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 DenaliThe 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 DenaliThe 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 DenaliThe 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 DenaliThe 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.

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The IIHS may increase the speeds it uses to test advanced driver aids.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced that it is considering changing the speeds it uses to test vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems. The agency currently tests the systems at 12 and 25 mph, but says that the speeds don't accurately represent the types of crashes the safety tech is meant to prevent.

Front crash preventionwww.youtube.com

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is designed to notify of a possible collision and help respond with automatic application of braking. Just like a human using the brake pedal, it can stop the car, but higher speeds make it difficult to stop in time. The new tests would be conducted at 35 to 45 mph, which is the range where a large number of rear-end crashes occur. As Automotive News noted, an IIHS study showed 43 percent of rear-end crashes occur at speeds of 45 mph or less, so it's important to have a test that shows how well the tech performs at those levels.

A whopping 85 percent of 2022 vehicles earned a "Superior" rating in the current testing regime, so the IIHS will remove it from 2023 testing and Top Safety Pick award evaluations. Their view is that, since the majority of vehicles meet the criteria, it's no longer an accurate way of evaluating performance. In its place, the agency introduced a night test for automatic emergency braking systems that will begin next year.

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The Denali Ultimate trim is new for 2023.

GMC

The GMC Yukon has always been a luxurious family hauler with beefy capability, but it moved even more upmarket in recent years with added tech and upscale interior materials. GMC just announced an even cushier version of the SUV for the 2023 model year. The Yukon Ultimate Denali gets unique styling touches and upgrades that take the already plush SUV to another level.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate22-inch wheels are standard GMC

The Denali Ultimate gets exclusive upgrades over other trims that include 22-inch wheels and chrome accents outside. The full-size SUV just got a complete redesign for 2021, which brought updated boxy styling, and a sleek look, so there are no additional exterior changes for 2023.

GMC offers three engines in the standard Yukon, but only two make it into the Ultimate. The standard powertrain includes a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel is also available that makes 277 horsepower and a whopping 460 pound-feet of torque. A ten-speed automatic transmission is standard for all engines, and four-wheel drive is available.

Inside, the Ultimate comes with Alpine Umber full-grain leather upholstery with 16-way power front seats and massaging. Trim-exclusive contrast stitching and aluminum trim accent the space, and the top model gets an 18-speaker Bose audio system with stainless steel speaker grilles.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali UltimateGrained leather upholstery and upscale interior finishes are standard. GMC

A 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen comes standard, and offers Google services built in. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, along with wireless phone charging. A Wi-Fi hotspot and Amazon Alexa functionality are available. GMC also offers Super Cruise hands-free driving system in the Denali Ultimate.

GMC hasn’t detailed pricing for the new SUV yet, but we expect it to start at a premium over the standard Denali, which starts at just over $70,000.

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