Particulate Matters: 2017 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali
Right Truck for the Wrong Turn
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?!
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.
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.
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.