2019 GMC Sierra first drive review

With a carbon bed and transforming tailgate, the new GMC Sierra is one of a kind

GMC produces luxury pickup trucks, and the new Sierra fits the bill but lacks a few key technologies.
MSRP $66,240.00
GMC produces luxury pickup trucks, and the new Sierra fits the bill but lacks a few key technologies.
GMC produces luxury pickup trucks, and the new Sierra fits the bill but lacks a few key technologies.

Highs

  • Excellent ride and handling
  • Industry-exclusive multi-function tailgate
  • Optional carbon fiber pickup bed
  • Dynamic fuel management on V8 engines

Lows

  • No adaptive cruise control
  • Blind spot monitoring does not cover a trailer

The 2019 GMC Sierra pickup has been substantially revised. From the frame and suspension through the cab and available drivelines, the 2019 Sierra is a new creation. The GMC is closely related to the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado that we reviewed just a couple of weeks ago, but there are significant differences between the two models and we’ll highlight those.

The 2019 GMC Sierra will be available in six different trims, including the top AT4 and Denali trims which we test-drove. The more basic trims offer legacy engines, mainly the venerable 4.3-liter V6 and 5.3-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management that turns the V8 into a V4 when possible. New for 2019, mid-level trims will be available with a 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

But that’s not where GMC lives. GMC is a luxury brand, and the Denali and AT4 trims are where the action is. The top trims will be equipped with new versions of the 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter V8 engines with Dynamic Fuel Management, which conserves fuel using 17 different cylinder deactivation modes. A 3.0-liter turbo-diesel will become available next year.

The big news this year is an innovative multi-function tailgate that takes convenience and utility to the next level. GMC has this gate as an industry exclusive; you won’t find it on the Chevy at any price. The other exclusive on the Sierra is a new pickup bed surface made of formed carbon fiber. GMC says that it’s the toughest truck bed they’ve ever made.

2019 GMC Sierra
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The GMC Sierra competes directly with every other full-size half-ton truck on the market. Most directly, the GMC competes with its first cousin, the Chevrolet Silverado, but also with the Ram 1500, Ford F-150, Toyota Tundra, and Nissan Titan.

Complete pricing for the full line is not yet released, but the standard vehicle price on the 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 we drove is $54,695, and with options that truck came to $62,615. The top of the line Denali we tested retails for $67,595.

Interior and tech

As a luxury brand, GMC takes its interiors seriously. However, the brand’s motto is “we are professional grade,” and so the interior reflects the need to endure a working life. So rather than the super-soft and delicate leathers you’ll find in luxury cars or SUVs, the leather in the high-end GMC products is durable as well as attractive.

The same principle holds true for the rest of the cabin: it’s nice, but it’s all about function. While the Denali has wood trim, it’s limited to a few touch surfaces. Some luxury aficionados may feel shortchanged, but the core GMC Denali customer cares about the important things. You get heated and ventilated seats, leather touch surfaces, and a whisper-quiet cabin, but you’ll have to do without Shiatsu massage and aromatherapy scents in the AC system.

The infotainment is the same way. The top Sierra comes with an eight-inch touchscreen monitor. That won’t impress anyone on its own, but you can get an advanced trailering tech setup that includes multiple cameras, automated light testing, individual trailer profiles, and a remote phone app. Of course, the infotainment has all the usual upgrades and supports both Apple and Android integration, plus the truck has on-board 4G/LTE and Wi-FI capability of its own. All the useful truck functions are there, even if you don’t get 500 different colors of interior mood lighting.

GMC also wins points for its excellent head-up display system, which puts a three-inch x seven-inch selectable display onto the windshield. Unlike many HUD implementations, this one is bright enough to see in full daylight and doesn’t disappear if the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses.

All the useful truck functions are there, even if you don’t get 500 different colors of interior mood lighting.

One new tech feature to call out is the camera-based rearview mirror. This uses a camera mounted on the top of the cab to put the rear view right onto the mirror, so if you have people or gear in the backseat, you still get an unobstructed view. The downside is that if you have a shell or a bunch of stuff in the bed, it will obstruct the camera view. GMC’s customers will probably request a selectable camera on the tailgate as a future upgrade; we’d certainly ask for one.

The interior is put together well, as you would expect. New for 2019, GMC has increased rear legroom on all crew cab models. The Denali trim is available only as a crew cab, and you’ll be impressed with almost three inches of additional space in the rear seat area, and a bunch of accessible storage spaces.

Driving experience

The GMC trucks we tested had either the 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter V8 engines, and most GMC buyers will select one of those options. The 5.3-liter engine is rated at 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque, while the 6.2-liter option delivers 420 hp and 460 lb-ft. The 5.3-liter engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the 6.2-liter uses a 10-speed automatic. Both gearboxes make excellent use of available power, and both are available in rear-wheel or four-wheel drive configurations.

2019 GMC Sierra

As mentioned, both of the new V8 engines use Dynamic Fuel Management, which uses cylinder deactivation in 17 different patterns to save fuel. It’s always on and always shifting between its various modes. You’ll have to take our word for it, as we took GMC’s word for it, when we tell you that it’s happening. That’s because you’ll never sense it from the driver’s seat. Now that you know it’s there, you can safely forget about it. You can’t turn it off, and GMC’s engineer told us that they tested the system to twice the estimated service life of the engine, so they expect no problems.

GMC is a luxury brand, and the Denali and AT4 trims are where the action is.

With the 5.3-liter DFM engine, the Sierra is rated up to 17 mpg in city driving, and up to 23 mpg on the highway. That’s for a rear-wheel drive truck; four-wheel drive knocks the numbers down a little. Expect about 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway with the 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter engines and a crew cab four-wheel drive truck.

Also new for 2019, Denali models include an active suspension system that adjusts damping rates every few milliseconds. In contrast to the MagneRide system in use on the comparable Chevrolet models, the Sierra has a slightly smoother ride for a more luxurious feel without sacrificing capability. The AT4 trim offers a more off-road capable package, including monotube Rancho shock absorbers and a two-inch body lift as factory standard equipment.

The biggest news for Sierra this year is the multi-function tailgate. Essentially, this feature is a tailgate-within-the-tailgate, and it folds itself into a variety of useful positions. You can flip everything down and the extra gate becomes a step. It can also become a useful standing-height desk or work surface, a load stop to give you eight feet of cargo capacity in a 6.5-foot box, or a support for loading two layers of cargo in the bed. Finally, you can just fold down the inner tailgate for easier access into the bed. The new tailgate is a piece of pickup truck genius, and at least for now it’s a Sierra exclusive.

A related piece of genius is a button on the automatic foldaway running boards that deploys them to provide a step so you can reach into the front of the pickup bed without dislocating your shoulders. The automatic running boards are optional on Denali only, so if you’re going big you should spend the money and get these.

The last new feature to mention is the optional carbon fiber bed. This isn’t a woven carbon fiber layup like you’ll find on aftermarket stuff; this is the same kind of product used on airplanes and Lamborghini monocoque tubs. This material uses short lengths of carbon fiber randomly oriented in a clay-like plastic substance. The material is press-formed into bed panels, and unlike the woven layups it’s incredibly tough. GMC says it’s the toughest bed surface it has ever made. There’s no doubt it’s impressive, but it’s also an extra-cost option and most GMC buyers will probably opt for the spray-in urethane bedliner as a perfectly serviceable low-cost substitute.

If you don’t get all the goodies that make a GMC better, why are you shopping this brand anyway?

On the road, the new Sierra is a truly enjoyable ride. There’s plenty of power under your foot if you want it but the overall impression is civilized performance. This is a big truck, but there’s plenty of brake, good visibility, and the active suspension keeps the ride smooth without ever wallowing in corners. There’s plenty of power to tow as well, and the push of a button takes you to 4HI in an instant. One thing to note: the Sierra comes with an Auto 4WD mode that works like all-wheel drive. You can leave the truck in this mode all the time and it functions like a rear-wheel drive model until you get wheel slip, then it engages the front wheels. That’s handy for environments where four-wheel drive is too much but rear-wheel drive is sometimes suddenly not enough.

Of course, there are always areas where a vehicle can be improved, and the new Sierra has a couple of omitted features. Adaptive cruise control is an expected feature for luxury vehicles, but you can’t get it on the Sierra. GMC’s people told us it’s incompatible for use while trailering, and that’s true. However, adaptive cruise is an important feature to have when you’re not trailering, and if you’re used to having it, you’ll miss it.

Speaking of trailering, it’s disappointing that the blind spot monitoring system for the Sierra doesn’t include the length of the trailer in its coverage. Both Ford and Ram offer that feature, and it’s very useful.

Warranty

The 2019 GMC Sierra is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. The first maintenance visit and oil change are also included.

How DT would configure this car

If we were buying a GMC Sierra, it would be time to throw our savings account to the wind and indulge our desire for opulence. If you don’t get all the goodies that make a GMC better, why are you shopping this brand anyway? That’s our justification and we’re sticking to it.

So, the DT configuration would be a 6.2-liter Denali crew cab four-wheel drive. The big V8 is $2,495, and worth the money. The towing package with all the cameras is included at this level, which is nice. We would definitely want the automatic running boards, because even for a six-foot tall man, it’s a climb up into the driver’s seat. The Denali Ultimate Package that includes those boards costs $5,710, and also includes the head-up display, surround cameras, and the camera rearview mirror, as well as forward collision alert, lane keep assist, pedestrian braking, and more. We’d be in for the whole $67,595.

Our Take

GMC is tightly focused on its customers, and those people are a particular slice of the truck-buying public. GMC emphasized that the new Sierra is designed exactly the way those customers said they wanted their trucks to be. Fair enough. If you’re one of those GMC buyers, you’re going to love everything about the new Sierra. It’s a step up from the current model in every measurable way.

Without using the dreaded “but,” we’ll say that the new 2019 Ram 1500 is also a serious contender. At the comparable trim level and price point, it offers a much larger center display screen and the missing features of adaptive cruise and blind spot detection for your trailer. The Ford F-150 also offers a compelling case, as does the new Chevy Silverado. All this competition is a good thing for the buyer, because it means you have a wide variety of good options to choose from.

Should you get one?

Yes. If you liked GMC trucks in the past, you’ll love the new Sierra.

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