General Motors’ truck division — GMC — has for some time used the Alaska-inspired Denali name for the flashiest and most opulently equipped premium trucks. But 2011 marks the first time GMC has ever chiseled the Denali name into the metal of its toughest, work-oriented pickups, the 2500/3500 Heavy Duty lineup.
The Denali trim is available for the Sierra 2500 (3/4 ton) and 3500 (1 ton) series in the four-door Crew Cab body style only. You’ll know it’s a Denali trim by the four-bar chromed grille (standard Sierra HD pickups have three-bar grilles). The interior of Denali-trimmed Sierra HD is boosted with brushed-aluminum trim and 12-way adjustable front seats and power-adjustable pedals.
For a Sierra Denali 2500HD with 4-wheel drive like our tester and a gasoline V-8, the price is $45,865. A vital option for any heavy-duty pickup: a turbodiesel engine.
The GM-made Duramax V-8 diesel already was a formidable propulsion tool, but for 2011 it’s upgraded to a thunderous specification, in keeping with the diesel-engine battle GM, Ford and Chrysler have been waging for years. Duramax upgrades this year bring horsepower to 397 (from the previous 360 hp), but the important number, of course, is trailer- and load-tugging torque, and the revised Duramax churns out a concrete-crunching 765 lb.-ft. of torque.
The reason Detroit automakers continually try to upstage one another over diesel-engine power ratings rests mostly in bragging rights. The Duramax is a $7,195 option in the Sierra HD lineup — and this is the lowest-priced of the GM, Ford and Chrysler diesels.
The Duramax, coupled with the magnificent optional Allison 1000 6-speed automatic transmission, makes the Sierra 2500HD a beast with impeccable table manners. A little reluctant with power until fully warmed, the revised Duramax then runs surprisingly quiet for 6.6 liters of turbocharged diesel, is a claimed 11-percent more frugal in highway driving than before, and accelerates the three-and-half-ton Sierra Denali 2500 HD with flagrant ease.
With the Duramax, the Sierra Denali 2500 HD could be the ultimate do-anything limousine. The turbodiesel engine can cruise this 20-foot-long pickup at 90 mph while front and rear passengers converse in normal volumes (it doesn’t hurt that wind and road noise are acutely muted by the cabin’s soundproofing measures).
We’ve gotta give a shout out to the Allison 6-speed automatic. Tromp the pedal in the lower of its six gears, it cracks off the kind of quick and aggressive upshifts that wouldn’t be unacceptable in a big-money sport sedan. Lay off a little and the shifts remain firm and concise but now with the imperceptible modulation of a luxury car. This is a $1,200 option every Sierra HD buyer should select without hesitation.
This automatic transmission and more-efficient Duramax combine for good efficiency, too: this class of pickups isn’t required by the EPA to report fuel economy, but GMC claims a range of up to 680 miles from the 36-gallon fuel tank, meaning you could expect as much as 18 miles per gallon. In a week of driving all over — and hammering the Duramax most of the time — we could run through only three-quarters of the tank.
We could go on about the 2011 Sierra Denali 2500 HD’s unexpectedly agile handling (is that the revised independent front suspension we’re enjoying?) and the brilliance of the reworked brakes, but then you’d be thinking we weren’t really testing this truck for its truck-like capabilities. Truth be told, the biggest load we hauled was the 5-gallon kerosene jug over to the Quickie-Mart.
If you insist on using the Duramax-equipped Sierra Denali 2500HD for its intended workhorse purposes, this configuration can tow up to 13,000 pounds with the standard trailer hitch and more than eight tons with a fifth-wheel hookup. Payloads can run to almost 3,000 pounds. — Bill Visnic, Motor Matters