The engineers at GM's Milford Proving Grounds' Black Lake skidpad suggested we run the GMC Sierra Denali through the test site's twisting slalom. We'd just driven a 2007 Sierra on the same cone course and found it surprisingly good, better than the F-150, Tundra, and Titan available for comparison (someone misplaced the keys to the Ram). But then the guys pointed to the shiny black Denali. "Try that," they said.

Yes, GM has absolutely raised the bar with the new GMT900s. And while the new Tundra is excellent, the upgraded-for-2008 Titan terrific, the F-150 a solid home run, and the somewhat elderly Ram still highly competitive, these new Silverados and Sierras excel, especially in body fit, driving dynamics, fuel efficiency, and cabin quietness. But through the slalom, the Denali was a shocker.

What makes the Denali-the first pickup model to get the 403_horsepower all-aluminum, variable-valve-timed 6.2_liter V_8 and six-speed automatic transmission-GM's ultimate light-duty truck is its extra levels of luxury, refinement, and rugged good looks. We love its big bright mesh grille and lower air intake, saucer-size foglamps, body-color bumper, and eight-spoke wheels. Denali-exclusive 20_inch wheels/tires are optional; 22_inchers can be installed by the dealer.

Inside is a rich mix of nuance leather, handsome faux wood, and bright accents everywhere you look and touch. Denali exclusives include a leather and woodgrain steering wheel, a unique center console with damped lids over a generous-size bin, and dual cupholders and embossed sill plates under all four doors. Standard features include StabiliTrak with rollover mitigation, roof-mounted side curtain airbags, OnStar with Automatic Crash Notification, rain-sensing automatic wipers, heated washer fluid, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, EZ-lift tailgate, Rear Parking Assist, and an MP3-capable stereo with in-dash six-disc CD changer, Bose speakers, XM Satellite Radio, and rear-seat audio.

This is no sport sedan, but it is astoundingly athletic thanks to its stiff boxed frame, new coil-over-shock front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering, aided by those 20_inch tires. The 6.2_liter V_8 is smooth and muscular, the six-speed gearbox slick and transparent (with a tap up/tap down shift button on the column shifter), and we don't know of a quieter pickup on the planet. Our only wish is that GM would trash its crude manual steering-rake adjustment and invest in a power tilt/telescope adjuster.

The Denali arrived in April as a mid_2007 entry. The 2008 can be purchased as a rear- or all-wheel-drive Crew Cab in black, white, or silver with Ebony or Cocoa/Light Cashmere interior. Rear-drive models start around $40,000 and all-wheel-drive Sierra Denali pricing begins at about $45,000.


2008 GMC Sierra Denali
Base price $39,690
Price as tested $47,790
Layout Front engine, RWD/AWD, 4-door, 5-pass pickup
Engine 6.2L/403-hp/417-lb-ft OHV 16-valve all-alum V-8
Transmission 6L80 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase, in 143.5
Length x width x height, in 230.2 x 80.0 x 73.7
Curb weight, lb 5400
GVWR, lb 7000
Payload capacity, lb 1600
Max towing capacity, lb 8600
Max cargo capacity, cu ft 53.2
0-60 mph, sec 6.5 (TT est)
Quarter mile, sec @ mph 14.5 @ 93.0 (TT est)
EPA fuel econ, city/hwy, mpg 16/20 (est)
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 1.1
On sale Currently