You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Pickup Review: 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali logo 2021-09-24 Jil McIntosh
2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali 4WD © Provided by 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali 4WD
Replay Video

Given that the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are basically copies of each other, you might wonder why GM goes to the trouble of making both. Their sales split is roughly even in Canada, but the Sierra trails Chevy by a considerable margin in the far larger U.S. market.


But it seems that those who do choose GMC are most likely to go for the top-level — and accordingly top-priced — Denali trim. That’s what I had, and my tester chimed in at just over $84,000.

Of that, $69,698 was my Denali’s starting price, before a slew of options were added — including some I thought would be standard, such as emergency front braking and lane-keep assist. You can get a base Sierra starting at $33,248, should you opt for a V6-powered regular-cab truck in 4×2, but mine was a four-door crew cab with 4×4. The Denali starts with a 5.3L V8, but I had a 6.2L V8 that added $2,895 — slightly less than opting for a 3.0L six-cylinder Duramax diesel — and an optional performance exhaust and air intake that cost more than the engine upgrade. All three available engines use a ten-speed automatic transmission.

That 5.3L V8 makes 355 horsepower, but moving up to the 6.2L gives you 420 horsepower, along with 460 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. The diesel engine has the same torque number, but delivers it much sooner at 1,500 rpm. The diesel gets better mileage, as expected, officially rated at 10.0 L/100 km in combined driving, while the 6.2L is rated at 13.5 L/100 km – and premium fuel is recommended, although not required. In my time with the truck, driving empty and without towing, I averaged 14.9 L/100 km.


As with any pickup truck, the configuration and engine affect the towing capacity. The Denali crew cab with short bed and equipped with the 6.2L V8 can pull 8,600 lbs, and that’s 100 lbs more than with the diesel engine.

The Sierra is a big truck, and while it obeys steering-wheel input, it’s not as lively as Ford’s F-150, which is just as needlessly-oversized but feels a bit smaller and lighter thanks to its sharper steering. But the GMC delivers a comfortable ride, even on bumpier roads, more so than some of its competitors. Its 4×4 system includes an “Auto” mode, as most full-size trucks do in some trim levels, which is handy when winter roads have alternating patches of snow and dry pavement. If a truck only has 4High/4Low, it shouldn’t be driven on hard surfaces in four-wheel, as this can potentially bind and damage the system.


To help offset my truck’s XXL size, since only a pro basketball player could reach over the bed side, the optional power running boards not only slide out, but can also move backwards, where they can be used as a bed side step. There are also GM’s brilliantly-simple bumper-end steps, as standard equipment. Put your foot in, grab the hand-hold in the top of the bed, and pull yourself up. Hands-down, these beat Ford’s multi-process pull-it-out-of-the-tailgate step; while you’re on your own trying to clamber up into a Ram or Toyota Tundra, unless you pay for an accessory rear step.

The Denali comes standard with the MultiPro tailgate, which can be folded up or down into six functions, including two-tier loading, load stop, and a full-width step. Opening my truck’s tailgate, I discovered it had been optioned with a $986 Kicker MultiPro audio system, which lets you hook in your phone to play music through the gate-mounted speakers. It’s a cool touch for tailgate parties, and it tucks up inside the gate and I’m sure GM tested it extensively, but I still can’t help but wonder about longevity if someone actually works a truck, and carts loads of dirt or gravel that could potentially work their way in. Honda Ridgeline’s in-bed stereo, which uses waterproof electric “exciters” that essentially turn the bed into one big speaker cone, with no external buttons or speakers, seems far more suited to truck use.

The Denali features supportive seats, with lots of legroom both in front and rear. Small-item storage is excellent, including a deep centre console, twin gloveboxes, and bins cleverly hidden in the rear-chair seatbacks. The climate and other controls are very simple and easy to use, as is the infotainment system. It’s an 8-inch screen, smaller than some of the competitors, but I much prefer that to the big-screen-TV glass that Ram offers. Spinning a knob or pressing a button is always quicker, easier, and far less distracting than paging through menus to find a function.

But for all the cabin’s comfort, it’s a disappointment at this high-priced level. The design is okay, if a little dated-looking, and there’s leather-look stitched padding on the dash. But there’s also an awful lot of cheap-looking pebbled plastic, and my truck had sharp unfinished edges on the door pockets, along with mismatched plastic seams on the console box. That’s a lot for a customer to accept at this price. Ram is still the cabin-quality leader, and Ford is right behind it.

In its favour, the Sierra has a strong engine, smooth ride, good if not class-leading driving dynamics, comfortable seats and ride, and a better-looking exterior than its Silverado sibling. But while the top-level Denali comes with a very long list of standard features, it needs to look and feel far more luxurious inside to justify that top-level price tag. The competition in this segment is just too fierce to offer anything but top-notch to match.


More from

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon