In for the long and big haul but with upscale details.

2016 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 Review

A truly luxurious pickup that can still get the job done

By: Wade Thiel

Web2Carz Senior Staff Writer

Published: July 29th, 2016

The GMC sub-brand Denali takes what GMC already has to offer and ups the ante with even more of a refined interior and exterior. The Denali brand is about making luxury vehicles out of GMC's regular offerings. These vehicles are no less capable than their less well-appointed siblings, meaning that if you need a truck or SUV that's as comfortable as it is capable at the worksite, you might as well upgrade to the Denali version.

The Denali sub-brand allows GMC to separate itself a little more from the competition. While other automakers have higher trim levels of their pickups, GMC has a whole sub-brand devoted to making its offerings more attractive, connected and comfortable. We got to spend a week with the GMC Sierra Denali 1500 and came away with some interesting impressions.

  • Driving Impressions

    You really feel like king of the road when you drive a Sierra Denali 1500. People notice you, and when they do, they usually get out of the way. This proved to be helpful in Chicago's crowded city streets, but it was equally impressive in Chicagoland suburbs and highways. Even if people didn't get out of the way, the truck isn't too bad to move around tight spaces.

    On the highway, the truck shines, with a smooth ride, powerful brakes and plenty of power coming from the 6.2-liter V8. If we were going to buy a GMC Sierra of any kind, Denali or not, we'd get this engine for the sole purpose that it makes doing anything easy. We didn't get to tow with the truck, but it felt like there was more than enough power to tow a large trailer with no problem. Our test vehicle was rated at 11,700 lbs, which is more than we've ever towed with any vehicle and more than most people will ever tow.

    • Ride Quality: Surprisingly smooth for a large truck. This is likely due to the coil-over shocks with Magnetic Ride Control. The Sierra Denali was comfortable and composed at all speeds.
    • Steering: The electrically-assisted power rack-and-pinon steering is surprisingly light without being too light and as precise as it needs to be for a truck of this size.
    • Acceleration: The 6.2-liter V8 is plenty powerful enough, with no issues passing at highway speeds or getting off the line quickly.
    • Braking: The power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes felt more progressive than the standard Sierra 1500 we drove and had plenty of stopping power.
    • Handling: Surprisingly easy to maneuver in tight spaces thanks to excellent steering and a plethora of sensors and cameras.

  • Technology & Safety

    The Sierra Denali comes equipped with all kinds of tech, including automatic LED lights all around, heated and ventilated seats, magnetic ride control, heated steering wheel, a wireless charging pad, 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, MYGMC mobile app, Apple CarPlay and much more, you'll never be wanting for more than what the Sierra Denali 1500 has to offer. All of these features are packaged in an attractive and easy to use infotainment system that's extremely intuitive. If you've used a smartphone or any kind of infotainment system in the past, figuring out this one is easy.

    Another interesting technology feature is the auto folding running boards. While these are nice, we found that they swing up and down too much. Every time you open or close a door, the running board moves. We think they'd be just as effective if the running boards deployed upon the truck being put into park.

    • Infotainment Screen Size/Quality: The 8-inch touchscreen display feels large enough for the truck and shows icons and information clearly and brightly.
    • Bluetooth Phone Pairing: Phone pairing was simple and quick with no issues.
    • Voice/Sound Quality: Sound quality for calls was clear and plenty loud enough on both ends. Music and Radio sounded great as well.
    • Controls: GMC has a nice mix or knobs, buttons and touchscreen controls that feel well laid out and intuitive. This system is basically identical to the regular Sierra 1500 and that's a good thing.
    • Safety: Stability control with trailer sway control, several airbags throughout the vehicle, antilock brakes and a rearview camera.

  • Exterior Design & Styling

    While the Sierra Denali 1500 doesn't stray too far from the regular Sierra 1500, it does make some interesting additions to an already attractive truck, mainly a giant chrome grille. We know you're thinking that you can get a big chrome grille on the regular GMC Sierra 1500. That's true, but the Sierra Denali's chrome grille loses the horizontal bars of the regular GMC Sierra's grille and opts instead for a big beautiful chrome grille that utilizes a different pattern that's more eye-catching. Similar small details on the exterior help to tell people that this truck is of a higher grade.

    • Front: The large chrome grille dominates the front of this truck, though the attractive LED headlights get a little attention as well.
    • Rear: Compared with the front, the rear of the truck is downright boring. You get an attractive body color bumper, attractive, upright LED taillights chrome badges, the GMC logo in the center of the tailgate and not much else.
    • Profile: From the side you can really see the lines around the fender flares and the nearly perfectly straight beltline along the side of the truck.

  • Driver & Passenger Comfort

    The cabin of the Sierra Denali 1500 is identical in size to the standard crew cab pickup, providing plenty of room to stretch out and relax in the large seats. The Denali trim comes with a blacked out interior that is of high quality. The fit and finish on the interior of the truck is impressive. The only thing that stuck out to us was the chintzy plastic that's made to look like wood on the sides of the center console next to your leg. It feels like a few good smacks would crack it, which is the last thing you want from materials in a pickup, especially a luxury pickup.

    • Front Seats: Soft, black leather seats that are both well-padded and well bolstered. They're also heated and cooled, making you about as comfortable as you can be.
    • Rear Seats: Spacious, well-padded and leather wrapped. There's enough room for three passengers to sit comfortably and enjoy the ride.
    • Visibility: Front, side and rear visibility are good with no pillars oddly placed or too thick. Anything you can't see, the sensors and cameras pick up.

  • Storage & Cargo Room

    Like the standard Sierra 1500, the Denali has tons of storage space, from room for your phone and other odds and ends in front of the armrest to a huge storage compartment beneath the armrest, large door pockets, a cavernous glove box and plenty of cup holders. If you have a lot of stuff to take with you, the Sierra has plenty of bins and boxes to store your gear.

    • Storage: Up front there's a plethora of bins, boxes and pockets for gear, electronics and the random odds and ends. In the rear it's slightly less so, though there is under seat storage, cup holders and plenty of space.
    • Trunk/Cargo Room: The 5-foot 8-inch bed won't be suitable for some of the bigger jobs people need to do, but in most cases it is sufficient. If you need to, you can always upgrade to a standard bed length.

  • Final Impressions

    The GMC Sierra Denali 1500 is nothing short of impressive. The Denali is the standard Sierra 1500 with but just upgraded to appeal to more premium shoppers. It's a truck for the luxury market that still has all the goods to tow, haul and generally get a lot of work done. If you've been a truck owner your whole life and want to upgrade to something that's more upscale, this is it.

    The Sierra Denali 1500 does come with a pretty high price tag and that may turn some buyers away. For those buyers, there's always the regular Sierra 1500, which is still a truly good pickup truck. There's a little less chrome, interior materials aren't quite as nice and you won't get the prestige that comes with the GMC Sierra 1500, but you will save a few thousand. Still, if you want a seriously luxurious pickup, don't let a few thousand bucks keep you from your dream.

  • Price & Specifications

    Engine: 6.2-liter V8

    Transmission: 8-speed automatic

    Drivetrain/Layout: 4WD, front engine

    Power Output: 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque

    Fuel Economy (mpg): 15 city / 21 highway

    Base Price: $58,845 with the 6.2-liter V8, 4WD, crew cab and short bed

    As Tested: Monroney not provided at time of review

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