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First Times Drive: Full-size GMC Sierra ups its V-6 game

June 21, 2013|By David Undercoffler
  • The 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 2WD V-6 is rated at 18/24 mpg city/highway.
The 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 2WD V-6 is rated at 18/24 mpg city/highway. (General Motors )

Six-cylinder engines are fast becoming the new darling of the full-size truck segment, so it’s no surprise that General Motors’ latest generation of trucks takes a worthwhile look at such a power train.

The automaker announced fuel economy ratings for its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks Wednesday. The base 4.3-liter V-6 engine will get 18/24 mpg in city/highway driving for rear-wheel-drive models. All-wheel-drive models will get 17/22 mpg city/highway.

While those figures are commendable for a full-size truck that can tow up to 7,200 pounds, they’re not markedly different from GM’s competitors. Only the city figure for the all-wheel-drive model is class-leading, and that’s only by a single mile per gallon.

PHOTOS: 2014 GMC Sierra 1500

GM’s V-6 models are aimed at rivals like Ford’s F-150 with the optional EcoBoost turbocharged V-6, and Ram’s 1500 V6. It’s Ford that is largely credited with initiating the fight for fuel efficiency in full-size trucks, when it launched the EcoBoost model in 2010.

The move helped the F-150 remain on top as America’s bestselling vehicle -- for 31 consecutive years -- with more than 645,000 units sold in 2012. GM’s two-truck duo was in second place with 577,000.

Whereas Chevy’s Silverado is the more blue-collar, everyman truck that makes up a bulk of GM’s full-size truck sales, it is the GMC Sierra line that caters to the premium (and more lucrative) side of the truck segment.

In addition to smaller engines becoming more common, automakers are also expanding their lineup of high-dollar trucks, which can easily pass the $50,000 mark. We recently spent some time getting to know a V-6 Sierra 1500 2WD Crew Cab SLE that was priced at a relatively reasonable $42,030.

The V-6 engine in question is a 4.3-liter EcoTec engine that makes 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. GM also built into it direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing. If those terms sounds like obtuse engineer-speak, just know that each is a favored way to save fuel on numerous vehicles throughout the industry.

The cylinder deactivation was a particularly neat trick. Under light loads, the engine essentially shuts down two cylinders and operates as a V-4 motor. The transition to and from four cylinders was nearly seamless, save for a small "V-4" indicator light that would pop up on the dashboard.

No one will mistake the Sierra V-6’s power for that of an eight-cylinder, but it was more than adequate to get (and keep) the full-size truck moving. This motor is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission, which is down two gears to Ram’s eight-speed unit in the 1500. That said, the gearbox in the Sierra proved a worthy pairing for the truck’s V-6 motor.

Our first drive with the V-6 Sierra was brief: We logged only about 70 miles. Roughly 40 of those miles were on the freeway, and we averaged 19 mpg during that time. Overall, our drive yielded an average of 16.8 mpg.

The rest of the Sierra experience was a comfortable one, and this certainly feels like a durable, well-made truck. Road and wind noise were nicely isolated, and there are an abundance of USB, 12v chargers and practical storage compartments throughout the cabin.

The center console is nicely designed, with large buttons for the stereo and climate control that are easy to navigate. While the exterior looks like GMC gave it only a minor refresh from the previous generation, the company said all of the body panels are new, and it’s definitely a handsome, broad-shouldered truck.

The Cobalt Blue 2WD V-6 we drove started at $36,980 but piled on numerous options that pushed the final price to $42,030. These included an 8-inch touch-screen navigation system, trailering package, park assist, power sliding rear window, remote start, power driver's seat and 20-inch alloy wheels.

Overall, this Sierra was an appealing truck with plenty of functionality and comfort. Yet we couldn’t help but feel that it didn’t quite rise to the challenge set forth by the Ram 1500 we tested in May. That truck, which also had a fuel-efficient V-6, just seemed like you were getting more for your money.

Yes, the Ram was about $1,600 more, but that’s essentially because of its fancy air suspension. Remove that and these two V-6 competitors have nearly identical price tags. Yet the Ram left us with an intangible sense that it was the better truck. Everything the Sierra did well, the Ram did just a touch better.

Whether this will have a meaningful impact on sales of either brand remains to be seen. Truck buyers are a notoriously fickle group, with brand loyalty playing a big role in the buying decision. The Sierra certainly has the mettle to please existing GMC customers. Whether it captures newcomers to the nameplate will be the true measure of its success.


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