If you are shopping the top end of the domestic pickup truck market you are looking at heavier duty rigs, likely with all the bells and whistles, a diesel drivetrain, and as much chrome as you can option. All of this comes at a price. In the case of the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 Denali you see sitting here, that price is $78,955 on the window sticker. It also comes with a cab that could double as a studio apartment, a drivetrain that makes 445hp and 910 lb-ft of torque, and at times the shocking fuel economy of a small car. This is nearly the top of the pickup food chain from GMC. Unless you went from the 3/4 ton to the full one-ton 3500 series rig, you are pretty much there. A truck for someone who wants to haul, who wants to look going doing it, and who wants to cover every mile in as much comfort as is possible, this monster is the definition of the cowboy Cadillac. Is that a good thing? Let’s take a deeper look.
During our week with the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 Denali I covered a few hundred miles, the vast majority of it being on the road but with some of it actually rolling onto the odometer doing some light four wheeling as well. With the all-terrain tires and Rancho shock package, there is a little off-road edge to this truck that I like. While I’d not want to take this thing rock bouncing or into some sort of serious mud bogging (the running boards and near 8,000lb curb weight would be bad for that program) the truck did fine on some light woodland trails and it was fun to use the torque to walk it over small obstacles. I have the strong feeling that other than perhaps some grass parking lots, boat ramps, or similarly non-exotic situations a truck like this would not see a lot of off-pavement action.
This is the heart of the beast and the reason why the truck feels like a road-going locomotive. The power is just unreal and it’s unrelenting. That’s not to say it is violent, because it isn’t. This is the type of power that’s just ever-present and quietly waiting to be called upon when needed. The Duramax makes 445hp @ 2,800 RPM and peak torque is 910 lb-ft @1,600 RPM. The Allison transmission is a 10-speed unit that takes all of the awesome power of the engine and works it perfectly and seamlessly to the back of the rig. The shifts are smooth, almost imperceptible at times and when accelerating at WOT when the box is having to work its hardest, there isn’t the slightest sign of hesitation or displeasure of trying to hang onto the grunt of the engine. Upshifts for passing were precise and we never found the Allison unsure of itself in terms of what gear it should be in for a particular speed, throttle position, or situation. It’s hilarious to think that trucks used to be things with low horsepower, tough as nails inline six engines that just kind of ran forever and poked around town. The power of today’s trucks, especially this Duramax equipped GMC is astonishing.
If you are going to shell out nearly $80,000 for a truck, the interior better live up to it, right? I’m giving the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 Denali mixed marks here. The cab is monstrous in terms of size and it does feel really, really nice BUT, it does not feel like $80,000. Perhaps it’s weird to hold a car and a truck to the same standard in this respect but if someone was peddling a car in this price range and the materials and design looked like this, they would get pilloried. Nothing feels cheap in this truck. It does not feel half baked. It’s just a hard line to walk when you have rubber floor mats, simulated wood grain, and then leather type surfaces that may or may not actually be the material they are trying to project themselves to be. The center stack is cool with all of its switches, knobs, and buttons but the screen is a virtual relic when compared to what Ford and Ram are offering. In fact, we’d venture to say that the Ram’s interior in their upper-crust half tons puts this GMC interior in an even harsher light.
Storage and usable space is available in spades within the cab. Guys who work out of these trucks have demanded that stuff over the years and GMC designers have answered that call very soundly. You can legitimately use this as a mobile office for whatever your vocation is. Road tripping, kids, storing things in the cab? All handled with comfort and class.
I just wish there was a little more bucks up feel to the inside of the of the truck, especially in light of what the competition is doing.
Styling-wise, the GMC is the best looking truck in this segment in my opinion. The big chrome grill of the Denali model allows the world know that you aren’t messing around. The subtle callouts for the Duramax engine don’t oversell the fact that you have the big dog under the hood, and the wheels are a design that’s strong looking and also stylish. The bumper integrated fog lamps are nice and the chrome tow hooks blend nicely with the front end, even if saying “chrome tow hooks” makes me dry heave a little. I always think that trucks look cooler and cleaner with no running boards but they do help the smaller among the group scale the heights to get into the rig.
The hood scoop on this truck is 100% functional and I kind of love that. It would be exceptionally lame if it were purely for decoration. As you can see under the hood the ducting is all there and it feeds right into the truck’s air intake.
While there is nothing subtle about a chrome grill packing the same square footage of Rhode Island, the rest of the truck is powerfully subtle. The carbon black metallic paint makes the chrome jump even harder than it would with other colors. This is not come clown shoes looking rig. It makes the impression a buyer spending this money would want to make. What’s that impression? “I have some dough.”
Driving and ride quality are an interesting topic with trucks like this. In my opinion the GMC slots in between the Dodge and the Ford. The Ford trucks of this size have the most harsh ride of any in the class. The Dodges have the best riding trucks on the market and that’s nary a debate anymore in my book after having driven enough of them. This GMC splits the difference with its independent front suspension and then traditional torsion bar front and leaf spring rear layout. There’s just so much you can do with these basic systems and engineers have made this truck ride really well. The traditional “off-road” Rancho shocks don’t really do much to sway me in their detraction or improvement of the ride. Long story short, it rides like a truck that has been refined for decades and decades on the same style of suspension that has been around for centuries.
It’s quiet as a vault inside and that adds to the nice feel of luxury but when you are on uneven or choppy roads, the old school nature of the underpinnings shows itself pretty quickly. No one will be shocked either way with ride quality when in this truck. It definitely reminds you that it is, in fact, a heavy duty truck.
The bed and its access are strong points for the GMC. There’s little to be added about the bed itself. There’s no gimmick add-ons with this truck as some other manufacturers. This one came with a bedliner in it, which I think is a worthwhile investment.
The GMC tailgate is good. It is assisted and sprung up and down so raising and lowering is easy. The fold down portion is crazy easy to use and presents either a bench or a step depending on what you are looking to do. I used this gate multiple times over the course of having possession of the truck and was impressed each time. The fold out handle is a little clunky but after the second or third time I used it, I really liked it. Step up height is good and we think this is the current leader among the big three tailgate war. Very cool design and function.
The foot pocket steps on the side of the bed are basic and very useful as well. These are perfect for reaching into the bed to grab something over the side. Simple, functional, and cool.
So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that $78,955 is a lot of money and depending on what you want and need in a truck it’s money you don’t necessarily have to spend. These are “want” trucks and clearly plenty of people want them. Like anything that is a “want” you have to spend for it, typically. If the things you require are a hardworking and seemingly unstoppable drivetrain, chassis, and a proven if not cutting edge suspension, this truck delivers. If you want an ultra-premium interior to go with all of it? That might leave you a little short because of the reasons listed above. A slight upgrade in things like materials and stuff like the screen in the dash as well as a freshen on the styling side would do wonders for the inside of the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 Denali.
This is a big, capable, monster of a truck and it’ll impress your friends, family, neighbors, and anyone who loves good old fashioned American grunt as you roll down down the road. If you are shopping a premium, heavy-duty truck give it a look.