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    Quick Review: 2012 GMC Sierra Denali HD 2500

    William Maley

    Editor/Reporter - CheersandGears.com

    May 8, 2012

    The war of heavy duty pickups has been raging on for many years with Ford, General Motors, and Ram one upping each other with more powerful engines and towing capabilities that could embarrass certain commercial trucks. Now, a new branch of this war is emerging; the luxury heavy-duty truck.

    Gone are the steel wheels, vinyl seats, rubber floormats, and grey dashboards seen on many a truck. In their place are large chrome wheels, leather seats with heating and cooling, carpeting, and different color dashboards trimmed with wood.

    Ford, GM, and Ram have thrown their competitors into the ring and are now battling for the king of luxury heavy-duty truck.

    So when a 2012 GMC Sierra Denali HD 2500 was dropped off for week, it was the perfect time to see if it can be the king or not.


    What has changed?

    Not much since General Motors updated its heavy-duty trucks back in the 2011 model year. The big news for the 2012 model year was GM upping the hauling and towing ratings for the heavy duty trucks. The stats are,

    • Maximum towing capacity of 23,000 pounds
    • Conventional-hitch trailering capacity of 18,000 pounds
    • Maximum payload of 7,215 pounds

    Besides the rise in ratings, GMC has added a new exterior color and some new interior features for the Denali HD line.

    On to the exterior & interior

    So the exterior is pretty much the same as before?

    Yeah, the Denali HD hasn’t changed much since its last appearance in the C&G garage back in December 2010. The blunt front end still has the signature Denali chrome finishing on the upper and lower grilles. Around the side, the front fenders carry some sculpting and chrome bars adorn the doors. Add on the optional 20-inch chrome wheels and the new Steel Gray Metallic paint, and what you get is an understated luxury pickup, a trademark of the Denali line.


    What about the interior?

    The Sierra HD Denali’s interior is similar to any other loaded up GMC Sierra, albeit with more leather and “wood” trim. The dash looks and feels outdated with the materials clearly from the "old GM" era of cheap plastics. If the Sierra HD Denali cost $30,000, this would be ok. However, when the Denali HD is pushing $63,000, it falls into unacceptable. Also missing on this truck was the auto-up feature on the power windows. The only auto-thing on it was the auto-down feature on the driver’s side. It left me wondering why certain compact cars have this feature and not this truck.


    The optional navigation unit in Sierra HD Denali has been updated this year with new software that solves the problem of outdated software we had in our previous example. But interface issues remain; do I really need two whole rows of buttons to move around the NAV?


    However, all is not lost with Sierra HD Denali’s interior. The leather seats are very comfortable for both front and rear passengers. Front seat passengers will enjoy the heated and cooled seats for whatever season it is. Back seat passengers will like the amount of head and legroom.

    Next: Power, Verdict, and Specs

    What is the powertrain and how does it drive?

    All of GM’s heavy-duty pickups come standard with a 6.0L V8 producing 360 HP and 380 lb-ft of torque. However, this Sierra HD Denali was equipped with the shining star of GM’s powertrain lineup; the 6.6L Duramax turbo-diesel V8. The 6.6L engine produces 397 HP and mind-numbing 765 lb-ft of torque. All of that power goes through a six-speed Allison transmission.


    Driving around with the Duramax and Allison combo was a sublime experience. Power was strong and linear as I left from a stop or while making a pass. The transmission provided buttery smooth shifts.

    Average fuel economy for the week stood at 14.5 MPG. On a 100 Mile highway trip, the Sierra Denali averaged 19 MPG, a surprise since the Sierra Denali HD tips the scales at 7,400 lbs.

    The ride of the Sierra Denali HD varies on the road condition. Smooth roads and Sierra Denali HD provided a comfortable ride. Head onto a rougher road and you can feel every bump. That’s due to good looking 20-inch chrome wheels and the upgraded suspension to handle the weight.

    Maneuverability isn’t the Denali HD’s strongest suit. The long length and wide turning circle make it pain in certain situations. Many a time was spent during the week backing up, steering the truck, and pulling into certain parking spots without trying to cause property damage.

    And the verdict?

    The Sierra Denali HD sits in a precarious spot in the luxury heavy-duty truck market. On one hand, the Denali HD doesn’t match what the Super Duty and Ram Heavy Duty trucks offer in luxuries. Examples include a better quality dash, a newer navigation system, and other little things that make you feel your spent your money well. Plus, maneuverability could be a little bit better.

    On the other hand, the Sierra Denali HD claws back with its superb optional Duramax and Allison Transmission powertrain package. Plus, the Denali has a trick up its a sleeve. Unlike the Ford and Ram’s current luxury trucks which scream, “Look at me, I’m driving a big honking luxury truck,” the Denali HD goes for the understated look.

    The Sierra Denali HD hits 75% of what luxury truck buyers want, it’s the last 25% the truck is missing, which could prove devastating when Ford and Ram launch their true competitors to the Denali HD later this year.


    • Duramax and Allison powertrain
    • Understated luxury look
    • Hauling and Towing Ratings


    • Interior doesn't match pricetag
    • Poor maneuverability
    • Ride Quality

    Disclaimer: General Motors provided the truck, insurance, and one tank of diesel.

    Year - 2012

    Make - GMC

    Model - Sierra HD

    Trim - Denali 2500 Crew Cab

    Engine - 6.6L Duramax Turbo Diesel V8

    Driveline - Four Wheel Drive, Six Speed Automatic

    Horsepower @ RPM - 397 @ 3000

    Torque @ RPM - 765 @ 1600

    Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - N/A

    Curb Weight - 7456 lbs

    Location of Manufacture - Flint, Michigan

    Base Price - $48,785.00

    As Tested Price - $62,914.00 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)

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    Nice write up. I love the look both internal and external and you can never go wrong with the Duramax/Allison combo.

    Once you go Max you never lacks! :P

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    • Conventional-hitch trailering capacity of 18,000 pounds

    Makes the 6,000lb rating on my Suburban seem pedestrian. This is a good thing when we're talking about a "heavy duty truck".

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    I had troubles with low speed maneuverability compared to the Ford also.... but once on the road, the GMC was positively Cadillac like compared to the bouncy Ford.

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