By Stephen Elmer Feb 17, 2017
Engine: 6.6-liter diesel V8
Output: 445 hp, 910 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: N/A
Max Tow Rating: 16,400 lb (2500); 23,300 lb (3500)
US Price: Starts at $35,085; $71,090 as-tested
CAN Price: Starts at $41,930; $73,870 as-tested
The words luxury and truck only recently began to be uttered in the same sentence, and in that short time, the array of posh pickups available has exploded.
At GMC, nearly 50 percent of its trucks that find their way into customer’s driveways are sold in Denali trim, the top-notch package that looks to infuse high-level luxury features into each truck, SUV, or crossover sold.
New for 2017, GM has updated its HD pickups from both Chevy and GMC with an all-new 6.6-liter V8 Duramax diesel engine, keeping its numbers relevant in what seems like a constant battle for torque supremacy going on between the Big Three. With already proven levels of luxury, is this powertrain update enough to keep the truck in contention with its biggest competition, that being the brand with the blue oval on the hood?
Visually, there is one big change to the truck, but it’s also functional. Every GM HD with the Duramax diesel will now have a hood scoop, feeding a ram-air system that lets the engine ingest cooler air that has had the moisture removed. Chevy says that this is helping the engine put out its maximum power in a wider range of circumstances than before. Power numbers are up significantly as well.
SEE MORE: What to Look for When Buying a New Truck
GM is back in the torque wars. The redesigned engine keeps its overall layout, bore, stroke and name, but just about everything else has been upgraded to provide more power while also curbing emissions by about 35 percent. In the horsepower department, the 445 horses provided are segment leading, while the 910 lb-ft of torque available from 1,550 rpm to 2,850 rpm trail behind the competition by a small margin.
In the towing wars, GM goes conservative, with a max tow rating of 16,400 lb for the 2500 and 23,300 lb for the 3500, not coming close to the more than 30,000 lb offered by both of its competitors. But this is a calculated decision. Rather than chase massive numbers, GMC says it focuses on the bulk of its customers who are regularly towing between 12,000 and 15,000 lb. And that’s not just a marketing line.
Pulling a fifth-wheel travel trailer around the hills of Utah with a 3500 dually gave us a chance to see how exactly the truck pulls and it didn’t disappoint. Granted, the trailer we towed tipped the scales at a little more than 7,000 lb, not exactly pushing the rig, but the power felt barely affected by such a load. Accelerating up steep grades was no issue for the powertrain, banging off quick well-timed shifts.
But as many truckers know, coming back down the grade can often be more nerve-wracking than heading up, but not so with the GMC. Switch into tow/haul mode, hit the exhaust brake toggle switch and the truck essentially does the rest. By tapping the brakes, you’re letting the computer know that you want to hold a desired speed, and it will automatically use a combination of the transmission, brakes and exhaust brake to keep your rig at a manageable speed. Holding 30 mph all the way down seemed easy for the truck during our testing. And to make things even easier, you can simply set the cruise control and the truck will do the rest, making sure to hold that speed.
This one feature embodies what this truck is really all about: keeping things as simple as possible for the driver, despite the load on the back. And GMC has thought of just about everything.
Last year, a new feature known as digital steering assist was introduced that is able to adjust the effort of the power steering system, allowing it to be light in parking lots but heavy on the highway when on-center feel is important. But the system goes another step to provide ease of use by counter-acting the crown in the road without the driver needing to pull down on the wheel.
Driving empty or loaded down the interstate, it becomes clear quickly that only minimal input is needed in this wheel to keep this truck tracking straight.
The Competition: 2017 Ford F-250 Super Duty
Taking a page from the Ford Super Duty’s book, GM has introduced a new camera system that is available as an option, although this system seems superior to the one offered by its main crosstown rival. Cameras mounted to the underside of the mirrors show you exactly what’s beside the truck, including what’s beside your trailer. What is unique is that these cameras automatically turn on when the corresponding turn signal is activated, and if you so choose, the camera can stay on with no speed restrictions. Besides these two, there are also cameras that can show the bed and an extra lens that attaches to the rear of a trailer, connecting with the truck wirelessly to display what’s behind your towable.
The way this truck drives just melts miles, and it doesn’t hurt that the interior isn’t a bad place to be.
Opting for the Denali package brings along amenities like 20-inch wheels and body-color bumpers to make sure folks on the outside of the truck know what it is, but it’s inside that the package shines. A gorgeous customizable eight-inch driver display provides info in a clean, engaging way, while wireless phone charging, stitched leather seats and chrome trim are what really put the tuxedo on this truck.
Besides the Denali-specific upgrades, GMC simply lays out its interiors well for functionality and ease of use. Large switch gear and a simple to use infotainment system once again add to this HD’s ethos: keep it simple. Even tactilely, GMC pays attention, with excellent feeling rubber wrapped buttons on the steering wheel and large switches on the center stack presenting options, such as the exhaust brake, simply and easily.
Pay the Price
In the U.S., a basic GMC 2500HD will leave dealers for $35,085, though load it up with dual rear wheels, the Denali package, four-wheel drive and all the interior amenities like a rear seat entertainment system and the price climbs to just north of $70,000.
Sticker shock on trucks is common these days, but that is right in line with what luxury HDs are selling for these days, and actually undercuts the new Ford F-350 by a fair amount, as that truck can easily crest $80,000 with all the option boxes ticked.
In Canada, a GMC Sierra 3500 Denali starts at $73,870, while a base model GMC HD costs $41,930.
The Verdict: 2017 GMC Sierra HD Review
With the new Duramax under the hood, GM is simply offering more confidence when hauling in what was already a comfortable, stylish truck. Combine the extra power with a few new gadgets, and this truck adds up to one of the most comfortable big pickups on the market.
Towing stability and comfort
Great downhill speed control
Hood scoop takes away some visibility