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  • Particulate Matters: 2017 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali

Particulate Matters: 2017 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali

Right Truck for the Wrong Turn

KJ Jones
Apr 25, 2017
Photographers: KJ Jones, Jim Fets
While I’m privileged to be editor of Diesel Power and have an opportunity each month to share my opinions, thoughts, and experiences with all of you through this column, I’m also truly lucky that I’m able to pen this particular editorial. Well, the good fortune actually applies to everything I’ve done since Wednesday, February 14, 2017.
I say this because on that day, Valentine’s Day (“The Love Holiday” at my house), driving 30 miles off course (we weren’t paying attention to the mapped-out route we were supposed to follow) and then electing to make a wrong turn (it seemed like the right thing to do at the time) escalated into an expedition that at times had me, Ryan ZumMallen of trucks.com, and Tom Dye, lead development engineer for GM’s Heavy-Duty Trucks division, wondering to ourselves: Are we ever gonna make it out of this mess—alive?!
Photo 2/19   |   GMC’s drive event kicked off from the beautiful Lumiere ski resort in Telluride, Colorado. Our truck for the cruise was a Deep Garnet Metallic ’17 Sierra 2500HD Denali. I was joined by Ryan ZumMallen of trucks.com and Tom Dye, the lead production engineer for GM’s Heavy-Duty Trucks Division.
The incident happened during what was supposed to be a simple, 150-mile drive from Telluride, Colorado, to Moab, Utah, and the mess I’m referring to was 15 miles of the muddiest, slipperiest, most precarious, single-lane, non-paved “road” I’ve ever navigated. The mostly uphill route was so remote and the altitude so high that cell, satellite, and any other mobile communication devices didn’t stand a chance. It was a path on which there was literally no turning around and going back, and one that ultimately left us counting on our wits and the much-ballyhooed capability of GMC’s four-wheel-drive ’17 Sierra 2500HD Denali pickup and its heralded 6.6L Duramax L5P/Allison six-speed automatic engine/transmission combination to get us through...in one collective piece.
Photo 3/19   |   “The plan” was to follow a predetermined route between Telluride, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, with a stop in Paradox, Utah, where we would hook the rig up to different trailers to experience the Sierra Denali’s towing and braking capability on 6 percent grades. It was a clear, sunny day…What could go wrong? Keep reading.
Basically, we were on a seldom-used, unmaintained dirt road that had eroded into a thick muck, thanks to recent snowmelt. If I had to bet on it, I’d say the road certainly doesn’t experience vehicles the size of our 6,532-pound Sierra Denali on any regular basis, and I think even the most adventurous people out there might have second and third thoughts about attempting to traverse it on a quad or in a high-tech side-by-side. And, let me add, our Deep Garnet Metallic rig was outfitted with 265/60R20 all-season tires, not the all-terrain or off-road mud handlers that might have given it a better chance in the 6-inch-thick mud we slid over and slogged through for nearly 4 hours.
It’s normal for manufacturer-provided trucks used on media drives to be high-end models loaded with standard bells and whistles, as well as almost every optional feature available. Our ’17 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali’s cabin featured obligatory leather seats, a host of additional high-tech creature comforts, and exterior hotness that included a functional hood scoop and blinging chrome treatments from stem to stern.
Our original task was to cover a predetermined course and gather impressions on everything the truck offers—on the road, where it drives like a dream and offers ride quality and comfort that parallels many high-line sedans. We would also hook the rig up to loaded trailers (enclosed car hauler, fifth-wheel RV, open quad carrier, and such) and drag them up and down the 6 percent inclines of Paradox, Utah, for a somewhat-real-world experience with the Sierra’s towing and braking ability.
Photo 4/19   |   This altitude measurement, taken while we still had functioning cell service and GPS, is on the “low end” of our journey. Thanks to our misdirection, we ascended well above 10,000 feet in our effort to get back on course. Tom’s phone is sitting on a pad in the center console that actually charges devices’ batteries. It’s just one of many cool creature comforts standard in GMC’s Sierra Denali pickups.
Unfortunately, none of that happened. Well, at least not for our trio. However, while our misdirection caused us to miss the towing portion of the program (the majority of our group was long gone from Checkpoint Charlie by the time we arrived), the drive actually confirmed for us that the high-line Sierra Denali can definitely get it done off-road, a position we’re pretty sure the GMC media relations team never fathomed its rig would be in on February 14, 2017. It was the focal point of a drama that could have been a lot worse, had it not been for everyone’s (Ryan’s, Tom’s, and my own) ability to maintain our cool and think things out, plus the unassuming truck’s power, drivetrain, suspension, and braking that never let us down—no matter how dire the situation became.
Photo 5/19   |   Particulate Matters 2017 Gmc Sierra 2500hd Denali Front
Photo 6/19   |   Particulate Matters 2017 Gmc Sierra 2500hd Denali View
Photo 7/19   |   Particulate Matters 2017 Gmc Sierra 2500hd Denali Interior
Photo 8/19   |   Although we deemed the red rocks area where these photos were taken to be “perfect” for beauty shots, at this point we were roughly 30 miles off course. The ’17 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali sure is a good looking-rig—outside, inside, and, as far as we’re concerned, under the hood, where the 445hp/910–lb-ft 6.6L Duramax L5P V-8 engine resides.
Photo 9/19   |   Particulate Matters 2017 Gmc Sierra 2500hd Denali Mud
Photo 10/19   |   Our attempt to get back on track failed dramatically when we took a wrong turn and wound up on a non-descript dirt road that had literally become a mud bog thanks to melting snow. While this muck was as thick as 8 inches deep in some places, the combination of our problem-solving teamwork, driving skill, and the Sierra Denali’s off-road suspension (which features Rancho shocks), 4.10 gears, and four-wheel-drive moxie kept us making slow progress through 15 miles of this extreme terrain.
Photo 11/19   |   At this juncture, we’re about 11,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by mud, there’s no turning back, and neither the truck’s satellite communications features (OnStar) or our cell phones are working. And let me add, we had a few bottles of water, and the only food onboard was two packs of M&Ms and a couple of energy bars.
Photo 12/19   |   Particulate Matters Road Construction
Photo 13/19   |   Road construction was a major part of our effort to make it back to civilization before nightfall. With the truck’s all-season tires encased in mud, we laid down rock paths to help gain traction and get out of several predicaments (like climbing the soft, muddy incline you see in the photo) we encountered in the 4 hours we were off the grid.
Photo 14/19   |   Particulate Matters 2017 Gmc Sierra 2500hd Denali Hill Descent
Photo 15/19   |   After finally reaching the summit of our detour (I estimate we were somewhere around 12,000 feet), the trip downhill was just as treacherous. With Tom behind the wheel, we crawled down the dirt grade, back and forth, through a seemingly endless series of switchbacks—on a path that was just wide enough for the truck’s four wheels. As we were literally riding on the edge of the mountain we were descending, the rig’s standard exhaust brake, antilock brakes, and optional hill-descent-control system were in full effect and never failed.
Photo 16/19   |   Particulate Matters 2017 Gmc Sierra 2500hd Denali Muck Side Mirror
Photo 17/19   |   Particulate Matters 2017 Gmc Sierra 2500hd Denali Muck
Photo 18/19   |   Though tired, dirty, and pretty hungry, our crew was all smiles upon finally arriving (very late, but safely nonetheless) to the trip’s midway point at Paradox, Utah.
Photo 19/19   |   It’s hard to believe this is the same ’17 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali that was plastered with mud just one day earlier. Yes, our rig cleaned up very nicely. Beneath this beautiful surface is one tough pickup truck. I can personally attest to that.

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