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.
The cabin is comfortable, even for longer hauls.
The materials on the dash and door panels have a quality feel. There are more bins and compartments to put stuff in, and five USB ports to keep all your electronics charged.
As refined as the interior is, the tilt/telescoping wheel remains manual, for some reason. Worse, there are two separate levers to adjust them. What’s up with that?
When it comes to safety, one may feel comfortable in a brawny pickup. But Sierra has made some strides in this category, too. Standard are ABS, traction and stability control — complemented with a trailer sway control. Front and rear side bags and side curtain air bags also come standard.
An optional Driver Alert Seat vibrates when you veer from the lane or when another vehicle gets too close. It can be a tad annoying, but sometimes you’ll appreciate that extra set of eyes. Also available are lane-departure and forward collision warning system, rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors.
Variations of the Sierra seem endless: First, there’s a regular cab, extended and crew cab body style. Then there are the cargo beds: Regular cabs can get a standard 6.5-foot bed or worker-bee 8-foot bed. Crew cabs get the 6.5 or a short-bed 5.75 foot. All are available in 2- or 4-wheel drive.
The base Sierra gets 17-inch steel wheels but gets better — air conditioning, cruise control, chrome bumpers and power windows, to name a few. The SLE upgrades with features like “E-Z” lift tailgate and cargo-bed lighting, plus rearview camera, color info display with 8-inch screen, and upgraded audio with satellite radio.
Move up to the SLT and you find 18-inch alloy wheels, trailer-tow package, anti-theft package, and power seats across the front with memory.
The four-wheel-drive Z71 gears up for off-roading with hill-descent control, firmer shocks and shield plates to protect the undercarriage.
If you’re looking to upgrade from your current pickup, something that is rugged yet upscale, the Sierra SLT Z71 is full of reasons to do just that.
And if you’re trying to convince yourself that you need to have that first pickup, get your significant other on a bicycle. And tell her to follow my wife.