Full 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid makes its debut as the first full-size pickup truck with true dual-mode hybrid technology.
The 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid crew-cab pickup strikes us as an answer to a question that not many people were asking. Thanks to the same dual-mode hybrid technology employed in GM's full-size SUVs, the Sierra Hybrid 2WD nets a remarkable 21 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, and it can even accelerate -- albeit very slowly -- up to 29 mph using only its battery-powered electric motors. However, it's only offered in the crew-cab body style, it costs thousands more than a comparably equipped Sierra 1500 SLE crew cab, and GM's upscale full-size truck/SUV dashboard layout is unavailable despite the Hybrid's elevated $38,000 base price. Moreover, although the 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter hybrid power plant sounds imposing, its somewhat odd power delivery and decent but unremarkable towing capacity may further limit its appeal. As an exercise in environmental awareness, the Sierra Hybrid is admirable; as a consumer product, we're not sure it makes much sense.
Technologically, the Sierra Hybrid is a marvel and much more advanced than the original, mild-hybrid Sierra produced from 2005-'07. A complex four-speed electrically variable transmission -- essentially a combination of a conventional automatic transmission and a continuously variable one (CVT) -- works in tandem with a 6.0-liter V8 and two 60-kilowatt electric motors to propel the Sierra's considerable mass. A 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack (located underneath the rear bench seat) provides the juice for the electric motors, and a regenerative braking system recharges that battery pack during deceleration.
While official output is 332 hp, GM claims that the electric motors bump combined output to a healthy 379 hp. On top of all that, the V8 is endowed with cylinder-deactivation technology, enabling it to run in four-cylinder mode under many circumstances. The Sierra Hybrid's "dual-mode" nature means that the gas and electric motors can work either separately or in concert -- the gas engine shuts off at low speeds when it's not needed, and it seamlessly comes online when acceleration or higher-speed operation is required. Overall, you're looking at an approximate 40-percent improvement in city fuel economy compared to a regular Sierra, though the improvement in highway mileage is much less dramatic. In fact, the economy-minded Sierra XFE is rated at 21 highway mpg, just 1 mpg shy of the Hybrid's 22 mpg highway rating. Meanwhile, the regular Sierra with the 5.3-liter V8 yields 20 highway mpg.
The Sierra Hybrid's technology is highly impressive for a vehicle that begins life as a simple work truck. Nonetheless, the bottom line is bemusing. A $2,200 federal tax credit helps considerably, yet the base Sierra Hybrid 1HY still costs $3,000-$4,000 more than a comparably equipped Sierra 1500 SLE crew cab with the 4.8-liter V8 engine, and the gap widens further if you delete extraneous Hybrid standard features like a tonneau cover and automatic climate control.
In fairness, the Sierra 1500 Hybrid should have significant appeal for certain buyers. Green-oriented businesses might like the truck's reduced carbon footprint and public-image-boosting "Hybrid" badges, and contractors who plan to do a lot of city driving might even earn back the initial price premium before too many years have gone by. For most people, though, the 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid seems destined to remain an overpriced curiosity.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid is a full-size crew-cab pickup available in either 3HA or 3HB trim. The base 3HA comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, towing preparation, a soft bed tonneau cover, a 40/20/40-split front bench, keyless entry, full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls, cruise control, OnStar, Bluetooth and a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with satellite radio. The 3HB ups the luxury quotient in a serious way with foglamps, heated exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear parking sensors, a hard bed tonneau cover, a navigation system with real-time traffic updates, an upgraded Bose audio system, rear audio controls, a floor-mounted center console, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-adjustable pedals, leather upholstery and power front bucket seats.
A power driver seat is a stand-alone option for the base 3HA. Other options include remote start, a power sunroof (3HB only), a hybrid decal package and an engine block heater.
Powertrains and Performance
The Sierra 1500 Hybrid is available in either two- or four-wheel drive. It's powered by a 6.0-liter V8 with cylinder-deactivation technology teamed with two 60-kilowatt electric motors, which are in turn supplied by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Official output is 332 hp, but GM suggests a total output of 379 hp with the electric motors taken into account. The electrically variable transmission does a fair impression of a conventional four-speed automatic, but it's actually a complex cross between a regular automatic and a CVT. The Hybrid's maximum tow rating is 6,100 pounds, which is roughly on par with the 4.8-liter and 5.3-liter V8s, but well below the 10,600-pound maximum for the big-daddy 6.2-liter V8.
EPA fuel economy estimates are 21 mpg city/22 mpg highway with 2WD and 20/20 with 4WD. The city is where the Hybrid shines -- most full-size trucks are in the 14-15-mpg range.
The 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid comes standard with stability control, antilock disc brakes and full-length side curtain airbags. OnStar is also included.
The Sierra Hybrid has not been crash-tested, but the regular Silverado's results should be applicable. In government crash tests, the 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 earned top five-star ratings for its protection of all occupants in head-on and side impact collisions. Oddly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had quite different results -- the Sierra earned the top "Good" rating in frontal-offset crash testing, but the worst rating of "Poor" in side impacts because it lacks side airbags that protect front occupants' torsos.
Interior Design and Special Features
Other than a few hybrid-specific gauges behind the steering wheel, the 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid's cabin is pure work truck. The plastics are a uniformly somber black, and the functional but rudimentary switchgear doesn't exactly exude class. That's not a problem for a regular Sierra, but considering the Hybrid's elevated price, it'd be nice to have the prettified dash at least as a stand-alone option. The rear seat is roomy and comfortable, as it should be in a crew cab, though the seatback angle is a bit stern.
The 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid doesn't feel as powerful as 6.0 liters and a claimed 379 hp would suggest. The main culprit is the powertrain's complexity: Floor the Hybrid from a stop and there's a pregnant pause as the truck creeps forward in electric mode, then hurtles away once the gas engine comes online. The transmission is quirky, too -- under the same conditions, it will whisk the engine up to 4,500 rpm, pause noticeably to change ratios and then settle down around 4,000 rpm, from which point it acts much like a CVT. It's undeniably neat to take a full-size pickup from zero to 29 mph solely under electric power, but the eccentric power delivery and unremarkable towing capacity render the cheaper 4.8-liter and 5.3-liter V8s wholly viable alternatives, particularly if fuel economy is not a top priority. The electric power steering system is characteristically light and numb but adequately precise, while brake feel is impressively organic for a regenerative system.