Full 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Review
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the GMC Sierra 1500 receives only a few minor changes. Among them are an updated navigation system (now hard-drive-based) and the inclusion of trailer sway control as part of the stability control system.
Although the current-generation GMC Sierra 1500 pickup debuted just four years ago, its more recently redesigned rivals have topped it in a few respects. But this doesn't mean the GMC is as stale as month-old bread. Far from it, actually. Thanks to its core strengths, the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 remains one of the top trucks in the light-duty, full-size pickup segment.
In terms of expected characteristics such as towing capacity and a wide range of body style and trim level choices, the Sierra 1500 is right up there with the competition. The Sierra provides a smooth, quiet ride and comfortable seating, traits that make it ideal for long road trips. The GMC isn't without faults, however. Compared to some of its competition (notably Dodge and Toyota), the base "Work" trim's cabin looks rather dull. And while other brands have stepped up the output of their base engines over the years, the Sierra's V6 struggles to motivate such a large truck. Lastly, maneuverability is hampered by a large turning radius.
Comparatively, the Ford F-150 has more innovative technology features available, the Ram 1500 has a much nicer interior and smoother ride quality and the Toyota Tundra is roomier in crew cab trim. Yet the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 remains a solid choice in our book and deserves attention when cross-shopping in this very competitive segment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 is a half-ton full-size pickup that is offered in standard cab, extended cab and crew cab body styles. Standard cabs and extended cabs are available with either a standard 6-foot-6 bed or an 8-foot long bed. Crew cabs only come with a short 5-foot-8 bed.
Regular cabs can be had in base Work or midlevel SLE trims, while the extended and crew cabs are also available in the well-appointed SLT trim. An SL trim slots in between the Work and SLE models, but is only available as a crew cab, as is the range-topping Denali.
The Work trim comes with air-conditioning (for extended- and crew-cab versions), a trip computer, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, OnStar telematics, vinyl seat upholstery, a 40/20/40-split front bench seat and a CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. The SL adds full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, satellite radio and adjustable lumbar support for the driver.
The SLE trim adds seat upholstery in a more premium grade, a lockable compartment with a power outlet built into the center cushion of the split front seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The premium SLT piles on chrome-clad alloy wheels, a premium interior with a full center console and upgraded materials, a Bose audio system (with iPod/USB input), leather seat upholstery, remote engine start, an exclusive dash design with wood and metallic accents, 12-way power-adjustable/heated front seats and rear audio controls.
Sierra Denali models trump the SLT with a unique powertrain, suspension tuning emphasizing ride comfort, 20-inch cast-aluminum wheels, exterior styling enhancements, a heated steering wheel and a turn-by-turn navigation feature for OnStar.
Option availability varies with trim levels and body styles. It includes several towing packages, the Z71 Off-Road package (skid plates and an off-road suspension), special regional packages, the All-Terrain package (similar to the Z71 but with special interior and exterior enhancements) and the XFE (extra fuel economy) trim variant for the rear-wheel-drive 5.3-liter V8 crew cab. The XFE features aerodynamic enhancements and lightweight aluminum components that improve fuel economy.
Other options include 20- and 22-inch wheels, a rear back-up camera, upgraded audio systems, Bluetooth, a navigation system with real-time traffic, a rear-seat entertainment system, heated power-folding outside mirrors, a sunroof, a power-sliding rear window, a cargo management system, rear park sensors and ventilated front seats. An "EZ-Lift" tailgate is also offered and requires only about half the effort to open and close compared to the standard tailgate.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 is available with four different engine choices. In the Work trim level, the Sierra is powered by a standard 4.3-liter V6 that produces 195 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Buyers may upgrade to a 4.8-liter V8 that makes 302 hp and 305 lb-ft, or a 5.3-liter V8 that's good for 315 hp and 335 lb-ft. The SLE trims will have one of the two V8s as standard, while the SLT has the 5.3-liter engine as standard.
A 6.2-liter V8 is available on select models and produces 403 hp and 417 lb-ft. The 6.2 V8 comes standard on the Denali. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on the two big V8s, while the 4.8-liter V8 and the V6 come only with a four-speed automatic. In a recent Edmunds test of an essentially identical Chevy Silverado equipped with the 6.2-liter V8, it accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is quick for a full-size pickup. Properly equipped, a Sierra 1500 can tow up to 10,700 pounds.
Buyers have a choice of two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and (Denali only) all-wheel drive. The Work and LS trims with 4WD have a traditional floor-mounted selector for the transfer case. All other 4WD trims have Autotrac, which features an automatic setting that shifts into 4WD when it detects the tires slipping.
Fuel economy estimates range from 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined for a crew cab XFE down to 12/19/14 mpg for the Denali.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum) and stability control. Front, side and side curtain airbags are also standard. Four-wheel disc brakes are available as part of the Max Trailering package. In Edmunds brake testing, a Silverado crew cab with four-wheel disc brakes stopped from 60 mph in a short 120 feet.
In government crash tests, the 2012 GMC Sierra received an overall score of four stars (out of five). It earned four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, a Silverado crew cab earned a top score of "Good" for frontal-offset crash protection and a second-best score of "Acceptable" for side-impact testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
On the whole, the Sierra's interior fit and finish ranks highly, though base models tend to look rather dull compared to their rivals. The fancy SLT and Denali trims dress up the cabin significantly, with a unique upscale dash and door panel treatment, a full center console and attractive wood grain and metallic accents. Crew cab models feature comfortable rear seats with flip-up seat cushions that provide a nearly flat load floor. Interior storage is merely adequate, with small cupholders and haphazard organization for the center console.
Just like most modern pickups, the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 is actually pleasant to drive. The steering is light but reasonably precise, and the truck's comfortable seats and smooth, quiet ride make road trips enjoyable. The Sierra's turning circle is a bit larger than you'll find in most other trucks, however.
Acceleration is sluggish with the base V6, while the 4.8-liter V8 provides adequate power. The 5.3-liter V8 feels brawny and the 6.2-liter V8 turns the Sierra into a veritable muscle truck. The six-speed automatic transmission that comes standard with the two bigger V8s does an admirable job of keeping power on tap, while the four-speed feels outdated by comparison.