A Solid Choice Among Pickup Trucks?

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2016 GMC Sierra 1500

I learned a lot from driving full-sized pickup trucks.

It is important to consider how important this segment is to the automotive industry in this country. These big work machines yield a lot of profit for their manufacturers. They also provide a combination of capacity, capability and comfort – especially in today's trucks.

Today's truck customer has a wide choice to select from. It is not just about brand, engine, final drive, weight and towing capacity anymore. It is about lifestyle, as dictated by the many trim options available on these trucks. Do you want a cowboy motif? Or, do you want as much luxury as the car you have in the garage? Would you rather just have a work truck with minimal amenities because you really don't need them where you usually go?

These are themes I often address in prior reviews. They also affirm the state of the truck business – give the people what they want – including retail and commercial customers alike. Heck, give them everything, if they so desire.

GMC was one of the brands that have accomplished that. Their Denali series added a level of luxury not particularly thought of in a pickup truck. Even when a customer chooses a Sierra Denali, there are still choices to make in engines, drivelines, weight and towing packages.

2016 GMC Sierra SLT 4X4

As other brands and manufacturers follow suit in making luxury trucks more opulent than the Sierra Denali, GMC is a brand that people still wonder about its existence. In the past few years, those questions have been quelled by two pieces of the brand's puzzle: It's alignment with Buick for retail sales and the expansion of the Denali sub-brand. In fact, most Buick-GMC dealers continue to sell more than double the number of Sierra pickups than any given Buick product.

Although it is still muted, the question of GMC's existence persists. Some still argue the point of making both the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado from almost exactly the same frame, power lineup and basic design. I will argue this: Though we can tear down both pickup trucks right to its frame and compare components, body panels and such, GMC has made strides to distinguish itself from Chevrolet.

Prove it, you say? Fine! That is why I brought in a 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT with four-wheel drive to see for myself whether my argument still holds water…in the box of the truck, of course!

Indeed, the GMC Sierra is distinct from the Chevrolet Silverado in a few places. Look at the headlamp units, taillights, badging and grille. The rest are just minute details to distinguish "Professional Grade" from the "New Face of Strong." It may look "boxy," but I will state that it is the most straightforward truck in the market. No fancy lines, angles, shapes or grille treatments. This is progress from the days when only the nameplate differentiated from its Chevy stablemate.

My tester came in a crew cab and a short box, which is the current standard bearer of pickups these days. You can configure a GMC in any cab/box combination you want, which will enable a greater payload rating and tow capacity that fits your needs.

2016 GMC Sierra SLT 4X4

Once inside the cab, there are a few distinctive points that GMC made for their trucks. The SLT's leather upholstery is unique. The red accents in the instrument binnacle and on the IntelliLink screen are unique to the GMC. It is still a General Motors truck – and, that is a good thing. Interior quality is better than before, ergonomics is much better, as are the switches and logic. Importantly, the cabin feels up to snuff with the competition, with better ergonomic points than its rivals.

What you do actually get in the Sierra is a full compliment of gauges in the instrument binnacle, along with a comprehensive Driver Information screen. The IntelliLink screen is perfectly positioned to the right of the driver – a very good infotainment system that has quick Bluetooth pairing and a multitude of infotainment options available to everyone on board. Bose provides easy listening around the cabin with excellent speaker position and playback quality.

It is easy to find a good driving position in the Sierra. Passengers have plenty of room up front along with a big center console with a lot of storage available. One thing that the GMC lacks in comparison to its competition is in rear seat space in the crew cab. It is just right – not overblown with limousine-like space. GM understands that you do not need to have a huge cabin to sell trucks – just one where adults can sit in the back seat without fatigue. In all, the Sierra is a comfortable pickup truck to drive.

If one had to find an advantage to owning a GMC above the rest of the full-sized pickup truck contingent, it would be OnStar. It goes beyond just the OnStar button and the services it offers – from live accident reporting, theft recovery and navigation assist features. It is also the 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity. You can to connect up to seven devices in and around the vehicle and provide great uplink using a mobile carrier. This is not only great for contractors needing to connect with headquarters by sending jobsite reports, but for those of us trying to stay occupied on long journeys…meaning, those of us who are passengers.

2016 GMC Sierra SLT 4X4

Powering our tester is GM's 5.3 Liter EcoTec3 V8 engine. With 355 horsepower on tap, this V8 responds extremely well to the throttle. The most important number to note is the torque: 383 pound-feet. That is a sign of pure V8 performance, especially when it comes to hauling. A new eight-speed automatic transmission feeds power via a two-speed transfer case to a solid four-wheel drive system. This particular Sierra 1500 is good for a payload rating of 1,730 pounds with a maximum trailering capacity of 9,100 pounds. That new transmission is smooth and efficient, yielding a fuel economy average of 17.9 MPG.

Some trucks want you to think that they can ride like cars…rather crossovers/SUVs. In truth, the Sierra rides smooth and absorb bumps extremely well. Cornering is controlled, unless you push it to the limit. Expect the cab and box to stay tight together on one of the sturdiest frames in the business. The frame is designed to reduce frame flex when driving on uneven surfaces.

Compared to other pickup trucks, the GMC's steering wheel is smaller in diameter. That means better control of a very good and precise steering system. On-center feel is good with great reaction and response from the wheel down to the road. Brakes are good, also with solid stopping power overall. Normal and panic stops result in quick brake response without going into the anti-lock system.

A basic GMC Sierra 1500 starts with a base price of $27,715. This SLT Crew Cab 4X4 came with a sticker price of $55,050. For reference, a similarly equipped Sierra 1500 Denali will run you $61,185.

With the continuous success of the Sierra, GMC holds a firm place in where it should be in the market. It is a solid product that holds up against its competitors by giving their customers something special to work and live with. It is a good product and will hold up well in terms of long term durability.

2016 GMC Sierra SLT 4X4

What have I learned about this pickup? It makes things tougher for me when I am asked which one I would prefer. Each full-sized, half-ton pickup offers its own set of competencies and advantages over the next product. The GMC Sierra 1500 is best at being a solid pickup. That is perhaps the best way to describe this truck.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by General Motors

All photos by Randy Stern

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