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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

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The tailgate of a 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali is shown.

Are Luxury Trucks Really Luxurious?

The word “luxury” gets thrown around a lot in the auto industry. For one thing, it’s an easy way to describe a lot of related concepts (high-quality materials, attention to detail in construction, great comfort features, stylish design, etc.) without getting bogged down in too many details. For another thing, it’s also a bit of a buzzword that speaks to a certain segment of car buyers, plus it has a lot of established connotations at this point, so when you see it, it evokes many of those related concepts I mentioned a moment ago. With so much use, one has to wonder if it’s being trotted out in excess or if the vehicles described as luxury models really live up to the descriptive name they bear.

These days, we have plenty of vehicles that you’d expect as luxurious, like cars and SUVs from brands such as BMW or Mercedes-Benz, companies whose entire identity is tied to luxury. Then you have other options, such as luxury trucks like the 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali, which offer vehicles that I’d describe as “approachable luxury.” To me, these kinds of cars are more focused on functional luxuries like comfort features and technology rather than pure aesthetics or details that exist purely for bragging rights. How luxurious are these sorts of trucks, exactly? Let’s take a look and see what we can see.

Some Common Features in Luxury Cars

In a moment, we’ll take a look at some of the luxury features in the GMC Sierra Denali since that’s a good example of a luxurious truck, but first, let’s consider what some other luxury models have to offer. For illustration purposes, let’s check out the Lexus IS, a popular example of a luxury sedan and a clear option for someone looking for dedicated sophistication and refinement. The Lexus IS 300 is a four-door model that features a 2.0L I-4 engine that delivers 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque—there’s a more powerful V6 available for the IS 350, but we’ll keep things simple here.

The black leather interior of the 2023 Lexus IS is shown. Inside the 2023 Lexus IS 300, you’ll find NuLuxe upholstery with an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and front-passenger seat with dual-zone climate control. A heated, leather-trimmed steering wheel is available as part of a package on the starting model, as is a memory setting for the driver’s seat and rich details like Open-Pore wood trim and a power-adjustable steering wheel. An eight-inch infotainment display is standard, with a 10.3-inch screen offered as part of a package, and there’s an available Mark Levinson 17-speaker sound system. This all seems pretty good, and there are some more upgrades available in higher-end models, though it’s worth mentioning that NuLuxe is synthetic leather, which is to say: fancy plastic.

Some Common Features in Luxury SUVs

Now let’s take a look at a luxury SUV to see the sorts of features that we can find in them—to keep things as fair as possible, we’ll check out a different brand to get a wide range of options. The Volvo XC90 is a midsize SUV and one of the most popular options out there, delivering impressive performance and gorgeous interior details. The 2023 XC90 is powered by a 2.0L Turbocharged I-4 engine with a mild hybrid system that delivers a standard 247 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, though there’s a supercharged version of it that’s boosted to 295 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque (the XC90 Recharged features a plug-in hybrid engine with greater power, but we’ll keep things simple with the basic setup).

Inside the Volvo XC90, we can find a wide range of features depending on the model and equipment level we’re looking at. For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider the Core setup, which includes leatherette seating (again, synthetic upholstery), along with synthetic material on the steering wheel and gear selector, with a heated steering wheel available. The midsize XC90 comes with a four-zone climate system, including third-row air conditioning, which is important in such a large vehicle. It has a nine-inch center infotainment display, a twelve-inch instrument panel screen, and a ten-speaker sound system. There are some nice upgrades available, including a Graphical Head-Up Display and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, but upgrading to the Ultimate equipment level doesn’t change the sizes of the displays.

What About Luxury Trucks?

Between the Lexus and Volvo models we just looked at, I feel like we have a decent basis for what’s expected in a luxury vehicle: solid performance, an attractive interior with nice materials (I’ll avoid any debate about synthetic vs natural leathers), and solid tech and entertainment features. With this in mind, let’s have a look at the 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali to see what it offers. This might not be the only luxury truck out there, but GMC likes to brag about the luxurious refinement of their Denali trim, so I think it’s a fair point of comparison.

The Sierra 1500 Denali has two engines available: it starts with a 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 that delivers 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, and there’s an available 3.0L Duramax Turbo Diesel that offers 305 hp and 495 lb-ft of torque. These are both good options, and this kind of power and flexibility seems appropriate for a luxury truck. Rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are both available for the Denali, and it comes with a premium suspension with Adaptive Ride Control for added comfort.

A driver using the 13.4-inch infotainment screen in the 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali is shown. Inside the Denali, we find a 13.4-inch premium infotainment display with Google built-in, with support for Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a 12.3-inch customizable Driver Information Center display. The GMC Sierra Denali comes with Forge perforated leather seating, with ten-way power-adjustable front seats, including power lumbar and driver’s seat memory settings, and it has ventilated and heated front seats, heated rear seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control. There’s also a wireless charging pad for compatible devices and a heated steering wheel, plus GM’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving tech is available.

All of that is quite impressive, but GMC has recently decided to one-up itself by introducing a new Denali Ultimate trim—what does it add? The Denali Ultimate features a 6.2L V8 engine that delivers 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, for incredible power, with four-wheel drive standard, though the Duramax Turbo-Diesel engine is available. Features inside the Denali Ultimate are much like the Denali, with the same big screens, but this trim replaces the seven-speaker Bose sound system of the Denali with a 12-speaker Bose Premium Series system with a Richbass woofer. We find 16-way seats in the Denali Ultimate, including a message function, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 15-inch Head-Up Display.

How Does a Luxury Truck Stack Up?

Looking at what some luxury cars and SUVs offer, compared to what GMC packs into the Denali version of their truck, I’d say it more than stands up to those dedicated luxury brands. The standard Denali is certainly a fine choice, but the new Denali Ultimate trim is the clear winner for anyone looking for the ultimate level of luxury and refinement in their next truck. GMC even utilizes materials like real leather, which I personally prefer over the synthetic stuff in the Volvo and Lexus we looked at—though I know there are different schools of thought on that issue. The fact that the Denali Ultimate version of the Sierra 1500 can also handle almost 9,000 lbs of towing is simply the icing on the cake, creating a kind of luxury experience that you’re not going to get with the sedan or SUV we looked at.

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