In the crowded light-duty pickup market, dominated year after year by Ford’s F-150, it’s important to have something to differentiate yourself from the pack. For the 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 it’s an upscale design with a healthy dose of chrome and a technical look. While the truck doesn’t offer the high-tech construction and advanced turbocharged engines of some, or the light-duty diesel offerings of others, it offers rock-solid performance in a package with a long track record of reliability and durability.
The number of variations available for the GMC Sierra are almost too numerous to list: Three cabs (Regular, Double and Crew), three bed lengths, rear- or four-wheel drive. Then there are three engine choices, ranging from a 285-horsepower 4.3-liter V6 to the 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8. Prices start at $27,715 for a basic regular cab, rear-wheel drive truck.
More and more light-duty truck buyers are balancing comfort, features and luxury with towing and hauling capability, and the Sierra and upscale Sierra Denali do well under both measures. Integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus 4G LTE connectivity give the Sierra’s buyer a more attractive technology package than any other truck maker’s 2016 models.
Bling isn’t something that drove truck purchases a decade ago, but it is now, and the GMC Sierra and Sierra Denali have a healthier dose of chrome and other sparkly bits than others in the market. Even the nearly base model features high-intensity discharge projector beam headlights with signature LED running lights. Top trims receive full-LED headlights.
While “bold” is the catchword of every pickup designer today, the GMC’s look is probably a bit more technical and elegant than others. Sure, it has the massive grille and twin power domes on the hood, but it also has a smooth front fascia and a small, sculpted front bumper. Like its more popular sister truck, the Chevy Silverado, the Sierra’s doors are inlaid into the cab structure, dramatically reducing cabin noise.
Upscale chrome or body-colored bumpers and accents dominate the lineup, looking more expensive and expressive than some competitive options. GMC designers added creases surrounding the wheel wells to create the look of bold fender extensions, but it’s an optical illusion.
You might think that there isn’t much tech that can go into the bed of a truck, but the Sierra’s features might surprise you. Built into the rear corners are steps, and handholds are neatly shaped into the rail protectors at the top of the bed. The beds feature a dual-level loading capability that allows an owner to insert a horizontal divider to split up the cargo area. Under-the-rail LED lighting is available. Available is a feature that dampens the lowering of the tailgate and reduces the effort required to raise it.
There’s no doubt that the battle for truck supremacy is being waged in the cab. Nearly every manufacturer has upped their game, and GMC is no exception. Materials have improved, as has quality. Our test truck was a roomy crew cab SLT — the top trim before the Sierra becomes the ultra-luxe Sierra Denali. The included leather seats were comfortable and supportive, a critical factor in a vehicle for people with long work hours and taken on long road trips.
Accommodations for rear-seat passengers were a bit more spartan than front-seat amenities in the test truck, with limited legroom for taller passengers.
Instrumentation, while not as flexible as a Ford or Ram’s larger instrument panel multifunction display, is clearer, with more information in front of the driver at all times. Four small gauges above and between the speedometer and tachometer show critical engine data. When configured to show the speed readout, the GMC’s customizable display is a bit small.
GMC adheres to a column shifter for the eight-speed automatic in the test truck, and it feels antiquated when compared to Ram’s elegant rotary shifter or Ford’s floor shifter. The GMC includes a multitude of interior stowage spaces, including a tray at the front of the center console equipped with a USB port, a pair of 12-volt accessory sockets and a 110-volt power in an easily assessable layout. SLT models feature a lockable under-seat storage pod.
GMC has done an admirable job with the switchgear in the truck, with toggles and buttons laid out smartly with good tactile feedback to enable the driver to locate the right switch without distraction. Unlike many in the segment, the full array of climate controls can be operated with dash buttons, rather than the touch screen. It might seem like a small thing, until you have to change the settings on a cold morning and your gloved hands won’t activate the display.
Three engines are available for the GMC Sierra. All come from General Motors’ EcoTec3 family, featuring gasoline direct injection, variable valve timing and active fuel management, a system that shuts down a number of the engine’s cylinders under light loads to save fuel.
The base engine is a 4.3-liter V6, rated at 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. The V6 would be the engine of choice for customers who don’t need to tow anything very heavy, and are looking for peak efficiency. Rear-wheel drive models with the V6 earn EPA estimated mileage of 18 mpg city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Most Sierra buyers are expected to opt for the 5.3-liter V8, with its blend of power and efficiency. The high-tech, stout V8 produces 355 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. EPA mileage estimates vary by pickup configuration, but can be as high as 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. When equipped with the Max Trailering package, Sierras with the 5.3-liter V8 are rated to tow up to 10,900 pounds, depending on the configuration of the truck.
Opting for the big 6.2-liter V8 brings top trailer towing capability up 1,000 pounds over the 5.3-liter, but at a price. Max trailer towing climbs to 11,900 when properly equipped, but mileage drops to 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway and premium fuel is recommended (though not required). Its 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque make it the most powerful light duty pickup available, according to GMC.
Sierras equipped with the V6 and base models with the V8 utilize a six-speed automatic transmission, while upper trims receive an eight-speed automatic. GMC’s engineers have done an excellent job of tuning the eight-speed so that it operates smoothly and confidently, while still getting to the right gear the instant it’s needed, with very little shift shock.
Nearly all Sierra configurations are available with rear- or four-wheel drive.
You might not expect full-size pickups to battle for supremacy with their infotainment systems, but in today’s market they do just that, and the GMC (and its Chevy siblings) come out ahead. Two systems are available with lower trims. Both use an available 7-inch touch-screen system, while upper trims use an 8-inch system.
GMC’s IntelliLink app-based infotainment system is competent on its own, but it’s the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that greatly increases the desirability of both systems. Both are available on 7-inch models right now, while buyers of vehicles with the 8-inch screen will have to wait until later in the year to be able to get Android Auto.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto channel the look and feel of your compatible smartphone into the vehicle’s infotainment system, allowing you to use it just as you would your smartphone. For iPhone users, you simply press the steering wheel-mounted voice button to talk to Siri, who will then assist you in any task that she feels is safe for you to do while driving. Apple CarPlay apps include maps, phone, messaging, music and compatible third-party apps including Pandora.
Android Auto users gain the exceptional Google Maps platform, along with a selected group of other Google and third-party applications.
Available on the base model and standard on all others is 4G LTE data connectivity with the ability to create a Wi-Fi hot spot inside the Sierra. With more power than a smartphone handset and an external antenna, the vehicle’s 4G LTE connection is generally more robust and stable. A three-month, three-gigabyte trial is included, with a subscription required thereafter.
Of course, coming from GM, the Sierra is equipped with the OnStar telematics system, and six months of the OnStar Guidance plan is included with the purchase of the pickup truck. Five years of the OnStar basic plan is included.
Of the slate of safety tests that the 2016 GMC Sierra has gone through, it has done very well, achieving a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) overall rating of five stars. Six air bags are standard, as are the required stability and traction control systems. The Sierra’s Stabilitrak stability control is tuned with rollover mitigation in mind, and trailer sway control is included. A rearview camera is included on all but the base Sierra pickup.
For advanced safety technology, GMC offers a comprehensive Driver Alert package on nearly all of its models. Active lane keeping assist, forward-collision alert, automatic high beams and GMC’s innovative Safety Alert Seat are included in the package. The special seat vibrates on its edges to alert drivers not only of an impending hazard, but also what direction it is coming from. More advanced safety intervention systems, such as forward collision mitigation, have not made it to the light-duty pickup segment at this point.
Vehicles with OnStar activated will automatically provide crash information and location to first responders, while an emergency response can also be triggered by pressing the OnStar emergency button.
The cost effectiveness of any full-size pickup in today’s market is dependent on the deal that you can strike with a dealer and the incentives available on any given day. Trucks often have thousands of dollars in rebates and other incentives placed on them, and their cost and profitability to the dealer allows for significant latitude in pricing.
Typically, the best deals exist in the midrange of the market, with high trim-level models typically in the highest demand and lower trim levels not typically stocked in great numbers by dealers.
GMC Sierras start at a base price of $27,715, with a $1,195 destination charge on top of that. Climb to a four-wheel-drive Denali model, and the base price climbs to $55,735. Try to check all the boxes, and top-priced Sierras can reach into the mid-$60,000 range.
The most basic Ford F-150 starts at $26,430, while a Ram 1500 Tradesman starts at $26,145. Toyota Tundras have a higher base level of equipment, and likewise come in at a higher $29,950 base price. A Chevrolet Silverado 1500 starts at the same $27,715 as the Sierra.
While the Sierra doesn’t lead the pack in high-tech construction or engine architecture, it’s a solid choice in the hyper-competitive truck market. For some buyers, inclusion of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a dedicated 4G LTE data connection can be the deciding factor in favor of the GMC Sierra.