GMC Denali HD
Denalis have always been one of the best looking trucks on the market, but the HD hood, with its plastic insert in the center, was seen as an unnecessary bit of trim. We'd rather it be painted body color or not there at all. The GMCs new suspension provides a taller stance than before, almost like a 1500 with a leveling kit, with deep framerails that are easily visible under the rockers and add to it's heightened stance. The new 2011 HD GMCs finally have an appearance worthy of their capability. Speaking of capability, the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank hangs as low as the frame, just behind the passenger-side wheelwell, with no skidplate for protection. We worried that it was in a bit of a vulnerable spot.
Overall, the GMC Denali was our hands-down favorite for looks. We gave the Denali high marks in this section for having the most elegant layout and comfortable driving experience. The driving position, visability, and ergonomics were all great, possibly due to the time we've spent in other '07+ GM trucks. The only real complaint we had was the position of the seat controls, which are so close to the door panel that it makes it a tight squeeze, especially if you're wearing a watch on your left hand. We liked the GMCs simple, easy-to-read gauge cluster, but we were hoping that they would have come with an additional transmission temperature gauge in the cluster to further separate it from the 1/2-tons, at least in Denali trim, as Ford did with their Super Duties. Another item on our Denali wish list is the navigation unit from the Escalade, which is a step above the typical GM truck navigation. The GMCs also had a DIC that displayed important engine and drivetrain information, but in green LCD that seemed plain and outdated by comparison. That's fine in the lower trim levels, but again, we wished the Denali had stepped up in that regard.
Moving on to the powertrains, the throttle return spring on our Duramax diesel-equipped Denali was particularly firm, as if it were trying to tell us we didn't need as much throttle as we thought we did. During the tow test, the Denali HD pulled with vigor once the boost reached its limit and thanks to the Allison transmission, the HD had no problems finding the right gear to get the job done. The GMC's exhaust brake wasn't intrusive, one driver even felt that it was nearly imperceptible, which he didn't like. However, toggling the exhaust brake switch on and off showed just how much work it was doing to slow the vehicle. During our trailer tow test, the GMC Denali HD proved quicker in our 40-65 mph passing test, clocking in at 15.67 seconds to make the pass, while the Power Stroke accomplished the same acceleration in 17.28 seconds. Before the data was retrieved, the two editors riding in the trucks felt that while the Duramax in the Denali had better top end, the Power Stroke pulled harder on the low end. It turns out that the Allison transmission might have been the biggest factor, as the engines should have been closely matched.
2011 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 4WD
It was the one that...could haul a load and the mail while wearing a tuxedo
Down to business:
6.6L V-8 turbo-diesel
397 hp @ 3,000 rpm
765 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Allison 1000 six-speed automatic transmission
MSRP, including destination: $58,144
5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty
40-65 mph tow test: 15.67 seconds
We all agreed that the GMC Denali HD was the best-looking truck in our shootout.