When my dad made the special events runs for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., he would sometimes take me along. While I sat on the passenger side of the bench seat, his pickup was waved in to a Winston Cup stock car race in Moreno Valley and a Swing Auditorium concert and National Orange Show runs in San Bernardino.
Though the truck’s outside was bright red with the flowing white swoosh of that era’s corporate logo, inside there were no frills. If it even had a radio, it was AM only. Manual, roll-down windows were left open all summer due to the lack of air conditioning, but you could not hang out an elbow because the metal frame heated by the summertime sun would fry your skin. Anyone else smell bacon?
The springs inside the lone seat must have been in sync with the loose shock absorbers. As the truck went over any-sized bump, I’d be bounced so high that my head would hit the liner-less ceiling. Small wonder that to this day, I have trouble remembering the … um … What was I saying?
Oh yes, the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 is to the old Coke truck what a Jaguar XE is to a go-cart.
Yes, the Denali looks like a truck on the outside, and you do ride high compared to passenger cars, but it glides as smoothly as a full-size luxury vehicle, hauls ass like a muscle car and hugs curves like a sports car. It’s a truly remarkable driving experience; test drive one to prove I’m not blowing smoke. Go ahead … I’ll wait.
See what I mean? However, at the end of the day the Sierra Denali 1500 is still a truck with four-wheel drive allowing you to safely take it off road–with a bed that allows you to haul all manner and size of stuff around, although I would not recommend doing that while four-wheeling. (Having a truck bed again did come in handy when I moved a couch and chair out of my house. Thank you, GMC, for the timing of this tester!) All Sierra Denalis are crew cabs with plenty of room for adults in the rear seats.
The first adjustment, after months of driving sedans, sportsters and SUVs, was getting into the thing as I am no high hurdler. (I’m not even a slightly buzzed hurdler.) If the keyless remote is on your person, and you push the little tab on a door handle, the truck unlocks. But as soon as you open a door–driver or passenger side, front or back–a step automatically drops down from under the carriage and extends out from the side.
These are actually known as GMC MultiPro Power Steps, which on this particular test vehicle are part of a package of options we’ll get to later. I can’t speak for occupants of any seat other than the driver’s, but after the doors closed, the truck started and the steps automatically retracted to their starting positions, the resulting “thud” brought to mind a jetliner’s landing gear returning to its bay while in midair.
As far as pickups go, the Sierra Denali 1500’s cockpit is stylish–my tester had a Jet Black, leather-trimmed interior–with more tabs, knobs and buttons per square inch than that old Coke truck had anywhere. All play roles anyone accustomed to a higher-end vehicle expects. These include controlling the power windows, including the slider behind the driver’s head. Any truck driver who has struggled to open a sliding rear window while in motion, as I used to do when I owned a small Dodge Ram pickup, will be down with this feature.
The dash, the door frame, steering wheel and area above the HD Surround Vision rear camera mirror (another extra) host various controllers for phone, climate, volume, outdoor mirror adjustments, heating or ventilating the seats, the premium audio system (that includes a SiriusXM subscription for three months) and LED lights and lamps that are all around this sucker. The eight-inch diagonal HD color touch screen includes voice recognition, and there are various power and USB ports in the cab, as well as an outlet in the bed.
Safety features include lane-change, blind-side and rear cross-traffic alerts. I got so many buzzes under my bum from the Safety Alert Seat that I felt I should offer it a smoke. (Come here often?) Those into pulling things with trucks will appreciate the ProGrade Trailering System, which essentially makes connecting and hauling a trailer easier. A trailer brake controller and Stabiltrak with trailer-sway control are standard features.
Of course, as a GMC product, it can be covered with the OnStar navigation and roadside assistance services should you decide to subscribe. You would be wise to consider a subscription because that also activates an onboard 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot, which I needed desperately after finding myself behind the wheel of a Chevy truck in an unfamiliar part of Wyoming where I could not connect to OnStar. Having an internet connection allowed me to use of my cell phone to call for help.
All of the standard and optional features are great, but like was said up top, it’s the way the thing drives–for a truck–that is truly astounding. It packs a 6.2-liter, Ecotech3 eight-cylinder engine with a 10-speed automatic transmission that shifts silky smooth. The EPA will tell you the Denali gets 15 miles to the gallon and 20 mpg on the highway for a combined 17 mpg. (Government 5-Star Safety Ratings were not available.)
Before adding in the goodies, the standard manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $58,000. My tester included as extras a $395 Dark Sky metallic paint job, the $2,495 engine (with Dynamic Fuel Management) and the $5,850 Denali Ultimate Package with the aforementioned HD Surround Vision and power steps as well as: power sunroof; Intellibeam headlights; forward-collision alert; following-distance indicator; a remarkable multi-colored head-up display; trailer tire pressure monitor system; lane-keep assist/lane-departure warning; front pedestrian and low speed forward automatic braking; and 22-inch polished aluminum wheels with four wheel locks installed by the dealer.
Those options, plus the destination charge, and minus a $500 Denali Ultimate Package rebate, bring the total MSRP to $67,735, which would set this baby at “contractor’s truck” level, while his or her underlings get the modern-day equivalent of the old Coke trucks, which on the bright side now include FM. GMC backs its truck with a three-year or 36,000-mile (whichever comes first) bumper-to-bumper warranty; five years or 60,000 miles powertrain warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance.
Finally, yes indeed, this is one of the those trucks with a revolutionary tailgate as seen in TV commercials. Known more formally as a GMC MultiPro Tailgate with Lift Assist and Power Lock & Release, the array of configurations came in handy when I needed to haul that furniture a short distance and, with the staircase deployed, walk heavy stuff in and out of the truck bed. Just imagine my scuff marks aren’t there below. (Scroll to the very bottom for all the configurations–and check out the reference to the “Bonus” audio speaker.)
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.