Full-size pickup trucks are, by far, General Motors' most important products. The 2014 GMC Sierra and its twin, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, will net the automaker approximately $10,000 in profit per sale. Given the enormous profits on the line and the loyalty of truck buyers, it's easy to see why GM hasn't deviated from its proven pickup truck formula this time around.
A Familiar Face
The average person would probably have a hard time distinguishing a 2014 GMC Sierra from a 2013 model. The truck faithful, however, will notice the slightly more sculpted sheetmetal, optional LED running lights, standard projector-beam headlights, and more aerodynamic mirrors. The 2014 Sierra looks a little more masculine and tougher than a 2013, but the truck looks more like a mid-cycle refresh than an all-new product.
There are a few small but highly functional changes to the truck's exterior. Crew cab models now offer a 6'6" bed option in addition to the standard 5'8" box. Steps have been integrated into the rear bumper corners to make it easier to gain access to the bed. The corner steps aren't as easy to use as Ford's tailgate step, but the advantage to GMC's setup is that the tailgate doesn't have to be lowered to use it. GMC now includes as standard equipment four movable tie-down points in the bed. We highly recommend the optional LED lights installed under the bed rails because they are fully functional with a tonneau cover installed, and it's always nice to have extra light in the bed of a truck.
An Evolved Interior
Although the materials used in the Sierra's interior don't look much different, the cabin feels more cohesive than the old truck's. An optional IntelliLink infotainment system uses an eight-inch touch screen that's situated at the center of the dashboard. There are redundant physical controls that allow the driver to easily change the HVAC settings or dial down the volume without resorting to the touch-screen interface. The IntelliLink system is a little slow to respond to inputs, but it does offer features like Pandora radio integration and voice control.
GMC now offers features such as forward-collision warning and lane-departure alerts that can be expressed as vibrations in the driver's seat or as audible alerts. Fortunately, the forward collision-warning distance can be adjusted so it's not overly intrusive during congested freeway driving. Both systems use a forward-facing camera mounted near the rearview mirror to determine the truck's position relative to surrounding vehicles and the lane markers.
A Surprising Six
Until Ford released the EcoBoost twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 and normally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 in the F-150, it was a foregone conclusion that half-ton truck shoppers needed a V-8 engine. Over the past few years, though, this segment has seen a surprising shift in demand for smaller, more efficient engines. Now GMC has a solid six-cylinder choice, too. The 4.3-liter EcoTec V-6 produces 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque and tows up to 7,200 pounds. More important, the EPA rates the 4.3 at 17/22 mpg with four-wheel drive. Based on our test drive, only someone who regularly tows more than 5,000 pounds would need a V-8 in their 2014 GMC Sierra. Otherwise, the V-6 is more than adequate for daily driving duties.
In our eyes the V-6 is the star of the lineup, but the 5.3-liter V-8 is likely to remain a fan favorite. Like the 4.3 and 6.2 engines, the 5.3 uses a familiar displacement with a whole lot of new parts. Direct injection, continuously variable valve timing, and active fuel management allow the pushrod engines to produce more power than before and use less fuel to do so. Ratings for the 5.3 are an impressive 355 hp, 383 lb-ft of torque, and 16/22 mpg in 4x4 trim. We frequently noticed the 5.3 running on four cylinders during our drive, even with a 23-foot Airstream trailer in tow.
Sierra shoppers looking for the most power under the hood will want an SLT or Denali trim level, as those are the only models that offer the 6.2-liter V-8, which is expected to make 420 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. GMC isn't talking fuel economy figures for the big engine just yet, but it will happily point out the 12,000-pound maximum trailer tow rating for trucks equipped with the 6.2.
All three engines are backed by a six-speed automatic transmission and offer rear- or all-wheel-drive configurations. Tow/haul mode changes the programming of the transmission to hold lower gears during acceleration and downshift earlier when descending a grade. We were pleased with the transmission while pulling a trailer or just running around in an unloaded pickup, but we wouldn't be surprised if an eight- or ten-speed automatic shows up in the Sierra within a few years.
There may not be an air suspension or a diesel engine option like Ram offers in its 1500, but the Sierra is a proven performer in the showroom. If GMC wants to attract new customers for the Sierra, it needs to offer something the competition doesn't. As long as GMC has loyal customers looking to upgrade their trucks, there will be a sizeable market for the Sierra that can be reached without significant risk. GMC is betting big that playing it safe is the way to go.
2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab 4x4
|Engine:||4.3-liter OHV V-6|
|Horseower:||285 hp @ 5300 rpm|
|Torque:||305 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm|
|Drive:||Rear- or Four-wheel|
|L x W x H:||230 x 80 x 74 in|
|Curb Weight:||5139 lbs|
|EPA Rating:||17/22 mpg|