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The Sierra Denali is already arguably the most luxurious pickup on the market. The Ford F-150 King Ranch special edition can compete in terms of comfort, and it beats the Sierra Denali in ride, quietness and interior style. But it doesn’t offer the same engine power and smooth-acting all-wheel-drive options. The Sierra Denali comes with the 345-horsepower 6.0-liter LQ9 V8 engine. It’s also rated at 375 lb-ft of peak torque. The Sierra Denali weighs in at just under 5500 pounds and carries a 7000-pound GVWR, so it needs and uses every available pony under the hood. Payload rating is an impressive 1722 pounds, and max tow capacity is 8100 pounds. The fulltime all-wheel-drive system includes a rear locking differential and splits the front/rear torque at a 40/60 ratio. There is no low-range for severe off-roading, but the AWD works well in most slippery conditions, such as a wet boat ramp.

The overall interior layout has been around since the current Sierra was introduced as a 1999 model. The dash/center console is often criticized as being out of date but I am of the minority that truly appreciates this design; not so much for the appearance as the function. This is a cockpit that is easy to bond with. Hand flow between the steering wheel and audio/climate controls is precise. The 6-CD changer and audio head should be one unit, and I wish the storage was more versatile on the console, but otherwise it’s a competent arrangement.

I appreciate a full array of analog gauges, and the Denali’s are particularly easy to read with blue backlighting and white pointers. Ford has raised the bar with its beautiful upscale interior in the new F-150, especially with the center console-mounted shifter. We know that the next generation Sierra is coming as a 2008 model, so it will be a few years before a major change is seen. Still, the current interior is spacious and inviting. Automatic climate control, 7-speaker sound system, heated bucket seats, OnStar and XM radio contribute to the comfort level. The DVD system can be operated by rear-seat passengers and enjoyed using the wireless headphones, leaving the driver undisturbed.

On the outside, the Sierra Denali is distinguished by the chrome honeycomb-style grille, projector-beam headlights and smooth front fascia. The truck also features side steps and 17-inch polished alloy wheels. A new 20-inch wheel package with touring tires should be available later in 2005, but it’s expected to cost close to $3,000. Also soon to be offered is a power sunroof. Now we are getting closer to $50,000.

The Sierra Denali is more than just a rebadged Sierra SLT. The combination of powertrain enhancements and luxury amenities sets the Sierra Denali apart from any other half-ton pickup made by GM or Dodge. Ford comes close in comfort and ride but not powertrain engineering. GMC certainly has the tools to improve the Denali package even more for the Sierra. Let’s hope that pressure from the new F-150 and Honda Ridgeline will spur GMC to take a few more risks and strive to be the undisputed leader in pickup truck innovation.

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