When it comes to special edition big pickups, the manufacturers giveth and they taketh away. Every few years sees the introduction of another unique limited-run hot rod or beauty queen, like the Chevrolet Silverado SS, Dodge Ram SRT-10, Ford F-150 SVT Lightning, or (cough) Lincoln Blackwood (cough). But sooner or later these hyped-up halo trucks jump the shark and disappear at the dispassionate clutches of bean counters, mercy killings, or both.
Whether by luck or good planning, GMC’s Sierra Denali has succeeded where these other trucks have failed by constantly reinventing itself before those who wear the green eyeshades could snuff it out. It was the first pickup to offer four-wheel steering (2002-2005) and the first full size to feature all-wheel-drive (2001), when it originally debuted as the Sierra C3. Only Ford’s Harley Davidson badged F-Series trucks have lived longer or changed more to survive.
The Sierra Denali is back for 2007. Like GM’s other half-ton and heavy duty haulers it’s all new from the ground up but we haven’t been able to get our mitts on it until now, just as it reaches dealer lots. The General has decided this launch will be a stealthy one, probably to keep demand up for this year’s trucks so buyers don’t postpone their purchase waiting for the Denali’s new powertrain advancements to trickle out to the other 1500 class GMT900 trucks next year and beyond. But this is one unique rig worthy of a special write-up because the Sierra Denali offers performance and luxury features that no other full size truck has today.
Let’s start with the Sierra Denali’s power and drivetrain. There’s been considerable gnashing of teeth from domestic pickup fans because Toyota’s remade 2007 Tundra was the first and only half-ton to offer a six-speed automatic gearbox and the most powerful gas engine in a standard duty pickup. The small block 5.7-liter iForce DOHC V8 engine in the Tundra is rated at 381 horsepower and 401 lb-feet of torque. But Tundra’s brief reign as power king is over, because the Sierra Denali checks the Tundra’s tranny with its 6L80E six-speed shifter and checkmates the iForce with GM’s mighty Corvette-inspired 6.2-liter L92 Vortec V8. The quasi big block pounds out 403 horsepower and 417 lb-feet of torque. The
L92 and 6L80E are GMC exclusives this year but all GM light duty pickups
will start to replace their four-speed 4L80E transmissions with the
6L80E in the 2009 model year, as build capacity increases. The Vortec meets other iForce powertrain advances head-on to also offer variable valve timing (another Sierra Denali first for a pickups with pushrod engines) for both the intake and exhaust valve timing. VVT helps bump up torque on the low end and horsepower on the high end. More on this later.
When it comes to the drivetrain, the Denali continues its original tradition of transferring power to the road through an all wheel drive setup, although two wheel drive is optional if you want to save a few a few thousand and incrementally improve fuel economy. But if you’re spending this much for a luxury sport touring pickup, you really need to go with AWD for the extra-grippy performance and all-weather safety it provides. The only other full size pickup to offer AWD is Ford’s Harley-Davidson F-150 but it’s engine is the standard 5.4-liter Triton V8, rated at 300 horsepower / 365 lb-feet of torque, that’s available across the entire F-150 lineup.