This generation of the GMC Sierra debuted in 2018 with unique features like the MultiPro tailgate, class-exclusive towing cameras, and a bevy of active safety equipment. For 2021, those same elements carry over plus a few new ones – the most notable being the CarbonPro package.
The $1,070 CarbonPro package, as its name implies, adds a carbon-composite inner bed to the Denali and AT4 models. The extra strong material gives the GMC Sierra one of the toughest beds in the class – plus appropriate badging on the front and rear fenders for bragging rights.
But GMC still markets the Sierra as the only “premium” half-ton truck on the market – and that feels disingenuous in 2021, given the range-topping options from Ford and Ram. The Sierra lacks high-quality cabin materials, some of its technology is sub-par, and its performance in some areas important to truck owners is below-average for the class. And with that, GMC still asks a premium price – our truck costs $72,360 as-tested.
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Even when this Sierra debuted a few years back, we found the design garish. And nothing really changes for 2021. The massive chrome grille still takes up a ton of real estate on the front end, the chrome fog light surrounds add more shiny elements that we don't like, and guess what, there's more chrome lower down on the bumper. At least with the CarbonPro package (a $1,070 option), the Sierra sheds its standard shiny, high-spoked wheels for a slick 22-inch gloss black set ($2,995).
Otherwise, the body looks generic. There's nothing unique or innovative in its sheet metal that helps the Sierra stand out alongside its sibling, the Chevrolet Silverado, or even the latest Ford F-150. In the rear, at least, there's a large “GMC” badge perched atop the tailgate so you don't get it confused with other trucks.
The inside of the GMC Sierra is where things really start unraveling for this truck visually. Very little about the inside of this truck feels premium. There are some nicer aluminum finishes on the steering wheel and dash, but otherwise, it's obvious this is a copy-and-paste job from the more workman-like Silverado. The Sierra has the same 8.0-inch touchscreen as the Chevy, similar low-quality plastic materials, and the same general layout. We expect more from a so-called “premium” truck in 2021.
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The Sierra Crew Cab, like a lot of half-ton trucks, offers generous amounts of passenger space inside. Those seated in the first row have 43.0 inches of headroom and 44.5 inches of legroom, more than what you get in the new F-150 SuperCrew (40.8 / 43.9 inches). The Sierra's second row, meanwhile, has 39.8 inches of headroom and a solid 35.2 inches of legroom.
The seats in both rows of the Denali model wear a no-cost Jet Black leather that’s supple, and both buckets are heated and cooled in the front row. Pair those comfy seats with sublime sound deadening and a likable on-road demeanor, and the GMC Sierra makes for a comfortable way to toil away hours of highway driving. What makes this particular Sierra so cushy is the Denali premium suspension with adaptive dampers – which is one of the few “premium” features on this truck.
But where this particular Sierra stands out most is its bed. The CarbonPro package equipped here lines the backside of the Sierra in a carbon-fiber composite that's stronger and more durable than what you'll find on any other factory truck, adds an extra cubic foot of volume for your payload, and helps shed 60 pounds in weight. Plus you get the signature MultiPro tailgate – hands down our favorite feature on this entire truck.
The biggest screen you can get in the GMC Sierra is merely 8.0 inches. The Silverado has a matching display, given that the two trucks are virtually identical inside, and both of the screens are relatively easy to use. At least the home layout on the Sierra is easy to parse (as it is on the Chevy), with color-coordinated icons and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2021, which both connected seamlessly in our test. There's also an available 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot.
Compared to what others offer in the class, the screen size in the Sierra is disappointing. The latest F-150 offers a massive 12.0-inch screen with crystal clear graphics and an adjacent 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The Ram 1500, meanwhile, has a sizable 12.0-inch vertically oriented touchscreen, and even the ancient Nissan Titan now offers a crisper 9.0-inch screen for 2021.
But the Sierra does have some high-end features those other trucks don't. There's a large three-by-seven-inch head-up display that offers 11 functional features, as well as a second-gen rear-view camera mirror that we quite like. This version of the rearview camera mirror can zoom and adjust brightness as needed and projects a clear image of the rear surroundings.
For towing and hauling, the Bed View Camera comes standard on this model, which lets the driver peek in on their cargo via the infotainment display. That also pairs with an HD Surround Vision camera, which offers a rear view of the connected trailer, a see-through view of said trailer, and even a view inside of the trailer. These are some of the best cameras offered in the entire class.
The GMC Sierra comes with your choice of four different gas engines: a 2.7-liter four-cylinder, a 4.3-liter V6, a 5.3-liter V8, and a range-topping 6.2-liter V8. Plus there's also a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six diesel on offer. What we're saying is the Sierra has no shortage of engine options. Our tester used the range-topping 6.2-liter V8, good for 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet, paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The Sierra's 6.2-liter V8 is strong, with enough low-end torque to move the 5,000-pound pickup off the line with verve and still lots of power higher up in the rev range for things like highway passes. The 10-speed automatic managing it all is silky smooth, and in this case, it routes power to all four wheels via the available four-wheel-drive system. There are four different drive modes in the Sierra – Tour, Sport, Off-Road, and Tow/Haul – that afford the truck a noticeably different feel.
The Denali's adaptive dampers make it feel sharper in the corners than other trucks in this class with more traditional setups. There's still noticeable body movement – physics remains undefeated – but the Sierra is impressively poised. Only the Ram 1500 with its adaptive air suspension rivals the GMC in this respect.
This Sierra 1500 Crew Cab with four-wheel drive tows up to 9,800 pounds with the standard Trailering package. On the top end, this truck can tug 11,800 pounds with the standard bed and the right configuration – but that number is still down compared to Ford, Chevy, and Ram. GMC's Chevy sibling will move up to 13,300 pounds in the right configuration.
The Sierra has virtually no zero-cost advanced safety features. The only thing standard, in this respect, is a rear-seat reminder. On the Denali tested here, though, lane-change alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking assist do come standard. But basic equipment like automatic emergency braking (AEB) still costs extra on all trims – and here it’s packaged into the pricey $4,190 Denali Ultimate package. You’ll get more standard safety out of Ford and Ram.
The Denali Ultimate package adds AEB plus a 360-degree camera with two trailer cameras, the rearview camera mirror we like so much, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and adaptive high-beam headlights, plus a few more options. If you can swallow the steep asking price for this package, the active safety features are well worth it; the advanced adaptive cruise control and high-end trailering cameras alone make it worth the price of admission.
Achieving just 16 miles per gallon city, 20 highway, and 17 combined, this V8-powered Sierra is certainly no fuel sipper. By comparison, the most fuel-efficient gasoline Sierra – a 2WD model with a six-cylinder engine – gets up to 26 mpg combined. Against comparably spec’d alternatives from Ford, Chevy, Nissan, and Toyota, though, the V8-powered Sierra sits somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The Ford F-150 is the front-runner in this class, achieving up to 24 mpg combined with its 3.5-liter V6 and a 4WD configuration. The Nissan Titan comes in second with 18 mpg combined, the Silverado sits just behind it with 17 mpg combined, while the Toyota Tundra is at the bottom of the pack with just 14 mpg combined.
There’s no way around it: this truck costs an extremely pricey $72,360 as tested. The base cost for this particular model – a Denali Crew Cab with 4WD – is a more reasonable $58,700, which makes it competitive with similarly spec’d options from Ford, Chevy, and Nissan. A base F-150 King Ranch SuperCrew starts at $62,095 and a Ram 1500 Limited with 4WD starts at $60,100, by comparison. But the laundry list of options on this particular example skyrockets the price to luxury car territory.
The most expensive feature is the aforementioned Denali Ultimate package, a $4,910 option that adds more safety features and a sunroof, among a few other items. The 22-inch gloss black wheels are another $2,995, the 6.2-liter V8 (versus the 5.3-liter option) costs $2,495, the White Frost paint is $1,095, and the CarbonPro package adds another $1,070 on top of that. We recommend avoiding the hefty cost for paint and maybe sticking with the standard no-cost wheels to help keep the price down, but the CarbonPro package is at least one worth considering.
Sierra Denali Competitor Reviews:
2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Crew Cab