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  • Pickup Truck of the Year Winner: 2018 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali

Pickup Truck of the Year Winner: 2018 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali

Leather-Wrapped and Burning Rubber

Jered Korfhage
Dec 21, 2017
Photographers: Robert Guio
The ’18 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali earned a spot in our test this year, treating us to a leather-wrapped, heavy-hauling, tire-burning good time. The Denali was one of two diesel rigs in our lineup, with only the Ram 3500 as competition in the diesel-powered HD bracket. It was the Denali’s new diesel powerplant that secured the truck’s eligibility in this year’s test, as the L5P Duramax is completely new and redesigned, sharing little more than displacement with the outgoing LML. To address the elephant, the L5P-eqipped Sierra was technically new for ’17, but GM couldn’t provide us an example in time for last year’s test due to late production, therefore its eligibility carried over to this year.
Let’s talk numbers. Our Denali’s 6.6L V-8 led the fleet in horsepower, churning out 445 hp and 915 lb-ft of tire-burning torque. All this power was transferred to the ground through an Allison six-speed automatic transmission. We found “Most fun to do burnouts!” scrawled in one logbook, a testament to the powertrain’s ample performance in reserve. The Duramax Plus package, which included the L5P engine, chrome recovery hooks (we’ll talk about those later), and heated towing mirrors, added $9,550 to the base price of the Denali, bringing our total price-as-tested to $71,035. While that may seem steep, that’s just the price you pay for the HD diesel life these days.
Photo 2/23   |   The ’18 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali displayed a level of poise, composure, and competence in each of our judged categories. Being a one-trick-pony doesn’t bode well for our test; it’s an all-around good showing to take home the hardware.
Stepping inside, the Denali is a luxurious experience—almost too much in some aspects. The authentic leather offered tones of cocoa and dark sand, accented by nearly 100 feet (yes, we measured) of bold stitching. We just hope the leather is as resistant to scuffs and tears as it was pleasant to look at. Our other interior niggle stems from the leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is off-center and tilted a few degrees, so your left arm is forced to reach just a tiny bit farther than your right. Most of us got used to that idiosyncrasy in minutes, while one to-be-unnamed judge continued his gripes long after testing ended.
Interior usability and storage is also impressive. With both rear seats folded up vertically, we guesstimate that two upright bicycles could fit comfortably behind the driver. That, or all your carry-on luggage with ease. And the column-mounted shifter opened up plenty of room in the center console and armrest cubby to store clipboards, cameras, and all the Dr. Pepper we could drink. Speaking of the center console, for those with phones that support wireless charging, a pad located on the top of the console provides just that.
Photo 3/23   |   2018 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Interior
GMC’s Intellilink infotainment system is often lauded as one of the best in the business, but some of our slightly Luddite judges were turned off by the abundance of knobs and buttons in the cab. The infotainment center was relatively simple and provided a reliable mobile 4G-LTE internet hotspot. Some judges became slightly frustrated when it came time to punch a destination into the navigation; autocorrect on the keypad seemed to have different dinner plans than we did at times. Several judges also had a difficult time getting Apple CarPlay to function consistently, but we’re not ready to blame the vehicle for this issue—yet. Overall, despite the feelings of the minority, the Intellilink system was among the best of the bunch. Our Denali also came rigged with cameras aiding in backup, parking, and hitching, but lacked the optional trailering camera system.
Our crew was divided when it came to the truck’s tow mirrors, with one judge noting, “Hard to see the curb over these elephant ears!” while another logged, “The Sierra’s mirrors are the best towing mirrors I’ve ever used.” No matter which side of the mirror debate you’re on, everyone agreed that towing is where the Denali excelled. Before we punished the truck with a payload, acceleration was bold and locomotive-smooth, and neither quality degraded with a loaded bed or trailer in tow. We don’t think the truck even noticed the 10,000-pound trailer behind it, even when grinding up a 6-percent grade. We maintained full control of the trailer downhill by utilizing the built-in exhaust brake, which held our speed easily and was agreeable all the while. Coupled with the GMC’s Grade Braking function, the Sierra was as competent descending a grade as climbing it. Not even our extreme towing duties were enough to break the near silence of the Duramax engine. Stopped at a red light, it’s easy to forget the truck is even running.
Photo 4/23   |   2018 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Burnout
We don’t expect owners of a Sierra 2500HD to use it as a dedicated off-road machine, and we probably wouldn’t recommend it, either. That said, this truck can play in the dirt almost as nicely as it does in front of a trailer. The independent suspension in the front was enough to quiet most of the rumbles from the grapefruit-sized rocks and washboards we encountered, but the truck still handled like a 3/4-ton should off the pavement, which is on the clunky side. With a couple tires hovering above the dirt teeter-totter–style, we were able to navigate steep ruts with relative ease thanks to the well-programmed traction control that didn’t kill all forward momentum. The Sierra even came outfitted with Rancho off-road shocks and GM’s automatic-locking rear differential. Ultimately, however, the truck’s stiff ride had the local chiropractors salivating at the opportunity to adjust our jostled spines when the trail days were over. If there’s one thing we wished the 2500HD shared with the 1500 Denali, it’s the smaller’s MagneRide magnetic ride control shocks. Or a set of DSSVs—just sayin’.
We found skidplates beneath the Denali’s radiator and transfer case to protect the important bits in the event that the local geology got a bit too close. However, we were not as impressed by the truck’s front-mounted hooks. Yes, they were blinged out in chrome, but as soon as they become necessary, they are recessed so far into the bumper so that any recovery straying a few degrees from straight ahead threatens to damage the fragile plastic panels.
Our test truck also impressed us with storage flexibility. The 6.5-foot bed was not only protected from the factory by the standard spray-on bedliner but was made more accessible by the corner steps molded into the bumper. Some of our trucks were optioned with steps that fold down when needed, but we liked how GMC’s solution was always ready to use and at the same time out of the way when not necessary. The truck’s bed also featured outstanding LED lighting in the cargo box, illuminating the bed from back to front when light is scarce. Adjustable tie-downs made securing cargo simple. And for those looking to tow a larger trailer, GMC has made a gooseneck hitch standard as well.
Photo 5/23   |   2018 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali
Aside from the staggering price tag, we are hard-pressed to find any drastic flaws in the ’18 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali’s armor. Its swell of torque and stout heavy-duty frame prove it’s purpose-built for heavy loads, while GMC’s “Professional Grade” creature comforts were much appreciated on highway trips. Plus, the Sierra 2500HD’s styling is aging very gracefully, with an appropriately bold chrome grille, modern LED lighting accents, and an L5P-specific functional hoodscoop. Combine that with the ability to tolerate the occasional jaunt away from manicured asphalt and you’ve got a fantastic all-around pickup.
With a long list of numbers-based wins and an equally impressive amount of subjective praise, there’s just no beating this GMC for our 2018 Pickup Truck of the Year title.
WE LIKE: Class-leading horsepower. Incredible speed and agility for such a large truck. Great overall fuel economy. Comfortable and quiet cabin accommodations. Well-thought-out towing and hauling provisions. Ease of roasting the rear tires like the juveniles we are.
WE DON’T LIKE: Rough ride off-road. Offset and canted steering wheel. Sometimes-unagreeable navigation and CarPlay.

2018 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali

Base Price: $58,945
Price As Tested: $71,035
Trim: Denali
EPA Fuel Econ (City/HWY/Comb): NA
Engine: 6.6L Duramax V-8
Horsepower: 445 @ 2,800 rpm
Torque: 910 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Allison automatic
Accel 0-60 MPH: 7.93 seconds
Quarter-Mile: 15.85 seconds @ 90.67 mph
Braking 60-0 MPH: 156.50 feet
Accel 0-60 (Payload): 8.32 seconds
Quarter-Mile (Payload): 16.04 seconds @ 86.50 mph
Braking 60-0 MPH (Payload): 153.43 feet
Accel 0-60 (Towing): 14.54 seconds
Quarter-Mile (Towing): 19.70 seconds @ 71.77 mph
Weight: 7,779 pounds
Interior Decibel Level (at 60 MPH): 62.0
Tested Fuel Econ (Average/Best): 15.32/19.87
*2,200 pounds of payload **10,000-pound trailer weight

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