2023 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate
Can A Truck Be A Family Car?
A love for pickups, or at least what they might stand for. A dream of having a reason to haul something heavy. Mixed with the reality of family-life in the city.
By J-F Wright
Mon, Mar 6, 2023 09:39 AM PST
Featured image courtesy of GMC.
I love pickup trucks. I don’t have a rational reason why - maybe it’s something they stand for? The rough conditions they can handle, the insane weight they can pull, the great outdoors they can get me to, the gear they can lugg, the mountains they can climb.
But, let’s be honest, I’m not the kind of guy that needs a pickup truck. Then again, many of the pickup owners in Southern California are probably not the kind of folks who need a pickup. Most can probably haul their stuff just fine in a station wagon - definitely in a large SUV. But still we see a bunch of pickup trucks driving around L.A. with their beds empty.
Car Or Truck?
But here we are, with the 2023 GMC Sierra Denali, kitted to the max with the “Ultimate” package. This is the most car-like pickup truck I’ve ever been in - both judging by the driving characteristics and the sheer level of luxury available. The tech and convenience in this pickup rivals that of all “normal daily drivers” and many of the high-end luxury automobiles. The 2023 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate is the perfect match for a person like me - wallet permitting (unfortunately my wallet refuses to). I - in my budget-free dreams - want all the luxury and convenience and comfort available in luxury cars… and I want a pickup. So, in my dreams, if I had to choose just one vehicle, a luxury pickup would fit the bill - enter the Sierra Denali Ultimate.
So, I approach this review differently than most truck-reviews. Most will check the trailering capabilities, the loading capabilities, and the utility factor of the vehicle - answering the question “What can be done with this truck?” (Answer: A whole lot!). I’m approaching this pickup with the question “Can I have a pickup instead of a car?” - from the standpoint of a father of three with no real reason to have this much space for stuff.
Yes, I can drive the Sierra Denali as my daily driver. Yes, all three kids fit in the back seat. Yes, I sit incredibly comfortably in the driver’s seat. Yes, I enjoy all the tech and convenience features available to me. And yes, roughly once a year one of my friends and/or acquaintances will promote me to their best friend - long enough so that I can help them move.
The Smaller Diesel
The test vehicle I’m in has a Duramax 3.0 liter turbo-diesel with a 10-speed automatic. A beautiful pairing for my use-case, but for the person who plans on towing a large camper or one of the other insanely large fifth-wheels, they’ll probably be looking at the bigger, more powerful, diesel option. The 6.6L Duramax turbo-diesel V8 that is.
No acquaintance of mine, if they suddenly decided to move, has enough stuff to even get close to the maximum hauling capacity, so the 3.0L works just fine. Plus, it keeps the average (combined) fuel economy at an impressive 24mpg (22mpg city / 27mpg highway).
Truck For A Family?
As mentioned, there are three little ones in my household, two of whom are in the large type of child restraints. The rear bench has ample room for the two, and the outer seats are both kitted with LATCH. As for the third kid, she’s happy in the middle seat.
Two notes on that rear middle seat: If it’s not in use, you can fold it down to offer the remaining two rear occupants a large armrest and individual cupholders. If it is in use, however, I noticed that the headrest isn’t really able to be set high enough for a grownup. Probably not the seat of choice for a grownup anyway, but it would be nice to have the option of raising that headrest up high enough to offer whiplash protection for a fifth adult.
All This Space And Nothing To Haul
The bed of the truck is large enough for me to lay down in (6 feet), so it’ll swallow pretty much anything I can think of throwing in it. The rear tailgate (GMC Multipro Tailgate) comes in really handy - it folds open to reveal steps up to the bed, and includes a surprisingly sturdy handle for an extra assist. Since my week with this truck coincides with the one week of insane rain (and snow!) here in L.A., the fact that I don’t have to climb up on a slippery bed - or jump down to the oil-water mixture on the asphalt - is much appreciated.
On that note, however, what is the plan for these rainy days? The hypothetical stuff that I envision hauling around would be exposed to the elements - not often a problem in L.A., but certainly in other parts of the country. I reckon I would need to spend the extra and get hooked up with one of those cool foldable tonneau covers to keep my Costco-score dry.
Technology And Convenience
As you would expect from a Denali (a “Denali Ultimate” at that!), there is an abundance of technology and convenience available here. Some of my favorites:
The Head-Up Display (HUD) displays all necessary information “in the air” in front of the car, helping to keep the driver’s eyes on the road. Once you get used to having your speed and navigation directions projected on the car in front of you, it’ll be hard to part ways with this feature.
Top Down Camera View
The surround view cameras (“HD Surround Vision With Bed View”) helps keep the task of parking this beast a breeze - inputs from cameras placed on all sides of the vehicle is pieced together to give you a top-down view. Even though it only takes a couple of days of driving to get a pretty good feel for where the truck’s outermost limits are, you’d still be guessing on the exact distance to the curb. And with the height of both the hood and the tailgate being way over a kid’s head, it’s good to be able to check the screen before pulling out of parking spaces or just maneuvering on the driveway.
The massaging seats with the topology of Denali carved into the leather (nice touch! [pun intended]) will be appreciated by anyone in the front seats. There are a bunch of programs to select from - from the light and easy rolling up and down your back to a more advanced and rough massage cycle. Skip booking that massage, go for a ride instead!
Adaptive Cruise Control
As noticed in any review I write, I’m a sucker for a good adaptive cruise control. The fact that we got by with manually adjusting our speed in freeway traffic amazes me - even though most of us are still doing just that, including me when I’m not in my budget-free pickup-dream. Letting the truck deal with keeping distance from the car in front makes the drive so much more pleasurable. Not only for the driver, but also for the occupants - the radar is much better at smoothing out the accelerations and slowdowns we all know so well.
My Ticket In
For me, the GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate is my ticket in to hang with the cool folks with huge trucks and huge trailers. I can show them the really neat Trailer Brake Controller that I’ll never use. I can wow them with my head-up display and the over 13 inches large infotainment screen (with Google built in) adorning the center console. I can talk about the auto-locking rear differential and the premium suspension with adaptive ride control (yeah, it’s a really smooth ride!). I’ll speak of the trailer sway control included in the Stabilitrak system as if I’ve had it save my life (it probably would). I’ll impress with my skills when lining up my truck in front of a trailer - until I show the camera system that made it possible.
Later on, when all my new truck-owning friends are gathered around a campfire somewhere in the mountains - reachable only because we had our awesome trucks - I’ll listen to the stories of hauling heavy fifth-wheel campers or maybe trailers filled with livestock. I’ll enjoy the tales of how someone had a forklift load their car (ahem, I mean “truck”!) with the cool heavy-duty tool they needed for that massive job I can’t quite comprehend. I’ll sit there quietly, enjoying their company… Once my show-and-tell of all the cool features in my Sierra is over, I best keep my mouth shut - when it comes to trucks I’m still learning.
One week in the 2023 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate has done me good. I’ve proved to myself (and my wife) that the “truck-as-a-daily-driver”-proposition is not as far-fetched as one might think, even for a “I-really-don’t-need-a-truck” type of guy. Get in the Sierra Denali Ultimate and forget about the empty truck bed behind you - you’ll be mesmerized by all the gadgets and cool features available should you ever need them. And some day, maybe, you’ll find some stuff to haul or a trailer to pull… Please invite me to your tailgate party!
About The Author
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.