2016 GMC Sierra 1500 - The Car Connection

   
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The Car Connection Expert Rating Breakdown



The Car Connection Expert Review


Marty Padgett

Marty Padgett

Editorial Director


  • Likes
  • Efficient, powerful engines
  • Quieter interior
  • Cargo-bed innovations
  • IntelliLnk infotainment
  • Beefy look
  • Dislikes
  • Maneuverability (long-bed Crew Cab models)
  • Beefy look
  • Crew Cab rear-seat comfort

Rugged, handsome simplicity sums up the attraction of the 2016 GMC Sierra, which charms in many ways and doesn't overcomplicate in any.


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.

Styling
8.0

Bold and blocky on the outside and refined on the inside, the 2016 GMC Sierra is a balance of macho looks and refinement.


The GMC Sierra 1500 received a ground-up restyle for 2014, and it gets some updates for 2016. Most notably, 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 Denali 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. 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 Sierra's styling will be familiar to prior GMC buyers. It carries a more modern flair to go with a muscular look, thanks to its blunt front-end treatment and squared-off, chunky fenders. The Sierra uses LED lighting and projector headlamps to differentiate itself from its Chevrolet sibling on the outside. Both the GMC and Chevy look like their 2500 and 3500 counterparts, thanks to stylized hoods that sit as high as those on the heavy-duty models. In most trim levels, we prefer the Sierra's styling to the Chevy Silverado's, but that is of course a personal preference, and the decision between the two likely comes down more to content packaging than looks.

Inside, the dash is very upright, with a simple but bold design, and the bottom edges of the windows are several inches lower than the dash top. Controls are arranged in several key areas, just to the left of the steering wheel or in a large center-stack area (with a wide center console just aft), and all the controls and displays are large and straightforward, with cool blue primary lighting, red arms on the dials, and red backlighting. GMC's IntelliLink infotainment system makes a colorful splash on the big LCD screen found on most models, and the rich-hued trims in the cabin are soft-touch in many places, unlike the Chevy.

Bold and blocky on the outside and refined on the inside, the 2016 GMC Sierra is a balance of macho looks and refinement.

Performance
8.0

Strong powertrains and responsive steering make the Sierra a pleasant pickup, and the available Magnetic Ride Control suspension helps calm a sometimes jiggly ride.


Today's full-size trucks deliver the kinds of payload, acceleration, and towing that heavy-duty trucks did just a couple of decades ago. The current powertrain lineup is a trio of engines that cover everyone's needs.

Most GMC Sierra shoppers likely will gravitate toward one of the two V-8s for stronger performance and better towing, but the V-6 deserves attention as well. It's not a penalty piece for utility trucks and fleets. It's is a viable alternative to a V-8 for drivers who are honest about how often they tow and haul.

The Sierra's 4.3-liter V-6 shouldn't be confused with previous GM truck engines of the same displacement. It's quiet, responsive, and relatively smooth for a V-6—it even sounds pretty good, though it doesn't quite match the burble of a V-8. It produces 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque, which which should make it good for a 0–60-mph time of 8.0 to 8.5 seconds. It's efficient—direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation are included—returning up to 24 mpg on the highway. The V-6 Sierra is rated to tow up to 7,600 pounds.

If you really do tow 5,000 pounds or more on a regular basis, and don't mind slightly lower fuel economy and the $1,095 option price, GM's 5.3-liter V-8 is the next step on the Sierra ladder. It's a muscular powerplant, good for 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. In the optimum configuration, this engine can tow up to 11,100 pounds, and best-case scenario, that rippling exhaust note is backed by a 23-mpg EPA highway rating, thanks again to cylinder deactivation, direct injection, and continuously variable valve timing.

Both the V-6 and base versions of the 5.3-liter V-8 are paired with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. GM has a history of producing solid truck transmissions, and this one is no different; gear changes are often imperceptible, and there's no loss in refinement when towing or hauling a large load.

For those looking for maximum performance, a 6.2-liter V-8 is available on the SLT and Denali models. The biggest engine produces 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. The increased output allows it to tow an extra 900 pounds compared to the 5.3, for a massive 12,000-pound towing capacity.

Higher-line versions of the 5.3 and all 6.2s are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Oddly, the 5.3 gets one less highway mpg with the eight-speed, but this well-sorted transmission does a great job of tapping into the power of both engines.

All three engines have a choice of rear-wheel drive or shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive. All transmissions have a tow/haul mode and tap-shift controls on the shift lever for direct control, helpful when pulling a trailer and modulating power more directly to merge into traffic or to steam up grades.

Ride and handling

All Sierras feature a front strut and rear leaf-spring suspension. They also feature electric assist power steering and specially designed brakes with long-life rotors.

The suspension smooths over most bumps but the ride can sometimes become jiggly. The Sierra is not quite as smooth and composed as a Ram equipped with air suspension, but there is an option that smooths things out even more. For 2015, GM made its Magnetic Ride Control available on the Denali. We found little difference between it and the base suspension over small bumps but where it will likely shine is over larger intrusions like railroad tracks. We suspect the MRC will calm up-and-down motions more quickly.

The GMC's steering and brakes are quite good. The steering is quick and pretty crisp, as true to scale as the Ram's, and not as overtly hefty and numb as the F-150's. Electric steering enables more features that give the Sierra a stable, planted feel even with a few thousand extra pounds depending on it.

Those looking for more off-road capability can choose the Sierra All-Terrain, which includes the Z71 off-road suspension with monotube Rancho shocks, tow hooks, a transfer-case skid plate, hill-descent control, an auto-locking rear differential, and special wheels and tires. The package is also offered on Denali models, perhaps for the tuxedo-wearing cowboy.

We spent an afternoon learning some finer points of trailering with the 2014 Sierra, experimenting with Tow/Haul and tap-shifts, and engaging trailer-sway mode. We also fine-tuned the trailer-brake controller fitted on our test vehicle to accommodate a 4,500-pound Airstream and took to a short slalom and cornering course before hitting California's Highway 101. The Sierra took it all in stride, composed from highway entry to exit. The biggest issue we faced was a state trailer speed limit of 55 mph—it felt stable at least 10 mph beyond that.

Strong powertrains and responsive steering make the Sierra a pleasant pickup, and the available Magnetic Ride Control suspension helps calm a sometimes jiggly ride.

Comfort & Quality
8.0

The Sierra carves out a space for itself in the GM lineup with a higher end look inside and out. The cabin offers penty of space, though the rear seats still sit bolt upright.


The 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 offers a host of cab, bed, and interior options that should satisfy just about any individual's light-duty truck needs. Choosing what's right for you is the hard part.

Regular Cab trucks offer two front-hinged doors and beds either 6'6" or 8' long. Double Cabs all get the 6'6" bed, and feature front-hinged doors—they no longer require the adjacent front door to be opened in order to gain access to the space behind the front seats. Crew Cabs come with four full-size, front-hinged doors and a choice of either the 5’8” or 6’6” beds. (Previous generations confined Crew Cabs to the shorter, 5'8" bed.)

In terms of access, the longer doors on the Crew Cab make it easy to clamber into the back seats. But since the Double Cab gets front-hinged rear doors, it's almost as capable and accessible.

Seats and storage

We've spent time in both five- and six-passenger Sierras, with bench and bucket seats, cloth and leather, and come away impressed with the sense of quality. Soft-touch materials look upscale and lay next to each other neatly—the aluminum trim on some Sierras is very well executed--and the added gauges in the Sierra give it a more technical flourish than the more basic Silverado's dash.

Finding a comfortable driving position is easy. A tilt-and-telescope steering column is available as a replacement for the tilt-only unit, with each adjustment operated by a separate lever. Power-adjustable pedals are available as well. The Sierra's base cloth seats offer better support and comfort, we think, than the optional leather ones. The cloth is stain-resistant and woven for long life, and looks fine. It can even be equipped with optional seat heating. In our experience, the cloth seats have better support across the seatback and a more comfortable bottom cushion, and it's possible ventilated seats are the reason. The leather seats come standard with heating, and ventilation is an option—as we've found on many other vehicles, the packaging for vents flattens out the cushions, making them less supportive. On the Sierra, you'll tilt the seats forward to strike a balance between proper support and contact with the headrests.

Crew Cab models have great rear-seat leg and head room, just as in front. The Crew Cab is a similar story, but with rear legroom reduced by a few inches. In both two-row cabins, the rear backrest stands nearly vertical up against the back of the cab, which is a hit to rear passenger comfort, especially on longer drives. The bottom cushion does flip up to make way for larger items to be stored and transported in the vehicle.

The Sierra's smaller side-view mirrors can be replaced with the available towing mirrors, but otherwise, outward visibility is good. The gauges and displays are clear, and controls and knobs are large and easy to grab for quick adjustments to fan speed and audio volume; adjustments don't require the concentration or distraction that some competitors' more finicky controls do.

In-cabin storage is excellent. On Sierras with bench seats, there's some storage embedded in the middle seat section, along with a trio of cupholders. Five-seat Sierras have a wide center console with cupholders, a deep rectangular storage bin, a pair of smartphone ridges, and, depending on trim level, up to five USB ports and both 12- and 110-volt power points so you can recharge or power almost anything—GoPros, camera batteries, even laptops. There's a dual glovebox, and enough molded-in bottle holders to stash enough water for a desert crossing.

The Sierra's visible quality is backed up by measures to limit noise, vibration, and harshness. The 6.2-liter V-8 is bundled with active noise cancellation to calm four-cylinder noises when half of the engine is shutdown for improved fuel economy, and all Sierras have doors that are sealed three times over to prevent too much wind noise from intruding into the cabin.

Bed time

Outside of the cabin, the Sierra has some features to make hauling and carrying more convenient. There's a "CornerStep" built into the rear bumper of all trucks, and four cargo tiedowns that can fasten up to 500 pounds between them are included with each Sierra. There's an LED light mounted on the cab that points down into the bed, which itself has LED lighting tucked under its rim for better visibility.

Inside the bed, the Sierra has at least four feet of space between the wheel wells, and five feet between the bed walls. Notches are stamped into the bed for stacking the bed or otherwise fully loading it. A factory-installed, spray-in bedliner is available. Of all the new touches, our favorite is the damped tailgate: open or raise it, and the light touch is a welcome respite from the usual slam that greets truck owners.

The Sierra carves out a space for itself in the GM lineup with a higher end look inside and out. The cabin offers penty of space, though the rear seats still sit bolt upright.

Safety
8.0

The Sierra offers plenty of active safety features and scores well in the limited number of safety tests to which it has been subjected.


All Sierras come with the mandatory airbags and stability control. The StabiliTrak setup incorporates trailer-sway control to mitigate the wagging motion that can be induced when towing, especially in high winds. Hill-start assist is standard, and maintains position for a couple of seconds when the Sierra launches on a grade.

For those who tow, larger mirrors can be fitted to help guide trailers into their spots; they're recommended, since the Sierra's standard mirrors are smaller and more aerodynamic. GMC also offers a trailer brake controller, so drivers can fine-tune the amount of braking applied to a trailer's electric brakes. The controls are mounted high on the dash, to the left of the steering wheel, where they're visible and easily used.

Although now in its third year, not all test results are yet available for the latest GMC Sierra. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given Sierra Crew Cabs five stars overall, with five-star ratings for frontal and side impacts and a four-star rollover resistance rating. So far the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has only put the Sierra through its moderate overlap frontal test, in which it earned the top rating of "good."

The GMC Sierra taps a wealth of safety technology. Available as an option or standard on most models, a rearview camera points out of the Sierra's tailgate handle, with output displayed on the color LCD screen. Front and rear parking sensors are available. There's also a safety package with lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert systems, and a safety-alert seat that vibrates the driver's seat cushion for haptic alerts. New for 2016 are IntelliBeam intelligent high-beam headlights and Lane Keep Assist.

The Sierra offers plenty of active safety features and scores well in the limited number of safety tests to which it has been subjected.

Features
9.0

Smart bed features, simple infotainment, and multiple charging ports are among the Sierra's more endearing features.


With the arrival of the newest Sierra in 2014, GMC trimmed off the former Work Truck (WT) model and added more standard features. The 2016 lineup includes base, Elevation Edition, SLE, SLT, All-Terrain, Denali, and Denali Ultimate trim levels. The Denali Ultimate is new this year.

Base prices start at around $28,000 for the Sierra Regular Cab with rear-wheel drive, rise to almost $36,000 for the Double cab, and approach $38,000 for the Crew cab.

All Sierras come with air conditioning, keyless entry, a locking tailgate, an AM/FM radio with a 4.2-inch color display (except the base regular cab), a rear bumper with integrated steps, cloth seats, and the six-cylinder/six-speed automatic drivetrain, unless otherwise upgraded to a V-8. The 5.3-liter V-8 is an $1,095 option where the V-6 is standard.

The Elevation Edition adds a version of the IntelliLink infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen, 20-inch wheels, a locking rear differential, heated power-adjustable exterior mirrors, LED fog lamps, remote keyless entry, a remote locking tailgate, a 110-volt power outlet, and OnStar with 4G LTE capability and a WiFi hotspot.

Most Sierras will be sold at the SLE trim level or above, which means power windows, locks, and mirrors will be included along with a CD player. For utility, the Sierra will offer a 110-volt outlet in the cabin, alongside as many as four 12-volt outlets, five USB ports (swoon), and an SD card slot.

The luxury-oriented Sierra Denali boasts GM's Magnetic Ride Control suspension; its own 20-inch chrome wheels and a chrome grille; body-color bumpers; aluminum trim on the dash; and LED daytime running lights. Among the functional upgrades are an eight-inch LCD display in the gauges that can be customized to show audio, phone, navigation, or other settings. Color Touch navigation and IntelliLink smartphone connectivity are standard, as are five USB ports, Bose audio, ventilated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, and a heated steering wheel. The Denali has a starting price north of $51,000 for a crew cab short bed with rear-wheel drive.

The Denali Ultimate adds the Tri-Mode Power Steps, 22-inch wheels, chrome tow hooks, a sunroof, a trailer brake controller, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist, and IntelliBeam headlights.

GMC’s IntelliLink infotainment and connectivity suite is available on the Sierra. It combines Bluetooth connectivity, audio streaming, and voice commands with mobile app connectivity (Pandora, for example) and available navigation, all delivered through a eight-inch reconfigurable touch screen. The system is essentially a version of Cadillac's CUE interface, without the haptic feedback and excess customization to get in the way. We think its graphic layer is cleaner and brighter than Ford's MyFord Touch system, and the configurability gives it some distinction over Ram's UConnect, but in our Sierra test drive we encountered a few instances where the navigation system couldn't refer to its own contact database. It gets a faster processor this year, and a version with a seven-inch touch screen is now standard in the Elevation Edition. Last year, GM added 4G LTE connectivity, which provides communication with OnStar's database and WiFi hotspot functionality for up to seven devices.

Leather seating is an option, with heating and ventilation for different seating positions, depending on the model. A sunroof and a Blu-Ray rear-seat DVD entertainment system are stand-alone options on almost all versions. There's also a Safety Alert package with lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert, and a safety-alert seat that vibrates the cushions for haptic alerts. It also adds IntelliBeam intelligent high-beam headlights and Lane Keep Assist this year.

For more capability, GMC offers a Z71 off-road package. It comes with hill-descent control, skid plates for the transfer case, and Rancho monotube shocks. A trailering package includes connectors for lighting. It also adds heavier-duty cooling, a beefier rear axle with a 3.73 ratio, an automatic locking rear differential, stronger rear leaf springs, and a trailer-brake controller.

The Sierra All-Terrain package comes only in the four-door body styles, on either the SLE or SLT trim. It gets a painted grille and the Z71 off-road suspension, as well as an automatic locking rear differential for quicker reaction times. On the SLE it gets an ebony interior and front bucket seats; the SLT version has seats with carbon fiber-look trim.

Smart bed features, simple infotainment, and multiple charging ports are among the Sierra's more endearing features.

Fuel Economy
5.0

The V-6 is good enough for those who don't need the towing power of the V-8s, and the 5.3-liter V-8 is a wiser choice than the 6.2.


The GMC Sierra's powertrains are shared with the 2016 Chevy Silverado, and the two post identical fuel-economy numbers.

All three engines run on regular unleaded gasoline, and there are no plans to revive the mild hybrid model from the last generation. However, all engines get cylinder deactivation. When driving loads are lighter, the truck shuts off four cylinders on the V-8s and two on the V-6, running on the remaining cylinders until driving demands increase. The increases in vibration and noise are offset by more sealing and a balance shaft for the V-6. There's also a tunable exhaust system that can compensate for the different backpressure needs of the cylinder-deactivated engine and also smooth out the noisy pulses that can create.

The V-6 powertrains are rated at 18 miles per gallon city/24 mpg highway or 20 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive, and 17/22 mpg or 19 mpg combined with four-wheel drive. Those numbers are close to the ones posted by the V-6 Ram 1500, even though the V-6 is paired with a six-speed automatic while the Ram gets an eight-speed.

The mainstream 5.3-liter V-8 is paired with a six-speed automatic in lower line models and, new this year, an eight-speed in higher-line versions. Oddly, EPA figures are better with the six-speed. With rear-drive and the six-speed, the 5.3 is rated at 16/23 mpg, or 19 mpg combined. Get the eight-speed and those numbers are16/22/18. With four-wheel drive, the V-8 and six-speed combination nets fuel economy of 16/22/18 mpg, while the V-8 and eight-speed get 15/21/17.

The 6.2 also comes with the eight-speed. This drivetrain nets 15/21/17 mpg with both rear- and four-wheel drive.

The V-6 is good enough for those who don't need the towing power of the V-8s, and the 5.3-liter V-8 is a wiser choice than the 6.2.




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