2019 GMC Sierra Denali 1500: An In-Depth Look at the Winner of the 2019 Canadian Truck King Challenge


And the winner is!  The 2019 GMC Sierra Denali 1500.  But, past the score it raked up in the Truck King Challenge competition, what did the judges see?  Here are the high notes on our winner; and also what this new generation of GMC Sierra brings to the brand.

GM has been working towards a style separation from the Chevy Silverado from over a decade ago.  If you look at the Sierra and Silverado today you’ll see they have accomplished this.  From a brand-loyalty point of view this does matter and they know it.  So, for 2019 the new GMC grille is upright and dominant with a proportional chrome three-bar pattern (Denali though continues to get the exclusive “cheese grater” look).

Other changes include new lights which are large and C-shaped anchoring a taller hood to the powerful shoulders on the truck’s front end. The wheels have been moved closer to the body corners making it “look” even that much longer. These body features are in sharp contrast to the slick, flatter, pulled back look of the new Silverado.

This Sierra’s body is actually larger than the old model. The space increase is mostly being devoted to the interior comfort of passengers. For instance the 2019 crew cab has nearly three inches of additional rear-seat legroom compared to the current model.

Other new exterior design elements include bright chrome side window surrounds, integrated dual exhaust tips and a wider range of available tires (18, 20 and 22-inch options).

Still, while the looks matters, if you want to set a product apart from its competition you have to give it exclusive features. GMC has now done that.

Starting at the business end of this new truck GM has invested in two very unique new features, neither of which will be shared with Silverado (at least for now).

First, is a convertible tailgate with multiple functions and second, an available industry-first carbon-fiber cargo box.

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The new convertible tailgate is called the MultiPro. It features six unique functions and positions. The key is the split design that folds half the gate down to create a second tier for loading and/or to be used as a backstop for long cargo. If the tailgate itself is down the split function now creates an extra wide step up into the cargo bed. To the left is a bar which swings up to create a hand support – frankly, with how high truck beds have become this is not only a good idea but a necessity.  Another advantage with the cut-out open is closer access to the bed. The weight capacity is 375 lb and the tailgate will also function as a workstation. This fits nicely with the addition of an 110V outlet added to the box near the tailgate.  This MultiPro will be standard equipment on Denali and SLT trucks.

Working with the tailgate it struck me that these innovations are the inevitable next-level evolution of the one-piece pickup tailgate.  I mean, ever since the early days of trucks tailgates have doubled as work benches, picnic tables and bleachers. We have always used them for more than just keeping cargo in the bed – now the GM engineers have made it easier and more convenient to do what we’ve always been doing.

The second big deal is the formed one-piece bed that uses purpose specific carbon-fiber composite. This box, called the CarbonPro, is not a liner – it is the whole bed – bolted to the frame. Carbon-fiber is one of those materials normally associated with high-performance race cars and fighter jets. It’s very strong, yet very light – both traits that will benefit any truck cargo bed.   Once installed it is 62 lb lighter than the base steel version on the Sierra. It will be an option but consider that GMC is claiming best-in class dent, scratch and corrosion resistance for this new innovation – and with good reason. This material is tougher than steel or aluminum. Putting a hole through it is virtually impossible.

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This is where it remains to be seen how much value customers are willing to pay for a truck bed.  However, having the option is revolutionary and GMC deserves credit for that.

When I first saw this bed in Detroit, I had a chance to speak to a director of the company (Continental Structural Plastics) that developed this bed for GMC. We talked about how tough it was and he told me that one of torture tests they had subjected it to was loading a snowmobile with a steel-pick studded track into the truck bed, starting it and then pinning the throttle – spinning that track – in place, with those hardened 2-inch steel picks tearing at the floor. This uniquely Canadian-ish wear test did not damage the material. Personally, I can tell you I have shredded steel, aluminum and bed-liners doing the same thing – well, actually trying not to.

For power – this is where GMC and Chevy do share – new versions of the 5.3L and 6.2L V8 engines will be joined by an all-new 3.0L inline-six turbo diesel engine (very late availability). The 6.2L and 3.0L engine will be paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. But past the usual updates GM has unveiled a new fuel saving system called Dynamic Fuel Management.  This industry-first technology enables the engine to operate in 17 different power patterns (using from two to eight cylinders) all governed by demand.  DFM will be available on both the 6.2L and the 5.3L V8.

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The Sierra we tested at Truck King this year was powered by the 6.2L V8 with the 10-speed transmission and the DFM feature.  Not only did the judges rate this powertrain combination highly – it turned out to be the most fuel efficient truck in our real-world fuel economy study.

We noted the increase in driver-assist technologies found throughout the new Sierra. Key among these is an electronic trailering system called ProGrade. Included in its features is a hitch-view camera with zoom feature for hooking up; side-view cameras to see down the side of the truck and trailer; also an auxiliary camera may be mounted on the back of the trailer for an in-cab view of what’s behind you. A nice touch is a new Auto Electric Parking Brake Assist which automatically applies the parking brake as you shift into park; preventing that one-inch lurch that takes you off the ball. Also part of the package are wireless tire pressure sensors that when installed on the trailer wheels relay tire pressure and temperature information to the in-cab trailering screen. A new trailer light test and diagnostics system is included too.

Inside the Sierra offers another industry first; a 3×7-inch head-up display projecting vehicle info onto the windshield within the driver’s sight-line. I expect to see more manufacturers following suit. The big safety benefit of head-up is that you monitor vehicle information with your peripheral vision – it does not distract from driving – a serious issue today.

The standard 8-inch infotainment screen offers a new Smartphone-like experience, faster responses and improved voice recognition. This screen also stitches various camera angles together for a bird’s-eye view of the truck.

Also new is Adaptive Ride Control (offered on Denali). Using real-time monitoring of road and driver inputs it reacts (in milliseconds) adjusting shock damping on-the-fly for the smoothest ride.

No conversation about a Sierra would be complete without talking about the Denali trim package. Since its debut in a 2001 the Denali taken on a life of its own. This organic marketing coup happens only occasionally in the automotive world; GM knows it and is working to exploit it. They are pumping even more upscale styling and materials into the truck and expanding its stand-alone character by including a prominent Denali nameplate on the tailgate.

So, it’s all these factors that judges consider during testing at the annual Canadian Truck King Challenge.   Ride, on-road performance, towing ability and payload testing are also part of the evaluation – in the end; it’s a mass of information to absorb.  Luckily, we have some of the best truck journalist’s in Canada doing these evaluations.

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