A compelling offering full of tech and sporting a new off-road package.
While diesel-powered passenger vehicles take their last gasp in North America, the diesel truck is going from strength to strength. GMC's Sierra 1500 offering shares its new all-aluminum 3.0-liter inline-six turbodiesel engine with its Chevrolet Silverado 1500 cousin. The 2020 Sierra 1500 doesn't offer anywhere near as much towing capacity as its heavy-duty siblings with its payload restricted to 1,830 lbs and towing to 9,100 lbs. That also means both the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 can out-pull it, but GMC isn't too bothered about that. Its research reveals that light truck owners don't want to tow more than 10,000 pounds. Those that do, move up to the HD trucks.
The HD trucks is where the brand has put most of it's towing eggs, doubtless why GMC was eager to show us the Sierra 1500's off-road chops in its new AT4 trim. GMC was also keen to show us how the technology in any trim helps it better perform its truck duties.
The 2020 Sierra redesign has made things bolder for the line all round, and that's most apparent in the new multi-block grill, headlight, and bumper design. The Sierra 1500 Denali is all about visual features with a lavish amount of chrome from the grill through the fender trim to the mirror caps and window trim. It doesn't stop there, and the wheels that are offered in size up to 22 inches tend to be smothered in chrome. The AT4 version eschews all the flashy silver and delivers all the chrome pieces in black for a more menacing look.
One of the Sierra trucks highlights is the six-way MultiPro tailgate. You can use it as a traditional tailgate, a step, you can also fold it on the middle hinge as a stop to make a bed extender, or fold it the other way to get closer to the bed to load it up. It can even be used as a mobile workspace and, optionally, has an available Kicker audio system integrated.
GMC tells us that because they weren't obsessing about towing capacity, the engineers could concentrate on fuel economy. The claim is 30 miles per gallon on the highway, which is quickly becoming the new benchmark for trucks. That kind of economy while also having the ability to pull 8,000 lbs up a steep incline at an elevation of 6,000 feet with no noticeable effort in its pocket was the eyebrow-raiser though. The 460 lb-ft of torque is available early and in a flat curve. Matched to the 10-speed automatic transmission, it made pulling into traffic from a dead stop and getting up to highway speeds an easy task.
The integrated exhaust brake uses back-pressure to control speed downhill and did a great job of keeping things calm and controlled rolling down a six percent grade. With or without a trailer, the crispness and precision of the throttle was ever-present but particularly shone through when getting the truck off-road in AT4 form.
Like the HD version we also drove out in Wyoming, the interior is a roomy but dull affair in terms of style and materials. GMC wants to be the premium truck of choice, but to get there the interior needs to be the icing on the cake. Thankfully, it's the technology game where GMC is more than up to speed. As with the Sierra HD, the trailering app is a useful pleasure to use as it allows you to test the trailer's lights, tire pressures and temperature and go through a checklist to make sure everything is ship-shape before pulling a precious payload.
If there was an award for towing technology, the invisible trailer feature would take it as being able to see exactly what's behind the trailer you're towing is incredibly useful. The runner up for the award would be the camera view allowing you to watch down both sides of the trailer on the 8-inch screen at the same time.
Out on the road, the 2020 Sierra 1500 feels smooth and responsive all around. We forgot about the 10-speed automatic gearbox, which is a great sign and means it wasn't making harsh shifts or hunting around for gears. While that wasn't happening, we played with the drive settings and found each one brought a unique feel and left us wanting to get to know them more over a longer drive on varied roads.
GMC was eager to show off the new AT4 off-road package, which is a logical evolution of the previous All-Terrain package. The AT4 package features include a 2-inch suspension lift, Rancho monotune shocks, larger wheels with all-terrain tires, a G80 auto-locking rear differential, and extra skid plating. Useful off-road tech includes hill descent control, hill-hold, and a color head-up display to show vertical and horizontal tilt.
We got to play with the AT4 loaded Sierra 1500 over an obstacle course that took us through some thick mud and over a washboard section made of logs. No company is going to send journalists onto a course their vehicle can't handle, but the small trail featured a surprisingly vicious pile of rocks that helped show off the hill hold and descent feature and just how confidence-inspiring the AT4 package is. Mixed with the Duramax engine, the AT4 felt nimble, agile, and purposeful. It's going to be interesting to see how it holds up against Ford and Ram's off-roaders in what's becoming a competitive truck segment.
The base 2020 GMC Sierra clocks in at $29,600 before destination charges. GMC customers don't tend to flock to base models, and the mid-range SLE trim starts at $37,800. Off-road aficionados will be paying $51,000 for the AT4 package, and those that want to swish around in a Denali are looking at $54,700 before optioning it out.
We would go for the AT4 package, as on the road it makes the truck feel a little more planted while still being smooth enough round town. That then leaves plenty in the bank for a little weekend warrior fun on the trails or taking the adventurous route to more remote camping and fishing spots. Across the trims and prices though, there's something for everyone that wants a premium truck in their life.
Through our time with the Sierra trucks, we found ourselves buying into GMC's mission of taking the stress out of towing. It's not just towing that GMC engineers have gotten creative with though, we spent time beating on the CarbonPro truck bed with an aluminum baseball bat and were, annoyingly, unable to put a dent in it. Mix that with the ingenious Swiss Army style tailgate and we're looking at a truck that's as all-round as rugged, useful, and practical as it is refined. The only real let down is the bland interiors through the range.
Overall, anyone looking for a premium half-ton truck would be a fool not to seriously check out the Sierra 1500. It's one we're looking forward to getting our hands on for a full week and explore in the real world.