Anyone who is a fan of GM's trucks or of trucks in general knows that the GMC Sierra underwent a transformation for the 2014 model year. It came to market with a dramatically new look, a quiet, redesigned interior, and three new engines. And while we were eager to drive the truck with the new 6.2-liter engine, the engine we were most curious about was the 4.3-liter. After all, not only was this the engine that had previously been seen in the past as a penalty box, but this is the engine that most fleet drivers will live with, day in and day out. This is the engine that will serve as the lasting impression for the working man.

There is something very honest about a regular-cab pickup, especially this one, with its cloth seats and no-nonsense cabin. Yet there were some surprises here: the seats were pleasantly comfortable, and the truck came equipped with more connectivity and infotainment features for the money than we had anticipated. The driver seat was power adjustable, and the windows were power operated, too. There were even extra USB ports in the center console, but if you have that flipped to make room for three-person seating, consider whatever you're charging out of reach until your middle passenger has gotten out of the truck. Plus, the cabin was amazingly quiet, and there were quality materials throughout. GM's new trucks have to be the quietest on the market. Other surprise features include the EZ Lift and Lower tailgate, Stabilitrak with Trailer Sway Control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Just about the only thing this 4.3-liter V-6 has in common with the previous-generation truck's base engine is the displacement. The new engine is part of GM's new EcoTec3 family of engines, and even though you wouldn't expect a V-6 to offer Active Fuel Management, this one does. As we discovered, the engine seamlessly switches into V-4 mode, and we saw it happen (indicated on the driver information screen in the gauge cluster) both on the highway and when towing. It feels confident when towing; we towed about 5700 pounds with it, with zero issues. Active Fuel Management, in addition to direct injection, makes the new engine more efficient. But the truck is faster with the new engine as well. The previous cast-iron 4.3-liter put out 195 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and it was backed by a four-speed automatic. For 2014, the cast aluminum 4.3-liter has a power output of 285 hp and 305 lb-ft, and it's backed by a six-speed automatic. We felt the difference immediately. We didn't realize how quick the Sierra would feel with the V-6 under the hood; it certainly helped that we sampled nearly the smallest, lightest truck GMC makes. (It was a four-wheel-drive SLE.) Even with that, this truck weighed 4776 lb as tested. Our feelings about the quickness of the Sierra were confirmed at the track, where the SLE reached 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 88.6 mph. The brakes offered the right balance of response and performance, and this Sierra only needed 130 feet to stop from 60 mph. Not bad for a truck with fuel economy of 17 mpg city and 22 highway. It can also tow up to 7600 pounds. The ride was a bit on the firm side.

This may be the first time we have ever driven a Sierra powered by a 4.3-liter engine and walked away feeling that the engine made the truck fun to drive. This base engine is not a penalty. It is not simply there to achieve a specific price point. While the truck we tested wasn't exactly cheap -- over $36,000 as tested -- it is a well-equipped value-minded pickup. We expect anyone who would get the keys to this work truck would be happy to use it while on the job.

2014 GMC Sierra SLE
BASE PRICE $35,315
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 3-pass, 2-door truck
ENGINE 4.3L/285-hp/305-lb-ft OHV 12-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4776 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE 119.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 205.5 x 80.0 x 74.1 in
0-60 MPH 7.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.8 sec @ 88.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 130 ft
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY198/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.02 lb/mile