2021 GMC Sierra-1500

By March 11, 2021

The full-size 2021 GMC Sierra is one of the mainstays of the full-size pickup truck segment. Its innovative technology helps make tough towing and hauling jobs that much easier.

This year brings surprise boosts in maximum towing capacity for the turbo-4 and turbodiesel inline-6. To help make the most of the improved capability, the available trailering technology becomes more comprehensive this year. GMC has also made the Sierra’s novel 6-way tailgate standard on all but the base model.

The Sierra offers an array of body styles and engines. Five unique powertrains are on tap with either four, six, or eight cylinders. That’s augmented by three available cab designs and three different bed lengths. It all makes for a startling number of potential configurations.

The base engine is a 4.3-liter V-6 making 285 horsepower, but we suspect most lower-trim trucks will be powered by the available 2.7-liter turbo-4 that generates 310 horsepower. The V-6’s 7,900-pound towing capacity and 2,240-pound payload rating outdoes the turbo-4’s 6,900-pound and 2,060-pound respective maximum capacities.

The most popular engine is the 5.3-liter V-8, which makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. It can tow 11,300 pounds and haul 2,180 pounds in the bed. The available 6.2-liter V-8 goes one further with 420 horsepower and a 12,100-pound towing capacity. Payload capacity drops slightly to 2,070 pounds.

The 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-6 features 260 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, the latter figure tying that of the 6.2-liter V-8. It’ll tow 9,300 pounds and lug 1,830 pounds in the bed.

Safety options include automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and adaptive cruise control. The Sierra earned a four-star overall rating from the NHTSA.

Model Lineup

The Sierra spans five trim levels, the cheapest being the $31,695 base truck with a regular cab and an 8-foot bed. It comes with cloth upholstery, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and power features. The exterior features LED lighting and 17-inch wheels. This is the only trim to use the 4.3-liter V-6.

The SLE starts at $39,995 and adds the turbo-4 engine, keyless entry, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, the 6-way tailgate, and a wi-fi hotspot.

The $41,695 Elevation comes with remote start, bed lighting, and mild styling upgrades like blacked-out trim and 20-inch wheels.

The $48,595 SLT is where things get fancy. Among its notable features are heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and leather upholstery. The 5.3-liter V-8 is the base engine.

Beyond the SLT is the off-road oriented AT4, which starts at $55,395. This trim is notable for its exclusive features like all-terrain tires, a 2-inch suspension lift, hill-descent control, and skid plates. The cabin features heated and cooled leather bucket seats and a full console. Four-wheel drive is mandatory and includes a proper two-speed transfer case.

The $56,990 Denali is the flagship trim. It looks the part with a unique chrome grille, chrome mirrors and door handles, and a few other chrome-trimmed bits and bobs. Leather upholstery, Bose audio, an adaptive suspension, and heated rear seats are all standard. All Denalis are built as crew cabs with the 6.2-liter V-8.

Exterior

The Sierra wears a macho, chiseled design that lends shape and form to its hulking body. The squared-off grille and C-shaped headlights ensure the Sierra won’t be mistaken for a crossover. It’s a big truck and the bold detailing doesn’t try to downplay its heft. Denalis look even more formidable with chrome on the grille, trim, and wheels.

Interior

The Sierra comes with lots of flexibility in its cabin, and lots of technology on the options list. The GMC infotainment system, which is accessed through an 8.0-inch touchscreen on all but the base trim, can be upgraded with numerous different software and camera views that make towing a cinch. Options like a bed-view camera, hitch guidance with jackknife alert, and a 15-angle surround-view camera system are all available. It’s some of the most comprehensive towing tech available in the segment.

The standard front bench seat is generally wide and comfortable, but we prefer the individual buckets for their additional lateral support. Cloth will likely be the most common upholstery, but leather has widespread availability. Both choices feel durable and look good.

The viability of the back seat is dependent on cab choice. Crew cabs are by far the best choice for anyone planning to regularly use the back seat: it features a massive 43.5 inches of legroom. The extended cab gets four forward-hinged doors, but the compromised back seat lacks good leg room; it’s best for the buyer who only occasionally shuttles more than one passenger. Regular cabs forego a back seat entirely and come only with a three-across front bench.

The three available bed sizes ensure copious amounts of cargo space.

Driving Impressions

The Sierra is a rare vehicle in offering a full complement of engines. Anywhere from four to eight cylinders are on offer here, and buyers also have a choice between gas and diesel.That leaves room for an immense breadth of personalities: This is a truck that is only as sophisticated as your budget allows.

The base V-6 isn’t particularly quick, and lacks refinement. The 2.0-liter turbo-4 is better in every way. At 19/22/20 mpg, It outperforms every engine except the diesel when it comes to fuel economy. Unladen, its 310 horsepower has no issue motivating the Sierra.

The V-8s are the most popular choices, and for good reason. Two flavors of cylinder deactivation are offered with both the 5.3- and 6.2-liter V-8. The more sophisticated of these helps the big engines return surprisingly good gas mileage: buyers can get up to 24 mpg on the highway in rear-drive, 5.3-powered trucks.

Of all the available engines, the V-8s feel the most right from behind the wheel. At idle or under easy acceleration they emit a lovely grumble from the exhaust that becomes more sinister under hard throttle. They’re powerful enough to shrug off shuttling even the heaviest trailers.

The diesel has no issue towing either, thanks to its 460 lb-ft of torque. But it’s an expensive option, and with gas prices being low as they are, we don’t see the point in upgrading from the excellent 5.3-liter V-8.

The Denali gets a unique adaptive suspension that imbues it with the best ride. The rest of the models ride decently, with much of the old-school jounce and bounce eradicated. The leaf-spring rear suspension can’t quite replicate the smoothness of coil springs, though.

Final Word

The 2021 GMC Sierra is a highly capable, good-looking pickup truck. One of its best attributes? The excellent selection of towing technology not yet available in other trucks. We imagine that alone will convince many buyers to try this truck on for size. Our advice is to check out an SLE or SLT with the 5.3-liter V-8 and a crew cab.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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