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First Drive: 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab [Review]

by Mark Elias

GMC\'s Chevy Silverado twin finally has something of a personality of its own.

Glamping, in case you're unfamiliar with the made-up word, is taking the concept of glamour, glitz and bling and combining it with the ruggedness required for sleeping under the stars.

It's an apt metaphor for the 2014 GMC Sierra, which has been newly positioned further away from its Chevrolet Silverado (tested here) sibling more than ever.

Instead of pitching a tent, we experienced the redesigned Sierra - tested in 1500 Crew Cab SLT trim with a six-foot bed and four-wheel-drive - by hitching up a 5,300 lbs. 23-foot Airstream trailer (provided by Airstrea2Go). Although it tipped the scales at less than half the Sierra's whopping 11,500 lbs. capacity, the Airstream let us glamp in more posh surroundings than inside any tent you'll find at REI.

Twin sons

The Sierra and the recently introduced Silverado are twin sons from different mothers, but they ride on the same boxed chassis and drivetrain. So far, General Motors has only shown off the half-ton (1500) variants, but heavy duty models should bow by year's end. The only difference between the two is in appearance and trim levels, but the gap has widened thanks to touches like real aluminum inside and a more chiseled look outside.

When compared to last year's model, the 2014 is clearly bigger and bolder. The hood now rides as tall as that found on the big Sierra HD. New tech like front park assist sensors and a camera built into the mirror for lane departure warnings and forward collision alerts are available.

The Sierra lineup is now available with a series of three EcoTec3 (third-generation) gasoline direct-injection engines. The choice of 4.3-liter V6 and either 5.3 or 6.2-liter V8 engines are now outfitted with GM's Active Fuel Management, the proprietary name for their cylinder deactivation system that lets the engines operate on four cylinders to save fuel. By the numbers, the V6 provides 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque, while the 5.3-liter V8 makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. For really hungry power users, the 6.2-liter big boy that will hit the market late this year makes 420 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of twist.

All three engines are mated to the GM Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission with an end-of-the-stalk tow mode button, as well as a manual mode switch with +/- toggles to shift the gears up and down as needed. As the industry pendulum swings toward more and more cogs, we can't imagine that an eight-speed slushbox is far off.

Our tester was the All-Terrain model with Z71 off-road suspension that upgrades the solid rear axle and two-stage multileaf springs with monotube Rancho shock absorbers, hill-descent control, a locking rear differential, skid plates and front recovery hooks. It was also equipped at all four corners with Duralife long-life brake rotors, a new GM invention that resists surface rusting. Altogether, our highly-optioned tester listed for about $51,000.

Other trims ranging from basic work trucks up to the full monty Denali luxo-rig will also be offered.

The ultimate in high-zoot "ute”

That's ute as in utility. True, it's not an SUV, but the Sierra Crew Cab configuration essentially operates like a family hauler.

Even though work-oriented Sierras will be offered, GMC figures the Silverado will appeal more to commercial buyers. Instead, Sierras are marketed as higher-content models.

To that end, our SLT Crew Cab featured nearly every bell and whistle available, ranging from a full-leather interior to parking sensors, trailer towing packages, automatic sliding rear window, sunroof and numerous USB, lighter and household 110 volt outlets that just happen to be along for the ride. The MyLink infotainment suite also is available that is similar but not identical to the CUE system found in Cadillac vehicles. And just in case, a Bose audio system is included that made the already cavernous interior feel like a concert hall. The other unique feature is a lane departure warning system that is connected to the driver's seat that vibrates the appropriate cheek if it detects you're moving in the direction of a car in your blind spot.

Add to that an adjustable foot pedal control to adapt to the height and reach of nearly every driver, and you end up with a vehicle that truly is one-size fits all. Speaking of feet, we liked the foot notches carved into the corners of the rear bumper for quick access into the cargo box without ever having to drop the tailgate.

Wheeling it

Our drive time in the Sierra was confined to the 5.3-liter V8, which returned 12 mpg while towing the silver-tubed Airstream. After dropping the 23-foot trailer at a campsite, we explored the area around California's central coast, which included grade changes and varying altitudes. Fuel economy climbed to 17.8 mpg, even though we never felt that the 5.3-liter was light on power.

Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway gave us the feeling that the Sierra's overall footprint is smaller than it actually is despite the fact we were in a full-size Crew Cab model. Steering from the electrically assisted power rack and pinion setup offered a direct feel with good feedback modulation from Highway 1.

Though the ride isn't quite as plush and sedan-like as you'll find on the Ram 1500 with its optional air suspension, Sierra sets the standard for full-size pickup trucks with leaf springs. The rear end felt planted even over undulating terrain.

Adding to the premium feel was the interior fit for a high-end sedan. We were perhaps most impressed with the overall quietness of the Sierra, considering its utilitarian roots. Aluminum bright work with faux-wood trim pieces helped to relay that upmarket point, while the abundance of gadgets and features made our glamping trip a far cry from Western excursions of yore.

Leftlane's bottom line

With all the advances in power, utility, spaciousness and features, the GMC Sierra is now worthy of the position of being the only vehicle in any driveway. Refined, capable and even pretty fuel thrifty, it is a fair substitute for a luxury SUV.

GMC argues that its customers are more demanding than buyers of the similar Chevy Silverado. While the two trucks are undeniably cousins, the design bits and package positioning goes a long way to helping the Sierra stand out on its own.

2014 GMC Sierra Crew Cab base price, $36,680.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

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