Sue Mead, Motor Matters

We've been anxious to drive the all-new upscale 2104 GMC Sierra 1500 and put to test GM's claim that this personal pickup is the most powerful, most advanced and most refined truck in GMC's 111 year history.

For 2014, there's the fresh exterior design and toughened chassis, along with three new engines, a cabin with upgraded materials and an updated version of GM's IntelliLink connectivity suite, plus an impressive list of standard premium features -- the longest list ever for a full-sized GMC pickup. GM says its V-6 engine is the segment leader with its torque figures and towing capacity; one of its two V-8 engines takes top fuel economy in the class. The 2014 Sierra starts at $33,210.

We recently drove Sierra's stablemate, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. These trucks are based on the same new aerodynamic platform and are redesigned with the same technologically advanced chassis, the same powertrains and many of the same features and safety upgrades. The Sierra pickup, however, is targeted to a more upscale buyer and therefore has unique trims inside and out, as well as a greater number of standard features and options.

The GMC Sierra is a light-duty personal pickup that can tow up to 12,000 pounds; it's available in several configurations. It comes in 2WD and 4WD, with regular, double cab (name replaces "extended cab") and crew cab versions. There are three pickup boxes (5.8-ft., 6.6-ft. or 8-ft. beds); and several trims.

Three drivetrains include a 4.3-liter V-6, 5.3-liter V-8 and 6.2-liter V-8. The Sierra All-Terrain gets a unique exterior and interior trim and includes the Z71 off-road suspension package. An uplevel Sierra Denali version will be available this fall with the larger 420-horsepower V-8.

We drove the 2014 Sierra along the Pacific Coast in southern California, testing the truck the way many of its buyers might use it: touring, towing and RVing. We started our drive in the all-new V-6 that gets 285 horsepower and 305 lb.-ft. of torque that can tow up to 7,200 pounds. We also pulled a trailer with the 5.3-liter V-8 rated at 355 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque that tows 11,500 pounds.

All three motors are matched to a six-speed transmission with Auto Grade Braking to reduce brake wear on downgrades. The engines share GM's EcoTec3 technology; each can operate on four cylinders through cylinder deactivation, in conditions where fuel efficiency can be maximized.

The V-6 engine had great power and a roomy, upscale interior cabin with lots of nooks and crannies for stowage and all the modern-day telematics and infotainment technologies you would expect. We chose to tow our Airstream and spend two days in the Sierra Crew Cab SLT 4WD, with a base price of $43,425; it was $50,855 as equipped, with numerous uplevel options.

When we climbed aboard this Sierra's comfort-filled, upgraded interior, we noted that the cockpit looks as if it could power a fighter jet, with adjustable seats, adjustable pedals and large-knobbed controls that were ergonomically perfect; also notable are the rear-hinged, wide-opening rear doors; the quietness of the cabin; the great steering and brakes, and good visibility, aided the large outside mirrors and a back-up camera.

Our first jaunt up the Pacific Coast Highway took us to the Camarillo Airport for GMC's Trailering Academy. Here, we attached a 23-foot Airstream trailer, and after a "chalk talk" on trailering and towing tips, we motored through a cone course and practiced backing and parking maneuvers designed to simulate our highway drive and situating our Airstream at the campground.

The truck pulled our aluminum home-away-from-home with an ease that made it easy to forget it was a tow-along. After a slight adjustment to the trailer brake, it stopped with aplomb and, when placed in tow/haul mode, the Sierra's transmission took care of launch, uphill acceleration and downhill braking with appropriate gearing and holding shifts, when needed.

Once unhooked, we enjoyed easy RV camping as our jumping-off point for day-time adventures in the local region. The Airstream can accommodate four adults and has aerodynamic design and an upscale interior complete with full bath and shower; microwave and cook stove, frig, and a flat screen TV. Airstream 2 Go company offers rentals of fully-equipped trailers custom-matched to GMC Yukon Denali SUV tow vehicles (www.airstream2go.com).

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 GMC SIERRA SLT

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5/6-passenger 4WD full-size crew cab

BASE PRICE____________________ $43,425 (as tested: $50,855)

MOTOR TYPE___________________ OHV V-6 w/DI

DISPLACEMENT_________________ 4.3-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)______________ 285 at 5300 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_________________ 305 at 3900 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed automatic

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 229.5 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 48.5 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 5,197 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 26.0 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway