For some, Denali is a national park boasting the highest mountain peak in North America. To others, it’s a pinnacle of a different sort – the most prestigious, and luxurious, GMC available. Truck or SUV? It doesn’t matter. If it’s made by General Motors Corp. and sports the Denali badge, it means you’re driving in style.
In the case of the 2019 Sierra 1500 Denali pickup truck, it also means you’re driving on massive, 22-inch wheels in an equally expansive crew cab, dwarfing every other passenger vehicle on the road. To say the newly updated Sierra Denali is big is kind of like saying a Smart Car is small. Its size defies comprehension until you’re standing next to it, struggling with how to get in, especially when it’s a short-legged corgi making the attempt.
I was testing the truck as part of GMC’s two-day Denali and Dogs event, which involved transporting my 4-year-old Pembroke from L.A. through the twisting canyons of Ojai two hours to the north to the upscale RV resort, Caravan Outpost, where I learned the very first Airstream towed into the space was hauled in place by an earlier version of the Denali.
For our midweek getaway, GM was a gracious host, if moderately perturbed, at first, to learn that my dog’s name is Ford – until I explained that the moniker was courtesy of the breeder. Our campsite had a custom-made GMC doghouse for pups that prefer such cozy confines to an Airstream, and also offered dog yoga, dog training, do’s and don’ts for canine travel, and a few hours at the Summerland dog beach about an hour’s drive outside of camp.
With the exception of yoga, which Ford absolutely refused, dog was my co-pilot throughout. But with those legs, there was still the matter of entering the vehicle without a human assist.
Sure, there are the usual courtesy handles just inside the door frame. But the Sierra Denali also offers some help down below, with retractable running boards that pop out as soon as the doors open and pop back in once they’re closed. For a 6-foot-tall pickup with eight inches of ground clearance front and rear, the running boards made all the difference for my low-slung pooch (and his mom), whether he was ambling into the front passenger seat or snuggling into the rear.
Either way, there was plenty of room. The Sierra Denali crew cab has almost four feet of leg room for front passengers. It’s overkill for a small dog, but being a classic mama’s boy, Ford preferred to sit in the bucket seat next to mine in front, though he did attempt to jump in back. It was just too far down for him to make the leap with his little legs. So, after pacing – yes, there’s enough room for a corgi to pace in the front seat – he curled into his favorite position and snoozed, as if the seat were as comfortable as his home dog bed at home.
Technically, as GM’s dog trainer pointed out, animals should be restrained just like human passengers. When sitting up, dogs have a higher center of gravity, making them more susceptible to being thrown through the air during sudden braking or a crash. Ideally, they should sit in the back seat with a harness that connects to the seatbelt.
Plenty of Space for Spot(s)
The back seat, with only slightly less leg- and headroom than the front, allows multiple dogs – whether great Dane, mastiff, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard or miniature poodle – to spread out and luxuriate in the Sierra Denali’s leather seats. For pampered pooches of any species who are also temperature-sensitive, front and back seats are heated and ventilated.
The only problem with so much space? Cleanup, especially after our visit to Summerland dog beach. Being a lowrider of a dog, Ford brought half the beach with him into the Denali after romping along the Pacific. If only GMC had taken a page from the Honda Odyssey minivan and built in a vacuum.
With its blunt-faced masculinity and chiseled yet boxy stature, the Sierra Denali already looks like it could moonlight as a Transformer, and various amenities make it so. New for 2019, the Sierra includes something called the MultiPro tailgate, which can be configured six ways to Sunday, or at least six ways for a Sunday tailgate party.
Need an extra step for Fido to enter the back 40, er, cargo bed? For safety reasons, GM counsels against dogs in the back, although it can be arranged can be arranged with the press of a button and a set of folding panels that turn the tailgate into a step or ledge and can shorten the tailgate by half for easier loading and unloading. (Dogs in open pickup beds are outlawed to various degrees in five states: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.)
This Isn’t Ruff-ing It
For a full-size pickup with the capability to tow up to 9,600 pounds, the Sierra Denali has an amazingly carlike feel. The ride quality is smooth – not bouncy – and the interior is so quiet as to feel hushed. At least it feels hushed until you employ the Bose premium sound system to play your Spotify, regardless of whether you’re playing it for Spot.
Spotify and other select apps can be accessed through the car’s controls, thanks to Apple CarPlay. The app icons appear on the Sierra Denali’s eight-inch color screen and can be operated by touch or with voice commands, while iPhones 8 and newer can charge wirelessly in a tray below.
The 2019 Sierra Denali has a base price of $58,000. Add the Denali ultimate package for $5,850, and it adds high-definition surround vision that shows the car from every angle on the center console screen, and a multicolor head-up display that projects the car’s speed and navigation instructions on the windshield in front of the driver.
That’s in addition to automated warnings and driving features, including forward collision alert and lane-keep assist, which notify the driver of impending encroachments by vibrating the seat in the direction of the potential problem. There’s also front pedestrian braking, though it’s unclear whether the car will also detect, and brake for, dogs.
Yes, the 2019 Sierra Denali is amazingly high tech for a truck, and much of that tech is lost on a dog, with one exception – its rear seat reminder system. GMC was ahead of the pack when it introduced the rear seat reminder two years ago on its seven-seat Acadia SUV. Activated when a rear seat door is opened and the car’s engine is then turned on, it alerts drivers once the car’s ignition is turned off – dinging five times and displaying a message on the dashboard that reads: “Rear seat reminder: Look in rear seat.”
Originally designed as a response to children’s heatstroke deaths in cars, to remind parents of the kids they might be forgetting, the system was just as useful for a dog, presuming your four-legged friend’s barking or heavy breathing hasn’t already done the trick.
One thing that doesn’t breathe heavily on the Denali? The available Ecotec engine on my loaner vehicle. Equipped with start-stop technology that cuts the power at idle and immediately restarts it once the brake pedal is released, the Sierra’s 6.2-liter V-8 averages 17 mpg combined, according to U.S. EPA estimates. Matched with a new 10-speed automatic transmission that transitions smoothly from gear to gear, the 2019 Sierra Denali seems to move effortlessly.
And that’s something humans, and their dogs, can both appreciate.