2011 GMC Sierra HD Trucks Gain Capability, New Denali

November 20, 2010/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS TRUCK TALK BY TIM SPELL

Capability through chassis and powertrain engineering is the big story for GMC’s re-engineered 2011 Sierra heavy-duty pickups, but skin-deep beauty is addressed, too, with the new-for-2011 Denali HD. This is the first offering of GMC’s uplevel Denali line on a heavy-duty pickup.
This Denali special packaging is available on 3500HD and 2500HD crew cab models. The test truck is a 2500HD, only offered as a Denali in a 4×4, crew cab, standard box configuration. Standard vehicle pricing is $45,865, but buyers can pump up the options to elevate the price — along with capability, looks and convenience — of this high-content truck.
There’s no doubting the test truck is a special offering, clad in glossy Onyx Black paint (Stealth Gray Metallic and Summit White also are available) and wearing a distinctive Denali four-bar grille. The beefy grille has a chrome surround and horizontal chrome bars that are elegantly peppered with small oval air inlets. A large red GMC logo bridges the centers of the two middle bars.
Below is a body-colored bumper (along with a color-keyed rear bumper), and a lower fascia with round fog lights and an opening filled with chrome texture matching the grille’s.
Chrome accents contrast with the black body, adding to the upscale Denali flavor. Chrome door handles, side molding and polished forged-aluminum wheels increase Denali dazzle. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, and the test truck rolls on 20-inchers, which are an $850 option. The tall 4×4 is fitted with much-needed 6-inch tubular chrome assist steps, a dealer-installed option adding $689 to the price tag.
Other chrome accents — chrome strips on the twin raised hood louvers — indicate a Duramax 6.6-liter V-8 turbo diesel sits beneath. The Duramax diesel is a $7,195 option, and its strengthened Allison six-speed automatic transmission mate bumps up the price $1,200.
The Duramax unleashes 397 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 765 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,600 rpm. It’s estimated that with the 36-gallon tank full, the pickup can cruise on the highway up to 680 miles.
Standard Denali power is via a Vortec 6.0-liter V-8 gas engine. It pairs with an upgraded version of the Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission. The 6.0-liter moves the pickups with 360 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 380 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm.
More-substantial fully boxed frames, and stronger front and rear suspensions contribute to higher towing and payload ratings for gas and diesel engines.
Maximum conventional-hitch towing for a gas-powered 4×4 2500HD crew cab with standard box is — with 3.73/4.10 axle ratios — 9,400/13,000 pounds. A fifth-wheel hitch boosts the rating to 9,400/13,900 pounds. Payload capacity is 3,123 pounds.
A Duramax-equipped Sierra 4×4 2500HD crew cab, regular-box pickup’s towing capacity is 13,000 (3.73 axle ratio) pounds with a conventional ball hitch and up to 16,700 pounds with a fifth-wheel hitch. Maximum payload is 2,792 pounds.
Along with improved workhorse capability, the 2011 Sierra HD offers excellent handling and ride quality for a big truck. Bringing the powerful Sierra HD to a stop is a more-efficient process with larger brakes. Rotors, front and rear, have grown to 14 inches and calipers are beefier. Noticeable is a solid pedal feel and low braking effort.
Standard with the Duramax is a driver-selectable exhaust brake system.

2011 GMC Sierra HD Truck

An advantage of this “smart” exhaust brake system is that it works in sync with the cruise control.
Other available features contributing to enhanced control are trailer sway control, integrated trailer brake control, hill start assist, automatic grade braking and intelligent brake assist.
The Duramax runs quietly, and sitting within the well-insulated five-place cabin there’s only a slight hint of traditional diesel sound.
Those sitting in the leather-clad front buckets have the convenience of 12-way power seat adjustability, power lumbar control, and heated cushions and seatbacks. The test truck ups the ante with a $650 option allowing front seats to be cooled as well. Giving the driver even more control over body positioning are standard two-position seat memory and power-adjustable pedals.
The Denali’s steering wheel has a premium look and feel with a leather grip, which has a front portion of the rim ringed in wood grain. A heated steering wheel is offered for $150. Wood grain inlay and Denali-specific brushed-aluminum trim adorn the interior.
A Bose premium audio system is standard, and the test truck is equipped with a rearview camera, with images appearing on the screen of its optional $2,250 navigation system.
Rear seating is a 60/40-split-folding configuration, with cushions that can be lifted with one hand — providing extra space for cargo. Headroom and legroom are excellent for passengers in the rear compartment.
Fitting for GMC’s new top-line HD pickup, the test truck is fitted with a power sunroof. This option contributes $850 to the pickup’s $61,189 drive-out price. — Tim Spell, Motor Matters

(Tim Spell is automotive editor for the Houston Chronicle InMotion section.)

2011 GMC Sierra HD Truck Exterior