Ten Things We Love About the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali – Final Long-Term Test Report

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GM has been working towards a body style separation from the Silverado for over a decade now.

Today looking at a GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado side by side you’ll see they have accomplished this goal.  The 2019 GMC grille is upright and dominant with a proportional chrome three-bar pattern (Denali though continues to get the popular “cheese grater” look). The truck is squared up and slab-sided; it hulks over its wheel arches. It’s a look that either attracts or repels, it certainly does not leave you without an opinion.   

Over the four months of our test we drove almost 15,000 km. We had no mechanical issues – that’s the big one. We also towed with the truck; many times, with multiple trailers and varying weights as well as filling it with people and payload.  After 16 weeks we can report that the insights we gained came from really using the truck and all it’s features.   

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Over those accumulated kilometers many features of the Sierra asserted themselves – here are the 10 things that most impressed us. 

1. The 6.2L V8 coupled to the new 10-speed automatic transmission worked so well.  It produced 420hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. This large displacement V8 did not disappoint in the power department – a statement that was equally true while towing.  Still, power aside this big block could potentially be expensive to fuel.  GM considered that too and worked to temper fuel consumption where possible – while maintaining the power. The answer was a powertrain combination that included the DFM (Displacement Fuel Management) system – which controls the number of cylinders firing at any given time (based on power demand).  This feature is new for 2019 and offers17-cylinder activation combinations; a significant update from the older AFM (Active Fuel Management) version that ran the engine in either 8 or 4-cylinder mode only. DFM saves fuel. 

The 10-speed transmission is also new and works seamlessly with the DFM system.  In fact, both of these complex bits of engineering worked perfectly during our test period – always in the background – never bumping, grinding or being obvious.  This gearing is also intended to better manage the available power and also save fuel by added long hi-speed gears keeping rpms on the highway low. 

So, that’s the tech explanation and theory; but does it work? I went through this year’s (and previous years) Truck King Challenge fuel studies for  an answer to that question.  As we produce a fuel study each year for Natural Resources Canada – we had several years of hard data to look at. 

The figures quoted here are the average consumption rates over two days of on-road testing which included empty runs, driving the equal distance with 1,500 lb of payload and finally towing 7,000 lb trailers over the same distance again.   The fuel consumption data was collected by electronic data recorders and verified by a hired third party. 

The 6.2L V8 made its first appearance in 2014. That year it was coupled to a six-speed transmission and used the old AFM system.  It’s average fuel consumption during Truck King testing that year was 15.7L/100 km.   Fast forward to 2019 and the 6.2L V8 now pushes power through a new 10-speed transmission and features the updated DFM system.  Its average fuel consumption (tested in October, 2018) dropped to 14.0L/100 km.  If I calculate the effect of that difference over just the 15,000 km of our test, we saved 277 L of fuel – all because of the updated transmission and change to the DFM system – even though the base engines were the same in both years of the test.  

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2. The business end of the truck has gotten extra attention from GMC and we liked all the updates. Among these is the MultiPro tailgate that features six unique functions. Its’ split design folds half the gate down to create a second tier for loading or to be used as a backstop for long cargo. If the tailgate itself is down the split function creates an extra wide step.  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. With the step deployed you’re also able to stand closer to the bed – easing back strain while loading. This step will support 375 lb. I found that the tailgate also functioned as a workstation. The bed also has a 110V outlet near the tailgate.  There are new tie-down points and LED bed lights as well. The sidewalls are also redesigned making the bed wider by almost 7-inches.  The MultiPro is standard equipment on Denali and SLT trucks. 

Another significant advancement is an available industry-first carbon-fiber cargo box. Our early build Sierra did not have this carbon-fiber box – however the standard spray-on bed liner was tough and wear resistant throughout our test.  

3. Adaptive Ride Control (offered on Denali). This is a new system, one that you won’t notice initially – but over time you feel the ride difference as you travel over varied surfaces at different speeds.  This electronic feature monitors road and driver inputs, in real time, and then it reacts (in milliseconds) adjusting shock damping on-the-fly for the smoothest ride.

4. GM is also offering a Multi-Colour Head-Up Display that projects vehicle info on to the windshield in a 3 x 7-inch display box. This innovation is as much about safety as it is about seeing driving data (like speed, cruise, Nav instructions, etc.) By looking through the projection you never take your eyes off the road, while absorbing the info you need.  I expect this trend to spread, it fights the distraction that is forever growing with the increasing number of in-cab controls that take your attention away from driving.

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5. Active safety features are a necessity as trucks continue to grow. On the Sierra we had a HD Rear-Vision Camera along with Surround Vision – multiple camera views that let you see every corner of the truck.  It also had a Lane Change Alert and a Blind Zone Alert; these are always active and add another layer of protection – after all we’ve all accidently cut someone off while changing lanes.

6. Other safety features – which I also like to call driver assist features – continue to grow as the sophistication of electronic sensors increases. The Sierra had a Driver Alert Package (optional) that included Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking, Front Pedestrian Braking, IntelliBeam automatic headlamp control, Following Distance Indicator and Safety Alert Seat.  After 15,000 km of road travel I experienced each one of these systems working. That said, sometimes they simply backed up the action that I (the driver) are already doing/aware of.  But, sometimes, they did save me during a moment of distraction.  It happens. 

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7. I own seven trailers – meaning I tow a lot.  On the GMC I had the ProGrade Advanced Trailering Package (standard) – among its features is the Hitch Guidance with Hitch View.  This in-cab image with on-screen guidelines let me hook up to my trailer without the help of a spotter (or jumping in and out of the truck a dozen times). 

8. GM was the first to offer in vehicle Wi-Fi connectivity. So, while this is not a new feature the 4G LTE hotspot (a one-month/3GB data trial is standard) found in Sierra is still one of the best and easiest to use. 

9. Standard StabiliTrak electronic stability control is an established system. It also includes rollover mitigation technology and most importantly trailer sway control and hill-start assist – both things I benefited from while towing. 

10. The Sierra also offers a new Traction Select System. When I picked up the test truck there was still snow on the ground, so I had a chance to choose various drive modes over the length of my test.  These different drive modes are electronically tailored for different terrain and weather conditions.  Once selected the Sierra’s transmission shift points, throttle mapping and the StabiliTrak react to each situation automatically. A great feature that works automatically is the locking rear differential (standard) that reacts in milliseconds to slip situations.  A 2-Speed AutoTrac Transfer Case is also standard on all 4WD models. 

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GMC calls its trucks “Professional Grade”; after my 4-month test I’ll add my own passing grade to that phrase.  

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