Behind the Wheel

2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Review: Comfortable, capable, and on the verge of being the best truck

Chrome details give the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali a luxe look.

Photo courtesy of GMC

The best truck is an excellent blend of capability, comfort, and tech. The 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali checks most of those boxes thanks to a variety of upgrades for the new model year that make enough of a difference that the truck ticks up a few spots in the desirability rankings.

Sitting at the top of GMC's lineup, as tested the Sierra 1500 Denali seemingly had every bell and whistle. The CarboPro bed, MultiPro tailgate, and 3.0-liter Duramax diesel engine. That's the trifecta of GMC innovation, and it all plays very well with the idea of a luxury truck that the arm of General Motors is looking to project with the model.

2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali The Sierra tester came equipped with the truck's available MultiPro tailgate and CarbonPro bed.Photo courtesy of GMC

The strong stance of the Sierra 1500 Denali is complimented by a bright, multidimensional grille, chrome exterior accents, and body-color bumpers. The overall effect is elegant rather than beefy.

The real eye-catching aspect is the MultiPro tailgate, which during a week of testing (and a few stops at Home Depot) garnered more than its fair share of questions and displayed its functionality to a number of curious fellow shoppers. Attach that interest to the questions about the CarbonPro bed, and a trip to the hardware store gives a whole different meaning to Demo Day.

The true gem of the Sierra 1500 Denali is a bit more hidden. That's its strong, capable, and surprisingly quiet diesel engine. The Duramax is good for 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Its power inspired confidence while simultaneously not annoying the neighbors with a startling grumble when it starts. The engine is paired with a smooth-as-silk 10-speed automatic transmission.

2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali The truck isn't just another pretty face. It is plenty capable as well. Photo courtesy of GMC

The available 4x4 drivetrain can be switched to Auto to take advantage of the functionality when needed but fuel savings when not. The EPA rates the 4x2 version of the truck at 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway while the 4x4 is said to get 22 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Those estimates held true during testing resulting in the model being nearly twice as fuel efficient as the Toyota Tundra in the two-wheel drive variant.

GMC has made the truck easy to drive at low speed but on the highway, at higher speeds, the steering gets too loose for comfort, making you rethink quick lane changes. That's not an issue that effects the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 or HD, or GMC Sierra HD AT4, which were recently tested in similar conditions.

2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali The interior of the model isn't up to par with the luxury-level exterior.Photo courtesy of GMC

The model also falters in its cabin. Though the materials are an upgrade from the more pedestrian variants of the Sierra, the Sierra 1500 Denali doesn't feel like a true luxury truck the way the interior of the Ram 1500 does. Still, its seats are comfortable, there's good legroom in the rear, and the infotainment system is plenty responsive.

The truck has a host of easy-to-use tech including 15 camera views and adaptive cruise control, which is new for the 2020 model year. Those cameras, while helpful when driving and towing, are not as helpful when it comes to parking - parking between the lines is somehow much more difficult than it should be.

2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali The GMC Sierra is easy to drive but difficult to park, even with all the camera angles.Photo courtesy of GMC

A combination of wonky steering and lack of luxe cabin features keep the Sierra 1500 Denali from being truly great. However, it's one of the better pickup trucks on the market because of its carbon fiber bed, innovative tailgate, and engine. If the price tag is too high for your taste or if you want a beefier looking truck, check out the Sierra 1500 AT4, which adds a lift, black exterior accents, and other equipment to the typical Sierra 1500 setup.

General Motors is bringing back the Hummer, this time though, it's an electric truck.

Photo courtesy of GMC

General Motors is bringing back the Hummer as an electric-powered truck. Ahead of its planned debut in May, here's a full run down of all we know.

This Hummer is a GMC.

General Motors has brought the Hummer name back, but not as a stand-alone brand. This time it's under the GMC umbrella. Electric vehicles are usually pricier than a traditionally powertrained vehicle, so it's logical that the Hummer EV fits better under the GMC brand than the Chevrolet marque.

The GMC Hummer EV is an electric truck and SUV.

You won't catch anyone rolling coal in the Hummer truck anytime soon. It's going to be a full-sized model that runs purely on battery power. Word on the street is that GMC will release the Hummer in truck and SUV form, similar to what Rivian is offering in the R1T and the R1S.

It will have a targa top.

Yes, like a Porsche, but more like a Wrangler. Owners will be able to remove the roof of the models and store them within the vehicle according to reports.

The Hummer EV comes with three front windshield wipers.

Yes, three. The reasons for this are unclear at the moment, but the vehicle's reveal will likely yield a clearcut answer.

Indications are that the design is boxy and very Hummer-like.

The modern iterations of GM's trucks are easily the biggest and boxiest to date. This fits easily into the Hummer model and reports indicate that the Hummer EV follows suite and will hold true to many of the design characteristics that Hummer has been known for in the past.

Under the Hummer is EV is GM's third-gen architecture and new battery pack.

In early March, General Motors debuted their new vehicle and battery architecture. We covered it here.

Its range will top what you can get from a Tesla.

There are indications that the GMC Hummer EV will have a 400-mile range. It's likely that GM will sell various grades of the model with different ranges and that the 400-mile model will the the top level offering.

In terms of power, there's a lot to be excited about.

The Hummer EV has more than 1,000 horsepower and a reported 11,500 pound-feet of axle torque. With that output, the truck could conceivably get to 60 mph from a standstill in about 3.0 seconds, similar to what you'll find from a Tesla Model 3.

There may be a rugged off-road version and a top-tier Denali model.

With GMC's intent to push the rugged AT4 grade on its entire lineup, it's conceivable that there would be a Hummer EV AT4 down the road. The same with a Denali model.

General Motors will make the Hummer EV in Detroit.

The company will produce the model at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, alongside the Cruise Origin.

It's going to be a 2022 model year vehicle but you'll probably see it at dealerships in late 2021.

General Motors typically releases vehicles in the late summer to early winter of the year prior to that vehicle's model year. For example, the 2019 Chevrolet Suburban would have come out in late 2018. If the GMC Hummer EV holds true to that platform, it will begin arriving on dealership lots in mid to late 2021.

How much will it cost?

Looking at the playing field, there's a lot of experts out there saying that the price will be about $70,000. That's without any incentives or tax breaks.

A team of three piled into this 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 and headed up to the Arctic Circle during the Alcan 5000.

Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

There are many events that could lay claim to the title of most extreme driving challenge in the world, but only one takes competitors to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the dead of winter.

"It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
I
t's the stillness that fills me with peace."
- From "The Spell of the Yukon" by Robert W. Service

The Alcan 5000 Winter Rally runs once every four years, and has developed a devoted following among adventure-seekers from all over the world. This year, 40 teams made the long drive north from Seattle, Washington to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The GMC Sierra AT4 came equipped with all the latest features, including a valuable camera system that helped with views where traditional mirrors could not, helping to get the team out of more than one tricky situation.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

The Alcan rally first dares teams to make it to the far north. Tuktoyaktuk lies about 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. In the short summers, residents fish the Arctic Ocean. The rest of the time they survive winter temperatures that hover around 40 degrees below zero.

The second part of the competition is a daily Time-Speed-Distance test that challenges teams to drive a challenging road at a precise average speed. It's not a race, but rather a demonstration of the ability to arrive exactly on time.

Teams may enter virtually any kind of vehicle they choose. This year's entrants ranged from a 1973 Ford Capri to a Japanese-market right-hand-drive Mitsubishi Pajero and a brand new 2020 GMC Sierra AT4. (The GMC was this writer's ride on the rally.) Subaru cars and SUVs are a popular choice, as are 4WD pickup trucks. Entries are divided into classes based on the type of vehicle - 2WD and Historic vehicles get their own classes.

The rally sets off from Seattle and crosses the Canadian border on the first day. Most people don't realize that British Columbia is about the same size as California. B.C. is known for wildlife, and this is where travelers will usually see American Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Moose, and Caribou. In winter, it takes nearly three days to climb through B.C. and reach the Yukon Territory, where the adventure really begins.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic bison There were numerous bison spotting throughout the trip.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Adventuring in the Arctic

As we arrived in Whitehorse, temperatures fell below zero. The fat snowflakes of a picturesque winter give way to hard ice and the trees get smaller as teams drive north through Canada's gold country. The last night before the hard push to the Arctic is spent in Dawson. This town dates from the Yukon gold rush, and the frontier spirit lingers there in saloons and rustic hotels.

From Dawson, the rally turns off on the Dempster Highway. This is the only road to Inuvik and the Northwest Territories. The next settlement is Eagle Plains, about 250 miles from Dawson and just 20 miles from the Arctic Circle. Teams stop at the circle monument for photos and bit of clowning around.

Driving becomes serious business on the Dempster. It's a gravel road in summertime, but in the winter it's packed snow and ice, with snow drifts along the shoulders that are easily capable of swallowing a car. About 50 miles in, several teams opted to turn back and wait in Whitehorse for the rally to return.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The Arctic is cold and desolate, especially early in the morning in the heart of winter.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

The teams that elected to go on traveled in groups and kept in touch by radio to ensure that no one was left stranded, and several vehicles had to be pulled out of trouble. Temperatures on this year's rally plunged to -20F as we crossed the Richardson mountain range and entered the Northwest Territories. At this point teams are not competitors. They're partners in getting everyone over the top safely.

Modern Tech to the Rescue

As we went along, our GMC showed the value of modern technology. The AT4 package includes a raised suspension, skid plates to protect the underside of the truck, and an Automatic mode in the four-wheel-drive system. Many 4X4 vehicles turn off the traction and stability control systems when 4WD is engaged. The GMC's automatic mode allows the truck to function like an all-wheel-drive SUV, sending power to any wheel that has grip while maintaining traction and stability. The effect was exactly what we needed to stay on the road.

We chose Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT3 studded winter tires for the journey. The triangular studs in the Nokian tires bite into the ice, while the advanced tread design molds around snow and frost to grab traction. As wise Arctic travelers recommend, we carried two spares. However, the Nokians survived everything we threw their way and we never used the emergency tires.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic While much of the route is traditional roadway, there's thousands of miles of off-road driving in treacherous conditions.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

It's worth mentioning GMC's extensive camera system. The Sierra has forward and rear-facing cameras, and can deliver a birds-eye view around the truck for tight maneuvering. Best of all, the rear-view mirror is also camera based, with an eye mounted on the back of the cab. In the Arctic, the rear window of any vehicle tends to collect a thick coat of frost and ice. The GMC camera offers clear wide-angle view to the rear that also includes most of the blind spots.

FInally, our GMC was equipped with the new 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engine. With 477 pound-feet of torque, this smaller six-cylinder pulls like a V8. It's paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission to maximize fuel economy. We saw up to 30 MPG in warmer climates to the south. In the Arctic, the extreme cold hits everyone's fuel economy, but where gas engines were averaging under 15 MPG, the Duramax returned about 18 MPG.

The Spell of the Arctic

After a long day of hard driving the rally reaches Inuvik, NWT. At about 3,250 people, Inuvik is the largest town north of the Arctic Circle in North America. Here temperatures plunged to 40 below zero, but at this point no one is going to give up on the great goal. In the morning, teams rise before dawn and continue about 100 miles farther north to Tuktoyaktuk, celebrating the sunrise on the beach of the Arctic Ocean. Or rather, we take the locals' word for it, because there's nothing but ice as far as can be seen.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The team made it to the Arctic Ocean, just 1,500 miles from the North Pole.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Tuk is the end of all roads. From here it's just 1,500 miles to the North Pole, all ice. Only Barrow, Alaska is a bit farther north and still reachable by car. After some photos and a little celebration, the Alcan teams turn away from the rising sun and start heading home. The adventure's not over yet, however. There are still five more days of competition before the rally ends in Anchorage, Alaska.

On the way back down, there's more time to pause and appreciate the scenery. The Arctic is wild and very much untamed. Teams observed foxes, wolves, and even a very quick Arctic hare. We were forced to make an unplanned overnight stop in the tiny village of Fort McPherson when the pass over the Richardson mountains was closed due to a blizzard. Teams pooled their food and made a potluck dinner as the local church opened its doors and broke out the supply of cots they keep on hand for these occasions.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic Wildlife, like these mountain goats, was spotted throughout the journey.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

At the end of the event in Anchorage, the team of Garth Ankeny and Russ Kraushaar in the vintage Capri won the competitive portion of the rally. By that point, everyone's ready to cheer because after driving 5,000 miles to the top of the world, just being there feels like a victory. That's why people return to the Alcan Rally again and again.

"There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There's a land— oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back— and I will."