GMC’s popular Denali trim level has been the brand’s opulence trim since the introduction of the 1999 Yukon. Extra features, added luxury, and a distinct grille design have made the range-topping trim level a popular choice among affluent buyers who want something extra. Think of the Denali trim as the halfway point between the average pickup and a Cadillac Escalade.

Added to a 2015 Sierra 1500, the Denali package brings a special flair to the truck that’s happily free of cowboy influences and saddle-colored leather brought on by the popularity of the 2013 Ford F-150 King Ranch. In fact, the Sierra Denali was distinctly non-cowboy before it was cool. Now both Ford and Ram offer range-topping trim levels that gives city folks an opportunity to have all the bells and whistles without the Texas theme.

When the Sierra Denali first arrived, I was excited to compare it to its corporate cousin, the Chevrolet Silverado High Country, which I had tested the previous year. Both trucks came equipped with nearly the same options, including the mighty 6.2-liter V-8 and 4WD. The only mechanical difference between the trucks is the GMC’s eight-speed automatic transmission, new for this model year.

The GMC also sports a much larger TFT display in its gauge cluster, and the 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot – both of which came in handy.

Besides a $6,000 difference in price and one model year’s difference, the two trucks proved to be very similar. However, the GMC felt more special – more high-class and high-brow – simply thanks to its more urban approach. There’s still plenty to dive into, so continue reading for the full driven review.

Continue reading for the full driven review

  • 2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V8
  • Transmission:
    eight-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    420 @ 5600
  • MPG(Cty):
    15
  • MPG(Hwy):
    21
  • Torque @ RPM:
    460 @ 4100
  • Energy:
    Direct Injection
  • Displacement:
    6.2 L
  • 0-60 time:
    6.5 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    110 mph (Est.)
  • Layout:
    Front Engine, 4WD w/ Low Range
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Video Walk-Around


Exterior

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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The Sierra Denali enjoys the most unique look among its GM truck counterparts. Its chrome cheese-grater grille and red GMC lettering set it apart. The LED daytime running lights and HID headlights complement the look. Add to that the chrome pieces down low on the front bumper, the side mirror caps, door handles, door trim, and running boards, and the truck really shines – regardless of paint color.

The truck offers plenty of functionality at the business end. The integrated bumper steps make getting into the cargo bed much simper than deploying folding steps or jumping. The EZ Lift and Lower tailgate makes one-handed operation a snap. A standard spray-in bed liner, moveable tie-downs, and LED lights inside the bed look professional and add even more functionality.

For trailer towers, the GMC comes standard with both four- and seven-pin wiring connectors. Mounted near the license plate, the connections are out of the way and easily accessible. The frame-mounted receiver hitch is rated to pull 12,000 pounds. However, the limiting factors on the truck, like its axle ratio, 4WD weight, and 20-inch wheels keep this particular model’s max tow rating at 9,200 pounds. Still, that’s average for a half-ton truck that’s not decked out with a heavy-duty towing package.

Interior

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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The Sierra Denali offers a very luxurious place for five occupants thanks to leather trimmed seats, 12-way powered front seats with heating and cooling functions, a heated steering wheel, and enough leg room in all positions to accommodate people over six-foot six.

Opting for the Denali trim gets you those upgraded leather seats with perforations, real aluminum trim on the dash, the upgraded TFT display in the gauge cluster, standard navigation and 4G LTE Wi-Fi on the 8-inch touch screen, and a Denali label on the steering wheel. Otherwise, the dashboard has the same design as lesser GMC and Chevrolet trucks.

Of course the GMC and Chevy pickups come packed with notable features. The charging station in the center console is fantastic, coming complete with three USB ports, two 12-volt outlet and a three-pronged 110-volt household plug. Of course there’s also two USB ports under the center armrest and another 12-volt outlet for the back seats. Sadly the rear passengers make do with no USB ports.

Also nice are the number of storage pockets and compartments. A dual glove box, a massive center console with removable cup holders, and two-tiered door panel shelves give plenty of room for items. For larger items, the rear seats fold up to reveal the nearly flat load floor.

Technology wise, the GMC doesn’t disappoint. The 8-inch infotainment screen comes with GMC’s IntelliLink software that is similar to Chevy’s MyLink. The software is easy to operate and intuitive in its layout. The SiriusXM radio offers DVR-like playback and pushes the tunes through the standard Bose sound system.

That TFT display in the gauge cluster is customizable with different gauges and information. It also displays things like turn-by-turn directions, tire pressure, digital speed and odometer, radio information, and vehicle settings. Best of all, the four gauges along the top are digital, allowing the voltmeter to be swapped for the transmission temperature when the Tow/Haul mode is engaged. Clever.

My only major complaint with the interior was the lack of HVAC vents for the rear passengers, leaving them to sweat it out in the summer heat.

On the downside of the interior, the rear passengers also suffer without an HVAC vents.

Powertrain

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Drivetrain Test drive
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Opting for the Denali trim doesn’t change anything under the hood, but it does allow for the optional 6.2-liter V-8. Coming standard is the EcoTec3 5.3-liter V-8 making 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. While it’s a great engine, it doesn’t match the output of the Corvette-derived 6.2-liter. Yep, the small-block V-8 shares many of the same components with the C7 Corvette, including the aluminum block, pistons, and heads are all the same. Only the intake, exhaust, internal lubrication, computer tune, and of course ancillary accessories, are different.

This Chevy small-block kicks out 420 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and an impressive 460 pound-feet of toque at 4,100 rpm.

But that’s old news. The newest component on the 2015 Sierra Denali is its eight-speed automatic transmission that replaces the old six-speed automatic. And would you believe it’s the GM 8L90 also found in the Corvette? Aside from its transaxle housing and tuning, the guts of this autobox are the same. Unlike the Vette, the Sierra’s 8L90 is mounted directly to the engine block, and in this case, is then connected to a two-speed, electronically controlled transfer case.

The 4WD system offers standard rear-wheel drive, and automatic 4WD mode, 4WD high range, and 4WD low range – all controlled by the dash-mounted knob. Selecting the 6.2-liter engine also includes a larger 9.76-inch rear end to handle the torque.

Like the six-speed unit before, the eight-speed offers manual controls that are helpful in towing. An optional trailer brake controller ties in the trailer’s brakes with the truck’s ABS system for sure-footed stopping.

Thanks to the extra two gears, the GMC gets another one mpg on the city and highway loops according to the EPA. That put the truck at getting 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, and 17 mpg combined.

Fuel Economy
City 15
Highway 21
Combined 17

Driving Impressions

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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The Denali version has one more trick up its sleeve – Magnetic Ride Control. Like the Corvette, Cadillacs, and Camaros before it, the truck’s shock absorbers are filled with solution full of metal particles that react to changing current through the magnets fitted inside the shock tubes. The result is a ride that changes depending on road conditions.

The ride proved to be a great mix between firm and soft with the shocks soaking up bumps with ease. Of course, the rear suspension still uses conventional leaf springs, but the MRC is apparent. Body roll is also well managed, along with rear squat and nosedives. The brakes work very well at stopping the big truck and should have no trouble bringing a 9,000-pound trailer to a halt.

The steering is nicely weighted and offers a decent amount of feel through the wheel, though you’ll never mistake it for a BMW or a Mazda Miata.

The throttle offers a smooth response with no jerky tip-in while the engine pulls like a mule while sounding like an angry Euphonium. That’s thanks the active exhaust flapper that keeps things quiet under normal operation but allows the engine to breath when under load.

Overall driving impressions are good. It drives big but is manageable and is well controllable. Outward visibility is also spectacular.

Safety

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the GMC Sierra at its best score – five stars. In fact, the truck earns five stars on frontal and side crashes for both the driver and passenger. The only area that does have five stars is in rollover risk. Here the Sierra earns four stars.

Price

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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The GMC Sierra Denali is a luxury truck and its price reflects that. The base price for a Sierra Denali is listed at $50,860. Of course with options the price grows even more. My tester came fully loaded with nearly every option available, including the Driver Alert Package ($450), the 6.2-liter V-8 ($2,495), power sunroof ($995), 20-inch wheels ($300), and trailer brake controller ($230).

Add to that the $1,195 destination charge, and the final price comes to $58,480.

Competition

2016 Ford F-150 Limited

2016 Ford F-150 Limited High Resolution Exterior
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The Limited trim level is back for 2016, having taken a year break while Ford transitioned to the new F-150. Now the well-to-do trim offers customers a high-class ride with all the functionality of a regular F-150. The interior comes with just about every available option offered on the F-150, including the new Pro Trailer Backup Assist and 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine.

Special touches include a chrome plaque on the center armrest that shows the truck’s specific VIN, bespoke 22-inch wheels, and a chrome Limited badge that stretches across the tailgate.

Read our full review on the 2016 Ford F-150 Limited here.

2015 Ram Laramie Limited

2016 Ram Laramie Limited High Resolution Exterior
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Ram’s popular Laramie Longhorn edition pulls off the western style with ease, but for those looking for a luxury truck without all the yehaw, the Laramie Limited offers the same level of luxury but with a more urban feel. The truck comes with real open-pore wood accents and black leathers seats with grey piping, and bespoke graphics on its TFT and Uconnect screens at startup. Most striking is the Laramie Limited’s distinct grille that departs from the typical crosshair design.

The Laramie Limited can be had with the 5.7-liter V-8 or the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6. Both offer good amounts of power and torque but cater to different needs. Chrysler’s eight-speed automatic transmission backs up both engines.

Prices for the Laramie Limited start at $50,675 and climb to $57,300 before options. Like the Denali and Limited trims, the Laramie Limited is also offered on the heavy-duty trucks.

Read more about the 2016 Ram 1500 Laramie Edition here.

Conclusion

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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Though on the expensive side, the GMC Sierra Denali proves that luxury doesn’t have to be confined to a sedan or that trucks have to be construction fleet mules. The mix of black tie and blue jeans comes together here in a capable yet good-looking truck that would be at home at a truck stop or valet parking lot.

Its Corvette-derived V-8 and upgraded transmission make it an awesome powerhouse to drive. Its smooth delivery and quiet ride make it perfect for long highway jaunts and its surprisingly tight turning radius keeps it nimble in the city. The inclusion of all the luxury features is simply icing on top of a wonderful mechanical cake. Perhaps it can best be summed up like this: the drivetrain makes the truck, but the interior makes the truck enjoyable.

All told, the Sierra Denali doesn’t disappoint save for a few nit-picky areas.

  • Leave it
    • * Expensive
    • * No rear A/C vents
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