Sierra for all seasons
I'll say one thing: GM's smooth-riding Sierra 1500 pickup certainly sits high. The floor of the passenger compartment is 24 in. off the ground, letting occupants look down the road over the top of most other pickups and sport-utes, and even over the tops of small trees. The extended cab provides a reasonable amount of passenger space behind the front two seats, and the truck bed is large enough to let 4 3 8s lay flat, a feature that came in handy for hauling dry wall panels from the local Home Depot.
It should be obvious, though, that cab roominess, height, and hauling capacity means the Sierra takes up a lot of space on the road and in parking lots. Reviews of the Sierra in car magazines sometime describe the experience of driving down narrow streets as a bit hair raising. I can only conclude that these reviews are from writers whose normal vehicle is an econo box or sports car. It's true the Sierra doesn't have the turning radius of a Miata nor will it fit in a roadster's parking spot. On the other hand, you can't ferry 4 3 8s with a two seater. For that matter, you can't haul them very well with most sport-utes. (Try laying one flat in a Pathfinder). And the Sierra handles well for what it is: A full-size truck large enough to cart around a sizable load.
Cab ergonomics are a highlight. A cavernous storage area in the center console is big enough to house a six pack and a bag of ice, not that I tried. Everything is well lighted, including the bed, which makes it easy to unload during long winter nights. GM designers also get high marks for the lights in front. They are so bright that when I switched back to driving my old beater, its comparatively dim lighting fooled me into thinking I'd lost a headlamp.
The ride is extremely comfortable but cushiness arises partly from the full-feature bucket seats that come as a $775 comfort option. Interestingly, GM makes a number of other cab comfort options part of a $2,235 package that includes a heavy-duty suspension and aluminum wheels. Bundled into this option are front leather seating with six-way power controls, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, A/C, and an inside rearview mirror with built in compass and temperature readout.
Women drivers in particular seem to like the Sierra with its elevated view of the road and well-designed power steering. The only gripe I heard concerned climbing into the up-high cab -- not something a woman would do in an evening dress. A running board would help. And potential Sierra customers would be advised to spring for the optional fourth door. The model we tested was the three-door standard version. It quickly became tedious letting my Labrador retriever in and out of the passenger-side door.
Our vehicle carried the Vortec 5300 engine, a 5.3-liter version of the aluminum-headed V8 originally created for the new Corvette. It produces 285 hp at 5,200 rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. This engine is an $800 option, the standard offering being the 270-hp Vortec 4800. Along with the bigger engine, the Sierra came equipped with hauling options that included trailering equipment ($285) and slightly bigger 16-in. tires ($365).
Unfortunately our time with the truck didn't permit testing its performance anywhere near the 8,500-lb tow rating it carries. It performed admirably while conveying the relatively light loads we asked it to haul, providing plenty of power and acceleration. Interested readers should note, too, that the Sierra won top honors in Machine Design's Best Ride competition two years ago. This ride and handling competition judged truck performance both when unloaded and while carrying a load.
Finally, the Sierra has some appearance options that really make it stand out. Ours carried colored fender flares and a two-tone paint job ($180 and $250 respectively) that earned it appreciative looks from other truck owners. The wheel flares are available on the 4WD versions of the truck to differentiate it from its 2WD cousin. (Of note here: 4WD activation is a pushbutton on the dash. No more transfer-case shifter on the floor).
Other optional equipment included the 4WD, locking differential, front fog lamps, heated outside mirrors, a rear-window defogger, and tinted glass. These boosted the $27,461 base price to $32,460 plus destination charge. All in all, GM has a competitive vehicle that will appeal to upscale truck buyers.
-- Leland Teschler