Baffling as it is in a country where $4.00 per gallon gasoline is the norm, pickup trucks are increasingly called upon to serve double duty as both mobile workstations or tow rigs, and family haulers. Look no further than the rise to prominence of four-door crew cab body styles over the last fifteen-odd years – I’d wager the “crew” that occupies these crew cabs more often consists of a wife and kids than four flannel-clad roughnecks. Even as modern haulers become more and more gadget-laden and luxurious, fuel economy continues to rise. EcoBoost Fords and the high-feature naturally aspirated V6s powering the latest RAM and GM base trucks get fuel efficiency figures that would rival most full-size sedans from just a few years ago.
Even our roided-up 4×4 GMC Sierra tested here, replete with Z71 off-road suspension and a 7,200-lb GVWR, is rated at 16 MPG city and 22 highway – we saw closer to 21 over a 300-mile road trip at 70 mph, with an overall test average of 18.3 MPG over roughly 800 miles in mixed conditions. Though those figures might induce shudders to drivers of cars like the Prius c tested a few weeks ago, you’ve got to take into account the sheer size and capability of the thing – the rear seat space dwarfs that of the 2014 Impala I had a while back, a car that even Panther platform devotees would admit is pretty spacious.
Correctly equipped, the Sierra 1500 tows 11,500 pounds – that’s enough for a trailer with a couple of track toys, or a 30’ fishing boat. You probably won’t see too many quarter-ton trucks towing 30-footers down at the boat ramp, what with big-toy owners often preferring the diesel 25- and 3500s that deliver more long range load-carrying efficiency. But the fact that it can tow such weights says something about the Sierra 1500’s backbone. As well as the competitiveness of today’s number-hungry pickup market.
Tough as it is underneath, the interior’s all comfort. A full suite of luxury and safety items are either standard or available optionally, with our tester receiving the lion’s share of those tick boxes checked. Heated and cooled power leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a Bose sound system, touch-screen navigation and God’s own seating position are all in the offing for your $50 large. And why shouldn’t they be? Most of these creature comforts were in the 2014 Impala LTZ I reviewed here, and that car nearly crested $40k. For another $10 grand, you get more or less the same feature content, similarly eerie interior quietness at 70 mph, and a whole boatload (pun intended) of utility…a lot of people with big, heavy, expensive hobbies can see the value quotient pretty clearly there.
And it sure is a comfortable ride. Equipped with the Z71 off-road suspension as our truck was, the body can get a tad jittery over heavily broken or choppy pavement, but otherwise the Sierra proves smooth, quiet and calm. Throttle and steering inputs initially appear blunted after hopping out of a mid-sized sedan, likely tuned for towing and off-road duty. The throttle pedal is long-travel and meters out the 5.3 EcoTec’s 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque with precision, making it easy to keep the fuel-efficiency meter in the black. For the leaden of feet, there’s also a green “V4” icon that illuminates when half of the engine’s cylinders go dormant, mostly during downhill or part-throttle coasting.
I realize I keep touting fuel economy measures rather than stump-pulling torque, but it’s a unique ability of the pickup truck to turn even the most ardent speeders and corner carvers into law-abiding left lane campers. During the two weeks I had the blue bruiser, I cracked extra-legal speeds exactly twice. And then quickly backed off. Why, you might ask? Why, indeed. Why speed in a pickup truck? You’ve got to be considerate of all that mass you’re toting around, first of all. And second, the things are just so damn empowering that you feel little need to slice between traffic and outdo your fellow motorist. You’ve already outdone them – I mean, look at the size of the damn thing.
Truth be told, it would still take some convincing for me to drop $50k on a tow rig, even if it is as comfortable as an Impala. After all, you can get a V8 and the 2014 Sierra wrapper it comes in for a paltry $30 grand and change. Of course, you won’t get the niceties of the SLT trim we had with all its options, but you’ll still be able to tow just as much weight and put the $20 grand you saved toward a Spec Miata with spares. Or a boat, whatever floats your….you get the idea.
That is but one man’s opinion. And for every base model Sierra seen at the Home Depot, there’ll likely be two more loaded to the gills. Whatever your preference, the redesigned Sierra is a legitimate full-sized contender once again, not only for Ford and RAM’s customers but Chevy’s as well – the GMC’s sleeker sheetmetal and identical underpinnings make a compelling reason for picking it over its bowtied brother.
2014 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab SLT
Base price: $44,120
Price as tested: $50,185
Options on test car: SLT Preferred Package ($400), Driver Alert Package ($845), SLT Crew Cab Value Package ($2,195), Power Sunroof ($995), 8” color-touch screen stereo w/ navigation ($795), Heated & Cooled Seats ($650), Off-road Suspension Package ($430), Leather-appointed front seats ($325), Trailer Brake Controller ($230), A/T tires ($200); Discount on packages (-$1,000)
Powertrain: 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, switchable 4WD with two-speed transfer case – 355 horsepower, 383 lb-ft torque
S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 18.3 mpg
GMC provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.