Test Drive: GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

Frank Vizard

Intrigued by the increasingly popular category of luxury pickup, we put GMC’s new entry into the category to the test.

Is there such a thing as a luxury pick-up truck?

I had not given that question much thought until Mercedes-Benz, a German brand synonymous with automotive refinement, announced earlier this year it would soon add a pick-up truck to its lineup. Suddenly, utilitarian pickups seem destined to move from the practical to the plush, following in the tracks of SUVs before them. In recent months, as if in response to Mercedes's plans, a slew of pickup truck makers added features like LED lights and rear view cameras that make hitching a load easier, while also boosting the sticker price of their existing offerings.

Pickup trucks are the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. and are quintessentially American, so it only made sense to me to seek out an American-made luxury take on the vehicle. I decided to see if I could answer my own question by testing the new 4WD 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali that just debuted in October; at the top of GMC’s price range, Denalis are becoming increasingly popular, accounting for 21 percent of the brand’s sales.

When I got behind the wheel, I hadn’t driven a pickup in years. I was expecting a bumpy ride and tired arms from yanking the steering wheel. What I experienced was much closer to a car ride thanks to an active steering assist feature that made a twisty climb around a small Hudson River Valley mountain called Anthony’s Nose (humorously named for the prominent proboscis of an early Dutch sailor) easy. At the same time, a dampening system adopted from Cadillac sedans made for a smooth ride. And with a 6.2-liter V-8 engine under the hood, there was plenty of power. That engine, incidentally, switches to four-cylinder operation during highway driving to save on fuel.

The 1500 Denali sports a newly designed grille for 2016 but style-wise, it’s essentially 5,559 pounds of blunt force on wheels, which is pretty much how pickup owners like it. With a cargo bed capable of hauling a one-ton payload, no one will mistake me for an Uber driver. A cool trick is a runner board that slides backward at the touch of foot so it’s easier to step up and reach the cargo in the flatbed.

What surprised me most is the luxury interior. The cabin is very spacious, the seats are easy-chair comfortable, and the trim is decidedly upscale, thanks to the use of materials like aluminum instead of chrome. Designed for people who spend a lot of time in their trucks, there’s also plenty of handy storage, and smart communication amenities like a plethora of power plugs and USB inputs for electronic devices, not to mention the fact that the vehicle itself is a rolling wifi hotspot. Also included is Apple CarPlay capability (with Android Auto coming soon), which allows your phone apps to be synched with the eight-inch touchscreen in the dashboard.

The Sierra 1500 Denali is so luxe, it had me thinking of the big luxury SUV that enjoyed a surge in popularity a few years ago. Is the Denali the next Escalade? I wouldn’t be surprised.

$60,965 as driven; gmc.com.

For more luxury vehicles with a rough-and-tough side, read our reviews of the Audi A4 Allroad station wagon, the GMC Yukon Denali, and the Ford F 150 King Ranch pickup truck.