Your lifestyle is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got a boat, a camper, or a trailer to haul around, and you don’t need me to tell you that you won’t be towing them in an Altima. No, you need a vehicle that was built tough, and you probably already have a great truck for the task. But sheesh, wouldn’t it be nice if the truck could do the work without beating you up in the process? Is it really so much to ask for this tool, which makes it possible to do big things, to go just one step further and make it easy? If those sound like fair questions to you, your local GMC truck dealer will be happy to point you in the direction of a Denali.
“Denali” is a GMC trim / sub-brand that first appeared in the late ’90s as GM developed a Yukon that could hang with the Escalade without embarrassing it. Now every model in the GMC lineup has a Denali version, from the Terrain to the Sierra HD. Every one of them is the equivalent of a skilled tradesman in a tuxedo – the impression of a strong grip and the air of confidence in one’s abilities are only enhanced, not muted, when they’re dressed to the nines. There’s no mistaking a Denali truck for what it is – a professional-grade GMC pickup – but that only makes the discerning style more impressive. These are not luxury cars that look like trucks – they are pickup trucks in luxury trim.
Starting at just over $41,000, the 2022 Canyon is one of the most affordable Denali vehicles there is, and it sets the tone for what Denali means. It starts with a look – the bold, upright grille covered in chrome honeycomb is like a championship ring in the sun, declaring its presence in a timeless fashion. Chrome accents are the theme of every Denali exterior, further highlighted on the Canyon by beautiful 20” machined aluminum wheels and exclusive chrome assist steps.
The function-forward interior may be disappointing to some for the price point, but true luxury requires both form and function to succeed. With standard 6-way adjustable, power driver lumbar support, heated and ventilated front seats, and a premium Bose sound system, Canyon Denali ticks off several important “function” boxes right out of the gate. A soft-touch instrument panel, leather upholstery with contrasting stitching, and open-pore ash wood highlights may not fool you into thinking you’ve bought a Bentley, but I think it goes a long way to meeting the “form” of luxury too.
Under the hood, you won’t find a paltry four-cylinder engine – the Canyon Denali features either a 308 hp V6 or a Duramax turbodiesel, the mid-size truck segment’s torquiest engine at 369 lb-ft. This “small” truck can easily handle over 1,460 lbs in the bed and up to 7,700 pounds of trailer load as a result. A standard auto-locking rear differential helps deal with slippery terrain too, so anytime anybody scoffs at the “pretty truck,” the Canyon Denali can shut ‘em up real quick by showing it can look good and get dirty at the same time.
If Sierra and Silverado sales were combined (which they might as well be, since they’re functionally the same truck in different livery with a handful of exclusive options), the GM light-duty pickup would often be the best-selling vehicle in America. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of eyes on this one. No surprise, then, that the 1500 gets the most love from its designers too, and the heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 counterparts then benefit from proximity. Highlights of the standard features for 2021 include adaptive ride control (1500 only), 10-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, wireless charging, GMC’s in-vehicle trailering app, the unique MultiPro Tailgate, and a hitch guidance system. Denali’s signature blend of form and function is on full display in all the full-size pickups.
Dressed up inside and out with the same array of glittering chrome highlights and soft leather upholstery as the Canyon Denali, both light and heavy-duty Sierra Denalis offer special packages that take them to another level. On the 1500, that’s the CarbonPro Edition package. The full upgrade, which includes several other packages, rolls in cutting-edge features like a full safety tech suite, a rear camera mirror, a 15-view camera system, a special Kicker audio system built in to the MultiPro Tailgate, and above all, a first-of-its-kind carbon fiber composite truck bed. The CarbonPro bed is not only nigh-indestructible – it’s made of the same material as most supercars, chosen for that application because it’s lightweight and thin. The max payload jumps by over 60 lbs thanks to the 25% lighter bed design, and the volume increases by another cubic foot over the competition thanks to the carbon fiber’s extreme moldability.
The heavy-duty pickups, however, fret not over a couple dozen pounds here and there. As such, the CarbonPro Edition is not offered – instead, the HD lineup gets the Black Diamond Edition. With tech like the first-in-its-segment 15” HUD and a class-leading 15 camera views, luxuries like a power sunroof and the built-in MultiPro Kicker speakers, and a genuinely menacing appearance thanks to the glossy black paint on the body and wheels to complement the dazzling chrome grille, the Sierra HD Denali Black Diamond Edition is like an NFL linebacker at a black-tie affair in vehicular form.
Hitch guidance, more than a dozen camera views, and an in-vehicle trailering app, among other features, already conspire to make Denali trucks the best in the business for towing, even when the raw capability numbers don’t quite make it to best-in-class. New safety features on the Sierra like a jackknife alert and a trailer length indicator to make lane changes safer (not to mention the benefits of the Invisible Trailer camera view) have taken it even further, but Denali isn’t done.
GMC is poised to deliver a mid-cycle refresh to the Sierra in 2022. While that’s sure to include cosmetic updates (and hopefully a styling revamp to the interior, addressing virtually every reviewer’s greatest complaint), that isn’t what most of us should be paying attention to. That’s because, in 2022, the first genuinely hands-free driving technology in the industry is being rolled out to six GM vehicles, including the Sierra, where Super Cruise is all but certain to be either a Denali-exclusive or Denali-standard feature.
This technology will enable the Sierra Denali to navigate 200,000 miles of North American roadway on its own, including speed adjustments and lane changes, even while hauling a trailer. All the “driver” has to do is keep their eyes on the road and hands available to take control back should something start to go wrong – otherwise, they can leave the stressors of trailering and interstate travel to the truck!
What could be cooler than Super Cruise? How about the inevitable GMC Denali response to the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning? An electric Silverado has already been announced, so you can count on an electric Sierra to follow soon. Is there really any doubt whether GMC will offer it in Denali sub-brand trim? It would be less of a surprise if the first iteration is exclusively a Sierra Denal-E! Just imagine how much chrome they could fit on the front when it no longer requires a grille.
A Truck to Look Up To
The Denali sub-brand makes no attempt to claim itself as the pinnacle of luxury. In the American market, that is the realm of Cadillac and Lincoln. The ultimate impression of the Denali is that of a truck that’s dressed up nice enough for any occasion, without trying to pretend that it isn’t a pickup truck first – a technologically advanced, highly capable one to be sure, but still a pickup truck, a vehicle designed to work. With the best displays of chrome trim since the 1960s and comfortable, practical interiors on top of all that great power and tech, Denali trucks look and feel every inch the epitome of “professional grade.”