In the not-so-distant past, GMC trucks were at once respected and reviled. On one hand, they proved capable, dependable workhorses, but on the other, they were known for mediocre build and materials quality within the cabin. Maybe they could get away with this when people actually used pickup trucks just to pick up (and pull) heavy objects.
But now, folks expect everything to multitask, including their pickups. Look around at the newer trucks on the road and you're more likely to see a leather-lined crew cab with a rear-seat entertainment system than a stripped regular cab with a vinyl bench seat and roll-up windows. Among this new breed, the 2009 GMC Sierra stands among the best.
The startling metamorphosis happened a few years ago when GMC finally saw the light and completely redesigned the Sierra. The biggest improvement was the Fisher-Price-grade interior trim being replaced by quality materials, giving the new truck something previously unseen in a Sierra -- a really nice interior. The full redesign, along with tighter build quality, brought a more rugged frame as well as redesigned steering and suspension components for better handling response and ride comfort. GMC also added new safety features like stability control and side curtain airbags.
This latest GMC Sierra is very suitable for a wide array of truck buyers, from the general consumer to the contractor. It boasts a wide variety of body styles and configurations, an available 403-hp V8, a comfortable ride, respectable handling and steering and enough comfort and entertainment features to rival a luxury sedan. Compared to its corporate twin, the Chevy Silverado, the 2009 GMC Sierra is a little more upscale in terms of styling -- particularly on the Denali trim -- but overall, the differences are minor. In our most recent full-size truck comparison test, the Silverado came in third place, edged out by the Toyota Tundra and Dodge Ram. Still, the margin of victory was narrow. We encourage comparing all to determine which one fits your needs the best.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 is a half-ton full-size pickup that's available in three body styles: standard cab, extended cab and crew cab. Standard cabs can be had with a standard bed (6-foot, 6-inch) or long bed (8-foot). Extended cabs can have a short (5-foot, 8-inch), standard or long bed. In the interest of maneuverability, crew cabs come only with the short bed.
Regular cabs can be had in base Work or nicely equipped SLE trims, while the extended and crew cabs are also available in the plush SLT trim. There's also an SL trim and a top-of-the-line Denali trim for crew cabs only. The Work trim comes with the basics, including air-conditioning (extended- and crew-cab versions), a trip computer, OnStar, vinyl seating, a 40/20/40-split front bench seat, a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio jack, satellite radio and a tilting steering wheel. The SL adds full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control and adjustable lumbar support for the driver.
Moving up, the SLE also offers premium cloth seating (with a lockable compartment and a power outlet built into the center cushion of the split front seat), an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The premium SLT adds rain-sensing wipers (with heated washer fluid), a Bose audio system with a six-CD changer, leather seating, remote engine start, an exclusive dash design with wood and metallic accents, 12-way power/heated front seats and rear audio controls. Sierra Denali models trump the SLT with a unique powertrain, on-road-biased suspension tuning, special wheels, exterior styling enhancements, a heated steering wheel and a turn-by-turn navigation feature for OnStar.
Depending on the Sierra ordered, notable available options include a variety of towing packages, the Z71 Off-Road Package (skid plates, an off-road suspension and a locking rear differential), the All-Terrain Package (similar to the Z71 but with special interior and exterior enhancements) and the XFE (extra fuel economy) Package for the two-wheel-drive crew cab (which features a six-speed automatic transmission, aerodynamic enhancements and lightweight aluminum components that improve fuel economy).
Other options include 20- and 22-inch wheels, a rear back-up camera, upgraded audio systems, Bluetooth, a navigation system with real-time traffic reports, a rear-seat entertainment system, heated power-folding outside mirrors, a sunroof, a power-sliding rear window, a cargo management system, rear park assist and the "EZ Lift" tailgate that requires only about half the effort (compared to the standard tailgate) to open and close.
Powertrains and Performance:
There are five different engines available for the 2009 GMC Sierra 1500. Work trucks have a 4.3-liter V6 (195 hp, 260 pound-feet of torque) as standard. This can be upgraded to a 4.8-liter V8 (295 hp, 305 lb-ft) or a 5.3-liter V8 (315 hp, 338 lb-ft). The SLE trims will have one of the two V8s as standard, while the SLT has the 5.3-liter engine as standard.
Available on select models are a 6.0-liter V8 (367 hp and 375 lb-ft) and a 6.2-liter V8 (403 hp and 417 lb-ft). The 6.2 comes standard on the Denali. A four-speed automatic transmission with a tow/haul mode is standard on all Sierra pickups except the Denali, which has a six-speed automatic. The six-speed unit is available for trucks with the 5.3-liter or 6.0-liter V8. The XFE version of the crew cab features the 5.3-liter V8 matched to the six-speed automatic. Properly equipped, a Sierra 1500 can tow up to 10,700 pounds.
Buyers have a choice of two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or, in the case of the Denali, all-wheel drive. The Work and LS trims with 4WD have a traditional floor-mounted selector for the transfer case. All other 4WD trims have Autotrac, which features an automatic setting that shifts into 4WD when wheel slippage is detected.
Fuel economy estimates range from 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined for a crew cab XFE down to 12/19/14 mpg for the Denali AWD.
Antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum) are standard, with an all-disc setup available via the Max Trailering Package or the Denali trim. A stability control system with roll-mitigating technology is standard on V8-equipped trucks. Side curtain airbags and adjustable pedals are standard on the Denali and optional on most other models.
In government crash tests, the 2009 GMC Sierra earned top five-star ratings for its protection of all occupants in head-on and side-impact collisions.
Interior Design and Special Features:
Tight build quality, an attractive dash design and comfortable front seating combine with sound ergonomics to make the Sierra's interior enjoyable on long road trips. The rear seat in crew cab models is also quite comfortable, and the seat cushions can be folded upward for a nearly flat load floor. Interior storage is adequate, but some might take issue with the cupholders (too small) or the organization of the center console box.
Though not at the top of the class in terms of steering, and hampered by a slightly larger turning circle than most other trucks, the 2009 GMC Sierra is still a very comfortable and easy truck to drive. On long trips, the supple suspension and quiet cabin come into play to make the truck a pleasing companion. Acceleration is certainly acceptable with either the 4.8- or 5.3-liter V8. The optional 6.0-liter V8 can get the truck to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, while the Sierra Denali is quicker still.