Ruggedly handsome, the 2017 GMC Sierra gains some nice safety tech for 2017 and remains one of the most desirable big pickups.
With its chunky good looks, the 2017 GMC Sierra is like a fashionable three day beard that seems to do just about everything right. It offers some of the best hauling and towing scores among half-ton pickup trucks but it also delivers excellent real-world usability.
We rate the Sierra a 7.0 out of 10 based on its excellent all-around nature, which it does without an aluminum body or turbocharged engines. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
But don't think of the Sierra, which is offered in a dizzying array of base, SLE, SLT, and Denali trims with a choice of drive-wheels and body styles as anything resembling a throwback truck. It's thoroughly modern inside and out, and it gets even more up-to-date for 2017 with the addition of automatic emergency braking in low-speed situations, a rare feature for a full-size truck.
At its core, the Sierra is the same thing as the strong-selling Chevrolet Silverado, but the two are more differentiated now than ever before. Both trucks were thoroughly redesigned for 2014 but then updated again for 2016.
GMC Sierra styling and performance
Even though the Chevy's the better seller, the Sierra has a styling advantage, we think, and the last redesign, combined with last year's tweaks, make these strengths even more pronounced. Last year, the truck gained a bolder grille and all models received some form of LED lighting—running lamps on base, SLE, and SLT, and full LED lights on the range-topping Denali. Like its rivals, there's a Sierra for just about every desire, and the range-topping models here are the city-oriented Ultimate and the off-road-ready All Terrain X.
Inside, all trims utilize a dash that 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, rather than Chevy's blue, and materials are as nice as any on the truck market—even at the low end.
Rather than going with more complex turbocharging and engine downsizing, GM kept larger displacement engines with the last redesign. That strategy works just fine for these trucks, but the engines 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 or high altitude use. Above that, there's a 5.3-liter V-8, making 355 horsepower that 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 12,500 pounds, a 500 pound rating increase over last year if you're counting.
In all of these instances, you can order your Sierra with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. A 6-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 8-speed automatic is standard with the 6.2 and with the 5.3 in SLT and Denali models, but the 8-speed is actually rated for lower fuel economy thanks in part to its numerically final drive gear ratio.
GMC Sierra comfort, safety, and features
A wide range of trim levels mean it's hard to broadly say that the Sierra is a swanky truck—but it generally is. At the top of the range, the Denali and Denali Ultimate are legitimate luxury trucks with interiors to match. There's plenty of stretch-out space for four or even five adults in the popular crew cab configuration, although GM continues to make the trucks' second row benches feel more upright than we prefer.
Sierra Crew Cab models are offered with two different bed lengths—5-foot-8 or 6-foot-6—while regular-cab models are offered in 6-foot-6 or 8-foot 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, but this may be a matter of taste. Also, different seating configurations are available.
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.
On the safety front, the Sierra has performed well in crash testing. This year, federal testers gave the Sierra a five-star overall score, and the IIHS rates the truck with mostly "Good" scores, except for a "Marginal" result in the small-overlap crash test. New for 2017 is an automatic emergency braking option bundled with a few other safety goodies, a move we applaud.
Trailer Sway Control and Hill Start Assist are included as part of the standard StabiliTrak stability control system. Forward collision alert, lane keep assist, and lane departure 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.