Cadillac doesn't make an attempt into the fullsize heavy-duty market. They've achieved segment-leading success in the large and luxurious SUV arena, but when it looked at the world of luxury HD trucks, there was one major hurdle to overcome. Behold the Denali HD. GMC's flagship fullsize truck, the Denali can be ordered with all of the high-end accouterments luxury SUV owners are used to seeing in their premium-priced vehicles. Imagine a scenario where a hardened cowboy leaves the ranch and heads to a Hollywood red carpet event. Mr. cowboy sir, we've found you the perfect truck. Decked out in GMC's finest perforated leather, navigation, and chrome accessories, the Sierra Denali HD can tow up to 23,000 (when properly equipped) and look like a luxury vehicle when doing it.
On a recent road trip to race our Project Novakane GMC Sierra at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky, we couldn't think of a better tow rig than the Sierra Denali 2500HD. Yep, we'd be towing our blown LSX376-equipped Sierra that pumps out 657 lb-ft of torque with a Sierra 2500HD that pumps out 765 lb-ft of torque. That's a combined 1,422 lb-ft of neck-snapping torque rolling down the road! Before attaching our trailer to the Sierra Denali 2500HD, we walked around to see what separates the Denali from the other Sierra trim levels. Distinguishing between the standard models and the Denali takes only one glance to the front end. A bold, chrome grille reminiscent of a Range Rover makes its presence known surrounded by a body color-painted bumper. Other standout areas include the polished 20-inch forged wheels, chrome body trim, and of course, Denali badging.
The Denali interior is nice, however it hasn’t change much since its design intro in 2007.
Using the rear vision camera to line up the trailer hitch, we were on the road and heading east. Once inside and settled in, we had the opportunity to examine the cabin. This isn't a typical heavy-duty pickup, as you'd want to think twice before grabbing the wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel if your hands were dirty, and you'd also want to dust off your pants before sitting on the heated and cooled perforated leather bucket seats. With a handsome woodgrain design center console, hard-drive navigation radio with USB port, and heated steering wheel, the Denali looks the part of a premium pickup. That said, it is worth noting the dash and overall interior design has been the same since 2007, and you can only put so much fake wood in a truck before it needs an update. We've heard the 2014 Sierra will receive such a makeover.
Out on the interstate, the 397 hp and 765 lb-ft from the Duramax pulled our 5,300-pound truck and trailer effortlessly. Thanks to the Allison six-speed automatic transmission, there wasn't a time when the engine/trans combo didn't work in harmony finding the right gear for passing, climbing hills, and cruising. During our trip, the Duramax returned 13.1 mpg, which for the 70-mph speeds we were doing is very commendable. Other powertrain and towing goodies included an exhaust brake system that helped control the truck and trailer when slowing down, trailer sway control, and StabiliTrack electronic stability control system. Straight from the conventional hitch, the Denali 2500HD can tow 13,000 pounds. After our tester didn't even break a sweat with our truck/trailer combo, we believe the truck is readily capable of that feat.
Steering was surprisingly light from the 2500HD, which made directional inputs when towing a simple and minimal process. The exhaust brake was one of our favorite features, as it made a huge difference when slowing while driving up and down hills, and it translates a sense of extra safety and confidence—a key benefit when towing. With a 12-way driver seat, powered tilt-column, and adjustable pedals, finding the perfect driving position was as easy as pushing several buttons. Comfort is always on tap with dual-zone automatic climate control, cooled seats, and power door locks, windows, and remote start.
After dozens of energy drinks, several fast-food stops, and a few 36-gallon diesel fill-ups, we arrived in Bowling Green and unloaded. Without a trailer attached, the Sierra Denali 2500HD instantly turned into a hot-rod pickup with 0- to 60-mph times of 7.7 seconds. Impressive for a truck weighing in at 6,300 pounds. Five adults cruised around in comfort, although it does seem the Super Duty and Ram have more rear seat room. One of our biggest disappointments was the navigation radio, as it proved slow, looked antiquated, and the Bose audio system didn't return the premium sound we expected.
On our return drive home, the only hiccup we experienced was the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) light coming on with a range of 50 miles. We quickly located a GM dealer and paid $43.00 for enough fluid to top off the tank. All in all, the Sierra Denali 2500HD proved a formidable daily driver, tow rig, and great way to make an entrance. For an as-tested price of $63,000, the Denali HD is not cheap, but then again, arriving in comfort, style, and luxury never is.
2012 GMC Sierra Denali 2500HD
Base Price: $47,480
Price as Tested: $63,000
Type: 6.6L OHV V-8 turbodiesel
Compression Ratio: 16.0:1
Horsepower: 377 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 765 @ 4300 rpm
Recommended Fuel: Ultra-low sulphur diesel
Layout: Front engine, 4WD
Transmission: Six-speed Auto Allison 1000
Brakes: 13.8-inch front/ 14.17 rear disc
Wheels: 20x10-inch forged
Tires: LT265/60R20 all-terrain
Tow Capacity: 13,000 lbs
0-60: 7.7 seconds
¼-mile: 16.8 @ 88 mph
60-0: 155 feet
Observed Gas Mileage: 13.1