2021 GMC Sierra Denali

The engine is absolutely the best light-duty truck engine available today.
The engine is absolutely the best light-duty truck engine available today.

by Zack Zeraldo | October 26, 2021


This 2021 GMC Sierra Denali is now three years into its platform and much like its competitors, it’s getting harder and harder to find a parking lot without one. Pickups remain hot with everyone from contracts to soccer moms, and the truth is, they’ve become so good that it’s difficult to pick a bad truck these days. The wide range of buyers means that trucks are coming in more and more configurations, and one of the most interesting, to me at least, is the Denali version.

The Denali trim level gains notoriety as the popular top-line version of the GMC Yukon, but has been available at various times over the last two decades on the Sierra and other models as well. It’s sort of like the Cadillac of pickup trucks; big personality, lots of luxury, yet still just as capable as you’d expect a Sierra to be.

I must admit, the fifth generation GM truck styling hasn’t grown on me like the previous generation. The needlessly high hood makes it seem like the design is striving to look bigger than it really is, when in fact, it already is massive. That said, I do prefer the GMC front end to the Chevrolet, and the Denali is, by a large margin, the most refined looking of the lot. The Denali gets its signature chrome grille, complimented by chrome tow hooks, door handles and mirror caps.

Out back there are two large chrome exhaust tips integrated into the bumper, and along the side you’ll find optional chrome power retracting side steps. Of course, the Denali rides on gorgeous 22-inch polished wheels, and finished in Onyx Black our test truck looks absolutely stunning. The seemingly small tweaks that the Denali trim adds to the exterior really give it a business-like look that makes the truck all the more appealing.

The interior of the fifth generation GM trucks has taken some criticism lately for being a little uninspiring. There’s some truth to it; the dash is blocky and even the luxurious Denali interior feels a little drab in comparison to the Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn with its classic details and saddle leather. That said, as someone who spends a fair bit of time in trucks, and tends to actually use them to do truck-things, I really found little to complain about inside the Sierra Denali.

Fit and finish is well done, the Dark Walnut and Dark Ash Grey two-toned leather is soft supple and is carried from the seats onto the door panels and dash where it is complimented by open-pore ash wood. The heated and cooled front buckets are amazing comfortable and a great place to rest after a long day.

The interior may lack flash for some, but it delivers functionality in spades, and in my opinion remains the most functional pickup interior in the segment. The shifter is still on the column, out of the way, where it should be, which frees up the center console for a big rubber lined storage area, massive cupholders, and a wireless charging pad. The center console, while not pretty, is the perfect place to dump your pockets before setting off on a drive, and that’s what I expect in from a pickup truck console.

From a tech perspective, the 2021 Sierra now offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Sure, the eight-inch infotainment screen is small by comparison to the 12-inch units available in the Ram or F-150, but it’s clean, easy to use, and allows room on the center stack for actual buttons and knobs to control all main functions easily and without taking your eyes off the road. There is a really nice 12-inch heads-up-display as well; great for following navigation directions without getting distracted.

One area where the Sierra really does impress is on interior noise control. GM’s triple sealed doors and extra efforts on sound proofing really pay dividends here and the Denali is the quietest pickup truck I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with.

There is one thing that breaks the silence in the cabin though, and that is the monstrous 6.2-liter V8 under the hood. It’s the top-dog engine in a list of five options on the Sierra including a turbocharged four-cylinder, a basic 4.3-liter V6, the venerable 5.3-liter V8 and even a Duramax 3.0-liter turbodiesel. The Denali however is only available with the 5.3-liter, the 6.2L and the diesel. Having driven iterations of all of these lately, the 6.2-liter is the way to go if you really want a truck that’s enjoyable to drive in any scenario.

Making 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft. of torque the V8 is a powerhouse. The beauty of a naturally aspirated V8, at its finest here. Response is sharp, linear and authoritative; it pulls like a freight train from any speed with no turbo lag, just action. It also sounds fantastic through dual pipes out the back. The 6.2L comes mated to a 10-speed automatic; it’s a smooth operator and quietly does its job. A big naturally aspirated V8 feels perfect in a pickup truck, and it’s potentially a dying breed with many trucks moving towards smaller displacements and turbocharging.

Surprisingly, despite the performance of the 6.2L, the Sierra isn’t nearly as thirsty at the pumps as anticipated. After a week of mixed driving and a fair bit of time spent in heavy Toronto traffic, my average consumption sat at 13.2L/100km. That’s significantly better than the F-150 I drove just prior, with its turbocharged V6 coming in at 14.3L/100km in comparable conditions. It just goes to show that there is a lot more to fuel economy than just the engine’s displacement.

The Sierra’s driving dynamics are also impressive – the steering is sharp and offers enough road feel. The suspension in the Denali is unique, a Adaptive Ride Control system that actively monitors driving and road conditions to optimize the ride for exceptional comfort and control. The result is the one of the best riding and handling trucks on the road. GM’s suspension systems are underrated, and after suffering through a week of Ford’s F-150 wallowing all over the highway, this Sierra Denali was an absolute pleasure to pilot.

Just because it’s plush and ride well doesn’t mean the Sierra Denali can’t get the job done. Depending on your axle ratio selection it’ll tow up to 11,700 pounds with a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. The bed has been an area of focus as well, and the Denali comes standard with GMC’s MultiPro Tailgate. It’s a tailgate within the tailgate design and has six different positions or functions to help load or secure cargo. It’s an interesting piece of engineering, but I am not sold on how it’ll hold up to the years of hard abuse that many of these trucks will see, and it’s quite heavy to operate due to all the additional moving parts.

This tailgate does come with a sweet little Kicker Bluetooth sound system, built right into the tailgate. We tried it while meeting some friends in a parking lot and it’s a cool idea, but the execution needs work. It won’t play off the radio in the cab, so you need to connect your device to it separately to stream, and it doesn’t sound great either. Overall, I like the F-150’s simple work oriented gate better with its built in ruler, work surface and clamp locations.

By this point, everyone knows the big fancy pickup trucks are not cheap, and while that certainly holds true for the Denali, it is a good value relative to its closest competitors. The Sierra Denali starts at $69,698, which is a really palatable price for a truck sporting the Denali namesake and equipment. Our tester came with the Denali Ultimate package which throws everything available at it including luxuries like the heads-up-display, power sunroof, power side steps, 22-inch polished wheels and the full suite of electronic driving and safety aids. The Denali Ultimate package adds $6,665 to the price of the truck.

Our tester also got a Performance Upgrade Package ($3,145) including a performance cat-back exhaust system and air intake. There is also a $2,895 charge to upgrade from the 5.3L V8 to the 6.2L – money very well spent. This brings the total MSRP for our tester to $84,184, which is nearly $2,000 less than the F-150 Platinum we tested recently; but more importantly, if you’re more selective with your options you can get into a very well-equipped Sierra Denali for well under $80,000.

The bottom line for me on the 2021 GMC Sierra Denali is this – it doesn’t have the fanciest interior, or the greatest high-tech gadgets, so if that’s what you’re after, look elsewhere. However, it’s the quietest and more comfortable, the interior is logical and functional, and that engine is absolutely the best light-duty truck engine available today. It’s also available at a relative bargain, and you can bet that as soon as a refresh comes out with a bigger screen and some new gadgets that a sub-$80,000 Sierra Denali will be a thing of the past, so get one while it’s not-hot.

See Also:

2021 GMC Sierra AT4 Diesel

2021 Toyota Tundra SR5 Trail

2021 Ford F-150 Lariat PowerBoost

Vehicle Specs
Engine Size
Horsepower (at RPM)
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Zack Zeraldo

Staff Writer

Despite his relatively young age, Zack has owned more cars than most people will own in their lifetimes. From F-Bodies to pickups and Corvettes, he is a GM enthusiast through and through. When not writing about cars, Zack can be found in his garage messing with one of his eight vehicles.

Current Toys: ’11 XKR, ’85 Trans Am, ’07 DTS Luxury, ’84 Camaro, ’01 Sonoma, ’06 Escalade, ’96 Firebird, ’78 MGB