By Jil McIntosh, Toronto Star
I don’t camp. As I tell people, my idea of “roughing it” is no room service. So when General Motors told me I’d be towing a trailer and then sleeping in it, I had to remind myself that it was really about the all-new 2014 GMC Sierra I’d be using for the task.
The Sierra is the mechanical twin to the equally new Chevrolet Silverado, but has different exterior styling and the appropriate badge on the otherwise similar interior. The top-level Denali trim returns, and, although Chevy adds a new High Country luxury level, the Denali will still be the overall top of the line.
Although full pricing is still to come, the regular cab starts at $26,155; the double cab at $30,050, and the crew cab at $31,615. The Silverado and Sierra were priced the same in the past, but this new GMC has a bit more content, and the base tags run about $600 more than the Chevy.
At first glance, the exterior styling doesn’t look radically different from the outgoing model, but it’s entirely redesigned.
The quick clue is the cab: where the tops of the doors wrapped up into the roof before, the new ones are flush. GM says it cuts down on wind noise, and I believe it, as no other truck is as quiet inside as this one.
One difference lies in the double (extended) cab, which now has rear doors hinged at the front. On the crew cab, a 6-foot-6 box is now offered, along with a 5-foot-8 version.
The three engines also have the same displacements as before: 4.3 L V6, 5.3 L V8, and later this year, a 6.2 L V8. But they are also entirely new, and each is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Each contains three fuel-saving technologies: direct gasoline-injection, variable valve-timing, and cylinder-deactivation, which operates only four cylinders when full power isn’t needed.
That’s fairly common on V8s, but unusual for a V6. It’s a seamless transition, and you can really only tell when a green-tinged “V4” appears in the instrument cluster.
Towing capacity is never an exact science, and much depends on factors such as cab configuration and axle ratio, but GM claims a maximum of 7,200 lb. (3,265 kg) for the V6, and 11,500 (5,216 kg) for the 5.3 L V8. When the 6.2 L comes out, it’ll have a high of 12,000 lb. (5,443 kg). Those big numbers are a badge of pride with truck companies, so expect some of the others to start tweaking so they can trumpet even larger figures.
My test truck’s gears were configured more for fuel economy than towing, so the engine had to work hard to maintain uphill speed once I got into the foothills. But, overall, the Sierra tows well, with a firmly-planted front end, available trailer brake controller, and a trailer sway control system built into the electronic stability control. It selects wheels to break if it senses the trailer’s starting to swing.
I pulled into the appropriately named Sierra West ranch for the night, where, true to my roots, I unpacked some items brought along for the trip: Christmas lights for the trailer’s awning, and a couple of pink flamingoes for outside the door.
I really like that the trailer pin hookup is above the bumper, where it’s easy to reach. And while we’re talking about the back end of the vehicle, there are steps in the bumper ends, with corresponding hand-holds in the box rails for easy climbing into the bed.
It’s a lot simpler than Ford’s system, which requires you to pull out a step and lift up a handle. Ram has nothing but a tiny corner of the bumper to step on (and possibly slip off of) when the tailgate’s down.
The biggest difference between old and new is the interior, which has gone from tired and dated, to arguably the segment’s best.
The seats are very comfortable, and thanks to a low “hip point,” it’s relatively easy to get in and out. With the size of pickup trucks these days, it’s far more common to have to crawl up or slide out, which gets old pretty fast (and also wears the edge of the seat sooner).
The controls are good-sized buttons and dials that work well with gloves, grouped according to function. The instrument cluster borrows its squared-off gauges from the Camaro, and includes a configurable driver display.
The new Sierra doesn’t break any new ground, but it catches up to the competition in a fiercely-fought segment. The Japanese full-size trucks lag behind. Toyota will introduce a new Tundra shortly. But the three domestic brands are all at the top of the game.
I was, too, once we unhooked the trailers and headed for our final overnight stop: a hotel where, thankfully, my room was no longer on wheels.
2014 GMC Sierra
Price: $26,155 (regular); $30,050 (double), and $31,615 (crew)
Engine: 4.3 L V6; 5.3 L V8, and 6.2 L V8
Power/torque: 285 hp/305 lb.-ft. (V6), 355/383 (5.3 L V8), 420/450 (6.2 L V8)
Fuel consumption L/100 km: (5.3 L): 13.0 city, 8.7 hwy (2WD); 13.3, 9.0 (4WD)
Competitors: Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra
What’s best: Quiet cabin, smooth handling, top-notch interior.
What’s worst: Rear crew cab floor isn’t flat.
What’s interesting: In the U.S., the Sierra accounts for 10 per cent of GM’s U.S. truck sales, but in Canada, it is almost 50 per cent
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