Pros: Upper trim levels make a credible argument for a luxury pickup

Cons: Too similar to Chevrolet Silverado, its corporate sibling, in base trim

What's New: Revised powertrain grade braking

With a totally redesigned Sierra pickup likely arriving next year, the 2013 GMC Sierra 1500 is the last model year of the current generation of GMC pickups. For some truck shoppers, this makes the 2013 Sierra highly appealing. The last model before a redesign, they say, is often the best; the automaker has spent years working out the kinks.

Others prefer to wait for the all-new model and the additional equipment it will likely include. But even truck shoppers with more time to look should consider the 2013 Sierra. These models will remain on lots well into 2013, and dealers (anxious to make room for the 2014 Sierra when it launches) may eventually offer attractive incentives.

Although the Sierra arrives for 2013 mostly unchanged, the pickup line continues to include a broad range of configurations for a variety of drivers. These include a choice of three cabs, five trim levels plus the top-end Denali, a V6, three V8 engine choices and even a hybrid version. From the base Work Truck to the luxurious, $46,480 Sierra 1500 Denali, GMC has a pickup for nearly every budget.

No one in the business has made a credible case for a luxury-oriented truck better than GMC. Lincoln has tried twice (with the Blackwood and Mark LT), but gave up on the category. Cadillac's Escalade EXT remains, but its long-term fate is unknown, especially considering that it's Chevrolet-badged sister model (the Avalanche) will soon be discontinued. For those wanting to combine uptown appointments with down-and-dirty capability, few will fit the bill quite as well as the GMC Sierra.

Comfort & Utility

Virtually any full-size pickup will provide you with adequate room, and the 2013 Sierra is no different. Where GMC's pickup stands out is in the upper trim levels, where more attention is paid to materials and quality of workmanship. The WT (Work Truck) and SL are more appropriate to dirty jeans and muddy boots, while the SLE, SLT and Denali provide available front buckets with adjustability (SLE), heated and cooled perforated leather (SLT and Denali) or nuance leather, which is Denali specific.

Utility, of course, is standard. Extended and crew cabs provide secure storage, and GMC offers a choice of standard or long boxes on regular and extended cabs. A wide range of options and accessories is available both for towing and for hauling cargo. Bedliners and toolboxes are a given, but the Sierra's bed also features 2-tier loading capability and a cargo management system. For those thinking in more workaday terms, there's an optional On the Job package that includes bed protection and tie-downs. Opt for a 2-wheel drive crew cab, and the 2013 Sierra will handle almost one ton of payload. With the enhanced towing package and available 6.2-liter V8, the Sierra can tow up to 10,700 pounds.

We find the ride comfort of Sierra 1500s comparable to other trucks in the half-ton category. A fully boxed frame aids rigidity, and a rigid structure allows for finer tuning of springs and shocks. What GMC calls a heavy-duty handling/trailering suspension is standard on SL, SLE and SLT trims and available on the Work Truck. For those planning to hit the trails, the Z71 off-road package is optional on the SLE and SLT. And a high performance suspension package is available on the SLT and standard on Denali.

Technology

As an older platform, the Sierra doesn't support the wide array of technology available from some competitors, particularly Ford. But a range of CD/MP3-capable audio systems is available on all Sierra models, and touchscreen navigation is offered on the SLT and Denali. Or, you can opt for navigation radio with a USB port on those same two top models. OnStar is standard on all Sierras except the WT (where it's optional) and includes a mobile app allowing remote starting of your engine. NavTraffic can update you on traffic conditions in your area (available only with touchscreen navigation). And dealer-installed Wi-Fi can keep you connected to everything else.

Performance and Fuel Economy

GMC provides almost as many drivetrain options as there are exterior colors or interior trims. The base engine for regular cab and extended cab Sierras is a 4.3-liter V6 delivering an adequate 195 horsepower and moderate torque of 260 lb-ft. The V6 shares a 4-speed automatic with the entry level V8, a 4.8-liter offering more respectable output for a full-size pickup: 302 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. Much better are the optional, larger V8s that come paired to a 6-speed Hydra-Matic transmission. The 5.3-liter produces 315 hp while the 6.2-liter makes 4013 horsepower. Regardless of drivetrain, expect a Sierra to deliver between 12-15 mpg city/18-21 mpg hwy.

GMC and Chevrolet are the only pickup makers to offer a hybrid drivetrain, allowing the Sierra to launch and drive up to 30 mph on electricity alone. In combination with the truck's Active Fuel Management cylinder cutoff system, the Sierra Hybrid with 6.0-liter V8 and two integral electric motors delivers a 20/23-mpg Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate. The hybrid drivetrain does reduce towing capability, however. At only 6,100 pounds, its maximum towing weight is some 3,000 pounds less than that of most of the Sierra 1500 lineup.

Safety

GMC offers a full menu of active safety components, including 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, rack-and-pinion steering for more precise control, StabiliTrak electronic stability control and an available integrated trailer brake controller. Standard side curtain air bags with rollover protection are provided to all seating rows, and standard seat mounted side impact air bags for driver and front passenger provide thorax and pelvic protection. Pretensioners on the front safety belts minimize forward movement in case of a collision.

Driving Impressions

Along with several engine and body style choices, the Sierra's many available suspension packages allow the pickup's ride, handling and performance to be customized to a driver's particular needs. The base Z83 suspension delivers a reasonably smooth ride, while the Z85 is tweaked for improved handling and trailer towing. The Sierra SLE and SLT offer enhanced suspension choices: if you're going off-road, the Z71 is tuned for the trail. For towing, you can opt for the NHT suspension. It features 17-inch wheels, off-road tires and high-capacity rear springs. And should you want maximum street performance, check the Z60 box that brings 20-in wheels and tires.

We've always found the GMC Sierra to be relatively composed and genuinely comfortable. If there is a differentiation between the Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado, it's in the interior appointment and perceived isolation. The basic architecture of the Sierra, however, is beginning to show its age; we anticipate the next Sierra should offer significant improvements in both on-road dynamics and off-road capability.

Other Trucks to Consider

The Sierra competes against the Silverado, the Ford F-150 and (to a growing extent) Chrysler's Ram 1500. Both Ford and Ram offer newer designs, capable powertrains and more expansive technology. But neither currently offer a hybrid powertrain or a similar selection of available V8 engines. If a truck buyer truly wants to configure a pickup to his or her specific need, no other maker provides the range of choices available in the GMC Sierra.

AutoTrader Recommends

In our playbook, the top-of-the-line Denali represents the best of the 2013 GMC Sierra 1500 lineup. We'd opt for the all-wheel-drive crew cab model with its high level of standard equipment. That includes a powerful 6.2-liter V8 and 20-in wheels. For greater utility, we'd select the On the Job package. For just over $50,000, we'd have a luxurious, all-season truck with equal parts comfort and workaday usability.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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