Review – 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD: King of the Luxury Heavy Duties?

The heavy duty truck wars are heating up, and until recently the Ford Super Duties have been the only place for luxury truck buyers to go. Not anymore though – General Motors has decided there is no reason they shouldn’t fight for their share of the pie.

The Denali nameplate already exists in the GMC showroom on the half ton Sierra. Making the leap from half ton to the three quarter ton and one ton pick-ups was nothing if not logical.

The Denali HD is more of a trim package then a complete package. The exterior has the same lines as the regular Sierras. It has a blunt front end that is squared off nicely and a rear tail gate that incorporate some sculpting.

The front and rear bumpers are painted , while the upper and lower grilles are finished in signature Denali chrome. The twenty-inch wheels look terrific and really set the stance correctly on this vehicle. You can only get the Denali HD in three colors: black, silver and white. Overall, the Denali trim is a very nice looking package on an already good looking truck.

The interior of the Denali HD is similar to any other loaded up GMC Sierra. There is more “wood” splashed around the cabin and leather covering the seating surfaces, making the interior a nice place to spend your time. With plenty of storage cubbies strewn about the cabin you  definitely won’t be lacking storage space.

The optional navigation unit (which the Denali HD I was in did not have) is somewhat dated, though it gets the job done. Since I did not have the navigation screen, the rear back up camera had the screen integrated into the left hand side of the rear view mirror. I noted the lack of auto up window function on any window, and only express down on the drivers window. This seems out of place on a truck of this price. The automatic climate control is easy to operate and has decent size buttons for the most part, though a few are tiny and might be hard to operate with gloves on.

One friend commented on how well the seat warmers worked on a chilly evening and was surprised to see the availability of cooled seats. The friend also commented on the fact that they have three heat intervals, which is quite nice as the competition has just on or off. The interior is a very understated place, but still “classy” as some would call it. Sometimes the competition could be viewed as over the top. This truck would not fall into that category.

The engine really is where this beast oozes awesome. The new Duramax is a 6.6-liter V-8 turbo diesel pumping out 397 horsepower and 765 pound feet of torque. That is channeled through an Allison six-speed automatic transmission. Even with that much power I still managed to average 14.6 mpg in mixed driving. While going 60 mph on a straight stretch of highway, I was curious to see how high I could get the average fuel economy up to. Resetting the trip computer, I was able to average 23.5 mpg on a highway stretch cruising at exactly 60 mph.

The new powertrain does utilize Urea injection into the exhaust system. This is the same type of exhaust cleaning system that Ford now utilizes in the new Super Duties. With this system the days of black smoke pouring out of diesel exhaust pipes is dead. The RAM Heavy Duty is the only one of the three heavy duty trucks that does not use Urea injection in the exhaust system. GM likes to note in their new marketing campaign that the Duramax and Allison transmission combination have been put to the test. With many work trucks on the road, over twenty million miles have been logged. That is no small feat. It is also worth mentioning that Ford is now on the fourth PowerStroke engine.

The power train can tow 13,000 pounds in this configuration, which is no small number. With my family’s cabin up north closed and the boats put away, I had no boat of my own to tow. My friends had also put away their boats for the season so that was not going to work. I had tried setting something up with the local Airstream dealer, but that fell through (seeing a trend?). I did finally have something rather cool planned for my last day with the Denali , but a miscommunication caused that plan to fall through (hopefully that plan will work out next time I have a heavy duty truck sitting in my driveway). So unfortunately I did not get haul something ridiculously huge with this more-than-capable truck.

Driving the Denali HD was an enjoyable experience. With more then enough power on tap, slamming the go pedal at a stop light would immediately kick the traction control into a frenzy. The steering was light, with decent on center feel for a truck of this size. You would think a truck of this size would be a handful in the city, but you would be surprised. Handling was good and the ride was comfortable. It is truly amazing how far the ride and handling of these trucks have come in the last ten years, especially considering their capabilities.

With an as tested sticker price of $58,199, is the new Denali HD king of the luxury trucks? Until now the Ford Super Duties in King Ranch trim has held that crown with no disputes. Mainly because there has been no one in the marketplace to dispute with. I have to say, it seems to me the Denali HD and the King Ranch have very different approaches to how they execute luxury and styling.

The Denali HD is a very understated type of luxury, while the new Super Duty King Ranch is a very in your face, larger-than-life luxury. Seeing how these trucks have different approaches, one might think they will attract different types of buyers. I believe that having options in the marketplace is a great thing. Between the terrific powertrain and great looks, this new Denali HD really does turn heads. As to whether it is the king of luxury heavy duties, it will come down to what kind of luxury are you looking for.

Be sure to check out the gallery below for more terrific pictures of the Denali HD.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by General Motors

Photography – Alex Bellus

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3 Responses to “Review – 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD: King of the Luxury Heavy Duties?”

  1. JJ #

    The truck looks amazing from the outside… it looks tought, mean, but yet so elegant. Its the DENALI badge that it carries that gives it that attitude.
    this is a truck I would move out of the way to the left if I saw it on my rear view mirror.

    I have to say though… I am not a big fan of the dash board, stereo, climate control center or the gauges. How about an upgrade from previous years? the gauges look like my SLE, this is a DENALI, make it look like one! :)It lacks… elegance! Ford and Dodge do a very good job with the interior and the accents overall.

    I dont want to seem like a winer, but! what about the information center under the tachometer… let’s upgrade it with better technology, look at what the competition is doing, and then do it BETTER!

    GO GM!

    C’mon GM let’s set the standard!
    GM is way better than this.

    11/11/2010 at 6:44 pm Reply
  2. Cute truck for a girl. Glad it didn’t get stuck in that mud hole.
    Might have had to call Big Bertha to pull it out…. LOL

    11/18/2010 at 11:34 pm Reply
  3. Chuck #

    Now let’s hope someone at GM has the insight to bring back the quadrasteer for an option on at least the 2500. I drive a 2004 Sierra Denali with quadrasteer…what a ride!

    12/19/2010 at 7:43 pm Reply

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