It is quite amazing how in the past few years, the humble heavy-duty pickup has morphed into a prized luxury vehicle. You might think that I am crazy for writing this, but consider how in the few years, truck manufacturers have been tailoring their models to appeal to a new audience. From new trim levels that focus primarily on luxury to new features that one would expect to find in an expensive sedan such as massaging front seats and high-quality leather. That doesn’t mean these luxury pickups have forgotten their main priority; to shoulder the weight of the world in terms of hauling and towing.
Recently, we spent a week in the GMC Sierra Denali 2500HD and Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn to get a reading on where luxury heavy-duty trucks currently stand.
Neither one of these trucks has gone through any significant changes since we last reviewed them. The 2500HD comes with a new hood scoop if you option the Duramax V8 turbodiesel, while certain Ram models such as our tester come with a new grille insert featuring “RAM”.
The two trucks could not be more different in terms of design elements. The Denali is more modern with a mesh grille, square headlights with LED strands, and a seemingly endless amount of chrome trim. We've found ourselves wondering if we could blind anyone while driving if the sun hit the Denali in just the right way. Meanwhile, the Laramie Longhorn feels right at home on a farm or ranch. The two-tone paint scheme of brown and beige really sets off the Ram 2500, along with the meaty 18-inch chrome wheels. The ‘RAM’ grille is a bit much, but at least it doesn’t come with large chrome lettering on the tailgate that can be reportedly seen from space. Our test truck came with Ram Box storage system. We like the additional storage and ability for the boxes to be locked, but it also means the bed is slightly narrower than a truck without it.
At one time, Sierra Denali was considered the pinnacle of luxury for pickup trucks. But now it pales in comparison to the likes the Ram and Ford. The Sierra Denali has the basics such as leather upholstery and stitching on the dash. But that’s about it as there isn’t the option of wood or aluminum trim. Instead, you get painted and faux-chrome like on other Sierra models. A lack of special touches hurt the Denali as well. It would be nice if there was some exclusive feature for the Denali such as a premium audio system or massaging seats.
On the upside, the dashboard is laid out in a logical fashion and controls are within easy reach. Both rows of seats provide excellent support for long trips and plenty of space for most passengers. The Sierra also earns points for having numerous USB ports. Getting in and out of the Sierra 2500HD is slightly easier than the Ram 2500 as the cab height is slightly lower.
Ram does a better a job in terms of luxury appointments. The Laramie Longhorn features what Ram calls ‘Natura Plus’ leather that feels quite nice when you run your hand across it. Real wood is used on the steering wheel and center stack trim to set it apart from other trims. Rear seat passengers will like the availability of heated seats, something not available on the Denali. There are other touches such as different background for the gauge package and seat pockets that are designed to look like saddle bags. It might look ridiculous to some, but Ram deserves some credit for trying to stand out.
Like the Sierra, Ram has a well-laid out dashboard with controls in the place you would expect. Seats aren’t as comfortable as the Sierra, but the 2500 does match it in terms of interior space. The Ram 2500 is somewhat harder to get in as feel like to you have to take a running leap, despite there being entry rails and grab handles. It is also quite the drop when getting out.
If there is an area that the Sierra leapfrogs the Ram, it is in technology. The Denali comes with an eight-inch screen featuring GMC’s Intellilink system as standard. This system has been improving since we first tried it a few years ago with improved performance and better stability. The only thing that needs to fixed is the slow response of the navigation system when first launched. Using the system is easy thanks to a simple interface and physical buttons underneath the screen. The addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto give Intellilink more of an edge over other systems.
Ram’s UConnect system was for a time considered one of the best systems thanks to a large screen and interface that offers large touchscreen buttons. It still retains these plus points, but it looks quite dated to the system found in the Sierra. A lot of this comes down to the interface which hasn’t changed since UConnect was launched a few years ago. There is a new version of UConnect that FCA has implemented into various models such as the Pacifica and the 2017 Dodge Charger that brings an updated look along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Sadly, the Ram 2500 misses out on this and it is unclear whether it will get in this current-generation or in a redesign.
Both trucks came with their respective optional diesel engines. For the Sierra Denali 2500HD, it is an updated 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel V8 offering 445 horsepower and 910 pound-feet of torque. Ram sticks with 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel inline-six with 370 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come paired with six-speed automatic transmissions, but the Ram is available with a six-speed manual.
On paper, the Sierra Denali 2500HD smokes the Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn and this plays out in the real world as well. The Duramax gets the Sierra 2500HD up to speed at a surprising rate. It feels more like a muscle car thanks to an abundance of low-end torque and being the lightest truck in the class - 6,532 lbs for a 4WD crew cab and 6’6” box vs. 7,625 lbs for the Ram 2500 when similarly equipped. A lot of these performance gains come from changes GM made to the Duramax V8 for 2017 with most of the engine’s internals being replaced and new cool air system with a hood vent. Aside from increased power, the changes also affect how quiet this engine is. Start the engine up and you’ll faintly hear the diesel clatter from inside.
The 6.7L Cummins cannot match the Duramax in outright performance. It takes about a second or two longer to hit the same speed as the Duramax. The large deficit in power and being slightly heavier than the Sierra 2500HD are the main reasons as to why. Not helping matters is the Cummins being quite louder than Duramax. At idle, it sounds like a semi-truck.
Neither truck is rated by the EPA as they're exempted from testing due to their heavy weight. In our week-long evaluation, both trucks returned an average of 15 mpg in mostly city driving.
Ram shines here as the maximum tow rating for our particular configuration (crew cab, 6’6” bed, and 4WD) comes in 17,200 lbs. GMC comes up short at 13,000 lbs in the same configuration.
Ride and Handling
While the Sierra Denali 2500HD may trail the Ram in terms of towing, it runs away when it comes to the ride. Despite sticking with a set leaf-springs in the rear, the Sierra 2500HD does a better job smoothing out bumps than the Ram’s coil-spring setup when the beds are empty. Fill them up and it becomes a dead heat in terms of ride quality. Ram does claw some points back as body motions are controlled better when turning and the steering doesn’t wander as much when driven on the highway.
Noise isolation goes to the GMC as there has been a fair amount of work done on adding more sound insulation to the truck, along with the improvements made to the engine.
Both of these trucks are expensive propositions. The Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn comes in at $73,310 as equipped and the Sierra Denali 2500HD is slightly less at $70,540. The key reason for the high prices are the optional diesel engines - $8,700 for the Ram and $9,550 for the Sierra. Considering how much power you get, we give this to Sierra by a hair.
If we consider these two trucks as luxury models, then we would rank the Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn ahead of the Sierra Denali. It makes passengers feel special with various touches such as the unique leather for the trim and heated rear seats. But both trucks pale in comparison to all-new Ford F-Series Super Duty that brings massaging seats and impressive material qualities in its top trim.
But when it comes to heavy-duty truck things, the GMC Sierra Denali stands above. While the Ram 2500 may have the more impressive towing numbers, the Sierra fights back with the more powerful diesel engine, better NVH containment, and a more comfortable ride. Hence why it takes this comparison test by a very narrow margin.
Disclaimer: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors Provided the trucks, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Model: Sierra 2500HD
Engine: 6.6L Duramax Turbodiesel V8
Driveline: Allison Six-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 445 @ 2,800
Torque @ RPM: 910 @ 1,600
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - N/A
Curb Weight: 6,532 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Flint, MI
Base Price: $58,495
As Tested Price: $70,540 (Includes $1,195.00 Destination Charge and $750.00 Duramax Plus Package Discount)
Duramax Plus Package - $9,550.00
Power Sunroof - $995.00
Dark Slate Metallic - $395.00
5th Wheel/Gooseneck Trailer Hi Tch Prep Package - $370.00
Off-Road Suspension Package - $180.00
Roof Marker Lamps - $55.00
Radiator Cover - $55.00
Trim: Laramie Longhorn
Engine: 6.7L Cummins Turbodiesel Inline-Six
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 370 @ 2,800
Torque @ RPM: 800 @ 1,600
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - N/A
Curb Weight: 7,625 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Saltillo, Mexico
Base Price: $57,575
As Tested Price: $73,310 (Includes $1,395 Destination Charge)
6.7L Cummins Turbodiesel Inline-Six - $8,700.00
RamBox Cargo Management System - $1,295.00
Power Sunroof - $1,095.00
Tri-Fold Tonneau Cover - $545.00
Convenience Group - $395.00
Wheel to Wheel Side Steps - $395.00
Center High-Mount Stop Lamp w/Cargo View Camera - $345.00
LT275/70R18E OWL On/Off-Road Tires - $245.00
Off-Road Package - $200.00
Keyless Enter n' Go - $195.00
Power Chrome Trailer Tow Mirrors w/Power Fold Away - $195.00
Rear Window Defroster - $195.00
Clearance Lamps - $95.00