Used 2002 GMC Sierra 3500 Review
The biggest, most powerful pickup you can drive without going to trucking school.
The 3500 Series Sierra represents the pinnacle of GM's heavy-duty truck lineup. With the biggest engines, highest tow rating and standard dual real wheels out back, there's no mistaking this truck for anything but a heavy-duty worksite machine. Styling is similar to light-duty Sierras, with a bulging hood, redesigned grille and standard wheel flares as the most noticeable distinguishing characteristics.
Just adding a taller cab and big dually wheels in back hardly qualifies a truck as heavy-duty. In this hard-fought segment, you need plenty of brute force from under the hood and transmissions and suspensions to back it all up -- the Sierra 3500 has all of the above.
Starting in the engine department, the Sierra features not only the most powerful gasoline engine available anywhere, but the baddest diesel engine ever to hit the streets, as well. Developed jointly with Isuzu, the 6.6-liter turbocharged Duramax V8 cranks out 300 horsepower and a whopping 520 pound-feet of torque. (That's 65 horses and 20 lb-ft more than Ford's PowerStroke, and 55/15 over the Dodge Cummins diesel.) When it comes to gasoline power, GM leads the pack there, too. The Vortec 8100 V8 puts out 340 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque - both numbers eclipsing those of the V10s being offered by competitors. Even the base Vortec 6000 V8 is rated at a healthy 300 horses.
With engines like that twisting the crankshaft, you better have strong transmissions handling the shifts, and the Sierra answers with a range of four heavy-duty units. Standard on 6.0-liter-powered 3500s is a New Venture five-speed manual with a fifth-gear overdrive. Those who prefer to leave the shifting to the transmission can order the 4L80-E overdrive automatic that features a tow/haul mode to reduce busy shifts while towing. Sierras equipped with either the Vortec 8100 or Duramax diesel get their choice of a ZF six-speed manual with a deep 5.79 first gear and a gas-sipping overdrive sixth, or an electronically controlled Allison five-speed automatic that boasts a patented "grade-braking" feature that automatically selects the optimum gear for downhill engine braking. It also touts "shift stabilization" to prevent ill-timed upshifts and downshifts and even has "Power Take Off" capability that allows owners to run PTO-driven equipment on-site, delivering 250 lb-ft of continuous torque.
Supporting all this heavy-duty hardware is a standard independent torsion bar front/solid axle three-stage multi-leaf spring rear suspension system. High-capacity four-wheel disc brakes feature ABS and a Hydro-Boost brake proportioning system for maximum stopping power under heavy loads; a comforting thought considering the 3500's Herculean tow rating. When properly equipped, one-ton Sierras can pull up to 12,000 pounds. Needless to say, the Sierra 3500 is one serious work truck.
The heavy-duty Sierra's interior is much like those you'll find in GM's light-duty pickups and SUVs. Large and comfortable seats, plenty of easily accessible storage space and a straightforward interior design make the Sierra feel right at home the instant you climb inside. Three trim levels (SL, SLE, SLT) allow you to add as much or as little luxury as you want. Base SLs come with standard air conditioning, a stereo and a 40/20/40 split bench seat. Top-of-the-line SLT models add such luxuries as power adjustable leather seats, an enhanced six-speaker audio system with a CD player and the OnStar communications system.
Regardless of what options you choose, you'll feel comfortable knowing that you're driving one of the toughest, most capable trucks on the road. With the knockout punch of the two most powerful engines on the market combined with a choice of heavy-duty transmissions and classic good looks, it's hard to beat the Sierra 3500 for the ultimate in a workhorse pickup.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
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