Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2012 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD test drive review. All compromises; no compromises

A big truck can transform you, frustrate you, and satisfy you. This is what I learned after spending a week with what may very well be the ultimate three-quarter ton General Motors truck on the road, a 2012 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD Crew Cab 4X4 with a Duramax 6.6-liter turbo diesel. Given the right circumstances, this is an uncompromising, amazing, sophisticated wonder. Given the wrong circumstances, it is nothing but compromises. But all told, I really loved that rig, and was truly sad to see it go.

Transform you

The dazzling Steel Gray Metallic Denali that I tested rode on 20-inch polished aluminum wheels and sat more than six-feet off the ground. It was drenched in chrome on the outside, and surrounded you with leather and shiny fake wood on the inside. The diesel put out 397 horsepower, and a ridiculous 765-lb/ft of torque.

It had a price tag of $62,859.

My wife was sitting in the passenger seat when we pulled up behind a guy in a normal half-ton Silverado at a stop sign. She looked down over the domed hood, and proudly stated, “Our truck could eat that one for lunch.”

That’s the power of a truck like this. Even my wife, a scrapbooker and the president of the PTA, received a testosterone infusion when she sat in this baby. The idea that you are in the biggest, most badass truck in sight really does play on your subconscious. Honestly, I felt a little cooler jumping in and out of it. And it’s not just a big truck—it’s a Denali. It’s the one Cadillac would build if they carried big pickups. How do you like me now?!

Frustrate you

A heavy-duty pickup that can tow 17,000-lbs from the bumper hitch wasn’t designed to be a daily commuter. For what it is capable of, it drives relatively well, but compared to a car, it is rather ponderous. It also rides pretty rough even with that long wheelbase, which is an expected by-product of something that has springs stiff enough to handle 4,192-lbs of payload.

I took BHo to the new Legoland in Crown Center with this truck, and it was just inches from the roof of the underground parking garage. I was creeping through there, with the nagging feeling that I was going to have to stop and let some air out of the tires. I think if I would have cracked open the sunroof, I may have busted it off. And I had to pass up several spots because they were too small. When I finally did find a place, it was all I could do to contort the thing in there. The message here is that you should leave the Sierra 2500 Crew Cab at home if you’re going to be in a tight parking garage full of kids and minivans.

One day, they were saying that hail was possible in the area, so I thought I’d pull the truck into my garage to protect it. No dice. Even when I butted it up to the front wall the tail end was hanging out. I guess people weren’t buying as many of these long vehicles in the late 1980s when my house was built.

And then there’s the fuel mileage. Or should I say, lack of fuel mileage? Now, it did have range. The guy who delivered it to me said he drove all the way from Dallas to Kansas City on one tank of diesel fuel. That 36-gallon fuel tank comes in handy. But even after all that highway driving, the on-board computer said it was getting a 16.3-mpg average. I reset it when I took over, and could only achieve about 12-mpg during my adventures for the week. But again, all of this misses the point of this vehicle.

Satisfy you

Let’s face it—me driving this truck around town and trying to offer an opinion is really sort of pointless. I didn’t have anything to tow, I wasn’t in the middle of any big home improvement projects, and the most off road thing I did was drive over a curb so I could park on the grass at BHo’s YMCA basketball game. I needed to come up with a way to get opinions from people who could really do this truck justice.

And so, I made arrangements with Lakeside Speedway owner Marc Olson to drive the big GMC into the pit area Friday night, and see what the guys that actually buy these trucks had to say. Lakeside is one of the premiere dirt ovals in the country. They run four classes of stock cars, and none of them are junk. The night I was there, there were more than 100 race cars in the pits. Every one of them was towed into the track with some kind of truck. This was where the 2500 Denali could really be in the spotlight.

I drove the GMC right through the center of the pits, race cars and haulers all around. I collared several drivers to come over and check the new truck out, and give me their opinions.

One thing I learned was that these guys already know what this truck is all about. If they didn’t have a 6.6-liter Duramax in their truck, they knew what it was like. They knew how well the 6-speed Allison transmission handled towing duties. They knew where the trailer brake controls were, and that it had a 3.73 rear axle ratio.

The fact is, I couldn’t find one person that had anything bad to say about this truck. Even the Ford and Dodge guys liked it. I mean, they liked everything—the seating position, the controls, the fake wood trim. I could tell that these folks would be happy to own this truck. The only thing that turned any of them off was the price. And certainly, there were more Silverado HDs and Ford XLT Super Dutys than there were Denalis and King Ranches down there. These guys put their money where their mouth is.

I honestly had more fun driving this truck for a week than one person should be allowed. In spite of its utilitarian nature, I enjoyed every second of the experience. Sure, this truck is probably too much for anything I would ever really need it for. But if I won the lottery, a half-ton Sierra Denali wouldn’t be out of the question. Now if I decided to build a stock car, I would own a truck like this in a heartbeat.

Photos were taken in the infield of Lakeside Speedway, of course, and also at a couple of local construction sites. It didn’t seem appropriate to go take them at the golf course. Take a look at the slideshow below.


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