It’s not exactly news that manufacturers are shrinking engine sizes in a bid to outmanoeuvre fuel economy targets. Turbocharging and supercharging (and both in some cases) are being deployed to quench buyer’s insatiable thirst for power while keeping fuel consumption at bay.
Truck buyers can walk into a Ford dealership and spend good money on an F-150 with a 2.7L engine these days, a displacement unthinkable only a few short years ago. Yet, these machines are capable of towing over three tons.
So far, GM has kept itself out of the forced induction game, instead choosing to plug naturally aspirated engines into its half-ton haulers. Don’t think that they’re simply heavy lumps of cast iron from the Seventies, though; advanced technology in the form of cylinder deactivation, direct injection, and eight speed transmissions abound to play their parts in the economy/power balance of power.
The GMC Sierra shown here landed in our driveway with an interesting spec: mid-range trim level and the burly 420hp 6.2L V8 motor mated to GM’s well-regarded eight speed automatic. Unlike the Yukon we wrote about last week, where the top engine is only available in the top model, the 6.2L is available in the mid level SLT Sierra … just don’t expect to find one on your dealer’s lot. A cursory internet check of all the GMC dealers within a two hours’ drive from my home in central Nova Scotia revealed exactly zero trucks with this engine in this trim level. This’ll be a special order truck, but it’s worth the wait.
Speaking of weight, equipped with the 6.2L, last week’s Yukon couldn’t tow any more than the standard 5.3L. Not so with the Sierra. Like for like (4×4, Crew Cab, standard-length box, 3.42 rear axle), the larger engine can haul an extra 2600lbs.
Ratings come in at 9100lbs and 11700lbs for the 5.3L and 6.2L, respectively. Plus, there’s that excellent exhaust note and you can brag to your neighbours at the campground that you haul with the Corvette motor. It’s worth noting one can choose 3.73 rear-end gears with the 5.3L, increasing its towing capacity to 10800lbs.
Loading up the Sierra with an 8800lb tow-behind trailer was easy, given the truck’s backup camera and other driver aids. As Batman said int he Lego Movie: “First Try!” Difference is, I actually did back the Sierra into the proper hitching position on the initial attempt. Note to truck buyers: whatever brand you’re considering, get the backup camera. Even if you only haul once or twice a year, it’ll still be useful when you back into tricky spots. The neighbour’s cat will thank you.
The Sierra’s rear suspension compressed an acceptable two inches under a nearly 900lb tongue weight and handled well under a load. How much fuel did it burn while towing? All of it, really. Just budget for double what you’d normally use and accept you’ll be filling the 98L tank often with recommended premium fuel. Towing nearly five tons is not conducive to economy. Unladen, however, the 6.2L cruised well and handily beat its 11.6L/100km federal government rating. The eight speed automatic helps here, I’m sure.
Equipped with a bench seat up front, our tester could easily seat six in comfort. It was refreshing to drive a modern, luxurious truck with a bench. Style is subjective, and some drivers prefer the look of a centre console big enough to warrant its own area code. The bench gives up little in terms of functionality, though, with a flip down centre section featuring a trio of cupholders and a wealth of storage. USB and 12v ports don’t disappear, they simply move the lower part of the dashboard. Bench seats make me want to put on cowboy boots, splay my feet, and tune the XM satellite radio to Prime Country. This is not a bad thing.
Space abounds in the back too and GM designers saw fit to add thoughtful touches such as hooks on the underside of the Sierra’s flip up rear seats, perfect for securing hardware-store purchases taken home in plastic bags. Nuclear strength front seat heaters get up to temperature quickly, while up-fitter style switches on the dash for power pedals and cargo lights allow drivers to indulge in fighter pilot fantasies. GMC’s Intellilink touch screen works okay with gloves; good thing redundant buttons abound on the centre stack and on the steering wheel.
A base model, rear wheel drive, mud-on-yer-boots Sierra start near $30,000 but no one pays full pop for a Sierra and neither should you. The SLT Crew Cab, four wheel drive, hairy-engined example shown here equipped with options to tow 11700lbs checks in at about $64,000. Various rebates, incentives, and JFK/Khrushchev negotiation skills could net close to ten large off that figure.
Unlike the Yukon, I’m going to recommend buyers take a good look at the 6.2L SLT if they’re shopping for a Sierra, especially if towing is anywhere on the horizon. Buyers don’t need to spring for the black-tie Denali. Sure, other manufacturers offer turbocharged trucks that are similarly capable but, as we know, there’s no replacement for displ … a bench seat.
Selling Points: square-jawed good looks, prodigious power from the six-two, bench seat available in upper trim levels
Deal Breakers: no LED bed illumination or plug-in points, top engine recommends Premium gasoline
The Bottom Line: a big truck that knows its role