2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Review

Liz Kim | Feb 27, 2019

Introduction

People who buy full-size pickups are looking for enough room for passengers and cargo, combined with loads of strength for towing their tools or toys to work or play. Beyond that, however, some truck buyers want more than just a dash of luxury with their utilitarian vehicle. They want comfort, they want technology, and they want plenty of bling to attract the eye.

GMC aims to please those who plan to move on up with their pickup with the all-new 2019 Sierra. No longer content to be a chromed up and squared off version of the Chevrolet Silverado, the redesigned GMC Sierra offers more distinctive style and exclusive amenities compared to its more common corporate sibling. Having prior reviewed a Silverado Trail Boss, this time around we drove a loaded Sierra Denali with all the bells and whistles.

2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali photo
2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

Our test truck was a GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Crew Cab equipped with 4-wheel drive, a 6.2-liter V8 engine, a 10-speed automatic transmission, metallic paint, an Ultimate Package, and a Trailer Camera Package. The price came to $68,085, including the $1,495 destination charge.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the GMC Sierra, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this large light-duty pickup truck and what they liked most and least about their Sierras.

Regardless of make and model, most owners of large light-duty trucks are men. For the segment, the average is 91%, and for the Sierra, men comprise 92% of the ownership base. Sierra owners are a little older, with a median age of 57 (vs. 55 for the segment), and they earn a greater median annual household income at $124,468 (vs. $108,095).

Sierra owners are not far apart from large light-duty truck owners in terms of their sentiments and preferences associated with their vehicles. They are more likely to strongly agree that they prefer to buy from a domestic company (64% vs. 59%), and that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (47% vs. 43%).

At the same time, they are less likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (59% vs. 63%), or that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (60% vs. 66%).

GMC Sierra owners are also less likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (41% vs. 45%), or that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (26% vs. 30%).

Owners report that their favorite things about the previous Sierra were (in descending order) the interior design, exterior styling, seats in a tie with storage and space, and driving dynamics in a tie with visibility and safety. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the previous Sierra were (in descending order) the climate control system, engine/transmission, infotainment system, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the GMC Sierra measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

General Motors appears to have gone out and gotten effective designers for the company’s entire lineup, because almost every Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC is visually appealing. In terms of the automaker’s new light-duty trucks, both are better looking than the models they replace. Like the new Silverado, the 2019 GMC Sierra’s design possesses logic and balance that conveys purpose and radiates brawniness.

In addition to its fundamentally handsome styling, my test Sierra wore gorgeous Dark Sky Metallic paint and utterly gigantic 22-inch wheels, both of which enhanced the upscale truck’s look.

Interior

Interior design was the most favored feature among Sierra owners, and the 2019 version will keep the trend going. Everything is logically laid out, easy to understand, and simple to use. And while the physical labor that might necessitate owning a pickup may beat your body up, when you step inside the Sierra Denali’s cabin and you’ll feel pampered and impressed by the high quality of the interior materials.

Almost every surface that you’ll lay your rough-hewn hands upon sports soft-touch materials, including the roof liner. You’ll find sprinklings of real aluminum accents throughout the interior, and my Denali test vehicle had genuine open-pore wood trim, increasing the luxe factor.

My test vehicle was dressed in Jet Black upholstery, with little contrast throughout the passenger compartment. Dark colors tend to make an interior seem stuffy, but no hue could visually restrict the vastness of the Sierra’s cabin.

Seats

Finding a great driving position in a Sierra Denali is easy thanks to 10-way power adjustable front seats, which are comfortable but could use a bit more bolstering. The front seats in my test truck were heated and ventilated, while the rear outboard seats were heated too.

In the rear of my crew cab test vehicle, the bench seats were flat and featureless, but vast. Air vents help to keep people comfortable, and the two USB charging ports should keep arguments among your offspring related to their digital devices at bay.

Climate Control System

Two large knobs and a well-marked array of buttons made controlling the Sierra’s interior temperature easy, and, in combination with the heated front and rear seats, the system proved effective at keeping the chill of a cold rainy day out of the cabin.

Infotainment System

My test truck had a full list of standard infotainment features, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, OnStar subscription services, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. My test truck also included a Bose premium audio system and a navigation system.

This is the same set of features the Sierra previously offered, but they’re presented with new graphics and faster infotainment software, which should help improve owner sentiment about the technology. Unfortunately, GMC provides a free trial period to OnStar and Wi-Fi that lasts just one month, which is quite stingy compared to other automakers.

Big knobs and buttons flank the 8-inch touchscreen display, and the whole setup is easy to figure out how to use. My test truck also had a head-up display and a wireless charging pad. I didn’t use the 3-prong 120-volt power outlet on the dashboard (there’s one in the cargo box too), but many people will.

Storage and Space

Sure, you can throw all your stuff in the back. That’s the point of a pickup. And the bed has plenty of features to make ferrying your gear easier, such as GMC’s clever and useful MultiPro Tailgate, which is a gate-within-a-gate that can perform all kinds of tricks. It can extend your cargo box, create a step into the bed, be used as a little seat, and even transform into a worksite workstation.

But sometimes you need to carry your things inside the cab, and the GMC has you covered on this front, too. The dual glove box will hold twice the amount of gloves, and a gigantic center console will most likely fit a mobile office.

You can stick many things under the rear bench seat, and there are small storage bins in the back of the rear seats. They don’t hold much, but they could easily stash a small valuable item out of sight.

Visibility and Safety

Even with its squared off hood, I found it difficult to place the Sierra’s front end while parking. The hood is raised so high that it’s tough to gauge the distance between the front bumper and whatever object might be directly in front of it. It would’ve been great if I could count on the Denali’s front parking sensors and the forward-view camera, but often they were tardy in sounding alarms or engaging.

Otherwise I had no problems seeing out of this truck, and both the rear camera mirror and numerous other camera views made it easier to maneuver. Also, like with other full-size pickups, our short 8-year-old delighted in the big windows that gave her a commanding view of surrounding traffic.

As far as active safety features go, GMC offers two different Driver Alert packages for the Sierra, depending on the trim level. What you can’t get, though, no matter how much you’re willing to pay, is an adaptive cruise control system with all-speed automatic emergency braking. Teen Driver parental report card technology and a rear-door alert system designed to prevent you from accidentally leaving a child in the truck are, however, standard.

As this review was published, neither the federal government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the 2019 GMC Sierra.

Engine/Transmission

My Sierra Denali test truck had the optional 6.2-liter V8 engine, which cranks out 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine makes the same power as last year, but GMC says it is new and is equipped with a more effective Dynamic Fuel Management cylinder deactivation system.

Also new for 2020, a 10-speed automatic transmission expertly directs power to the truck’s available 4-wheel-drive system. Fortified with an automatic locking rear differential, a hill start assist system, and a hill descent control system, the Autotrac 4WD was easy to engage thanks to knobs and buttons rather than a traditional shift lever.

This top-of-the-line drivetrain proved itself powerful and refined, with a pleasing rumble and, when prodded by your right foot, and menacing roar. And, when properly equipped, a 2019 Sierra 1500 is rated to tow up to 12,200 pounds and handle 2,240 lbs. of payload. No, those are not the biggest, most impressive numbers in the land of full-size pickups, but the Sierra’s capabilities will suit most needs perfectly well.

Overall, GM has built a fine, broad-shouldered powerplant for its line of full-size pickups.  

Fuel Economy

Despite the hyped Dynamic Fuel Management system that uses algorithms to shut down targeted cylinders, my test vehicle managed to eke out only about 15.4 mpg on a test loop of mixed driving conditions. And that was with one person aboard, an empty cargo bed, and nothing attached to the tow receiver.

This result falls short of the EPA’s 17-mpg projection in combined driving. In fact, during my last foray with a previous-generation Sierra, a 6.2-liter V8 returned better fuel economy driving under similar conditions. Given the new cylinder deactivation system, and the Sierra’s lighter weight, it seems the opposite of the intended effect is taking place.

Fuel economy ranked at the bottom of features favored by Sierra owners, and based on my experience with the 2019 Sierra Denali, it might remain at the bottom.   

Driving Dynamics

If you haven’t driven a modern pickup truck, you’ll be amazed at the transformation. Gone is the rough, bouncy, jarring ride quality of trucks past, replaced by the stiff, serene, composed ride of modern passenger cars.

The GMC Sierra is no exception, offering a quiet and compliant driving demeanor on the highway, and showing a modicum of willingness to dig into corners. Not that anyone would drive a full-size pickup as they might a small, sporty hatchback, but the Sierra wasn’t much fazed when tossed around urban corners, suburban on-ramps, or rural switchbacks.

No doubt, my Sierra Denali’s Adaptive Ride Control suspension came into play here. According to GMC, the Denali is the only pickup available with an adaptive suspension. Over neglected asphalt, it really smoothed out a lot of road’s roughness. The truck’s steering was direct and progressively weighted, and although the brakes could use a little more linearity, I got used to the pedal pretty quickly.

This is a big, honkin’ vehicle, and the Sierra never lets you forget it. As such, it’s best to think about your parking strategy when you need to stop at a crowded shopping center with compact parking spaces.

Final Impressions

If you need a full-size pickup for work or play, there’s no substitution for a full-size truck when it comes to utility and flexibility. And the new 2019 GMC Sierra 1500, especially in Denali trim, makes the job just a bit easier and more comfortable.

General Motors Co. supplied the vehicle used for this 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 review.

 

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