First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2014 GMC Sierra

Sierra full-size pickup moves further up into the premium truck segment

2014 GMC Sirra SLT - front 3/4 view low
LUNDBRECK, Alta.  – The majority of General Motors truck owners have deep-rooted loyalties to their chosen nameplate, either the Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra, and they can recite numerous reasons why their brand is better than the other. 

Truth is, however, there is no substantive difference. Chevy and GMC market their products differently and although there are a few styling tweaks to make a visual distinction, essentially they’ve been the same truck for decades.

Not anymore. Starting with the 2014 models, GM is moving to differentiate between the two brands, with the GMC models starting to lean toward a more premium product. 

GM's best seller in Canada

GMC is a critical brand for GM in in this country. In fact, Sierra is the number one-selling GM product in Canada. The brand accounts for 51 percent of the company's truck sales in this country, outperforming Chevy. (In contrast, Chevy claims about 75 percent of GM truck sales in the U.S.) 

2014 GMC Sierr SLT - rear 3/4 view.JPGWith the GMC nameplate playing such a key role here, the decision to move the brand in a new direction wasn’t taken lightly. The change in marketing strategy became necessary, however, due in part to the change in GM’s dealership system. 

Prior to the restructuring of GM’s dealer network, Silverado trucks were the exclusive territory of Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealers while Pontiac-Buick-Cadillac dealers sold the GMC brand. That’s probably where the perception started that GMC trucks were a notch above their Chevy siblings, just as Pontiac cars were perceived to be a tad above Chevrolets. 

Now, with the demise of the Pontiac and Oldsmobile nameplates and the amalgamation of some GM stores, it’s not unusual to find both truck brands sharing the same showroom. 

Greater differentiation

Perceptions aside, Doug Kenzie, GM’s assistant marketing manager for trucks and utility vehicles, says there’s a need to differentiate more between Silverado and Sierra – and this all-new GMC pickup is the first step in what will be an ongoing process. 

Kenzie acknowledges the front end styling of the all-new Sierra is only slightly different from its Chevy counterpart. “But where the 2014 GMC really sets itself apart is in its higher level of standard content, its option packages and pricing,” he says.

Four distinct models

The model range, for example, is less complicated. While Chevy offers seven distinct models, there are just four choices for GMC buyers: the base Sierra, SLE, SLT and the line-topping Denali, a premium-grade model that’s aimed right at Ford’s F-150 Platinum edition. 

2014 GMC Sierra SLT - steering wheel and instrument panel.jpgIn terms of option packaging, the Z71 off-road package is offered as an option on all Sierras, while it’s a stand-alone model in the Silverado lineup.

The higher level of standard content is apparent when you start comparing the two nameplates. The base Sierra gets projector headlamps, a feature that’s not offered even as an option on Chevy’s base work truck. 

Likewise for the chrome bumpers with the built-in corner steps on the rear, chrome grille surround, wheel arch mouldings and body-coloured top cap on the bumpers – all are standard on the Sierra but unavailable even as an option on the base Chevy. 

Upper tie-down hooks are standard on the GMC, but an extra-cost option on the base Silverado. Step up to the popular mid-range Sierra SLE and upscale SLT and the standard content differences are even more apparent. 

The Denali is a further step above Chevy’s new premium High Country model in terms of content. Granted, by checking the option list, Chevy buyers can load up their Silverados with many of the standard features included in Sierra models. And, although the GMC sticker price may be higher initially, Kenzie acknowledges the bottom lines between a typical Sierra model and a similar Silverado with options is comparable. 

As GMC continues to move toward the premium segment, however, the difference in pricing will become more distinct.

“We’re catering to two different markets,” Kenzie explains. “The Chevrolet truck brand is more country and apple pie, more work related, while the GMC represents a more techno, advanced segment. The Chevy is more for the worker, while the GMC is more for the foreman who’s willing to pay a premium for that step above.

"We believe GMC buyers are people who prefer unique things and are willing to pay for them. They’re looking for a higher level of standard content and that’s what we believe the Sierra delivers,” he concludes.

Same EcoTec3 engines

Beneath their nearly identical skin, the 2014 Chevy and GMC trucks share the same trio of EcoTec3 engines – a 4.3-litre V-6 with 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque; a 5.3-litre V-8 (355 hp, 383 lb-ft of torque) and, later this year, a 6.2-litre V-8 powerhouse borrowed from the new Corvette (420 hp, 450 lb-ft). 

2014 GMC Sierra SLT - interior storage detail.jpgAll three are naturally aspirated, overhead-valve engines with aluminum blocks and all feature direct gasoline injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation, including the V-6, which trims out the middle two cylinders when power demand permits. The only transmission offered is a Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic.

Towing capability is an important factor for many Sierra buyers and this engine lineup certainly musters plenty of grunt to do that job while still delivering good fuel efficiency. The V-6 can haul up to a segment-leading 3,273 kg (7,200 pounds) with a combined fuel consumption rating of 10.4 litres/100 kilometres. 

The engine of choice for most users will likely be the 5.3 L V-8 with a best-in-class hauling capacity of up to (5,227 kg) 11,500 lb and fuel consumption ratings of 13.0 L/100 km in city use, 8.7 on the highway – tops in its category. The 6.2 L V-8 is tow rated at 5445 kg (12,000 lb), also best in its segment.

To help meet the demands of towing, the new Sierra is built on a fully boxed frame and features Duralife brake rotors for extended service, hill start assist, trailer grade braking, trailer sway control and an integrated brake control.

Proof is in the towing

During a media drive west from Calgary, through the foothills to the Sierra West ranch in High Country near Lundbreck, Alberta, and the Livingstone Mountain Range, our 5.3-litre Sierra SLT Crew Cab was hauling an 8.5-metre (28-ft) travel trailer. 

2014 GMC Sierra SLT - side 3/4 view low.JPGThe unit, supplied by Bucars RV Centre in Calgary, weighed in at 2323 kg (5,110 lb) and the GMC had no problem coping with that load. 

The cylider-deactivation switchover between eight and four cylinders was seamless and observed fuel consumption varied from a best of 11.7 L/100 km without a load to a high of 27 L/100 km towing. 

The only issue I encountered was the transmission’s reluctance to downshift, even in tow/haul mode, when climbing steep grades. Eventually the gear change kicked in, but our speed had dropped by about 20 km/h. 

Shifting gears manually with the tap button on the gear stalk resolved the problem and it was later confirmed our truck was equipped with the 3:08 differential-gear ratio. While this final-drive choice enhances fuel economy, I’d recommend that buyers intending to do heavy hauling opt for the 3:73 ratio. 

Both ratios are offered with the 5.3L V-8, but the difference in performance with the 3:73 gear, especially for towing, will offset the increase in fuel consumption.

Otherwise, the Sierra behaved extremely well with a load – and was superb without.

Quiet inside

One couldn’t help but be impressed with the excellent level of ride comfort and the quietness in the cab – elements that would rival those of a premium sedan. 

There’s not much to choose between the interiors of the Silverado and Sierra. Both have been given complete makeovers for 2014 and the results are impressive. 

The Sierra does have minor trim differences, such as the brushed metal surrounds on the centre stack, but overall, the quality of materials, fit and finish are excellent. Changes to the crew cab layout have resulted in even more room for occupants, while such features as the rear bench that can be flipped up with one hand have been retained.  

The new Sierra is aimed at attracting a different segment of consumers than its bowtie brother, people who appreciate advanced designs, superior quality, premium products. 

Kenzie says GM believes this two-truck strategy is “a strength that sets us apart” in the very competitive light-duty truck market. Time will tell if it’s the right decision, but with this new Sierra the folks at GM have a product that’s capable of challenging the best that Ford, Ram and all the others have to offer.

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