucks that haul it around. Think about that statement. Scoff at it if you wish. And then, finally, acknowledge that it's pretty accurate.
Full-size pickup trucks account for more than 1.2 million sales every year. The more there are, the more you know that businesses are investing in their fleets, people are getting new tow rigs for their summertime bass boats, and customers are feeling a little easier about filling up this burly behemoths with greater financial stability. And with the influx of sales also come more competitive vehicles, better than their predecessors and hopefully better than their rivals to keep moving the goalposts back.
General Motors sat still from 2007 to the new model year before finally redesigning its bread-and-butter full-size trucks. Meanwhile, Ford introduced EcoBoost engines, and Ram brought out an eight-speed automatic, air suspension, and a diesel V-6 in its quarter-ton lineup. In the not-too-distant past, we remarked in our Quick Drive that a lightly optioned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado variant of GM's pickups caught up to its rivals but hardly surpassed them. This time around, we tested a 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT with nearly all the bells and whistles, hoping to get a second chance with the new GM truck. We also did so in heartland of America, Ohio, rather than our Los Angeles home base, as—let's face it—snow, potholes, rednecks, and country music make for a much better environment to test a truck than the grande-soy-with-an-extra-espresso-shot-latte Southern California streets. Question is: Did this second chance yield better results?
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What We Drove
Before incentives, a standard V-6 GMC Sierra will cost just around $24,000. That's not bad, especially since its EcoTec3 4.3-liter V-6 now romps around with more horsepower than its mid-range V-8 did just a few years back. But to compete with the Hemis and EcoBoosts of the world, GM heavily upgraded its 5.3-liter V-8 with sophisticated direct fuel-injection, displacement-on-demand cylinder deactivation, and 355 horsepower for duty, as featured in our 2014 GMC Sierra SLT.
Starting at $44,905, including $995 for destination and handling, the GMC Sierra SLT crew cab 4x4 we had is basically a luxury truck, equipped with leather, heated front seats, corner steps built into its rear bumper for easier bed access, a rearview camera, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel—something plenty of rivals like the Ram 1500 lack—and an 8-inch touchscreen.
Also featured in our Sierra were the SLT Preferred Pack ($795) with a heated steering wheel, power rear window, and front and rear parking sensors; SLT Crew Cab Value Package ($2,195) with 6-inch chrome assist steps, 20-inch polished wheels, and Bose audio system; navigation ($795); heated and cooled seats ($650); front bucket seats ($325); and an integrated trailer brake controller ($230). Minus a $1,000 value bundle discount, our truck rang up at $48,895.
But despite its extravagant cost, GM has made its new truck worth its while with a new soft-open and close tailgate and a five-star overall safety rating, acing tests for both the NHTSA and IIHS. With the crew cab layout comes four real doors, ensuring accommodating child seats is far easier than you'd think it ought to be.
Immediately, there are two things you notice with the 2014 GMC Sierra's on-road performance: 1) Quiet doesn't begin to explain just how serene its interior is and 2) its fuel economy isn't what it's cracked up to be.
So let's start with the good: The 2014 GMC Sierra is coddling, with wide, supportive seats and amenities galore. Call it gimmicky, but with heated and cooled seats as well as a heated steering wheel, I never found myself wanting for better accommodations. Whether serenaded by the premium Bose audio system equipped in the Sierra or turning the volume down to talk with passengers, the truck was always quiet to the point where whispering could be appropriate. GMC absolutely knocked interior refinement out to the ballpark, possibly to the point of excess. But who are we to complain about a truck being too refined?
On the other hand, GMC rated this four-wheel-drive full-sizer at 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway when coupled with its 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V-8 engine. Over our two weeks with the truck, we achieved 16.2 mpg on average through 600 miles of travel. But that wasn't because we had our foot in it the entire time. On an empty highway one night, we put the truck in two-wheel drive and peddled it along at between 55 and 60 mph in a 65 mph zone to see what we could do. For all of that, we broke 22.4 mpg with some serious hypermiling techniques. While rated at a stellar 22 mpg and coming with standard displacement-on-demand that can deactivate four cylinders if necessary to save fuel, we noticed the truck didn't want to shut off half of its engine that much. We also noticed that when driving normally, somewhere just shy of 19 mpg would be average for us on the highway.
So while it's much better than it used to be, we have our doubts over whether the Sierra can regularly deliver on its claimed highway fuel economy figure.
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The Grocery Run
With a six-foot bed featuring a spray-in bedliner from the factory, our truck was as practical as one could imagine. Having had the truck during holiday season, I was lucky to have one of my brothers as a spotter in some instances, as congested mall parking lots are not particularly conducive for a truck whose VIN number could often be mistaken as a ZIP code. Other times, I learned that driving a big truck means giving up prime real estate in the car park.
Still, parking sensors in front and back made life much easier than it could have been, and we couldn't recommend them enough. We were, however, perplexed by the lack of some features one might expect on a $50,000 truck like blind spot warning detection, forward collision alert, and cross-traffic detection, which are all on the docket if you opt up for the hoity-toity Sierra Denali.
And then there were features like the running boards, which extend far enough for all passengers but not to the bed for side loading. When some other automakers are thinking of little details like that or Ram and Nissan's lockable in-bed compartments, GM is putting LED bed lights into the back of the Sierra. While smart, it might not be smart enough. If I'm unloading a truck bed at night, you can bet I'll be using a supplemental light source to make sure I'm not going to fumble with and fall over whatever might be in back.
The Weekend Fun
The 2014 GMC Sierra SLT doesn't look especially different than the truck it replaces. On multiple occasions some of my passengers mistook older-model GMC vehicles for the brand-new truck in question. I even did on one occasion; it's just not much to look at, despite its bold, stylish LED running lights.
But it's what's on the inside that counts, right? Or at least that's what my mom told me one time. Despite its conservative design, the 2014 GMC Sierra's interior is markedly better than that of the one it replaces, with a new generation of the IntelliLink infotainment system headlining the show. Say "Channel 36" into the microphone, and it correctly assumes you mean SiriusXM Channel 36 and turns the radio right where you want it to be. It can also play off media devices, whether wirelessly via Bluetooth or through one of the five USB adapters we counted in the truck. Oh, and if those weren't enough, there are placeholders for cell phones and MP3 players, multiple cigarette-style car plug-in ports—although the truck-faithful Marlboro Man would have to bring his own ash tray and lighter—and even a 110v two-prong outlet.
Though never distilling the fact that it's a truck—this thing doesn't quite rides like it's a car on stilts like the coil-sprung Ram 1500—it hardly feels anything like the vinyl bench, three-on-the-tree pick-'em-ups of yore. For someone who's only recently begun a fascination of pickup trucks, that certainly appeals to this car guy's sensibilities just fine.
Back when we received our mid-grade 2014 Chevrolet Silverado LT to test, we weren't sure GM put its best foot forward. The truck had cloth seats, two-wheel drive, and frankly lacked much in the way of pizzazz. After all, we had recently come back from our First Drive of the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
, netting 24 mpg over our drive with it without much effort, being wooed with a nicer ride, more stylish interior, and more modern conveniences like keyless ignition and RamBox in-bed storage, albeit the truck wasn't quite as quiet.
Now we've seen what GM's best is, and we'd consider ourselves fans. The 2014 Sierra takes a decidedly old-school approach to making a truck, still using a six-speed automatic transmission and leaf springs in the rear. It doesn't really break any new ground with the exception of its infotainment overkill and refinement, but we'd certainly recommend it if the deal is right and V-8 power-delivery is a must.
We hope General Motors brings the Sierra and its Silverado sibling up to date even further to match the ever-evolving Ram and the aluminum-intensive 2015 Ford F-150—and soon. The 2014 Sierra is a dandy of a truck, one which we enjoyed over our two weeks with it, but we worry that after six years of not touching the truck before this full-size redesign, The General simply caught up to the competition instead of bringing a compelling new argument to the table for why it deserves to be the top dog in the segment. For maintaining loyal fans, that formula will certainly work. For winning over new customers, that simply might not be good enough.
EPA City: 16 mpg
EPA Highway: 18 mpg
EPA Combined: 22 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 468 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A