Road Test: 2005 GMC Sierra Denali
By: Mike Magda, Editor Posted: 01-31-05 00:10 PT
© 2005

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If GMC is going to expand the premium Denali brand to its Sierra pickup, why is the company being so stingy with the truly advanced equipment it has developed? Is GMC afraid of the dreaded $50,000 price point for half-ton pickups? Or is the truckmaker saving a little something special for 2006 when the Sierra Denali will be going heads up with the new Lincoln Mark LT? It’s not like GMC can’t afford to splurge now.

GMC Sierra sales for 2004 were up almost nine percent over the previous year, according to data from Automotive News. (All GMC was up 3.2 percent while all General Motors was down 1.2 percent.) Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram sales were down while Ford posted a record year with the F-Series line, mostly due to the success of the new F-150.

Why is GMC doing better than Chevy when the two General Motors siblings sell pickups off the same GMT800 platform? First, we have to acknowledge that GMC sells only about one-third as many Sierras as Chevy does Silverados (213,756 vs. 680,768 in 2004), so Bow Tie dealers aren’t exactly applying for food stamps. But GMC continues to work a little stronger magic with consumers. Could it be a more satisfying dealer experience? Is the “Professional Grade” campaign more in tune with the truck audience than the “American Revolution” theme that must also appeal to car and minivan shoppers in Chevrolet’s marketing plans?

Mechanically, the majority of GMC pickups aren’t that different than their Chevy brethren. The obvious contrasts are wheels, grille treatment and some equipment combinations. The trim lines are similar as are the cab/bed choices. But GMC has the new Sierra Denali, a model that Chevy has no equal.

The 2005 Sierra Denali is a continuation of the upscale Denali treatment first seen on the 1999 Yukon and later adapted to the Yukon XL. It first appeared on the Sierra in 2004 but only as an Extended Cab model. The Denali advantage over a fully loaded Sierra is availability of the most powerful engine combined with all-wheel-drive, distinctive front-end styling and a boatload of standard equipment.

Hold on, you say! Doesn’t the Chevy Silverado SS have the most powerful engine, all-wheel-drive and distinctive front-end styling? Yes, but the Silverado SS is available only in Extended Cab. The new 2005 GMC Sierra Denali comes in the more desirable Crew Cab configuration with the 68-inch bed. And the 2005 Sierra Denali succeeds in its mission of offering a high degree of luxury to the pickup owner when compared to the competition. The Silverado SS fails in its mission of offering a high degree of performance when compared to the competition.

But when we picked up our Sierra Denali test model, we were struck by what was missing from what could have been the most full-featured pickup on the market. Where was the multi-link, coil spring rear suspension? Where was the StabiliTrak? Where was the Autoride suspension system? This equipment is standard on the Yukon Denali. It all fits on the GMT800 platform and can be built on the same assembly line as the SUV.

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