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2019 GMC Sierra Denali review: So close to greatness

There's a lot to like about the new GMC Sierra Denali, but it ultimately falls short of the competition.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read

The full-size pickup truck segment is hotter than ever, with brand-new entries from Chevrolet, GMC, Ford and Ram all vying for shoppers' hard-earned dollars. GMC's new Sierra 1500 brings a whole lot to the table, especially in this fully loaded spec. But compared with heavy hitters like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500, the Sierra can't climb to the top of the pack.


2019 GMC Sierra Denali

The Good

The 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali gets the excellent MultiPro tailgate standard and offers a lot of cool features like a rear camera mirror and a color head-up display.

The Bad

Interior materials and design are behind the rest of the class.

The Bottom Line

The 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali has a lot going for it, but it still pales a bit in the light of the competition.

Highly competitive

The GMC Sierra 1500 range is expansive, with myriad trim levels, option packs, engine options and cab and bed configurations. The Denali is only available in Crew Cab guise, though you can opt for a short or long bed. A 5.3-liter V8 engine is standard, but a beefier 6.2-liter V8 is optional, both of which can be paired with two- or four-wheel drive.

GMC brings a lot of "firsts" to the table with the 2019 Sierra. It's the first pickup truck to have a six-way adjustable tailgate -- you can use it as a workspace, adjust it to secure longer items, flip it down so you have an easier step into the bed and so on. (The trick tailgate is standard on the Denali, as well as the SLT and AT4 trims.) This truck also has the first rear-camera mirror in its class, offering a wide-angle view of what's behind you. The Sierra is the first truck to offer a full-color head-up display. This truck will even introduce the first carbon-fiber bed to the market, later this year.

2019 GMC Sierra Denali
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2019 GMC Sierra Denali

The MultiPro six-way tailgate can function as a desk, for on-site computer tasks.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

But the competition brings its A-game, as well. While the Sierra can be had with things like blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and a seat-buzzing warning should you veer out of your lane, it doesn't come with adaptive cruise control -- something you can get on both the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500. The Sierra's 8-inch color touchscreen infotainment system is pretty easy to use, and comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot, but Ford's Sync 3 software is much easier to use, and I can get an absolutely awesome, 12-inch, vertically oriented infotainment screen in the Ram. Even in Denali guise, the high-spec versions of the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 genuinely feel nicer inside, with better interior materials and design.

Smooth and plentiful power

Even if it's not as nice as its competitors, I can see putting some serious miles on this truck. The 6.2-liter V8 offers great power: 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, mated to a nicely tuned 10-speed automatic transmission. There's enough torque to get up to speed quickly, and the Denali-exclusive Adaptive Ride Control helps keep the suspension composed over all types of pavement. ARC monitors the road and adjusts the damping rates within milliseconds, so even pockmarked roads don't feel so bad. There are Tour, Sport, Off-Road and Tow/Haul drive modes, and you can add Snow and Terrain modes, depending on your configuration. Tour mode works the best for me, and will likely work the best for you, most of the time.

While the Ram 1500 offers 48-volt mild-hybrid technology to help with efficiency, the Sierra relies heavily on cylinder deactivation. All told there are 17 cylinder activation combinations that are constantly in the mix, but you never really notice this tech working.

2019 GMC Sierra Denali
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2019 GMC Sierra Denali

The top trim Denali gets plenty of chrome on its huge grille.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

In the end, the EPA rates this 6.2-liter V8-powered Sierra Denali at 15 miles per gallon city, 20 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined. During my time with the truck, I saw an average of 16.4 mpg. Meanwhile, the 5.0-liter V8 in a four-wheel drive F-150 returns an EPA-estimated 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined while a four-wheel drive Ram 1500 with a 5.7-liter V8 and the mild-hybrid technology returns an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.

Depending on configuration, the 2019 Sierra can tow up to 12,200 pounds and haul as much as 2,240 pounds of payload. This Denali tester is rated for a still-very-usable 9,300 pounds of towing and 1,610 pounds of payload. The Sierra's maximum towing and hauling capacities certainly best those of the aging Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra, but again, can't best those of the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.

For a closer look at how the Sierra 1500 handles towing, head over to Tim Stevens' first drive of the GMC Sierra truck from last year. He found the tow setup process to be easy thanks to the standard Hitch Guidance with Hitch View tech, plus the Sierra's trailering app. Ford's ProTrailer Back-Up Assist tech, however, might be a little better.

Useful, not luxurious

Inside, the Sierra Denali doesn't feel all that luxurious. The heated and cooled front leather seats are comfortable enough, but the overall interior design leaves a lot to be desired. This hardly looks or feels like a brand-new truck.

Still, the Sierra offers a lot of niceties. The new, 2019 model's wheelbase is 3 inches longer than before, directly translating to more rear legroom -- this Crew Cab tester is really spacious. There are USB Type-A and Type-C ports available for both front and rear passengers, to keep all your devices charged.

Even the bed offers great utility, with no fewer than 12 different tie-downs to help secure cargo.

Big appeal, but ultimately falls short

The 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali starts at $58,000, but with the bigger engine and a few option packages tacked on, the truck you see here tops out at $67,735, including $1,595 for destination.

Considering the Denali isn't really all that luxurious, I'd personally step down and spec an AT4 trim, which starts at $54,795. It's just as nice inside, when you load it up with things like the off-road performance package, rear-camera mirror, navigation, wireless charging and driver assistance options, you're still coming in a few thousand dollars less than this Sierra Denali. But hey, if you like lots of chrome, the Denali's your jam.

The GMC Sierra Denali has innovative design

See all photos

The bottom line is this: The 2019 Sierra Denali is a really good truck, but it just can't top the Ford or Ram in my eyes. With its superior ride quality, onboard tech and overall capability, the Ram 1500 is absolutely my favorite truck in the class.

If you can pick up what the Sierra Denali is throwing down, you won't be disappointed. But if a high-dollar, fancy truck is what you're after, definitely test drive the GMC's competition before ultimately making a purchase decision.


2019 GMC Sierra Denali

Score Breakdown

Performance 8.5Features 8.5Design 8.5Media 8