Full 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid Review
What's New for 2012
For the 2012 GMC Sierra Hybrid, the optional navigation system is now hard-drive based (versus DVD) and the 3HB trim level now includes a rearview camera.
When a full-size pickup truck achieves 20 mpg in the city, it's hard not to notice. Actually, it's hard not to stand up, applaud and text your friends about the feat. The combination of V8 power, serious hauling capability and a robust frame simply should not equate to frugality at the pump. Yet the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid is proof positive that it can.
Such fuel efficiency is not accomplished easily. The Sierra Hybrid utilizes a technologically advanced and sophisticated hybrid powertrain that's constantly selecting the most efficient means of moving the truck's hefty mass -- whether that's from its two electric motors, the 6.0-liter V8 engine or a combination of both.
However, the fuel savings don't stop there. Regenerative braking recharges the battery pack located under the rear bench seat, while cylinder deactivation automatically turns the V8 into a four-cylinder under certain cruising situations. Other tricks include low-rolling-resistance tires, a cover for the cargo bed to help reduce vehicle drag, and electrically driven power steering. The resulting EPA-estimated city fuel economy is better than a compact four-cylinder-powered Toyota Tacoma.
This certainly sounds good on paper, but the 2012 Sierra Hybrid starts making less sense when you start looking at aspects other than fuel economy. The biggest issues are price and body choice. Available only as a well-equipped crew cab, the Hybrid costs more than $39,000 when new. That's about $7,000 more than a comparably equipped Sierra SLE with a 5.3-liter V8, but you'd likely only save about $550 every year in fuel savings, according to the EPA. We don't have to tell you that this rate of savings doesn't exactly make financial sense. Compared to that 5.3-liter, the Hybrid is also slower and can tow less.
So where is an eco-minded truck buyer supposed to turn? The base V6 engines found in the Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra provide combined fuel economy within 2-3 mpg of the Sierra Hybrid, while costing much less. They aren't available with a lot of equipment, however, and don't exactly produce spirited acceleration. The best compromise, then, would be the Ford F-150 with the optional turbocharged "EcoBoost" V6. Its EPA rating of 18 mpg combined is obviously less than the Hybrids, but it costs less, is vastly quicker and can tow 5,300 pounds more.
While the 2012 GMC Sierra Hybrid should be applauded for achieving such impressive fuel economy, the applause doesn't make it a wise purchase.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid is available only in a crew cab with a 5-foot-9 bed, and GMC offers shoppers a choice of just two trim levels: 3HA and 3HB.
The 3HA comes standard with 18-inch wheels, a towing package, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, a soft bed cover, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 40/20/40-split front bench seat, cloth upholstery, a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel, OnStar emergency communications, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. A six-way power driver seat is optional.
The 3HB adds foglamps, a hard cover for the cargo bed, power-folding outside mirrors, rear parking sensors, a rear window defroster, power-adjustable pedals, leather upholstery, six-way power front bucket seats (manual recline), auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, a rearview camera, a Bose sound system, and a navigation system with a touchscreen interface and real-time traffic. A sunroof is optional.
Powertrains and Performance
Available in either two- or four-wheel-drive, the Sierra 1500 Hybrid is powered by a 6.0-liter V8. It's joined by two 60-kilowatt electric motors supplied by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack under the rear seat. On its own, the V8 is rated at 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. GM engineers say that combined output with the electric motors is 379 hp.
The unique transmission houses the electric motors along with three different planetary gearsets and four traditional clutches. It's complex to say the least, but simply put, it maximizes efficiency by adapting itself to current driving conditions.
In Edmunds testing, the identical 4WD Chevy Silverado Hybrid took a leisurely 9.2 seconds to get from a standstill to 60 mph. By comparison, a regular V6-powered F-150 is a full second quicker, while its turbocharged V6 model does it in 6.5 seconds. The Hybrid's maximum tow rating is a modest 6,100 pounds.
EPA fuel economy estimates are 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 21 combined. The city is where the Hybrid shines -- most full-size trucks are in the 14-15-mpg range.
Standard on the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid are stability control, traction control, antilock disc brakes, seat-mounted front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. OnStar emergency communications is also included. The 3HB trim gets rear parking sensors and a rearview camera.
In Edmunds brake testing, the identical 4WD Chevy Silverado Hybrid came to a stop from 60 mph in 144 feet, below-average performance for trucks of similar heft.
In government crash tests, the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid received an overall score of four stars (out of five), including four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested a gas-only Sierra 1500 and gave the truck a top score of "Good" for frontal-offset crash protection, a second-best score of "Acceptable" for side-impact protection and a second-worst score of "Marginal" for roof strength.
Interior Design and Special Features
In 3HA trim, the Sierra Hybrid is a truck with a solid supply of equipment and functional decor that is well fortified in black plastic trim. The 3HB trim is more attractive thanks to a center console, leather bucket seats, power-adjustable pedals and upgraded audio. Since there's a premium price to get the hybrid and the 3HB trim, one could argue that the even higher-quality cabin included with the regular Sierra's SLT trim would be in order.
Otherwise, the 2012 Sierra Hybrid's crew cab treats its passengers as expected, with a quiet ride and roomy seating, although the rear comfort level could be improved with a better seatback angle.
Upon first drive, the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid may not feel like there's a string of 379 ponies under the hood. Also there is a learning curve to the process of becoming familiar with the Hybrid's quiet electric operation and the transition from electric-only to gas power. Some drivers may sense a noticeable pause as the truck creeps forward in electric mode, and then feel as if the truck hurtles away once the gas engine comes online. Others may feel acceleration surges at higher rpm. It just takes a little practice to optimize one's driving pattern for the most fuel-efficient and enjoyable driving experience.
Taller axle gearing is mostly responsible for the perceived lack of low-end grunt. Truck owners are somewhat accustomed to the snap of 3.73:1 or 4.10:1 gearing when accelerating. The Hybrid's 3.08:1 axle ratio contributes to a healthy 23 mpg on the highway -- which translates to a cruising range of more than 500 miles with the 26-gallon fuel tank -- but doesn't multiply the torque like the shorter final-drive gears most truckers prefer.
The Sierra 1500 Hybrid uses electrically driven variable-assist power steering. This arrangement contributes about 0.5 mpg to the Hybrid's fuel economy and is responsive enough, with appropriate levels of effort. Brake feel, however, alternates between artificial and frustrating. There's a delayed response to actual braking force, then grabby deceleration upon engagement. Then again, once you get accustomed to the response you can utilize the regeneration mode to help reduce brake-pad wear and increase battery power.