2020 GMC Sierra: more than big-pickup burlesque?

2020 GMC Sierra

What changes will make the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 different?

Probably little more than some new paint colors — and higher asking prices – following a full redesign for model-year 2019. This report covers the half-ton Sierra 1500 in GMC’s line of full-size pickups. Heavier-duty 2500HD and 3500HD versions offer more payload and towing capacity and are redesigned for model-year ‘20, adopting many of the ’19 Sierra 1500’s design cues.

Sierra shares its underskin engineering and most body panels with the Chevrolet Silverado from its sibling General Motors division. Sierra is marketed upscale of the Silverado, with unique styling cues, some nice convenience features, and a high-end Denali trim level that accounts for about a quarter of Sierra sales.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of 2019 GMC Sierra 1500s. In areas where the ’20 might be different, we will reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

Don’t wait. The 2019 redesign brought a new chassis, fresh styling inside and out, and additional features. The ’20 Sierra should reprise all that with little change while GMC focuses on launching the redesigned HD pickups, as well as its updated Acadia crossover.

GMC may juggle the content of a 2020 Sierra option package or two, but it’ll carry over a broad lineup that’ll again begin with a bare-bone Base model and ascend through mainstream SLE and upscale SLT trims. It’ll include off-road-oriented Elevation and AT4 models and top out again with the flagship Denali.

All grades will remain available with a Crew Cab body with four full-size doors and the choice of a 5.8- or 6.6-foot cargo bed. All but Denali would also offer a shorter Double Cab with front-hinged rear half doors and the 6.6-foot bed. Available for special order should be a two-door Base Regular Cab with an 8-foot bed.

GMC may also continue to produce limited quantities of the 2014-2018 Sierra 1500. These trucks are called the Limited and are offered as a budget-friendly alternative to the redesigned Sierra 1500.

Will the styling be different?

No. It’ll carry over the evolutionary tack taken by the 2019 redesign. Beyond the GMC-exclusive grille, there’s just enough detail to make Sierra more distinctive than its Silverado sibling, but some slightly awkward lines mean neither truck is as visually cohesive as the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 rivals.

Still, Sierra, especially in Denali form, presents as just classier enough than the Silverado to justifying its higher asking prices. The ’20 Sierra Elevation’s blackout grille, exterior mirrors, and wheels will again give it an appropriately “street-tough” look. The AT4 is Sierra’s answer to the Silverado Trail Boss, complete with red front tow hooks.

Denali grades have satin and chrome trim pieces and a unique mesh grille, which nicely complement the rest of the exterior design.

Sierra’s interior deserves praise for function but demerits for form. On the upside, all controls are logically arrayed and fall easily to hand. Instrumentation is clear and comprehensive. The available head-up display is comprehensive, capable of projecting degrees of off-road tilt and front-tire steering angles.

Kudos to GMC for not integrating heated/ventilated seat and heated steering-wheel controls within the infotainment system. Speaking of infotainment, screen sizes are 7 or 8 inches, depending on system, and that’s puny compared with the massive portrait touchscreen available on the rival Ram 1500. Still, GMC’s interface works well, with intuitive operation and standard support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.

Similarly, impressive are passenger accommodations and small-items storage space. Double Cabs will again have decent rear-seat room. Crew Cabs will be limousine-spacious, although the GM pickups lack the comfortable and clever reclining rear seatback available in the Ram. Work or play, you will appreciate Sierra’s huge center console, dual gloveboxes, and smartly hidden bins inside the rear seat cushions.

On the downside, the 2020 Sierra will almost certainly continue with cabin materials – the weight of plastics and grades of vinyl and leather — hardly more distinctive than those in the less costly Silverado. In many trim levels, it seems GM simply swapped a Chevy badge on the steering wheel for the GMC logo. Even the Sierra Denali is little more special than the step-down SLT. With GMC’s marketing promising genuinely premium trappings, Sierra buyers might be disappointed to learn how much more upscale top-trim versions of the F-150 and Ram 1500 feel. This is an opportunity for GMC, although it probably won’t respond until beyond model-year 2020.

Two features that help Sierra stand apart from Silverado are the available GMC CarbonPro cargo bed and MultiPro tailgate. For ’19, these features were offered only on higher-end Sierra models, but we hope they’re more widely available for 2020 as an answer to the versatile split-panel swing-out/conventional-drop-down tailgate available on certain Ram 1500 models.

Sierra’s CarbonPro bed is constructed of a carbon fiber composite and is 62 pounds lighter than a similarly sized steel bed. GMC says the material is strong as steel, durable enough to not require any sort of bedliner, and is recyclable. The MultiPro tailgate features a separate upper section that opens for easier bed access and, with the tailgate dropped, can serve as a built-in bed extender or hinge down to create full-width step. Too bad the electric releases for the MultiPro’s various functions are undersized black buttons difficult to locate in dim light and hard to trigger while wearing work gloves.

Any mechanical changes?

No. The ’20 Sierra will carry over five engine choices, availability again varied by body style and trim level. The three most popular options will be a 4.3-liter V-6 (285 horsepower, 305 pound-feet of torque), a 5.3-liter V-8 (355 horsepower, 383 pound-feet of torque), and a 6.2-liter V-8 (420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque).

Launched late in the 2019 model year was a segment-first turbocharged four-cylinder, a 2.7-liter with 310 horsepower and 348 pound-feet of torque. Promised, but not delivered as of spring 2019 is an as-yet unrated 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Transmissions will continue with automatics of six, eight, or 10 speeds, depending again on body and grade selection. Rear- and four-wheel drive (4WD) will be available, with the latter standard on the AT4.

Most ’20 Sierra buyers will again choose one of the silky smooth V-8s. They pair with astutely tuned transmissions to make the most of available power. In particular, the 6.2-liter in combination with the 10-speed automatic forms a world-class blend of muscle and responsiveness. Still, GM’s continued use of a steering-wheel-stalk-mounted transmission shift lever may strike some as retrograde, and relegating manual-type gear selection to a thumb-toggle on the lever’s tip is awkward.

No big pickup matches the ride quality or road manners of the Ram 1500, which is the only entry in this segment to use coil springs instead of leaf springs. Sierra’s steering feel and precision are arguably best-in-segment, but this pickup takes bumps with typical trucklike firmness and some tail skitter with an empty bed. The Sierra Denali’s adaptive suspension automatically adjusts in milliseconds to road conditions, but its gains in compliance are offset by the impart harshness transmitted by its big 22-inch wheels and tires.

Will fuel economy improve?

Not for returning powertrains. EPA ratings for 2020 V-8 Sierra models will remain quite good, benefitting from GM’s new Dynamic Fuel Management, the next generation in cylinder deactivation. Most such systems can shut down half an engine’s cylinders in low-demand driving to save fuel. Dynamic Fuel Management has 17 configurations – from all eight cylinders to just one — depending on load and driving demands.

Count on Sierra’s 2020 fuel-economy ratings to mirror those of the 2019. There will be a lot of variance depending on trim level, body style, and wheel/tire size, so we will list ’19 ranges where applicable.

The entry-level 4.3-liter V-6 would rate a rather disappointing 15-16 mpg city, 18-20 highway, and 16-17 city-highway. The 2.7-liter turbo four-cylinder would see ratings of 18-20 mpg city, 21-23 highway, and 20-21 combined.

Models with the 5.3-liter V-8 would rate 15-17 city, 20-24 highway, and 16-19 mpg city-highway combined. Even the 6.2, which would be available on 4WD models only, would retain its decent ratings of 16/20/17 mpg city/highway/combined.

EPA ratings for the diesel six-cylinder were not available in time for this review. Expect GM to continue to recommend, but not require, premium-grade 91-octane gasoline for the 6.2-liter V-8. All other gas engines would use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.

Will there be new features?

Perhaps. It would be nice to see the carbon-fiber bed and multi-function tailgate be offered across the entire Sierra 1500 lineup, along with a suite of advanced driver-assistance features. On the ’19, aids such as low-speed automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, auto high-beam headlights, and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction are only available as options on the SLT and Denali grades. Adaptive radar cruise control is not offered on any Sierra 1500.

Otherwise, expect the 2020 model to offer a wide and deep array of features that range from workman-like in Base form and adequately premium in the Denali. Highlights include heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, heated steering wheel, keyless access with pushbutton engine start, Bose-brand audio system, front- and rear-obstacle detection, LED headlights and taillights, and a tire pressure monitor for your trailer.

Will 2020 prices be different?

Expect them to increase but probably not by a whole lot since the ’20 Sierra 1500 will likely be a carryover. Including destination fee, which for reference was $1,595 on the ’19 truck, 2020 Sierra base prices will span roughly $36,000 for a Base rear-drive Double Cab all the way up to $63,000 for a 4WD Crew Cab Denali with the 6.6-foot bed.

Load up one of those Denalis with options such as extra-cost paint, driver aids, power retractable running boards, power sunroof, rear camera mirror, polished aluminum wheels, and a performance air intake and exhaust, and you’ll likely be looking at a sticker price that will probably push well past $70,000.

Most buyers will likely choose a 4WD SLE Crew Cab with the 5.8-foot bed with the optional Value Package (10-way power driver’s seat, keyless access, pushbutton ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, extra 12-volt power outlet, LED bed lighting, trailering package, and locking rear differential); Preferred Package (upgraded infotainment screen, power sliding rear window, extra USB charging points, high-definition rearview camera, and trailer-brake controller); and Driver Alert Package (blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic and front/rear obstacle detection). Asking price for such a vehicle will likely be around $53,000.

When does it come out?

Expect a 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 release date in fall 2019.

Best competitors

Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]