One look, and my farm-owning friend fell in love with our test-drive Heavy Duty 2011 Sierra Denali 2500 Crew Cab four door. He raved about the pickup truck’s abundant towing power — a godsend, he says, for those such as himself often needing to pull RVs, livestock trailers, or large, heavy farm equipment. A redesigned trailer hitch lets the HD tow up to 16,000 lb, pretty incredible for a pickup truck. And an “integrated trailer brake controller” mounted on the dash sends measured brake-force signals to electric brakes on the trailer, which work with the truck’s brakes to provide safer stopping when towing. The controller eliminates the need to buy aftermarket devices.
Besides the stronger hitch, several other factors contribute to Denali’s pulling power, with torque topping the list. The standard powerplant is a Vortec 6.0-liter V8. But our tester came with the optional Duramax 6.6-liter V8 turbo diesel, which generates lots of torque — 765 lb-ft. It sends its power through an Allison transmission GM has beefed up with a thicker output shaft diameter, tougher clutch, and bigger torque-converter housing.
The automaker also engineered the suspension to bear a lot of the brunt of larger payloads. The rear suspension includes asymmetrical leaf springs (shorter in the front than the rear) to reduce “hop and shudder,” a phenomenon akin to driving over a washboard. And, the fully boxed, high-strength steel frame gives the truck high torsional stiffness.
Surprisingly, the stiffness does not prevent the Denali from providing a smooth ride. It also handles well, no doubt partly due to the independent front suspension, said to provide better tire-to-ground contact than solid-axle suspensions. And urethane jounce bumpers buffer increases in load going through the frame and lower control arms, further smoothing the ride. However, the steering was a little too loosey-goosey for my taste.
Inside, the cabin rivals that of many luxury vehicles. The front leather bucket seats were as comfortable as sitting on a sofa. They include 12-way adjustments and a two-way lumbar control that let you place yourself squarely in front of the steering wheel. Power-adjustable pedals for the accelerator and brake let you further customize the fit to your leg length. Up front, yet more comfort comes from dual-zone climate controls with individual settings for driver and passenger. The rear of the cabin sports a 60/40 folding bench. It lets you fold down the smaller side for additional cargo or longer items but still have room for a passenger in the larger space.
As befitting a luxurious workhorse, the Denali’s aggressive stance and 78.1-in. height impart a regal, commanding look. The chrome grille, door handles, and bodyside moldings contrasted nicely with our tester’s onyx paint job. Perhaps most imposing, though, were the beautiful multispoke 20-in. polished, forged aluminum wheels, complete with chrome lugnuts.
The standard version costs $45,865. Options, including the diesel ($7,195), navigation touchscreen ($2,250), and power sunroof ($895), brought our tester to $61,244.
— Leslie Gordon