If there is one word that explains why GM kept GMC and ditched Pontiac, that word would be Denali. Denali (or Mount McKinley) is the highest mountain peak in North America. It also represents the pinnacle GMC trim level, for the most luxury found in any GM vehicle line this side of Cadillac.
While the Denali line and its high profit margins rendered low-profit Pontiac pointless, it also forced competing brands to respond with high-end crew cab pickup trucks of their own. Namely, we now have the Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn, Ford’s F-150 King Ranch, and the Toyota Tundra 1794 edition.
Even the similar Chevrolet Silverado now has the High Country — a high-lux, country-themed appeasement for long envious Chevy dealers. It isn’t a Denali, but it comes in close.
The take rate on high-end pickup trucks is small, but when the purchase is done the profits range from $10,000 to $15,000 per vehicle, well above the average $7,000 profit for large pickup trucks.
Denali is available in Sierra regular- and heavy-duty pickup trucks as well as across GMC’s utility vehicle line: Terrain, Acadia, Yukon, and Yukon XL. When the smaller Canyon pickup truck returns this year, likely a Denali edition will eventually follow.
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2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Review
A 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab 4WD Denali was dropped off in my driveway one late February afternoon, finished in Onyx Black and generously clad in the chrome bling that defines the Denali. Standard Sierra crew cab models are priced from $49,410 for the short bed and $49,710 for the standard bed.
The Denali trim pushes the Sierra’s base price to $52,560. Choose the largest available V-8 engine, a power sunroof, a rear seat entertainment package, a tonneau cover, plus the dealer-installed four-inch chromed tubular round assist steps, and your fully-optioned 44 bling machine will retail for above $60,000.
The good news here is that you have much room to negotiate your final price, knocking $5,000 or more off of it without much effort and perhaps as much as $10,000 if you insist on a price closer to what the dealer paid for the truck.
For 2014, GM brought out the latest generation of its full-size pickup trucks. The changes were evolutionary, not revolutionary with the Sierra’s three engines updated to produce improved performance and trailering capabilities while yielding slightly better fuel economy.
Updated Engine Line
The trio of EcoTec3 engines have been outfitted with direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation, and variable valve timing technologies, enabling all three to keep pace with competing models.
A 4.8-liter V-8 was dropped for 2014; a 4.3-liter V-6 is standard on base models with 5.3- and 6.2-liter V-8 engines available. All pickup truck engines are coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission.
For the Denali line, your choice of engines is the standard small-block V-8 or the beefier 6.2-liter V-8. As tested, the supplied Denali was powered by the smaller engine, making 355 horsepower, up from 315-hp for the previous generation.
Torque has also benefited, rising from 335 foot-pounds to 383 pound-feet. The new or updated technologies along with aerodynamic improvements have yielded the power increase while also providing a slight uptick in fuel economy.
The small-block V-8 worked as expected, delivering excellent response through a variety of driving conditions.
With no more than four people riding in it at one time including the driver and nothing to tow, I cannot say whether the larger V-8 would be highly desirable, except for an ever so slight edge in trailering capacity: 11,800 pounds versus 11,200 pounds. Its 420-hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque ratings are not easily dismissed, however.
Beyond the exterior bling, the area where the Denali really shines (pun intended) is right inside the cabin. GMC calls it professional grade luxury but you may just as likely grasp how its designers took a luxury sedans sophistication and applied it to a crew cab.
Let’s start with the seats: you get perforated nuance leather-appointed seating with French-stitching, what provides a rich look and a comfortable ride. For the driver and the front passenger, the bucket seats are extra wide, heated, and cooled, offering 12-way power adjustment.
Combine that with the tilt and telescopic steering wheel and there is a driving position for everyone. Add in the heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and your comfort quotient climbs another notch. The rear passengers are supplied with a plush bench seat fold it down in sections or together to store goods on top or make use of the space underneath the seats to do the same.
The Denali’s cabin is quiet with triple door seals blocking outside noise. GMC uses real aluminum trim through the cabin and provides a soft-touch instrument panel. The center stack is uncluttered, marked by a touchscreen color display with traditional switches and knobs underneath.
GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Elevates the Segment
The GMC Intellilink system is one of the better ones in the industry fairly easy to use and with a clean design. Shift into backup gear and the standard rearview camera with guidelines and warning beeps helps the driver maneuver the big pickup truck into the tightest spaces.
New for 2014 is a seven-speaker Bose audio system with a subwoofer. It provides a sound befitting the Denali class.
Besides its standard 5-foot, 8-inch bed (a 6-foot, 6-inch bed is optional), in-cabin storage is excellent with the Denali. You get in-door storage pockets with bottle holders, cup holders, an oversized glove box with a second storage compartment located above that, seatback pockets, and a pair of oversized front center console storage compartments one open, the other closed.
That enclosed second compartment is large enough to hold hanging folders. What I would like to see is a refrigeration option maybe a removable refrigerator compartment for campers and picnickers alike.
Ride and Safety
The latest Denali benefits from several other big pickup truck improvements that has spread across the GMC and Chevrolet lines. Steering, suspension, and brakes have been revised for improved ride and handling. Luxury car features such as forward collision alert and lane departure warning are standard.
You also get the same safety alert seat found in Cadillac models, what vibrates the driver’s seat to alert you to potential hazards. This last feature is unnerving at first, but I found myself getting used to it the longer I drove.
You may soon find yourself understanding what each vibration means: a left or a right vibration signifies a lane shift in the direction of the vibration, while a full-on vibration denotes forward collision alert.
I’m guessing GMs engineers dismissed the idea of a full seat vibration from the headrest to the thigh what might be mistaken for electrocution.
Besides its safety features, there isn’t a moment when I felt unsafe in the Denali. I credit its mass with giving me that confidence plus it intimidating features the massive chrome grille flanked by projector beam headlamps and signature LED daytime running lights says, I’m elegant.
It also says, don’t mess with me. People see this blinged-out big black truck coming and move out the way. You don’t need to be a jerk about it, but you should understand that proportion plus an abundance of chrome means you’re driving the cream of the pickup truck set.
To keep your Denali serviced right, GMC provides two years of scheduled service and maintenance to go with its 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Roadside assistance and courtesy transportation is also included for five years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Matt has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.