Work trucks aren't supposed to win beauty contests. They are purpose-built vehicles that tow everything from hay bales to 4-wheel ATVs without struggle or strain. The 2013 GMC Sierra HD, however, considers its crew as well as its cargo, providing an always comfortable and roomy interior. Sharing its mechanical underpinnings with the Chevrolet Silverado HD, GMC adds its own DNA, including the popular Denali trim. The result is a work truck better suited for the owner of a company than someone who works in the trenches. With 24 trim and model combinations, including three cab styles, single or dual rear wheels and gasoline or diesel engines, the GMC Sierra HD pickup covers all the bases in style.
What's New for 2013?
A bi-fuel compressed natural gas (CNG) 6.0-liter V8 engine is now available on the 2500 HD Extended Cab. Powertrain grade braking on the 6.0-liter powertrain can now operate in normal mode. Previously, engine braking was only available when tow/haul mode was engaged.
What We Like
Bold and aggressive styling; rugged interior on Work Truck trims; CNG bi-fuel capability; EZ lift/locking tailgate; best in class 18,000-lb conventional tow rating on 3500HD
What We Don't
Fifth-wheel tow rating falls short of RAM 3500HD by nearly 7,000 pounds; Denali trim available only on Crew Cab models; no manual transmission offered; side and curtain airbags not standard on all trims
The standard engine for the 2013 GMC Sierra HD is a 6.0-liter V8 with variable valve timing. This engine produces 360 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. A CNG option is available, allowing the driver to seamlessly switch between gasoline and CNG. Optional is the Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel that makes 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are teamed to an Allison 6-speed automatic transmission. There is no manual transmission option. The Environmental Protection Agency does not require or test HD trucks for fuel economy ratings.
Options & Standard Features
The GMC Sierra HD comes in myriad trims, body styles and configurations. 2500 and 3500 models can be had in Regular, Extended or Crew Cab, with 6.5- or 8-foot beds, single or dual rear wheels and 2- or 4-wheel drive.
The base Work Truck ($30,545) includes a minimal dash and interior better suited to dealing with dirt and grime. Standard equipment includes rubber flooring, 40/20/40 bench seat, air conditioning, tilt wheel, rear step bumper, 8-lug steel wheels and ABS.
The SLE ($34,615) trim adds power windows and locks, CD player, cruise control, upgraded interior, rear defrost, heated outside power mirrors and bucket seats with power driver's seat.
The SLT ($42,595) trim brings even more standard equipment, including heated front seats, leather seating surfaces, automatic temperature control, a trailer hitch receiver, aluminum wheels and Bluetooth.
The Denali ($47,805) adds ventilated front seats, power adjustable pedals, 12-way power adjustable front seats, power retractable side mirrors, a heated steering wheel, rear park assist, rear backup camera and a Bose premium 7-speaker audio system.
Optional equipment includes the Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel engine, in-bed cargo management system, Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist, a rear seat DVD entertainment system, navigation radio, Wi-Fi (dealer installed hub, requires subscription), tubular running boards, EZ-lift tailgate (SLT) and a skid resistant bed liner. Optional safety features include front side and side curtain airbags.
Mechanical options include 4-wheel drive, dual rear wheel axle, 4.10 rear axle, heavy-duty locking rear differential, heavy-duty trailer package (2.5-inch receiver and 2-in adapter, 7-wire harness and trailer brake control), snow plow prep (10-amp power source, 160-amp alternator and wiring harness for forward and roof mounted lamps and skid plates), high payload performance package, high idle switch, tri-folding hard tonneau cover and various work site and utility options.
Every GMC Sierra HD features anti-lock brakes, front airbags, StabiliTrak electronic traction and stability control, OnStar Crash Response and Crisis Assist and a tire pressure monitor. In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's tests of the Sierra HD, the truck performs as well as most, with an average overall score. Trucks without optional side airbags earned much lower ratings than trucks with airbags, with Crew Cab models scoring slightly better than Regular and Extended Cabs. The Sierra HD also earned scores ranging from three to four out of five stars in the roof rollover test, depending on body style and cab configuration.
Behind the Wheel
The Sierra HD is a big truck, so its ride and handling are predictable. But what we didn't expect was the extent to which the Sierra's cabin shuts out road and engine noise (especially with the Duramax diesel chugging away) and how good the feedback response is from the steering and brakes. With the diesel engine on board, the Sierra's ability to tow and haul is impressive. A conventional tow rating of 13,000 pounds for the 2500 and 18,000 pounds for the 3500 should suffice for most chores, but adding a fifth-wheel hitch allows those figures to rise to 17,800 and 23,100, respectively.
Two of the most helpful features for drivers are the powertrain grade braking system on the Allison 6-speed and the smart exhaust braking system on the diesel engine. Grade braking uses the engine's torque to help slow the vehicle when descending long grades, thus saving on brake wear. Similarly, the exhaust braking system works by restricting exhaust flow, thus producing a situation in which the compression in the engine is held steady and resulting in the engine holding or slowing power output. Both systems are invaluable when trailering heavy loads through mountain or hilly passes.
Other Cars to Consider
RAM 2500/3500 HD -- The RAM HD out-muscles and out-tows the Sierra, in some cases by as much as 7,000 pounds. The RAM's Hemi V8 offers more horsepower and torque than the Sierra, but the RAM's ride can be rough and its long-term resale figures are not as strong.
Ford F250/F350 -- Ford's heavy-duty trucks offer more horsepower and torque, more trim and cab options (such as the King Ranch and Platinum trims) and more sophisticated audio and infotainment systems (SYNC).
With so many trims and configurations, it is impossible to say which model is the overall favorite. Much depends on your needs. If you're not a site manager or oil rig crew, and if you just need a big truck for towing a vacation or horse trailer, the Sierra HD Denali will most likely please you. Those looking for a workhorse should consider the 2500/3500 Work Truck, while those needing both a work station and a family hauler will likely find the 2500 SLE strikes a nice balance between features and price.