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2016 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

Best of the Best

Feb 9, 2016
Photographers: Robert Guio
The 2016 Pickup Truck of the Year test proved to be a difficult one for our judges, but not for the reasons that you’re probably thinking. By now you’ve likely picked up on the fact that there wasn’t a bad truck in the test. Each participant excelled throughout the entire week, leaving our judges to wonder which would rise to the top when the dust finally settled. With all of the scores tabulated, it was the ’16 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali that took home the highest honor and earned the title of Pickup Truck of the Year.
GMC’s Sierra 1500 Denali entered our test with a significantly refreshed front fascia, featuring a new hood, grille, bumper, and LED head and fog lights. The truck’s traditionally pampering interior received an update for ’16 as well. Stuffed under the hood was an EcoTec3 6.2L V-8 engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Throughout the test, these updates—and the Sierra’s long list of features—continually impressed the judges.
Interior Appointments
Photo 2/12   |   56 2016 GMC Sierra Denali Front Seats
Upon sliding into the Sierra Denali, occupants are immediately greeted with amenities that were once reserved for only the finest of European luxury cars. Seating throughout is appointed in premium perforated leather, and the driver and front passenger are both treated to 12-way adjustable seats that are both heated and ventilated. Dual-density foam is used to provide both comfort and support. For those cold winter mornings, the steering wheel is also heated. Real aluminum trim on the dash, steering wheel, doors, and center console are just one example of the premium materials used. Speaking of the dash, soft touch material with contrast stitching is used to cap off the luxurious feel.
There’s not much that wears on a person more than a loud cabin. In an effort to provide the quietest experience possible, GMC has employed several techniques to quiet the ride. Triple-sealed doors and aerodynamic mirrors help keep wind noise where it belongs: outside. To reduce perceived vibration, shear and hydraulic body mounts are used, along with hydraulic engine mounts. A valved exhaust system reduces engine noise while at cruising speed, and Active Noise Cancelation works through the Bose stereo to eliminate whatever’s left.
Exterior Styling
Photo 3/12   |   07 2016 GMC Sierra Denali Headlights
The most notable updates for ’16 are found on the outside of the Sierra Denali. All of the exterior lighting has been upgraded and is now fully equipped with LED technology. The front end features GMC’s signature LED daytime running lights, high-performance LED headlights, and new thin-profile LED fog lights. Out back, the taillights are also new and LED, along with the center high-mounted stoplight and in-bed lighting. Along with the updated lighting, the Sierra Denali also received a newly restyled front bumper, three-bar chrome grille, and sculpted hood to complete its signature look. Ultra-bright 20-inch machined-aluminum wheels, body-color bumpers, and chrome door handles, mirrors, and side moldings are also unique to Denali. Our tester also came equipped with GMC’s new Tri-Mode power steps, which extend both out for entry and back for reaching into the pickup’s bed. These were a big hit with our judges. And speaking of bed, the Sierra Denali comes standard with a spray-in bed liner with an embossed Denali logo at the front of the bed.
Technologically Advanced
Photo 4/12   |   58 2016 GMC Sierra Denali Instrument Cluster
To help you stay connected and in control, the Sierra Denali offers a whole host of next-generation safety, security, and infotainment technology. The 8-inch color touchscreen features GM’s IntelliLink, which utilizes natural language voice commands to control nearly every aspect of its functionality. While the IntelliLink system seamlessly integrates your smart phone, audio sources, and provides navigation, Apple Car Play and Android Auto (soon) are also available. Our judges, being mostly iPhone owners, were mixed on the usefulness of Car Play, though it’s still in the infant stages and sure to add more features as time goes on. Speaking of iPhones, the Sierra Denali also features a wireless charging pad built into the center console lid. Being that none of our judges has a compatible Android device, this was one feature we never got to test. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot is provided through the vehicles OnStar service, and we were continually impressed with its service when used. However, at a cost of between $15 and $50 a month, we have a hard time finding the value when comparable data packages can be had for less from your cellular service provider.
From a safety standpoint, our Sierra was equipped with state-of-the-art driver alert and assistance features. Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning helps keep the driver from unintentionally drifting into another lane by reading the lines on the ground with cameras mounted under the side view mirrors. The truck uses light steering input via its electronic steering assist to gently correct the wander. Fortunately, if you would rather not have the intrusion, it can be shut off via a dash-mounted switch. This system’s function is so unobtrusive that none of our testers felt the need the disable it. Also present is Forward Collision Alert, which provides an audible and tactile (seat vibration) alert when the truck feels a collision is imminent. We saw this feature work at odd times when there was no danger of a crash, so the jury is still out on its functionality in the real world. However, we’re not willing to test it to its fullest either. IntelliBeam technology automatically turns the high beam headlights on and off depending on traffic conditions, and parking assist sensors alert the driver to hazards in front of and behind the truck when parking with a gentle rumble of the seat and indicators on the dash. Our crew was so used to the audible beeping when parking that not having it present in the Sierra took a bit of getting used to for most.
Behind The Wheel
Photo 5/12   |   90 2016 GMC Sierra Denali Rear Three Quarter
This is where things get really fun. Tucked away under the Sierra’s hood was a powerful 6.2L V-8 engine. With 420 hp on tap, and 460 lb-ft of torque, the Sierra was our judges’ undeniable choice for most fun to drive. The rear tires were on borrowed time when things got a little juvenile, as they were no match for a heavy right foot. Merging and passing are made effortless, and any sort of grade is simply laughed at. Part of the magic lies in the eight-speed automatic transmission, which was new for the ’15 model year. For our 2015 Pickup Truck of the Year, we tested the Chevrolet version of this engine and transmission combination, and at the time, there was still a lot of work to be done. Fast forward a year and it would appear that the brains at GM have finally gotten things dialed in. None of the odd shifting, banging, or vibrations felt last year were present during this year’s test. The transmission shifts smoothly and quickly, and it’s predictable even under heavy acceleration and with a load in tow. In our instrumented track testing the Sierra Denali hit the fastest speed we’ve ever recorded in the quarter mile, bumping into its speed limiter at 97.83 mph. It also recorded a 0-60 time of just 6.60 seconds, verifying that the seat-of-the-pants acceleration feel truly was impressive.
While the engine’s power was impressive, equally so was the fuel economy it was able to return. Thanks in part to the truck’s cylinder deactivation technology, we saw an average of 16.11 mpg over the course of our test, with a best tank of over 19 mpg. We’re confident that if driven normally the rated 21 mpg on the highway is not only attainable but even a bit conservative. The Sierra’s highway ride is phenomenal. Standard on Denali, a magnetic ride control system senses variations in road conditions and constantly adjusts shock dampening for precise control and a consistently smooth ride over uneven terrain. This, combined with the luxurious interior, made the Sierra Denali our judge’s truck of choice for long highway slogs. Since trucks are meant to do work we loaded the bed up with rubber mats equaling the truck’s full rated payload weight of 1,400 pounds (minus 200 pounds for the driver of course) and again hit the track. This time we clocked in a 0-60 mph time of about one second slower at 7.63 seconds. As our judges rotated through, each taking a turn driving the truck loaded, they all tested acceleration, handling, and braking on our closed course. Reviews were very positive as the truck handled the load with relative ease, as one would expect.
The Sierra Denali feels right at home with a trailer in tow as well. Built-in trailer sway control helps to prevent uncontrolled trailer sway through use of the vehicle and trailer brakes, and an integrated trailer brake controller gives precise control and monitoring of the trailer’s brakes right in the instrument cluster. To test these features we loaded our 24-foot car hauler with 75 percent of the Sierra’s rated maximum of 9,100 pounds, which works out to 6,845 pounds (rounded to the nearest hundred pounds in relation to our trailer’s empty weight). Acceleration degraded slightly but still put down a respectable 13.01 second 0-60 time. The truck’s rear suspension sagged more than most under the weight of our trailer’s tongue, however this can easily be rectified with a weight-distributing hitch. Our team of judges loved the power output for accelerating with the load from a stop, merging into traffic, and passing. However, they weren’t as thrilled with the ride quality, handling, and directional stability with the trailer in tow, due in part to the effects of the tongue weight coupled with the truck’s relatively soft suspension.
Off The Highway
Photo 6/12   |   38 2016 GMC Sierra Denali On Trail
Off-road is still a big part of our Pickup Truck of the Year test. Despite what others might say, the majority of owners still use their trucks to recreate in some way, shape, or form. It’s true, the Sierra Denali is geared more towards the highway life. However, it still comes with an Eaton automatic-locking differential in the rear and hill-descent control. Our testers noted a lack of ground clearance being the biggest detriment, second only to the street-oriented tires (one of which we unfortunately punctured during an off-road outing) and 20-inch wheels. Overall the truck worked well in the sand, rocks, dirt, and snow. That said, we’d suggest sticking to pavement and graded dirt roads with this one lest you desire to get an expensive detailing after each outing.
Final Thoughts
Throughout the course of our test, the ’16 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali continually impressed all that encountered it. If asked at the beginning of the week which pickup would ultimately take home the prize, the Sierra likely wouldn’t have been it. However, as time rolled on and the Sierra starting showing just what it had to offer, it became abundantly clear that what GMC had entered was not only an excellent truck but also a formidable contender. The Sierra Denali has the right mix of elegant exterior styling, class-leading interior comfort, advanced technology, and the drivetrain performance. Only one truck could claim the title of 2016 Pickup Truck of the Year, and we’re excited to give that distinction to the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali.
WE LIKE: Outstanding power from the 6.2L V-8 engine. Interior is quiet and refined. Exterior styling is sophisticated and modern. Fuel economy rivals that of the smaller-engined 1/2-tons. Front-row appeal at the valet. Relaxing freeway ride.
WE DON’T LIKE: Handling worsens when hitched to a trailer. No rear seat heaters. $60k and no adaptive cruise control. Soft suspension results in significant body roll with payload. High price of entry discourages off-roading or dirty work.
LEAD IMAGE: The GMC Sierra 1500 Denali brings high-end luxury to the pickup market both inside and out. And it does this without giving up the performance and capabilities that are important to truck owners.
Photo 7/12   |   59 2016 GMC Sierra Denali Engine
2016 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali
Base Price: $53,565
Price As Tested: $60,965
EPA Fuel Econ (City/HWY/Comb): 15/21/17
Engine: 6.2L EcoTec3 V-8
Horsepower: 420 @ 3,000 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Accel 0-60 MPH: 6.60 seconds
Quarter Mile: 15.03 seconds @ 97.83 mph
Braking 60-0 MPH: 128.59 ft
Accel 0-60 (Payload): 7.63 seconds*
Quarter Mile (Payload): 15.95 seconds @ 92.43 mph*
Accel 0-60 (Towing): 13.01 seconds**
Quarter Mile (Towing): 19.60 seconds @ 75.60 mph**
Weight: 5,753 lbs
Tested Fuel Econ (Average/Best): 16.11/19.06
*1,400 pounds of payload **6,845-pound trailer weight