The 2016 GMC Sierra aims right at what matters to most pickup buyers, with some of the best towing and hauling ratings among light-duty trucks, while also offering strong performance and fuel economy. And it does it without going aluminum—or for the time being, without even offering diesel or turbocharged engines.
Just two years ago, both the Sierra and the closely related Chevy Silverado received a redesign that brought new powertrains, plush cabins, more chiseled styling and, at last a set of active-safety and infotainment systems that rival those offered in crossover utility vehicles of the same price range. Put it all together, and you end up with some very appealing trucks that are close enough in our overall ratings to those current benchmarks from Ram and Ford to call it a four-way tie.
Even though the Chevy's the stronger seller, the GMC Sierra always has had a styling advantage, we think, and the last redesign, combined with some further tweaks for 2016, make these strengths even more pronounced. Meanwhile, the introduction of a new top-lux Sierra Denali Ultimate model steps up what's already a plush, attention-getting package with the Denali, and a updates to the Elevation Edition, which was introduced last year, give buyers at the low end an alternative with a smart list of features.
The 2016 changes start on the outside. Each model gets a bolder version of its unique grille, and all models add some form of LED lighting. Base, SLE and SLT models come with projector beam headlights with LED signature lighting, while high-performance LED headlights are standard on the Denali and available on the SLT. The SLT, All-Terrain, and Denali also have LED foglights and taillights. The Ultimate adds special 22-inch chrome or black-insert wheels. A locking tailgate is also newly available, and so are Tri-Mode Power Steps for the Denali models. These steps automatically move in and out and can move forward and back with the kick of a button at the rearmost end of each step. The idea here is to use the side steps to allow easier access to the side of the bed as well as to the cabin.
Otherwise, the design of the current Sierra stays muscular and refined, while keeping with the expected GMC aesthetic—which tends to appeal a bit more to managers and professionals. With its last redesign, the 1500 took cues from the heavy-duty model, including a hood that sits higher, a more blunt front end, and plenty of chrome. Inside, the dash is businesslike and upright in layout, though finished in soft materials, with knobs and buttons that can be operated with gloves. Cabins are lit in GMC's signature red hue, and materials are as nice as any on the truck market.
Rather than going with turbocharging and engine downsizing, GM chose to keep larger displacement engines with the last redesign. That strategy seems to be working just fine for these trucks. All engines in the lineup do employ cylinder deactivation, direct fuel injection, and continuously variable valve timing, which helps them gain output while aiding efficiency in mostly undetectable ways. We've found the base 4.3-liter V-6 to be entirely up to the task for all but heavy-duty towing. Above that, there's a 5.3-liter V-8, making 355 horsepower. It can handle almost any towing task up to 11,100 pounds. Only those with towing needs, day in and day out (or an expense account for fuel) should bother considering the 6.2-liter V-8, which makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque and can tow 12,000 pounds.
In all of these instances, you can get a Sierra with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. A six-speed automatic transmission (with a "cruise grade braking" feature to reduce brake wear) is standard with the V-6 and lower-line versions of the 5.3. An eight-speed automatic is standard with the 6.2 and with the 5.3 in SLT and Denali models.
Specialized models tend to maximize the Sierra's potential for various purposes. For instance, the Sierra Denali and new Denali Ultimate are the luxury trucks, while the Sierra All-Terrain gets the optional Z71 off-road suspension, monotube Rancho shocks, recovery hooks, a transfer-case shield, hill descent control, an auto-locking rear differential, and special wheels and tires. The Sierra Denali and Denali Ultimate add their own styling details and plush features like Bose audio and ventilated front seats, plus a standard V-8 engine and the excellent, road-rumble-quelling Magnetic Ride Control suspension.
Throughout the model line, the Sierra 1500 includes four-wheel disc brakes with Duralife brake rotors said to last longer, as well as electric power steering. In general, this is one of the most pleasant riding, easy-handling trucks in its class, and the additional underfloor noise insulation these trucks received with their last redesign greatly contribute to that impression.
Sierra Crew Cab models are offered with two different bed lengths—5’8” or 6’6”—while regular-cab models are offered in 6’6” or 8’ lengths and the Double Cab extended-cab versions all include the middle size. The Crew Cab models are considerably more passenger-friendly, as they get longer doors, with B-pillars moved forward, resulting in easier entry and exit. Extended-cab versions get front-hinged rear doors. We actually prefer the Sierra's cloth seats to the leather ventilated ones ones, though this may be a matter of taste. Also, different seating configurations are available.
Cargo-wise, GM really stepped up its act with this latest batch of trucks and became more detail-minded. The Sierra includes a soft (mechanically) damped tailgate, an integrated bumper step, and useful LED bed lighting, among other clever items.
New Sierra Denali Ultimate models also get Tri-Mode Power Steps that can move rearward, chromed tow hooks, and a sunroof. This model also gets Lane Keep Assist and the Intellibeam automatic headlamp system.
The current generation of Sierra trucks no longer comes up short with regard to safety; so far its occupant-safety ratings have been excellent, and there's an extensive array of active-safety options. Trailer Sway Control and Hill Start Assist are included as part of the standard StabiliTrak stability control system. Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning—both camera-based—can help you stay aware of hazards, while an optional Driver Alert Seat can vibrate with pulses on either side to alert the driver quickly to issues detected by those systems. Newly available are IntelliBeam headlights and Lane Keep Assist.
The 2016 Sierra continues with the same basic feature set, but adds more functionality and equipment. Standard features include air conditioning, keyless entry, and an AM/FM radio with a 4.2-inch color display (the latter on all but the base regular cab). GMC’s IntelliLink connectivity system is optional on regular cabs and standard otherwise; it combines full voice-command Bluetooth connectivity with Bluetooth audio streaming, a Pandora app, and available navigation. It is offered with a new seven-inch touch screen for Elevation Edition and otherwise comes with an eight-inch reconfigurable touch screen. For 2016, the processor is upgraded, and adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability to run a wide range of apps via the touch screen. Wireless cell phone charging is also new this year for models with the front bucket seats. A 110-volt AC outlet is also on offer, and some models include up to four 12-volt outlets and five USB ports, as well as an SD card slot.