What's New for 1999
Finally, the decade-old, full-size GMC pickup based on the C/K gets a complete redesign from the ground-up. Major structural, power, braking and interior enhancements characterize the all-new Sierra. Styling is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, both inside and out.
Thanks to the myriad of improvements to the basic platform, the all-new GMC Sierra will impress most people who are in the market for a full-size pickup. At first glance, it appears GMC has launched an all-new model that remains as true to its roots as it does its brand image.
See, back in 1996, GMC decided to create a new image for itself by positioning the company as the premium truck division. Since then, GMC has been refinishing several of its existing rough-and-tough vehicles with a bit of powder and polish. It only stands to reason that the company would enhance the Sierra pickup for 1999, too. But this time, they started from scratch. Carrying over certain styling elements, like the ruby red GMC logo and the large centerport grille, was important to designers, but it was equally important to branch out with stiffer, lighter frames, larger engines and roomier cabs.
The '99 Sierras employ a new, three-piece frame construction and each piece of the frame serves a unique function, from protecting the engine and suspension to accommodating various trailer hitches. The result is a frame that absorbs 35 percent more energy than its predecessor, reduces vibrations, has better crash test results and is not as susceptible to corrosion.
Designers obviously thought that GMC's best-selling truck deserved several first-class engine choices, and we agree. Although the carryover Vortec 4.3-liter V6 is still standard on the trucks, the Sierras can also be equipped with three new powerful V8s. The Vortec 4800 V8 replaces the Vortec 5000, and makes 255 horsepower. There's also a 5.3-liter V8 with 270 ponies. Like the 4800, the 5300 engine displays a long, fairly flat torque curve for sustained hauling performance. And finally, you can buy a 6.0-liter V8 with 300 horsepower. These three new gasoline engines are based on the 5.7-liter LS1 engine in the Corvette but use cast iron blocks and all three produce between 10 and 25 more horsepower than the engines they replace. A 6.5-liter turbo-diesel V8 that offers 215 horsepower and a whopping 440 foot-pounds of torque will be available after the first of the year.
Each truck is available with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. As usual, there is a variety of configurations to choose from, including regular or extended cabs, short bed or long bed, three trim levels and many options, as well as rear- or four-wheel-drive versions. But executives at GMC pointed out that they are now designing vehicles geared more toward on-road purposes. If you want a dirt-crunching, rock-hopping vehicle made by GM, Chevy is the place to shop.
Conservatively restyled, Sierras get bigger chrome bumpers and a meaner stance. Headlights are larger and offer 15 percent more forward lighting and 120 percent more left-side lighting without increasing the glare. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard.
Inside the larger greenhouse is a mildly revamped interior, with a center armrest storage area that is large enough for a laptop computeror a six pack of soda, depending on your priorities. Reduced-force airbags have been installed and the passenger gets an airbag on/off option. The glove compartment has separate sections so your sunglasses don't get lost under your maps, the foldout cupholders are large with space for a mug handle, and there are a total of three power outlets up front. All seatbelts are seat-mounted for convenience and the SLT trim level gets you an armrest that doubles as a writing tray.
Extended cabs have an amazing amount of room38.4 inches of headroom and 33.7 inches of legroomfor backseat passengers. And, designers installed child-size seatbelt adjusters, two rear cupholders and two headrests for back seat riders. A larger third door allows for easy passenger access as well as quick cargo loading. Somehow, GMC did not make a four-door available this year.
There are far too many upgrades to the new Sierra to list here, but suffice it to say that nearly every area of functionality has been studied and improved. Overall, Sierra seems to be a much more capable truck than its predecessor, and a much more worthy competitor to its Ford and Dodge rivals. But because GMC is set on segmenting itself as the premium truck division that caters to upscale truck buyers, prepare yourself for price creep to start forcing less-affluent young cowboy types to shop elsewhere.