When Cadillac made the electric engine starter standard equipment in 1912, it revolutionized the automobile and forever changed the landscape. For 2002, GMC does the same thing to the pickup with its Quadrasteer four-wheel steering in the Sierra Denali.
Is 4WS that significant? In a word, yes. We dare you to name another full-size 1/2-ton truck that has the turning radius of a small sedan, easily navigates strip-mall parking lots, and makes towing a trailer child's play. A prime candidate for Truck Trend's long-term test? You bet it is. Worth the lofty cost? That's what we want to find out.
Our Pewter Metallic Sierra Denali entered our fleet sans options (color-keyed running boards and engine-block heater), which kept our as-tested price to a mere $44,130 ($43,385 plus $745 destination charge). From the factory, the Denali is more than well equipped: 6.0L/325-hp Vortec V-8 mated to a 4L65-E four-speed automatic (replete with transmission-temperature gauge), all-wheel drive, leather and wood interior, and Quadrasteer.
We already had the opportunity to do some serious trailering, pulling a 30-ft Weekend Warrior ramp trailer through the California desert. On the highway, the trailer and Denali become a unit when changing lanes or during evasive maneuvers, as it literally "crabs" across lanes, rather than pivoting. Even with a 6000-lb load, there's nary a hint of trailer sway.
With 370 lb-ft of torque, the Vortec 6000 has plenty of low-end grunt for getting out of the hole, and the tranny shifts smoothly, yet precisely. Even as test temperatures soared in the 114-degree range, the transmission temp gauge never rose above 200-degrees, and the engine stayed cool. Getting a trailer out of tight spaces was a no-brainer, as "4WS-Tow" gives the right amount rear-wheel angle to negotiate tight parking lots or perform U-turns in shallow turnouts.
The only real downside so far is in the rear suspension: It's stiffly sprung for towing, which creates a lot of rear-axle jounce on the highway with an empty bed. However, drop a 3000-lb trailer on the back, and it rides like a Cadillac. Hitch up a 6000-lb trailer, hit the "firm" setting on the suspension, and there's hardly any rear sag.
Inside, the leather captain's chairs offer fantastic support, and the controls are well placed. Rear occupants will find the couch supportive, but the suicide rear doors are impractical--it's nearly impossible to load people or groceries into the cab if a vehicle is parked next to you.
At $44,000, the Denali is targeted at a niche market, but that won't be for long. We can't wait to see this technology hit the rest of the GM line for model-year '03. Look for the Suburban and various full-size four-door pickups to get Quadrasteer first, with other manufacturers getting their own, as well. As for our Denali long-termer, we'll let you know what it's like to live with in an upcoming issue.