2020 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali review: Massive towing, throwback luxury
General Motors started from the frame with changes to the all-new 2020 Sierra 3500. The truck had been falling behind its heavy duty competitors on several fronts and GMC has worked to change that with more towing, comfort, and technology compared to its previous generation. And yes, the Denali is still luxurious.
At a glance:
- More muscle and capability
- New, stronger framing and chassis
- Most “big truck” caveats still apply, but are somehow less significant here
- Lots of technology on board in an odd juxtaposed nostalgic truck feel
The 2020 GMC Sierra 3500HD has a maximum towing capacity of 35,500 pounds (16,102 kg) in its most robust configuration. Towing capability totals vary with the buyer’s choice of cab, bed, axle, engine, etc., of course, and the maximum towing comes with the diesel engine and heaviest axle setup. We spent a week with the Sierra 3500HD in its Denali package with the dually rear axle and that 6.6-liter Duramax diesel engine.
There’s no getting around how monstrous the truck becomes in that configuration. The turning radius is wide, the ride height is high, and road bounce when empty is significant. GM didn’t change much with the 6.6L Duramax for the new-generation Sierra HD lineup, but it does now mate to a well-engineered 10-speed automatic transmission that smooths the drive quality and improves the capabilities of this well-vetted diesel engine.
Underneath the bodywork and drivetrain is a fundamental rethink of the Sierra’s framing and chassis. GM added a lot more high-strength steel, stronger struts for the ladder frame’s cross members, and improved metallurgy for every component. This has added strength to the truck’s foundation, upon which engineers could build the rest of the truck’s components to match.
The bodywork has also changed, matching the rest of the Sierra lineup from the 1500 on up. The design is less blocky than the previous generation and looks more upmarket, making the truck much nicer to look at and differentiating the GMC line from the Chevrolet group. This (finally) pushes GMC away from being the “Chevy with leather seats” it’s often been labelled as.
Where some might find issue with the new Sierra 3500HD Denali, though, is in its interior. Many upgrades bring the HD forward and make it competitive – infotainment, use of cameras, sensor adoption, convenient plugs and storage are all high points. Yet, somehow, the highest-end luxury model of the GMC lineup remains less luxurious than the similarly-priced competitors in their luxury models. Indeed, the interior of the F-Series Platinum, Ram Limited, and the decidedly “Cowboy Up!” King Ranch and Longhorn models all outclass the Denali trim for interior fitment and luxury.
But this might, oddly enough, appeal to a lot of buyers. The Sierra 3500HD Denali manages to be somewhat nostalgic in its “this is still a truck” feel. Bulky items are, well, still bulky, and flat surfaces are not masked with cushion or extra stitching. Working truck knobs and buttons from lower-end GMC and even Chevrolet models are readily found in the Denali package, but are no less useful because of that.
As a daily use pickup, the Sierra 3500HD is pretty easy to live with. Aside from its sheer bulk and battleship-like maneuverability, which are traits shared with all HD trucks, the Sierra has a lot of little things that make it very livable. The integrated bumper steps, for example, are such a simple thing, but are amazingly helpful for regular tasks. The MultiPro tailgate, which is admittedly complex, is surprisingly useful too. The long list of well-executed items found in the lower-end Sierra models, like digital variable steering assist (great when you’re trying to maneuver a loaded trailer at crawl speeds) and smart trailering tech, are built on with a larger 8-inch driver information screen and the option for GMC’s new 15-camera-view trailering system that lets you “see through” the trailer for added safety.
The 2020 GMC Sierra 3500HD is a capable rig. On the downside we found the diesel engine to be loud, but at least the Denali’s Bose stereo can counteract it that on the highway. against that, we found the trailering capability to be second to none, but when empty the Sierra is decidedly jouncy to drive with the dually rear axle setup. Where the GMC still struggles against its competition, however, is in luxury. The Denali trim doesn’t match Ford or Ram on that front, though we feel there’s a market for that, and many will like the idea of a truck being a truck with its luxury trim adding mostly just chrome accents and more comfort items. It's a reasonable point of view.
The 2020 GMC Sierra 3500HD starts at US$37,000 with the top-end Denali trim we drove ringing in at $80,560, with delivery.
Product Page: 2020 GMC Sierra 3500