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The pickup truck has long been a mainstay of American byways and highways, and GMC has been there from day one. Originally used and respected by farmers, construction workers and small-business owners, GMC's hauler was a basic workhorse known for its reliability and longevity. More recent times have seen GMC's full-size truck adopt the name Sierra. And thanks to a variety of body styles, powertrains and trim levels, the Sierra is as adept at serving as the weekday family car as it is at transporting home-improvement supplies or towing a boat on the weekends.
Older versions of the GMC Sierra 1500 pickup have been praised for their strong work ethic, but soundly criticized for their bland, cheap cabins. With the current generation, however, fit and finish has improved substantially. Of course, there are other choices in the full-size pickup truck market, but the Sierra 1500 remains a solid pick no matter what the intended use.
Current GMC Sierra 1500
The GMC Sierra 1500 offers three body styles (regular, extended and crew cabs) and trim levels ranging from no-frills "Work Truck" to ultra-plush Denali. The most popular trim is the midlevel SLE, which provides desirable standard features like air-conditioning, full power accessories and a CD player.
Powertrain choices, traditionally a strong point, encompass everything from an anemic 4.3-liter 195-horsepower V6 to a muscular 6.2-liter V8 with 403 hp. Most Sierras, however, will be fitted with either a 295-hp 4.8-liter V8 or a 315-hp 5.3-liter V8. A four-speed automatic is standard on the 4.3 and 4.8, while a six-speed is fitted to the 5.3 and 6.2. Either rear- or four-wheel drive can be specified.
Calling cards of the GMC Sierra 1500 include strong performance, a refined and quiet ride (even with the heavy-duty towing package) and a comfortable, sensible cabin. If you're looking for a more luxurious truck, though, even the Denali doesn't have the same space or high-end ambience of its newer Ford and Ram competitors. Other potential downsides include minor interior ergonomic issues and the hesitant downshifts of the four-speed automatic transmission. We have no quarrel with the excellent six-speed automatic, as it is smooth and spot-on in its performance.
Used GMC Sierra 1500 Models
The current GMC Sierra debuted for 2007 and there have been some powertrain changes since then. There was originally a 367-hp 6.0-liter V8 available, but that was dropped for 2010. The 6.2-liter V8 option for non-Denali models had arrived the previous year along with its six-speed automatic transmission. For 2009, that transmission was fitted to 5.3-liter-equipped models with the XFE package only -- otherwise, that engine was equipped with a four-speed auto prior to 2010.
There were some notable feature changes as well. Prior to 2010, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and stability control were not standard equipment. If you're shopping for a used Sierra, you might also want to note that there was a less advanced navigation system prior to 2012, no Bluetooth prior to '09 and no standard satellite radio prior to 2008.
Many GMC pickup trucks considered by used-vehicle shoppers will be the previous-generation truck, which was sold for the 1999-2006 model years. Underneath the conservatively handsome styling, a family of new V8s debuted, ranging in size from 4.8 to 6.0 liters. They offered output ranging from 255 hp with the smallest 4.8-liter, to 345 hp from the high-output 6.0-liter V8 in the Sierra Denali. A base V6 was also available, but as expected, most Sierras came fitted with one of the V8s. (Buyers looking at the heavy-duty series Sierra 2500HD and 3500 of this generation could also get a 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 or an 8.1-liter gasoline V8.)
A unique four-wheel-steering option (called QuadraSteer), came on-line about midway through this generation and cut the truck's turning circle down to 37.4 feet -- around 10 feet less than a typical full-size pickup. Unfortunately, QuadraSteer was discontinued for 2006, as buyers were put off by the high cost of this option.
Consumers more interested in function than flash should be happy with a half-ton Sierra from this era. The truck offered plenty of performance and work capacity, but was hampered by a dated cabin design fraught with cheap materials and below-average fit and finish.
The previous generation of GMC Sierra 1500 pickups ran from 1988-'98. Standard cab and extended cab body styles were offered, as was a crew cab, though the latter was actually from the previous 1981-'87 generation. Although six-cylinder and diesel V8s were offered, chances are strong that most GMC trucks from these years will have either a 5.0- or 5.7-liter V8 mated to a four-speed automatic. In keeping with tradition, one could choose either rear-wheel drive (indicated by a "C", e.g. "C1500") or four-wheel drive (indicated by a "K"). Trim levels for these C/K1500 trucks include the bare-bones Special, base SL, midlevel SLE and top-line SLT. Strengths of these trucks include powerful, durable powertrains while weaknesses center on sketchy build quality and subpar materials within the cabin.
Read the most recent 2013 GMC Sierra 1500 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used GMC Sierra 1500 page.
For more on past GMC Sierra 1500 models, view our GMC Sierra 1500 history page.