The Automobile Magazine fleet has been inundated with hybrids lately, and this GMC Sierra Hybrid is certainly the largest of the lot. I had many doubts about hybrid pickups before I first drove a Silverado Hybrid last summer, but the truck proved to be quite capable and very refined. Sadly, the truck market is obsessed with diesel engines, so I wonder how many buyers will take the hybrid GMT900s seriously. But those who are willing to test-drive a hybrid pickup will likely walk away very impressed.
I love how refined the start/stop system is, but I wish it were easier to tell when the engine is about to fire up. GM managed to smooth out the transition between gas and electric power perfectly (which isn’t easy), but then installed the absolutely least informative efficiency gauge of any hybrid vehicle I have ever driven.
The efficiency gauge has a green zone in the middle, and there are non-green zones on either side of the “sweet spot.” However, there are no clues as to where the needle points at the most efficient operating point and where it might point at the least efficient operating point. Behind the scenes, this system must be more complex than the old vacuum-activated fuel economy gauges, but on the surface it looks very unsophisticated. I recently sampled the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and had a chance to use its very intuitive and informative SmartGauge display to help maximize my fuel economy, which makes GM’s solution look even worse in comparison. It’s so easy to understand how to drive the Fusion efficiently; I had no problem besting the EPA numbers when I wanted to. With this GMC Sierra Hybrid, I actually saw worse fuel economy readings when I tried to be an eco driver. I returned almost a full mile per gallon better fuel economy on my way home from work ignoring the gauge and driving normally than I did driving to work and trying to maximize efficiency. GM needs to license Ford’s display if it can’t develop something equally useful in-house.
Complaints about instrumentation aside, I think this truck is one of the best offerings in GMC’s product portfolio. I do wish for other configurations (trucks that can’t be ordered with 8-foot beds don’t make sense to me), and I’d rather have a 5.3-liter V-8 than this 6.0-liter V-8 under the hood, but an honest-to-God truck that gets 20+ mpg and can still tow anything I own is very impressive. Ignorant pundits will chastise GM for bringing this truck to market before the Volt, but the reality is that the two-mode hybrid system was designed for thirsty trucks and SUVs, and increasing the fuel economy of the thirstiest vehicles will help more than making the most efficient class of vehicles a little more efficient.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I’ve driven quite a few examples of GM’s latest full-size truck, but I continually found myself amazed while behind the wheel of the Sierra Hybrid. If silently piloting a hybrid car in EV mode seems novel, the ability to do so in a gargantuan, 5882-pound truck is flummoxing. I’m even more impressed with the civility of GM’s two-mode system. I spent a week jumping between some of the best hybrid sedans presently on the market, and none switched between gasoline and electric power as smoothly as the Sierra.
That said, I think their engineers could make a good thing even better by means of a few slight tweaks. The cylinder deactivation on GM’s V-8s is a good idea, but it seems much too happy to jump into eight-cylinder mode upon just the slightest acceleration. The Sierra Hybrid is no different, which is disappointing, considering this truck’s “green” image, and the electric motor’s ability to work alongside the engine when needed.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I was amazed by the GMC Sierra Hybrid’s incredibly smooth powertrain from the moment I headed out of our parking structure. The Sierra is most definitely the strong, silent type. As others have noted, the back-and-forth between gasoline and electric power in GM’s two-mode hybrid system is very impressive, as is the seemingly endless supply of torque. This baby goes.
Like Phil Floraday, I was surprised by how rudimentary the eco-driving indicator is in the dash. I’ve driven the three newest hybrid sedans – the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid – and they one and all have fabulous, user-friendly instrument panel interfaces that allow drivers to monitor their efficiency. This is an obvious oversight on GM’s part and, surely, it’s something they must be working on for future hybrid models.
As pleasant as the Sierra Hybrid was to drive, I did a double-take when I saw the price. Whew! GMC Sierra Hybrid drivers will really need to be committed to saving fuel to pony up nearly fifty grand for a pickup truck, even one this luxurious.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I drove the Sierra Hybrid 240 miles over the weekend, mostly on the highway, but I still managed only an indicated 16 mpg. That’s 4 mpg less than the EPA expects out of this vehicle. (I definitely could have eked out a bit better mileage if the Sierra had a gauge that gave the driver some comprehensible feedback, as Phil noted. Seriously, GMC: how much would it cost for you to add a “+” and a “-” to that cryptic economy gauge?) Not very impressive, especially considering the fact that I drove mostly on the highway between 70 and 75 mph.
What is impressive, however, is the smoothness of this powertrain, as my colleagues have noted. Torque is abundant, and merging onto the highway is never stressful. Even the two-mode CVT avoids feeling unnatural, unlike some other CVTs (hybrid and otherwise) on the market.
Even though my observed mileage was far less than the government’s ratings, I’m pretty confident that I would have gotten 2 or 3 fewer mpg in a nonhybrid 6.0-liter-powered Sierra under the same driving conditions. So to me, hybrid pickups make a lot of sense, even with the extra sticker price. That said, it seems like the 5.3-liter V-8 would also work well in a hybrid GM pickup, and it would likely yield a couple more miles per gallon. Plus, the electric motors would help add some extra torque, which is very important to pickup owners.
A couple other comments: The door armrests have some elbow-assaulting hard spots. Quite a bit of wind noise enters the cabin from the A-pillars. This hard-framed soft tonneau cover is very nice, particularly for security.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2009 GMC Sierra 4WD Hybrid Crew Cab
Base price (with destination): $48,650
Price as tested: $48,650
No Extra Options
Fuel Economy: 20 / 20 / 20 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: Vortec 6.0L V-8
Horsepower: 332 hp @ 5100 rpm
Torque: 367 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
Weight: 5882 lb
18 x 8-in Chrome-Clad Aluminum Wheels
P265/65R18 AL2 Tires