It didn’t take a trip to the easternmost point in North America to convince a crowd that GMC’s all-new 2019 Sierra 1500 Denali is a superior truck compared with its predecessor.
But that’s what the General Motors division planned, gathering automotive media in rural St. John’s, Newfoundland, the capital of the Canadian province, to introduce the latest iteration of its full-size pickup.
The starting point at Cape Spear, which is situated on the edge of a cliff, offered expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean and rugged coastline. As the course turned inland toward the nearby fishing town of Harbour Grace, the 6.2-liter V8 Sierra climbed a series of inclines that ambled through lush green forest.
The roads were mostly windy and somewhat unkempt. There were multiple stretches of uneven asphalt and many patches of cracks and potholes.
The truck’s driving dynamics immediately outranked the previous generation Sierra’s.
The cockpit is spacious for the driver and front passenger. The plush leather seats adjust 10 ways, including lumbar, and can be heated or cooled. The center console is huge; it has two cupholders and a space in between for a smartphone or other small items. There is an easily accessible USB port under the center stack, which features hard-knob controls for climate.
The 8-inch touch screen has an updated version of GM’s infotainment system and integrates with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The truck is a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot, which functioned even in Newfoundland where locals claimed service was notoriously slow.
A back-seat passenger would be equally as comfortable during a long-distance haul. The rear legroom of the new truck has grown by 3 inches to 43.4 and is more spacious than the 2018 Yukon Denali, which has only 39 inches of second-row legroom. There are two cupholders, two USB ports, seat heaters and climate control. Child car seats can be installed with lower tethers.
The back seat on the driver’s side lifts to expose a hidden storage area, and the cushions also pop out, revealing cubbies that could hold an iPad or other valuables.
The only thing missing on the 2019 Sierra 1500 Denali is the availability of adaptive cruise control. It’s a must-have for modern consumers willing to pay steep prices for adventure vehicles, which are often used for long drives to far-flung outdoor activities. It reduces fatigue in highway traffic and improves safety.
Lane-keep assist is available as part of the Driver Alert Package II, which also includes forward-collision alert, low-speed forward automatic braking, front pedestrian braking, automatic headlight control, following distance indicator and safety alert seat (a reminder to parents who may forget their child is in the backseat).
GMC believes Sierra customers are more interested in other features, such as trailering technology that uses cameras to guide the truck for precision hitching. The cameras can also see the side of the truck and trailer for changing lanes or reversing. Tire monitoring sensors relay pressure and temperature information.
The truck’s trailering app has been upgraded with a copious pre-departure walkthrough of the trailer connecting process; trailer lighting diagnostics, which makes it easier to conduct light inspection procedures alone; and theft detection that extends from the truck to the trailer. Owners can also save custom checklists and track information like mileage and maintenance.
The “combination of technologies included in the next-generation Sierra — both for trailering and unladen driving — support the feedback we’ve received,” said GMC spokesman Fred Ligouri.
There’s also a new digital rear-view mirror. A rear-mounted camera projects a high-definition image in the mirror so detailed that a driver can distinguish pebbles on the side of the road.
The new truck comes in two engine choices: a 5.3-liter V8 with a six- or eight-speed transmission that makes 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque and a 6.2-liter V8 with the 10-speed producing 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The eight- and 10-speed both feature dynamic fuel management, an innovative system that shuts down as many as six of the eight cylinders to optimize fuel efficiency.
GM estimates that the smaller 5.3-liter engine will get 17 mpg in the city and 23 mpgs on the highway in two-wheel-drive configuration, and 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway when equipped with four-wheel-drive. The 6.2-liter engine, which comes standard with four-wheel-drive is estimated to achieve 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway for a combined rating of 17 mpg.
It is the bed of the truck, however, that is the real star.
The available new MultiPro tailgate configures into six different positions — including a step and standing-height work surface — to make loading and unloading easy (and sort of fun). It also makes use of both first- and second-tier storage. That means the tailgate can adjust to protect cargo that is flush against the bed and/or cargo that is stacked above, even if it extends beyond the length of either the 5’8” or 6’6” box (like a plank of wood).
The carbon fiber box is nearly indestructible; it withstood the full force blow from a freshly sharpened axe. For tailgating fun, a speaker system that mounts into the tailgate when the step is open is a dealer-installed accessory.
GMC also launched a new standalone trim meant to attract high-end off roaders: the AT4.
The strategy mirrors the way GMC has separated its fancy Denali trim from other versions of the Sierra. The AT4 sports its own look, technology and capability and is intended for a different audience.
It comes with a 2-inch lift, a special grille design with black chrome detailing, red recovery hooks, black leather interior with brown contrast accents and its own AT4 badging.
Four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case is standard as is a locking rear differential, skid plates, Rancho monotube shocks and 18-inch wheels with rugged all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires (20-inch wheels are available).
GMC hopes the AT4 will catch fire with truck buyers like Denali has since 2009. Sales of its vehicles dressed in Denali trappings have nearly tripled to date, and about one-third of all Sierra owners opt for the upscale Denali, according to GMC.
Consumers are so indoctrinated that it’s not uncommon to hear the vehicles themselves referred to as just “Denali.”
The Denali sub-brand was first introduced on the Yukon full-sized SUV before making its way to the Sierra and the rest of the lineup. Though GMC declined to say which vehicle would get the AT4 treatment next, the brand confirmed the new off-road trim would spread through its full lineup over the next two years.
The AT4 also comes with helpful off-road specific technology. A heads-up display with an inclinometer and available surround vision give added confidence and visibility while navigating steep grades. The truck’s brakes also hold indefinitely on a hill when the driver’s foot comes off the pedal. A traction select system helps the truck adapt to more extreme terrain or weather.
Though the Newfoundland adventure did not include any rock crawling, the “off-road light” course offered one baby incline, where the front camera and the brake feature performed as expected.
The 2019 Sierra Denali went on sale this month. The truck will become readily available as GMC ramps up deliveries through the end of the year.
As configured with the Denali Ultimate Package the Sierra tested cost $67,200 including destination. That’s after a $500 discount for upgrading to the Denali package. The 2019 Sierra AT4 fee reaches $65,330 with destination.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where General Motors Co. hosted travel and lodging.