Payne: GMC Sierra wows with Swiss Army tailgate
A video walkaround of the 2019 GMC Sierra Henry Payne, The Detroit News
Travel to Newfoundland, and the friendly locals will adopt you as a “Newfie” after a “screech-in” ritual that includes the kissing of a cod.
“Are ye a screecher?” demanded the chief of ceremonies as I wiped my lips of the fish.
“Indeed I is, and long may your big jib draw,” I responded, reciting the required vows. “Big jib” is a large boat sail. Translation: May the wind always be at your back.
GMC brought members of the automotive press to this rocky North Atlantic isle this summer for the launch of its totally re-imagined Sierra. The big pickup has long been an honorable Newfie with its handsome looks, rugged capability and smooth ride. It’s going to be adopted by a lot of customers around the rest of North America, too.
This is the Year of the Truck and each of the Detroit Three is bringing new pickups. Ford has it first diesel F-150. From Ram comes a stylish 1500. And from GM, the brawny Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra identical twins.
Except, the twins aren’t so identical anymore.
As the years have gone by, Silverado and Sierra have diverged to the point where they are fishing for different customers. Chevy is the populist choice, populating worksites with work trucks for working stiffs. GMC is the managers' brand, delivering architects, construction foremen and company owners to the site — its big, chromed bow announcing its business-class passenger.
Sierra may start around $30,000 like its Chevy twin, but a mere 9 percent of GMC sales are the affordable SLE trim. Its upscale Denali and SLT wardrobes account for a whopping 75 percent of sales, says GMC marketing guru Phil Brook. So synonymous is Denali with GMC that customers simply ask for Denali. Like BMW speed-freaks say they want an M. Or Mercedes motorheads want an AMG.
The GMC customer wants something different and, boy, do they get it with the 2019 pickup. For the Year of the Truck, GMC brings the Year of the Box.
The General has already made news with Silverado’s expanded, Brobdingnagian, rolled-steel bed. The bed is the working end of the pickup, the head of the hammer. “I don’t think we’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer,” GM product captain Mark Reuss said at this year’s Detroit auto show, hammering away at the F-150.
Sierra, too, gets Silverado’s steel, defying pundit claims that truck makers would have to follow Ford and go lightweight with aluminum to save the polar bears. Tow that to the same 21st-century scrap yard as predictions that we’d all be driving hybrid compact sedans by now.
Sierra caps the steel box with the innovative MultiPro tailgate. Exclusive to Sierra and standard on upper trim Denali and SLT, the MultiPro is a gate within a gate.
It’s a six-way Swiss Army knife of versatility:
1. The inner gate drops, forming a shallow, chest-high shelf. Not as expansive as the full “tailgate party” drop, it can act as a rear workspace — or mini-bar.
2. With the inner gate open the shelf will rotate vertically, creating a load-stop for boards or plywood that otherwise hang awkwardly over the tailgate.
3. The full gate drops slowly on cables like a standard pickup (a new auto-close trick is exclusive to Silverado).
4. With the full gate open, the inner-gate shelf can again be propped open to create a lower load-stop. For large loads with the truck, I preferred the taller load-stop so I could put the heavy stuff in the bed of the truck — then long, load-stopped boards on top of them.
5. With the full gate down, drop the inner gate to create a sort of “walk-in desk.”
6. With the full gate and inner gate down, the load-stop shelf now acts as a step creating a two-step staircase into the bed. GMC/Chevy were already innovators in this space with their corner step — but the staircase makes easy bed entry when carrying big items. Say goodbye to hiking your knee up onto the tailgate to get in the bed.
The MultiPro gate is as cool as it sounds. Not since Audi’s slick, multi-functional Virtual Cockpit display and Tesla’s 17-inch screen have I so enjoyed playing with an accessory.
But where the Audi/Tesla function is ultimately an aesthetic luxury, the Sierra’s premium tailgate is must-have, truck utility.
Other accessories push beyond premium to luxury. The Sierra reaches into Cadillac’s toolbox for a giant head-up display and rear camera mirror — the latter giving drivers an unobstructed view of bed and trailer. A swiveling side step (also available on Silverado’s High Country trim) allows better access to the front bed quarter. And the bed will also be available in carbon fiber — an exotic, lightweight material typically found on sports cars. For Sierra, carbon means a material even more durable than steel.
Speaking of sports cars, my Denali had a similar 6.2-liter V-8 to the Corvette. Paired with a 10-speed and spitting out 460 pound-feet of torque, it was as silky as the Sierra’s wardrobe. Dress a Chevy Silverado in a tuxedo and it’s good-looking. If it can do a six-way tailgate, wade streams with 1,600 pounds on your back and go zero-60 in less than six seconds, it’s a celebrity.
Heck, if James Bond ever needs a gorgeous, versatile pickup, Q might deliver him a Sierra Denali.
Or a Sierra AT4. The latter is Sierra’s latest premium trim — a skid-plated, off-road version packing two extra inches of lift, that big honkin’ V-8 and knobby off-road tires. If Newfies don’t need their Sierra to load fish, then they can take this brute inland to chop Christmas trees.
My MultiPro-accessorized Sierra starts just $1,700 north of a $57,795 High Country Silverado. The looks alone are worth it. The remade, high-strength steel chassis is not just 380 pounds lighter than the last generation, it's allowed designers a bigger canvas to differentiate it from the humble Chevy. Behold the sculpted flanks and C-shaped headlights, and an upright hood that rivals the Ram 1500 for best-looking truck on the road.
Sierra customers may be surprised to find the interior is little changed from the Silverado. Still, that also means it gets the same three-inch boost in rear legroom over last generation, rear-seat storage compartments and connected console.
Sierra beats kissing a cod. It’s a whale of a truck.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.
2019 GMC Sierra 1500
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- and four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup
Price: $31,095 base ($67,200 Denali, 6.2-liter V-8, 4WD Crew Cab as tested)
Powerplant: 4.3-liter V-6; 2.7-liter Turbo-4; 5.3-liter V-8; 6.2-liter V-8
Power: 285 horsepower, 305 pound-feet torque (4.3-liter V-6); 310 horsepower, 328 pound-feet torque (2.7-liter Turbo-4); 355 horsepower, 385 pound-feet torque (5.3-liter V-8); 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet torque (6.2-liter V-8)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic (V-6, 5.3L V-8); 8-speed automatic (Turbo-4, 5.3L V-8); 10-speed automatic (6.2L V-8)
Performance: 0-60 mph, est. 5.7 seconds; Towing: 12,100 lbs. (4WD 6.2-liter V-8 Crew Cab, mftr); Payload: 2,070 lbs. (4WD 6.2-liter V-8 Crew Cab, mftr)
Weight: 4,797 pounds, base, 2WD Crew Cab (5,015 pounds (4WD, Crew Cab as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/21 highway/17 combined (4WD 5.3L V-8); 15 city/20 highway/17 combined (4WD 6.2L V-8)
Highs: Head-turning looks; Swiss Army knife meets tailgate
Lows: Interior still too Chevy-like; how come the interior wood trim is buried in the dash?
Overall: 4 stars