First Ride: 2014 GMC Sierra Denali, Chevrolet Silverado High Country
As our correspondent wound his way through the hills near Austin, Texas, in the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali -- or maybe it was the Chevy Silverado High Country; truth be told, it's a bit hard to tell 'em apart -- he had to keep reminding himself that he was driving a pickup truck with a Corvette motor.
This wasn't difficult to do: A quick tromp on the accelerator calls forth 420 horses with a muted howl like... well, like a distant Corvette. Do it from a standstill, and the Silverierra will happily leave big black strips of rubber on the pavement. (Sadly, brake stands are out -- stepping on both pedals at once gives the brakes priority, a talisman against lawsuits by people who mix up the pedals in a panic and then blame the vehicle.)
The press preview at which we drove the Sierra Denali and the Silverado High Country concentrated more on the high-lux nature of these new twin trucks, GM's PR staffers were careful to point out the textured wood trim, dual-zone air conditioning, navigation, and the ultimate in truck extravagance, a sunroof. Oh, and by the way, there's also an optional 6.2 liter V8 with 460 lb.-ft. of torque, the most powerful gas V8 in any light-duty truck. Here are the keys, and don't forget to try out the climate-controlled seats.
One might ask, in the midst of a struggling economy, why General Motors would come up with not one, but two $45,000-plus trucks? Because, believe it or not, this is what the market wants: No matter how nice they make their pickups, truck buyers want 'em nicer. Thirty percent of full-size pickup buyers are spending more than 40 large on their trucks.
The Denali version of the Sierra comes as no shocker; the ultra-luxury Denali sub-brand makes up 20% of GMC sales. The High Country was a bit more of a puzzler, though. Won't it eat into GMC sales, we asked? No, the marketing folks told us; there's really not much cross-shopping between Chevy and GMC. So why not just steer high-dollar Chevy buyers to the GMC showroom? Because they don't want to go. Chevy people are Chevy people, not GMC people, and Chevy dealers need something to pitch against Ford's high-end Limited, Platinum and King Ranch trucks.
In terms of amenities, both of the General Motors products get it right: As with the lower-spec trucks, the new high-end models have spared no expense on the interior. The Sierra Denali goes for a more somber look (think Audi and BMW), while the Silverado High Country goes a little bit country with its embroidered saddle-brown seats. It lacks the scrollwork on the gauges of the Ram 1500 Laramie, for which we are thankful, and it makes the interior of the Ford F150 King Ranch look like a child's drawing.
Both trucks do a decent imitation of luxury cars: From behind the wheel they are big, stately and quiet, with multi-adjustable leather seats and technical gee-gaws like GM's MyLink infotainment system, replete with Bose sound and enough USB ports to plug in an entire aisle at Best Buy.
Why anyone would want to take these wannabe Cadillacs off-road is a mystery, though we fully expect some of you to try it. Both luxo-trucks come exclusively with a crew cab and choice of short or long bed; that leaves up to 153" of wheelbase spanned by lovely chrome running boards just itching to be reshaped by a malicious boulder.
Still, the Sierra and Silverado are up for it if you are: 8.6" of ground clearance (8.8" with the longer bed) and the AutoTrac 4WD system make for a decent start, allowing them to tackle terrain up to the limits of their street tires, provided you're willing to sacrifice a chin spoiler or two. The 6.2-liter V8 provides no shortage of torque, but serious rock crawling would, obviously, require serious augmentation surgery. And even if you're willing to cut up a brand-new high-dollar truck, have you ever tried cleaning mud out of perforated leather seats? It ain't easy.
We see the Sierra Denali and Silverado High Country more as well-heeled tow vehicles than serious off-roaders. With the 6.2-liter engine and the right options, both can tow up to 9,600 lbs., although neither is as strong or as well behaved as the 6.2-liter Ford F-150 with that kind of load on the hitch. (If you're pulling that much weight, you're probably better off with a diesel-powered HD truck.) Direct fuel injection and a cylinder deactivation system (which runs the engine on four cylinders when loads are light) help to keep the fuel economy sane, and you can also get a smaller and more efficient 5.3-liter V8 with these same features.
Pricing for the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country starts at $45,100, while the Sierra 1500 Denali starts at $47,810. 4WD adds another three grand or so, and the 6.2-liter engine is a $1,995 option (available on lesser trim levels as well.) Both trucks can easily be optioned into the mid-50s.
Our writer still prefers the Ram 1500 for ambiance, although it doesn't offer its biggest engine in a non-HD model, which means the Chevy and the GMC are the better choices for hard work. The Ford F-150 does an even better job with heavy loads, but between the gaudy interior choices and the over-complicated MyFord Touch system, it doesn't deliver the same luxurious experience. We like the balance struck by both the Chevrolet Silverado High Country and the GMC Sierra Denali, even if it is a little tricky to tell them apart. Besides, who can resist a pickup truck with a Corvette engine?