Calgary, AB — It’s apt that I was introduced to both the 2014 GMC Sierra pickup and “glamping”—glamour camping (luxury RVs and trailers being a staple; in our case, we were towing a 29-foot KZ Spree trailer)—all at the same time.
The Sierra trucks—historically strong sellers in Canada, finishing in the top-10 of all Canadian vehicle sales in 2012—tend to emphasize the luxury aspects of the trucks than the more workmanlike attitude displayed by their Chevrolet Silverado cousins.
With the Sierra, you’ll see more creature comforts—depending on trim—to the Silverado; take the mid-level SLE trim package (there are four: base Sierra, SLE, SLT and Denali) which, when compared to the similarly-priced Silverado LT, gets you bonuses like a back-up camera, IntelliLink infotainment inside, and body coloured wheel arch mouldings and door handles outside.
While the Sierra remains head-and-shoulders above the outgoing model on the styling front, the Sierra takes it up yet another notch.
The three-bar grille, gorgeous chrome wheels and optional side-steps of our Z71 off-road tester make for a compelling and handsome styling package. Other features included in the $530 Z71 package are upgraded Rancho shocks and underbody protection.
The projector-beam headlamps, however, do take some getting used to–GMC calls the effect of the LED DRLs below the headlights a “signature”; I call it “character from the Family Guy cartoon squinting.”
The pick-up bed, meanwhile, is easily accessible thanks to the Corner Step feature shared with the Silverado and defunct Avalanche. To make accessing the bed easier, work boot-sized chunks are cut into either corner on the bumper, providing a stepladder, of sorts, to the bed.
What’s it like inside?
SLT models come standard with leather and wood inserts and new for 2014, Intellilink Infotainment to compliment all-new gauges and lighting. The Intellilink system itself has been recently updated, adding bigger buttons and a customizable interface. It even provides a 3D view of the buildings surrounding you so you can use them as landmarks on your journey.
Other features that draw your eye (and that we’d need for our journey) include a tow-mode button mounted to the column-mounted shifter, trailer-braking controls mounted to the left of the instrument cluster and a newly designed, rounder centre-stack that includes three USB slots, a 110V outlet and two 9V outlets at its base. Add the two USB slots, SD card reader and third 9V outlet found in the center console, and you’ve got a rolling version of one of those display tables at the Apple store…in your truck.
Comfort-wise, like with the Silverado, the B-pillar has been moved forward so the entrance to the rear door on Crew Cab models is bigger and the environs inside, roomier.
Other than the Sierra’s MO as a more luxurious alternative, it boasts a range of new features that ensure it can still tow, haul and work with the best of ‘em.
It starts with a choice of three new EcoTec powerplants—one V6, and two V8s—each with cylinder deactivation, aluminum internals and claimed class-leading fuel economy.
Our truck was fitted with the middle powerplant—an E85-capable, 5.3 Litre, 355-horsepower V8 rated at 11L/100 km in the combined cycle—with a towing capacity of 9,500 pounds thanks to a 3.42 rear axle ratio. The Spree trailer was close to that amount, so we set out from Bucars RV just outside of Calgary, all hooked up and ready to tackle the road ahead which would lead us to Sierra West Ranch & Cabins (a convenient name, that), 180 kilometers away.
It’s nice to have the peace of mind provided by the big V8 up-front, and the anti-sway trailer hook up at the rear. Working in conjunction with the Sierra’s StabiliTrak system, brakes are applied and power sapped as needed if the trailer starts to sway—if worse comes to worse, then a manual trailer brake can be applied.
The system worked well; the trailer would shimmy a little, only to be immediately brought back on-line. It’s a sensation that’s a little eerie at the outset; since the StabiliTrak works on both the truck and trailer, it gives the impression that the trailer has a mind of its own.
When it came time to halt the proceedings, all-new Duralife brake rotors with strengthened and corrosion-reducing surfaces were up to the task; as impressive as the power was, it was the stopping power that really stood out.
We were also given the chance to try the truck sans trailer, which is where a whole host of sound deadening and aerodynamic additions come to the fore.
Triple-sealed doors and sound-deadening materials in the wheel wells help keep wind and road noise out—even the tread on the Goodyear Wrangler tires has been designed to keep things quiet. Meanwhile, tighter seals around the headlights and grille and reduced space between the pickup box and cab help reduce drag and decrease fuel usage.
In the end…
The Sierra works as advertised; it provides a quiet, muscular ride and comes well-equipped at any of the trim levels available. Plus, it looks the part, doing a good job of keeping up with the Jonses over at Ford and Ram, two manufacturers whose offerings really put the stylistic wood to GMC last generation.
However, only time will tell if “works as advertised” is enough, here; Ram offers an eight-speed transmission (a single six-speed auto is all you get with the Sierra, plus four rear-axle ratios), and Ford continues to see sales of their turbocharged EcoBoost V6 powerplant grow.
It begs the question: is the Sierra “new” enough to do more than just compete, and see some real sales growth?