At this moment, the 2007 GMC Sierra Denali is the most powerful pickup in regular production that money can buy.
Dodge let the insane Ram SRT-10 fade away last year, Ford hasn't built the beloved F-150 Lightning since 2003 and the newly muscular Toyota Tundra is more than 20 horsepower behind. In fact the only open-bed contraption that matches the Sierra Denali pony-for-pony is the Cadillac Escalade EXT, which shares GM's 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter OHV V8 and six-speed automatic transmission.
But the short-bed Escalade EXT with its coil-spring live axle might as well be a wimpy sport-utility, while the GMC Sierra Denali has a separate 5-foot-9-inch cargo bed behind its four-door crew cab, plus a pair of beefy leaf springs supporting its rear axle. And while the Cadillac is rated for just a 1,362-pound payload and can tow only 7,600 pounds, the Sierra Denali can handle up to 1,719 pounds and tow 8,500 pounds.
The 2007 GMC Sierra Denali is GM's top-of-the-line luxury pickup, but it emphasizes the truck part of the equation as much as the luxury part. It's for well-heeled buyers with an indulgent sense of comfort and convenience who nevertheless insist that a truck retain its ability to do hard physical labor.
Think of it as the perfect truck for the contractor who actually loves his job and happens to have hit the Lotto. And just bought a boat.
Familiar Pieces, Not So Familiar Quality
Most of what makes up the Sierra Denali's substance has been seen before on other GMC trucks and SUVs. The basic frame, body and cargo box all come from the regular Sierra Crew Cab. The interior is practically a direct lift from the front two-thirds of the Yukon XL Denali's cabin. And the engine and transmission come straight out of the Yukon Denali. It's all familiar stuff, but it's also all the best stuff GM installs in any truck.
At first glance, the Sierra Denali's only unique elements are the massive, plastic front grille done in blindingly bright fake chrome, the deep, front bumper cover incorporating large circular driving lamps, and the unique 18-inch wheels. (Optional 20-inch wheels were fitted to this test vehicle.) Previous editions of the Sierra Denali came only with all-wheel drive, but the new 2008 model is offered with either two- or four-wheel drive. And to maximize confusion (at least through 2007), GMC is also selling the previous-generation, all-wheel-drive Sierra Denali alongside this new one — one name, two very different trucks.
All these good pieces are put together with noticeable care in the new-generation Sierra Denali. Every body seam on the test truck appeared perfectly aligned; the doors shut with authoritative thuds and fit closely and evenly to the body; the plastic surfaces in the interior were well textured, neatly shaped and there was no sign of casting flash; the leather upholstery was both supple and neatly stitched; and nothing fell or broke off. While the reliability of GM's new trucks and cars is yet to be proven, it's obvious that the company has recently taken a massive step forward in the precision of its assembly practices. Hallelujah.
The Luxury of Power
The GMC Sierra Denali is the only pickup available with GM's 6.2-liter Vortec V8, and you'll understand its personality as soon as it starts and settles into an idle with a delicious burble.
This isn't a hard-edged performance machine like a Lightning or Ram SRT-10, but instead a truck with a sophisticated, sweetly composed drivetrain. The engine pulls seamlessly from just off idle to its 6,000-rpm redline and is perfectly matched to a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts with velveteen smoothness. There's a small switch on the column-mounted shift lever for manual shifts, but left to its own devices, this 5,309-pound two-wheel-drive truck hauls to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds and rips through the quarter-mile in 15.0 seconds at 92.1 mph.
This is much quicker than the Lincoln Mark LT, which takes 9.6 seconds to get to 60 mph and then reaches the quarter-mile in 17.1 seconds at 80.9 mph. It's even noticeably quicker than the Cadillac Escalade EXT that gets to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and runs the quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds at 90.6 mph.
But the GMC Sierra Denali is not the quickest truck on the market. That title is held by the new Toyota Tundra with its 381-hp, 5.7-liter V8. In our testing, the four-wheel-drive Tundra Double Cab pounds to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds and runs the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds at 93.7 mph, even though it weighs 328 pounds more than the Sierra Denali.
Sometimes power isn't enough to guarantee dominance. Or maybe either GMC or Toyota or both are wrong about the power numbers they're publishing.
A True Luxury Interior, a True Truck Ride
With its dash, front seats and door panels all taken straight out of the Yukon XL Denali, the Sierra Denali's interior is easily the most comfortable and luxurious GM has ever put into a pickup truck. Those front seats are relatively flat, but almost infinitely adjustable, exceptionally well upholstered, and heat up with Toastmaster-brand efficiency on cold mornings. Also, the bin between those seats can swallow armfuls of cargo and is elegantly capped with leather to form the center armrest.
As in the Yukon Denali, the dashboard itself looks as if it has been lifted from a luxury sedan. The center stack is topped by GM's relatively straightforward navigation system and below that are the occasionally frustrating dual-zone ventilation controls.
In short, the comprehensively equipped Sierra Denali offers an excellent driving environment. And the backseat is roomy enough so that if the kids can't get comfortable back there, they should have moved out of the house and signed contracts with the Denver Nuggets long ago.
But a luxury environment isn't the same thing as luxury manners. The Sierra Denali rides like the pickup truck it is, and there's significant impact harshness from the rear suspension when you drive over bumps and divots, while the steering feels numb and uninteresting.
With massive P275/55R20 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires at each corner, there's plenty of adhesion to keep the truck balanced in the slalom even with the StabiliTrak stability control system turned off, and the truck's admirable 57.9-mph performance shows it. At the same time, the mix of low-profile tires and a heavy-duty truck suspension is always an uneasy one. This is particularly apparent on California's concrete freeways where the rear end can bounce along with the undulations to produce an agonizing harmonic that makes it impossible to have a conversation inside the cab.
Bring Your Own Bedliner
With a base price just five bucks shy of $40K and an as-tested price of $45,370, the Sierra Denali ought to come with everything and then some. After all, any truck that costs $45 grand ought to be two trucks.
But among the equipment that should be aboard, but isn't, is a bedliner of any sort, a chrome exhaust tip of some sort and a sort of opening rear window. GMC lets its dealers grab some additional profits by fitting the bedliner and exhaust tips themselves, but GM's engineers should be clever enough to engineer a sliding rear window that also includes an in-glass defroster.
Ultimately, however, the GMC Sierra Denali is a confident, muscular and yet sweet-natured luxury machine that rides and works like the pickup truck it is. It's not the only pickup truck GMC sells, but it might be the best one.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Schmidt says:
The 2007 Sierra Denali will make you a man.
It all begins with a sound. Turn the key and a release of ungodly levels of testosterone follows. Guttural rumbles from its tailpipe fill the air and reverberate within your chest until it spontaneously sprouts hair. That's only the beginning.
"Yeah, a 6.2-liter V8," you tell the guy revving his engine beside you. Midsentence your voice transitions from falsetto to bass and you just lost your gig as Pinocchio in the high school play. Floor it and the droning exhaust is the only hint this car can reach 60 mph in merely 6.5 seconds. The interior is otherwise well insulated. Highly adjustable heated leather seats will soothe those growing pains and offer a level of luxury that sets it apart from the average manly half-ton pickup.
Use your reflection in the 20-inch chrome rims to convince yourself that the peach fuzz on your upper lip really is a mustache. You'll need all the confidence you can muster because there's one more thing you need to do before becoming a man.
Get a job.
It's going to cost you $45 grand to buy this truck. And it runs on premium fuel.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.