Over the years I’ve looked for excuses to buy a pickup truck, trying to justify a need for the cargo bay. Many guys, my son included, didn’t worry about it so much; they bought one anyway.
But the wife, who manages to mow down with her bicycle anything in her way, may have helped me out a couple of weekends back. She managed to roll over five — count ’em, five — thorns on a fallen branch. Is there a flat-tire-of-the-month club?
Anyway, I easily tossed the bike into the 6.5-foot bed of the 2014 GMC Sierra (not available in last year’s crew cab) and carted it to the bike shop. That, maybe some bags of mulch next week … yes, I think I can justify one of these after all.
Especially the flashy, chrome-laden Sierra SLT with the off-road-geared Z71 trim.
The Sierra and its cousin, the Chevrolet Silverado, have been redesigned for 2014, and there is plenty of newness to sink your teeth into: stronger yet more fuel-efficient engines, more refined interiors, and a quiet ride that will make you forget what a brute it is — it can haul some 12,000 pounds.
While there are many similarities between the cousins, I think Sierra’s redesigned front end sets it apart. While the Chevy looks similar to last year with its stacked headlights, Sierra dropped that style and has small projector-beam lights underscored with LEDs on the SLT.
You’ll also discover differences in the grille, hood and fenders. Plus, there are chrome rails at the bottom of the side windows.
A welcome improvement this year: The rear doors of both extended cabs now open like traditional doors. Gone are the rear-hinged “suicide doors.” Said my Silverado son: “That’s a big plus — I don’t know how many friends were confused by those doors.”
But the major upgrade is the new lineup of power plants. It starts with a new, stronger V6 available on all but the SLT trims.
This is not the smaller V6s that the competition shares with its crossover kin, but rather a beefy 4.3-liter V6 with 285 horses and 305 foot-pounds of torque. This engine is likely to satisfy most of those buyers who aren’t hauling around a cabin cruiser. Properly equipped, it can tow 7,200 pounds. And yet it manages 18 mpg city, 24 highway with the 2-wheel-drive. Not too shabby.
Next, a 5.3-liter V8 — standard on the SLTs — puts out 355 horses and 383 pound-feet of torque. This can tow 11,200 pounds and gets 16 mpg city, 23 highway.
For the workhorse needs, an optional 6.2-liter V8 produces 355 horsepower and 383 foot-pounds of torque. Zero to 60 takes around 8 seconds, which is a full second slower than the Ford 150 and Ram. But does that second really matter when we’re talking pickups?
All engines are mated to a smooth-operating six-speed automatic transmission.
On the road, Sierra’s ride is comfortable while a bit firm, with a revised suspension this year. It’s amazingly quiet even at highway speeds. With the Max Trailering package comes a firmer and less friendly ride.
Handling is improved this year; taking corners is not the fright pickups used to be. Steering is nicely weighted, not too light or heavy. And while some say Sierra’s turning radius doesn’t quite stack up to the competition, I had no problem pulling a tight U-turn in my neighborhood.
Brake response was strong and made it easy to bring the big fellow (5,600 pounds) to a halt at the traffic light.
Visibility from within the cabin is wide and wonderful. And it’s aided by a wide-angle mirror in the corner of the driver’s side-view mirror, a nice feature when towing a boat or trailer.