GMC doesn’t deny that the 2014 Sierra is mechanically identical to the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. There’s really no reason to since the trucks have been intertwined for a long time. Even with that, GMC engineers, PR folk, and marketing experts must grow weary of fielding questions about what makes the Sierra different from the Silverado.

One of the best analogies we heard was that while a Timex, Rolex, and Tag Heuer all tell time, they all have different customers and evoke different ideas about the products themselves. While that may be true, what literally makes each one tick is different. We see the Sierra and Silverado more like different watch models -- sporty versus dressy, for instance -- from the same company. The same internals, but each has a different attitude.

Driving the 2014 GMC Sierra reinforced all of the opinions we had of the new Silverado. The truck’s cabin is wonderfully quiet, which can be attributed to the decision to switch to triple-sealed inlaid doors. That plus redesigned side mirrors and some other tricks that reduce wind noise proved quite effective.

The work that went into making the cabin quieter paid off in another way -- it made it easier to hear the 5.3-liter V-8 as we drove the 4WD Z71 SLT crew cab up the California coast, both with and without a trailer. After using the rearview camera to line the up the back of the truck with a 23-foot-long Airstream, we hooked up the camper, set the gain on the trailer brake controller, put the transmission in Tow/Haul mode, and set out for the campground.

Having a lane departure warning feature came in really handy while driving on the 101. The Airstream weighed about 5500 pounds, which was well within the towing capacity of the Sierra (max towing is 11,500 pounds with the 5.3-liter, 9600 pounds as tested), but when you’re towing a trailer that’s longer than the truck through a narrow construction zone, having something like that is certainly helpful. When a driver does drift out of a lane, instead of a startling beep, you feel pulses in the safety seat, which is an effective way to alert the driver without scaring them.

The engine provided plenty of power for the drive, working well with the six-speed automatic. We wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were an eight-speed in the Silverado and Sierra’s future, as it seems the industry is moving in that direction, but the truck is still good without it. Most of the time, the 355-hp engine stayed in V-8 mode, but it switched into V-4 mode more often than expected -- and the transitions from one mode to the other were seamless. The Sierra does well as a tow vehicle, providing a feeling of confidence as you head down the road with a trailer in tow.

We backed the trailer into our site -- which would’ve been easier with larger side mirrors -- disconnected the Airstream from the truck and, after a good night’s sleep, began phase two of our evaluation: a lengthy drive on highway and small canyon roads that twice went over a steep grade and passed through several cities and towns. There is absolutely no trouble getting up to freeway speed in the Sierra and there’s plenty of visibility. Steering was responsive; the ride, while firm, felt comfortable all day long. There were a few times we were cut off, which became unintentional hard braking tests -- the brakes proved responsive and pedal feel was excellent. On the Gaviota Pass, a somewhat steep grade between Buellton and Santa Barbara, the transmission didn’t hunt, downshifting when appropriate, and the grade descent worked well when heading down the hill, automatically downshifting so we didn’t have to use the brakes as often. On twistier roads, the truck felt planted and confident. All in all, the truck feels more precise and significantly more modern than the GMT900-based trucks.

On this drive, we recorded fuel economy, knowing that the drive would be a mix of hill climbs and traffic plus some open stretches on the highway. The average fuel economy indicator on the driver information screen showed 17.2 mpg, but we’re fairly skeptical of that reading in any truck. Our own fuel-economy test proved the truck’s gauge wrong: the truck got 17.6 mpg on that tank.

So, what makes the Sierra different from the Silverado? As you can see, the styling is dramatically different, more so than ever before. Items like the LEDs below the headlights, the chrome accents under the windows, and the black trim on the fenders aren’t available in the Silverado. Inside, there are more premium materials than in the Silverado. For example, the pieces that look like metal are -- there are real aluminum touches, which aren’t offered in the Silverado. Neither is the soft-touch dash that is part of the Sierra’s pleasantly modernized cabin (and is standard on mid-level trucks). And the trucks only have one wheel design in common.

There are bigger differentiators when you look at trim levels and packaging. There is no longer a truck called the “work truck” or WT. Models are now Sierra, SLE, SLT, and Denali (later this year). When it comes to standard equipment, there are no longer any exact apples-to-apples comparisons with the Silverado’s trim levels. There is now more separation between the two.

That’s good for both divisions of GM because it’ll keep both groups of buyers happy. Thanks to careful market research, GMC knows its buyers are different from Silverado buyers. We expect they will be happy with this truck. If someone wants the basic elements that both trucks share, plus the looks of the Chevy, they can get the Silverado, but those who like the differences in styling inside and out, the upscale materials, and the unique styling will gravitate to the GMC. GMC is the second GM brand by sales volume behind Chevrolet, and this truck should keep them firmly in that spot.


2014 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT Crew Cab 4WD
BASE PRICE $44,420
PRICE AS TESTED $51,485
LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 5.3L/355-hp/383-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
WHEELBASE 143.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 229.5 x 80.0 x 74.0 in
CURB WEIGHT 5218 lb (mfr)
GVWR 7200 lb
PAYLOAD CAPACITY 1957 lb
TOWING CAPACITY 9600 lb
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 16/22 mpg (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.06 lb/mi
ON SALE IN U.S. Summer 2013