First Drive Review: 2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500HD, Part 4

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2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD Crew Cab SRW With 6.0-Liter Vortec V-8 Gasser ($51,855) towing about 10,000 pounds

The last truck we spent a lot of time in was the new Denali trimmed Sierra. It’s about time GMC finally added this upscale option to the HD lineup to compete against the unchallenged King Ranch Super Duty.

Checking the Denali box on the order form adds a unique four-bar chrome grille, along with body-colored bumpers, chrome door handles, chrome accents and 18- and 20-inch polished forged aluminum wheels. We had the 20s with LT265/60R20 tires.


Where other trucks in the HD segment are slathered with chrome on their noses, we really liked the Denali’s lower chrome-to-paint ratio. It’s classy and distinctive and doesn’t shout for attention.

But we’re not fans of the new giant plastic louver that sits dead center on every 2011 Sierra HD’s hood. From what we’re told by GM staff, GMC dealers had a case of “louver envy” after they saw the faux heat extractors on the 2007-10 Silverado HD and demanded GMC get its own unique decoration. We can see many owners taking it off and shaving and repainting the hood to delete the plastic pad.

As with other GMC Denali models, the Sierra HD’s cabin included brushed aluminum trim, power-adjustable pedals, a Bose premium surround audio system and 12-way power seats. It also had a (very useful) heated steering wheel and heated and cooled leather buckets in the front row.

Our truck had the 6.0-liter small-block V-8 gas engine with 360 hp and 380 pounds-feet of torque, though Denali livery can also be ordered with the Duramax. A $51,000 price tag is huge for an HD pickup, especially one with a gasser under its hood instead of an oil burner. We can speculate that when the 1-ton Denali 3500 diesel dually version arrives later this year, it’s going to cost at least $10,000 more.

We hooked up the same 10,000 pound Case front-end loader and trailer combo that we towed earlier in the day with the Silverado 3500 dually diesel.

Photo by Jim Fets, courtesy of General Motors

The pushrod 6.0-liter V-8 performs well in the HD pickup. While we couldn’t merge onto the freeway as quickly as with the Duramax, we still had plenty of power to get the truck up to highway speed. Now that Ford has relegated its 360 hp, 457 pounds-feet 6.8-liter V-10 gas engine only to its chassis cab trucks, the torque difference between the all-new 385 hp, 405 pounds-feet Ford overhead cam 6.2-liter gas V-8 and GM’s overhead valve 6.0 is much narrowed from the ratings gap in 2007.

With the truck in tow/haul mode, we left cruise control off as we climbed and dropped through Maryland’s hills on the freeway. To keep momentum up, we often had to use near-wide-open throttle up the steeper 6 percent and 7 percent grades. The engine revs climbed to 5,500 rpm before dropping back down to 3,500 rpm with each upshift and starting the slow march up the tach again. The 6.0 has a broad torque curve with about 90 percent of peak torque available at only 2,000 rpm, and as it climbed near the upper end of the rev range, we could feel it get a bit breathless. Most of the time, the truck was in fourth or fifth gear.

The 6.0 engine has new heads and a new camshaft, but GM has also updated its 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission by increasing the cross section size of the transfer case adapter for greater strength and a stronger output shaft. We believe this is preparation for a significant jump in horsepower and torque that’s coming for the 6.0 in the next year or two.

The 6L90, like the Allison transmission, can be manually shifted by the driver in “M” mode. As we drove, we tapped the +/- button on the shift stalk to force the transmission to upshift and downshift and lock out its top-end gear. As we drove a circular route in M mode, there was a spot slowing down before a stop sign where we downshifted manually from fourth to third and felt a poor gear swap. We thought it might be an anomaly, but we felt the same thing again at the same place on our second lap when we let the transmission decide shifts on its own. It seems that GM may still have some calibrating to do after all of the 6L90 improvements, but just on the 3-2 downshift. The rest of the shifts were clean and smooth.

Updated June-16-2010 10:27 am: Changed 4-3 downshift to 3-2 downshift

We had one interesting observation: While the Allison hummed along with transmission temperatures ranging between 160 degrees and 175 degrees, the 6L90 climbed all the way up to 202 degrees. This was in weather in the mid-70s as we tested the truck hard through the hills.

Photo by Jim Fets, courtesy of General Motors

Since GM’s gas trucks don’t offer an exhaust brake, we appreciated the larger wheel brakes even more on the 6.0 truck. We never felt them fade or strain during all of our driving.

Like Ford, GM has also added trailer sway control to its HD pickups for 2011. But only GM's SRW trucks have sway control while Ford offers it for both SRW and DRW pickups. Sway control is not currently available for Ram HD pickups.

By the end of our time in the Denali gasser, we were impressed with its performance pulling 10,000 pounds. If you’re not going to tow cross-country or through mountainous terrain and you’re looking for a high-end pickup, the Denali 2500 6.0 is a solid choice.

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The interior just doesn't cut it.

Its a damn truck, if the only thing you can cry about is the interior it seems like a succes to me...

So they are Beefing up the 6l90, i wonder if that could be to handle the torque of the 4.5L Diesel. Would be a great option for a 3/4 ton truck if priced a couple thousand less than the 6.6 Duramax. Would probibly get better economy also.

The interiors from GM have always been Junk. Fail.

Seriously Frank, how many comments do you have to make about the interior. The truck is made for heavy hauling and towing. Would you rather have GM spend all their money on interior upgrades, or where it actually matters like the frame, suspension, engine etc?

And must be complaining about the Space Shuttle interior too then, I mean, it's pretty plain jane, and heck, the Shuttle costs how many billions of dollars? Oh that's right, it's built for a purpose, just like these trucks, and the purpose isn't pampering.

This truck will be 80000 plus in alberta add tax ext warrenty and interest rate on the loan it will be easly 95000 plus lol This truck will fail in canada someone can put a nice down payment on a house

Every truck manufacturer makes a capable platform. Some also provide a nice place to sit. Which is important since you spend a majority of your time there. This interior is not sub par, its down right embarrassing especially in this day and age. Its comfortable and that is important but staring at that dash for too long would suck motivation from you over time.

Thank you smtrthnu.

@ Frank - you are forgetting it has OnStar.
That makes up for everything ;)
Doesn't the Denali have a heated steering wheel?
I thought Howie Long hated heated steering wheels:(

What next? a man step?
No - they'll call it "a cargo compartment accessioning device". LMAO

Personally I think a truck that has less power and has a harder time climbing grades, and one where you have to watch your speed by modulating the brakes would be more tiring than a mediocre interior.

Interesting comment about the 6.0L getting a significant bump in horsepower and torque soon. Maybe the rumored 7.0L will not be needed after all.

the 6.0 needs the allison to really do a good job

I hate to get into any battles here, but here's my opinion on the interiors: I don't think there's anything to major to complain about. Honestly, we Americans don't realize how good we have it. If all you can complain about is a small gap in the center stack and some problems with the overall aesthetics of the dash you've got it pretty good; consider the fact that 6 billion people don't have any car at all! My truck is a 1992, sure it shakes and rattles on bumpy roads, but it doesn't matter, because I like the truck, and if a car has the right combinations of looks, performance, and comfort, that's all that should matter.

Then again, as a Chevy guy, I'm going to see positives, so I'm biased, just as on the Ford articles I'll see negatives (although I will admit to you, Dodge and Ford have better interiors!).

@bill that is almost Australian prices for a US Pickup. That is dear.

@ K5Blazer91- you made some good points. We are spoiled. I think if you consider the cost of a new pickup, especially the high end ones. they should all should be close to each other in quality, fit and finish.
I'd be satisfied with any one of the truck brands, but I'll buy the one that has the best overall package (assuming the prices are equal).


I do agree with you about the quality part, you should get what you pay for when you pay 50,000; however, I'm not so sure a chevy guy is going switch brands based on interior (and vis/versa). Your Howie Long comment was pretty good too! I never did like the Howie Long commercials!

Don't agree about the Allison. The 6L90's gear ratio's are very well suited to the 6.0L.

Nice to hear that the 6.0 is getting a power boost... I hope its coming in a year instead of two..

The 6.0 IMO is the best gas V8 you can get in a HD truck, they are built-proof and get good gas mileage compared to Ford and Dodges offerings... It just needs a power boost...

that interior completly sucks. chev needs to look at a ford harley davidson 1 ton and get there act together. people can say interior doesnt mean a whole lot in heavy duty truck but when your paying 75 grand for truck you dont want to be ridung around sitting on 5 gal pails.

Why are there so few choices of colors for the 3500 denili 2011??

Well, I just bought a 2011 Denali HD. Ford bought back, 2nd 2011 F350 from me. They replaced 1st one and 2nd wasjust as bad. Wouldn't accept. Trucks were falling apart. Fit and finish were horrible. For you guys saying GM should look at Ford for interior idea's your crazy. I have owned 4 Ford in the last ten years, they have nothing on GM. I will never own a ford again. Their 2011, is junk, my 08 was better. Their quality has fell off. Gm is trying to rebuild the rep, so quality is high. Hope it last. Same with Toyota they were high quality couple years ago, and now their junk like Ford.

My 2011 2500 HD Denali is exactly what I was looking for. I have issues with the interior though. The drivers side cockpit is to small and do not have a clear view of the 4 wheel control or the light control, not enough compartemt storage up front, The GMC cab is much more asthetic than the Ford or Dodge. One of the best selling points to me was the fact that the GM contained less Mexico parts than the others. Can't wait to see what the 2012 Denali brings.

I just bought a 2011 2500hd Denali and i gotta be honest, all the interior gripes im not fully understanding. I mean it heats and cools your butt, hands, have full navigaton, rear audio and sun roof. Plenty of storage for what i need and to top that off it will pull your house off the foundation. I mean i can remember my first truck with no ac, crap radio, and junk bench seat and believe me i was happy and loved driving it. I think sometimes we get a little to caught up in what things should have instead of what hey do have. A+ GMC you built a damn fine truck.

I just bought a 2011 Denali-2500-very nice truck. But like everyone else my concern today is mileage. The salesman told me 15/16 miles per gallon on the 6.0 vortec. Its not happening-try 12 and taking it easy too.

I bought this exact same truck (loved the stealth grey). I drove and looked at Ford and GM. I was actually hopeing to like the Ford better so that I could buy it with the Ford military buyers program for deployed (was home on R&R) Soldiers. The main thing I liked better on the Denali (over the King Ranch) was the interrior and ride was better to me on the GMC. So I bought the GMC and couldn't be happier.

just drove montreal to daytona with my 2011 sierra 2500hd slt 6.0,+/- 1400 miles. feather footed it off highway and did speed limit plus 5 mph on cruise, pulled off 95 with 16.0 mpg on the computer.
new michelin tires, tonneau cover and nothing but luggage in the box, lots of room for 4. thinking of putting on a tuner for the trip home to see if i can squeeze a bit more out of it.

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