2016 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew CabPosted on May 19th, 2016
Full-size pickup raises the bar for engineering and performance
By Nina Russin
Let’s face it: any vehicle costing upwards of $50,000 needs to fill a lot of squares. For most truck owners, it means multi-tasking as a work and family vehicle, with the capability to tow and haul, accommodate at least four passengers and provide respectable fuel economy.
From and engineering stance, these are lofty goals, since high profile, two-box vehicles aren’t aerodynamic. Ever. Despite that, the performance gurus at GMC have created a full-size pickup with astonishingly good fuel economy and ride comfort rivaling passenger cars.
The 5.3-liter Ecotec engine and eight-speed automatic transmission beneath the Sierra’s chiseled hood give the 1500-series crew cab the heart of an athlete. The truck idles smoothly at 600 rpm and cruises at speeds up to 65 miles-per-hour below 2,000 rpm. In endurance athlete terms, it’s the equivalent of a marathoner with a resting heart rate in the high 30s.
Base price for the SLT test truck is $46,970 excluding the $1,195 destination charge. Options include twenty-inch rims, Z71 off-road suspension, spray-on bedliner, special seats and center console, front and rear park assist, LED headlamps, power sunroof, navigation, premium audio system and a trailer brake controller. Final MSRP is $53,845.
Test drive in southern Arizona
Over the past week, I used the Sierra as I thought the typical owner might: doing some hauling and long-haul driving through back roads in the Gila River Indian Community south of Phoenix. The drive didn’t include much in the way of elevation change, but I was able to take in a variety of paved and unpaved road surfaces and see how easy it was to load large cargo into the bed.
Car manufacturers are fond of injecting the term, ‘eco,’ into everything soup-to-nuts these days because in conjures up thoughts of a friendlier planet and reduced operating expenses. Sometimes the terms fits; others it’s clever advertising. In the case of the Sierra’s 5.3-liter V-8 engine, it’s an adjective well earned.
A lightweight aluminum block fitted with platinum-tipped spark plugs delivers 355-horsepower and 383 foot-pounds of torque. Active fuel management cuts out half the cylinders when power demands are low to stretch fuel economy. System operation is so seamless that it is invisible to the driver.
Large overdrive gears in the eight-speed automatic transmission make it possible for the engine to rev extremely low. The net effect is a full-size truck that rivals the upper limit for fuel economy on mid-size vehicles not that long ago.
Electric power assist steering has excellent response at low speed, providing the best maneuverability a vehicle of this size could be expected to have. On-center response on the highway is also quite good.
The suspension consists of coil-over monotube shocks in front and a solid rear axle with semi-elliptic two-stage springs. The purpose of the live rear axle is to aid in towing. The Sierra has a 11,700-pound towing rating with the optional trailering package. The problem with live rear axles is hop, especially at high speeds. Engineers eliminated the problem with the two-stage leaf springs. Buyers can also opt for magnetic ride control that uses a rheostatic fluid to make real-time damping adjustments to the road surface.
The trailering package also adds a heavy-duty rear axle, retuned shocks, a beefier cooling system and heavy-duty rear springs. The trailer brake controller activates the trailer brakes and also controls the proportion of trailer braking according to what’s happening with the truck.
Visibility around the front of the truck is quite good. There are some fairly large blind spots to the sides due to the Sierra’s thick B-pillars. Convex side mirror inserts help, but I would like to have had a blind spot monitoring system. A standard rearview camera displays a wide-angle view to the back of the vehicle when the driver shifts into reverse. LED headlamps on the test truck provide long bright beams of light at night that do a good job of illuminating streets in rural or suburban areas.
Engineers did an excellent job of minimizing road, wind and engine noise intrusion inside the truck.
The Sierra’s interior is clearly designed with the small business owner in mind, giving him or her all the tools necessary to use the truck as a mobile office. A Wi-Fi hotspot provides internet access in remote areas such as the backroads I traversed during my test drive. In addition to 12-volt power points, the is a 110-volt plug-in for computers or games. Standard On-Star enables owners to download turn-by-turn directions without having to pull over to the side of the road and program the navigation system. Speaking from personal experience, it can be a lifesaver.
I found power driver’s seat adjustments easy to use, offering enough lower lumbar support for trips several hours in duration. Power adjustable pedals make the truck more comfortable for smaller drivers. Heated front seats and dual-zone climate controls are standard, keeping occupants comfortable in temperature extremes.
Rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern so the owner can use the back as a protected cargo area.
Bluetooth interface, HD radio, satellite radio and Apple CarPlay are all standard: great perks for summer road trips with the family.
The GMC Sierra comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, stability control, trailer sway control, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring and OnStar with automatic crash response that notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
GMC builds the Sierra at its Silao, GJ Mexico and Flint Michigan assembly plants.
Like: A full-size pickup that functions equally well for work and the family, with excellent ride and handling and exceptional fuel economy.
Dislike: Thick B pillars create large blind spots to the sides.
Model: Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab SLT
Base price: $46,970
As tested: $53,845
Horsepower: 355 Hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 383 lbs.-ft. @ 4100 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/21 mpg city/highway2016, Luxury Offroad 2016, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, GMC, performance, pricing, standard safety