2007 GMC Sierra Crew Cab
2007 GMC Sierra Crew Cab. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

There’s no question: trucks can be a tricky business. They’ve got to be workhorses, yet still have creature comforts; they need heavy-duty capability, but have to ride well enough for people who buy them to use as big cars. And great care has to be taken when they’re redesigned. Truck buyers tend to be very loyal to their brand, and they don’t always take kindly to changes that deviate too far from what’s familiar.

So General Motors had a fine line to walk with its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, which were launched to the Canadian press last week in the Maritimes. My verdict is that this next-generation makeover should pretty much keep everyone happy. The frames are stiffer, the ride is better, the brakes are stronger, the engines are refined, and the interiors are very much improved.

They’re being introduced into the marketplace as quickly as GM can get them out the door; for now, that means extended and crew cab half-ton models, which are trickling slowly into dealer lots. Still to come are regular-cab configuration and heavy-duty models. SS? Well, GM reps had a glint in their eyes when they said, “Stay tuned.” The models are so new that full pricing wasn’t available, but in two-wheel drive configuration, the extended cabs start at $31,790, the crew cabs at $33,635. The models tested on the launch were extended and crew cabs, in 4×4 configuration, with 5.3- or 6.0-litre V8 engines. Eventually, there will be a choice of three cab styles (regular, extended and crew) and three box lengths (5-foot-8 short, 6-foot-6 medium and 8-foot long).

2007 GMC Sierra Crew Cab
2007 GMC Sierra Crew Cab. Click image to enlarge

The introduction so late in the model year (a sentence I never thought I’d be writing in November!) has made for an unusual marketing situation: both the outgoing and incoming generations are sold as 2007s, with the older style now dubbed Silverado “Classic” and Sierra “Classic”. GM’s product communications manager Tony LaRocca says that the new models were fast-tracked to get them to market as quickly as possible, since trucks are a major source of revenue for the automaker. Many publications have also speculated that the introduction of the all-new Tundra was also a factor, but LaRocca says that Toyota was not part of the quick-to-market decision. “There’s no doubt Tundra is out there,” he says, “but we don’t think it will have the depth and breadth of these trucks, or the volume.”

As before, there are five engine sizes available. A 4.3-litre V6 (195 hp) is coming in April; V8 sizes are 4.8-litre (295 hp), four versions of the 5.3-litre (315 hp), 6.0-litre (367 hp) and a 6.2-litre (400 hp), exclusive to the Denali, expected in March. Refinements to the engines include variable valve timing on the 6.0-litre, and new aluminum blocks on the 6.0-litre and some versions of the 5.3-litre.

6.0-litre Vortec V8 badge
6.0-litre Vortec V8 badge. Click image to enlarge

The 5.3 and 6.0 also feature Active Fuel Management, which seamlessly deactivates half the cylinders under light load for improved fuel economy; the system also uses a fuel system control module that reduces output of the fuel pump and alternator when not necessary for additional fuel savings through decreased electrical load. It may not sound like much, but it apparently saves about half a mile per gallon.

Four versions of the 5.3-litre will be available, all of them with the Active Management system; the range will include aluminum or iron blocks and the capability to run on E85 flexible fuel, even though that ethanol-enhanced juice isn’t readily available for consumer use in Canada yet. All engines are hooked to four-speed Hydramatic transmissions – no manuals are available – but the Denali will get a new six-speed transmission that is expected to eventually trickle down to the other engines.

New rear suspension
New rear suspension. Click image to enlarge

The engine line-up may be the same, but all of the major components and sheet metal are new. The new, fully-boxed frame is now 234 per cent torsionally stiffer than before, and the front frame section has straighter rails and a longer front section to provide more crush area in collisions. The front track is 76 mm (3 inches) wider, the rear 25 mm (1 inch). Rack-and-pinion steering replaces the recirculating ball system used previously on all but the 2WD 1500 models, while front coil-over shocks substitute for the previous torsion bar design; in back, the shocks are angled outboard, which GM says smoothes out the unburdened ride, while still handling the weight of a load. StabiliTrak stability control is now standard equipment on crew cab models, and optional on the extended cab. Five suspension packages are available, including the Z60 performance with 20-inch wheels, and a trailer package that includes rear disc brakes, 9.5-inch axle and heavy-duty transmission with cooling package. Opt for that one, and you can haul up to 4,763 kg (10,500 lbs); maximum payload increases to 979 kg (2,160 lbs), with the crew cab able to take on 925 kg (2,039 lbs).

GMC Sierra performing towing test
Chevrolet Silverado performing towing test
GMC Sierra (top) and Chevrolet Silverado towing demonstrations. Click image to enlarge

So how does all that work on the road? In a nutshell, much better than the truck it replaces, which became immediately evident when I had a chance to take out both back-to-back. The new truck’s extra stiffness translates into much better handling, with minimal roll through a slalom course, and with much crisper steering than before; I found that less steering wheel movement was required to spin the newer version around the cones, too. The suspension isn’t noisy over rough roads, even at a fair clip over what looked to be an old logging trail. It can be tough to find the happy medium between comfort and capability, but GM has done a good job of it on the 4×4: the ride is springy when unburdened, and there was some wheel hop on rough roads, but a version carrying a load (estimated at 362 kg, or 800 lbs) rode so smoothly, my co-driver and I often forget there was anything back there. The front end did lighten somewhat when we took it up hills, but it never floated. The new truck’s binders are strong and confident; the Classic’s version felt spongy in comparison. The truck is also much quieter than before, thanks to a great deal of noise-suppressing material.

GMC Sierra Crew Cab
Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab
Crew cab versions of GMC Sierra (top) and Chevrolet Silverado (bottom). Click image to enlarge

The Chevrolet and GMC models are identical mechanically, but their appearances differ significantly. (In response to the question of why bother building two, it seems that Canadians have some say in the decision: while U.S. buyers overwhelmingly prefer Chevrolet, Canucks love their GMCs, with the percentage split almost evenly. That’s too many loyal customers to risk alienating, GM says, even if combining the sales numbers into a single model would potentially knock the Ford F-150 off the top of the Canadian sales lists.)

To that end, the Chevrolet sports a flatter grille with wide horizontal bar and big gold bowtie, squared-off wheel arches, and its own headlights, taillights and “power dome” hood; the Sierra, intended to look more like a work truck, has a honeycomb grille and less angular wheel arches. Taste is subjective, of course, but I much prefer the Sierra, since I don’t care for the Silverado’s sharp fenders, and I like the GMC’s full chrome bumper.

2007 GMC Sierra
Cargo management system
2007 GMC Sierra (top) and cargo management system. Click image to enlarge

I’m not keen on the tailgate on either truck, which features an inverted arch stamped into it.

The new bodies have tighter gaps than before, including a 50 per cent reduction between the cab and box, while the inner and outer portions of the box are now combined into one piece for extra strength, eliminating the previous pencil braces at the bottom. The box is also slightly deeper. The windshield has been raked 57 degrees for better aerodynamics. And that odd-looking tailgate, while seven kilograms heavier, is now easier to open and close. Extended cab models feature rear doors that open 170 degrees, with detents at 60 and 90 degrees, and with power windows that drop completely.

The box can be outfitted with a clever cargo management system, consisting of three rails, mounted to the sides and back of the box, that hold a variety of available add-ons, including locking boxes, cargo divider and bicycle rack.

Pure Pickup interior
Luxury interior
Pure Pickup interior (top) and Luxury interior. Click image to enlarge

Inside, GM has made huge improvements to the interior: the seats are more comfortable and supportive, the instrument panels and dashes have been redesigned, gap tolerances are minimal, and all seat hardware is hidden. There are two interiors, “Luxury-Inspired” and “Pure Pickup” (shortened from the “Pure American Pickup” sold south of the border – wait’ll they find out they’re built in Canada, eh?). Both are clean designs, with simple, easy-to-use controls, but the luxury version’s dash is deeper and features a fair bit of plastic wood. Opinions differed, as they always do, but I found the Pure’s speedometer too cluttered; it was easy to lose the needle among the fat lines and big numbers when looking down quickly. (I was told it becomes easier at night when it’s illuminated, although I didn’t have the opportunity to see it.)

Pure Pickup gauges
“Pure Pickup” gauges. Click image to enlarge

There’s a lot of storage available, including a double glovebox on Pure Pickup models (with a rather awkward handle to open the top one), a new larger centre console, and a locking under-seat storage bin with 12-volt power outlets. Available or standard features include XM satellite radio, curtain airbags, rain-sensing wipers, heated washer fluid, rear-seat DVD, touch-screen navigation and OnStar with a new feature that calls to see if you need assistance should the vehicle automatically send notification of a “near airbag deployment” (previously, the airbags had to go off). It works, too; a couple of the journalists, taking the twisties a bit too hard on the track, got a call from an OnStar operator.

Rear seat in Luxury trim
Rear seat in Luxury trim. Click image to enlarge

The new rear 60/40 seat folds up to present a flat load floor, and does so very easily by simply pushing it up; there are no buttons or handles to push or pull, and the seat locks into place, which is extremely helpful when you’re holding whatever it is you want to throw in, and you’ve only got one hand free. Pressing down on it releases it and it goes back to its place. I drove three trucks that had a loud and annoying rattle in the rear seat over bumps; the GM folks at the event traced it to a loose attachment tang and called head office. It seems the assembly plant is aware of it and it’s been fixed in production.

I think the GM reps also got tired of me asking for a grab handle on the driver’s side, but this tall truck needs it, especially if it’s going to appeal to female buyers. There’s a handle on the passenger side, and over the rear doors, but not for the driver. The men just grabbed the steering wheel and hauled themselves in, but we’re built differently, and pulling ourselves up with a handle works much better for us, even if the truck’s fitted with running boards.

The truck market is a crowded one, and also a diverse one: once ruled by the Big Three, it’s now also the territory of Japanese manufacturers, and of less conventional configurations such as the Honda Ridgeline. But these trucks are pretty much GM at the top of its game, well designed and well finished, and should keep the company in the running for quite a while. Both those fond of tradition and those who like contemporary should be satisfied with these.

Manufacturer’s web site

Connect with Autos.ca