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Auto review: GMC Sierra Denali near the top of its class

March 3, 2014

   
The 2014 GMC Sierra Denali is the most luxurious, lavishly equipped version of the Sierra pickup. GMC uses the Denali sub-brand to denote the top models of all its vehicles.

I didn’t exactly smirk, but I could certainly have been more sympathetic as I sailed past the cars, semis and SUVs buried in snow alongside Interstate 94 as I drove from Detroit to Chicago following a winter storm.

Blame the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali. The spacious luxury pickup made the drive as relaxing as spending the day in my living room. The Denali makes it easy to forget how tough things can be for drivers not cosseted by a four-wheel drive, four-door, full-size pickup loaded with electronics and creature comforts.

The GMC Sierra Denali is the most luxurious, lavishly equipped version of the Sierra pickup. GMC uses the Denali sub-brand to denote the top models of all its vehicles.

All Sierra Denalis have a spacious four-door, crew cab. A 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter, V-8 engine is standard. An optional 420-horsepower 6.2-liter costs $1,905. All Denalis have a six-speed automatic transmission.

I tested a well-equipped Denali 4-by-4 with the short bed, big V-8, leather upholstery, voice recognition, touch screen controls, collision and lane departure alerts, sunroof, Bose audio, Bluetooth and navigation. It cost $55,590. All prices exclude a $1,095 destination charge. GM says its destination charges reflect what it costs to ship a vehicle from the plant and prep it for sale at the dealership.

The Sierra Denali competes with high-end pickups such as the Ford F-150 Platinum and King Ranch; Ram 1500 Longhorn, and Toyota 1791 and Platinum. There’s no luxury version of Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup. Chevrolet just began selling its first luxury pickup, the Silverado High Country, featuring a western, outdoorsy theme, contrasting with the Denali’s more architectural, uptown look.

The price and features of my test truck compared well to other high-end pickups. The Denali’s comfort, fuel economy, power and features all put it at or near the head of the class.

The Sierra Denali’s passenger compartment appears to be larger than a Sochi hotel room, and it definitely works better. The controls, voice recognition, heated steering wheel and other comfort features all function smoothly, and I never once had to break through a door that wouldn’t unlock.

The leather upholstery and aluminum trim in my test vehicle exuded class, though obviously fake wood undermined that impression.

The grille, body-color bumpers and unique wheels distinguish the Denali’s exterior from lesser Sierras.

The Sierra Denali shares virtually all its exterior sheet metal with the Silverado. That’s a cheapskate approach for a brand that sells as many highly profitable vehicles as GMC does — 450,901 in 2013, more than Acura, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo combined.

The optional 6.2-liter engine’s 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque top all the competitors. Its EPA rating of 14 mpg in the city, 20 on the highway and 17 combined top all competing 4-by-4s except the Ram 1500 Longhorn, which matches its combined rating.

The Sierra Denali’s 4-by-4 system carried me sure-footedly through the snow and ice from Detroit to Chicago. I was unconcerned despite the vehicles crawling along the highway and those stuck in the snow along I-94.

That doesn’t make me a bad person. It just makes me the latest driver spoiled by a GMC Sierra Denali’s comfort and capability.

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2014 GMC SIERRA DENALI 1500 4WD CREW CAB:

—Type of vehicle: Four-wheel drive, four-door, full-size pickup

—Rating: Four out of four stars

—Reasons to buy: Features, capability; power; room

—Shortcomings: Fake wood trim; touch-screen sensitivity; Chevrolet Silverado lookalike styling

—Engine: 6.2-liter 16-valve OHV V-8

—Power: 420 horsepower at 5,600 rpm; 460 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm

—Transmission: Six-speed automatic

—EPA fuel economy rating: 14 mpg city/20 highway/17 combined. Regular gasoline

—Wheelbase: 143.5 inches

—Length: 229.5 inches

—Width: 80.0 inches

—Height: 74.0 inches

—Curb weight: 5,218 lbs.

—Base price: $48,315

—Price as tested: $55,590

All prices exclude destination charge.