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

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

A closeup shows the grille on 2019 GMC Sierra Elevation parked in front of a pond.

Origins of the GMC Sierra

The GMC Sierra is one of the best trucks on the road today. With its unique combination of style and power, it is difficult to go wrong with a new or used GMC Sierra. Although the GMC Sierra is closely related to the Chevy Silverado, the GMC version of this highly capable platform adds upscale styling and additional features to create a vehicle that stands out from its more basic Chevy counterpart. And in its top Denali trim, the GMC Sierra is a legitimate luxury vehicle that provides an unmatched level of comfort.

But what is the story of the GMC Sierra? Well, the first GMC Sierra was made for the 1988 model year. However, this was not actually the first GMC truck to bear the Sierra name, and it was not exactly the GMC Sierra that we know today; that version was first introduced in 1999. It’s pretty confusing, but we are going to break everything down to give you a better understanding. So keep reading to learn a little more!

What is a Sierra?

Sierra is a Spanish word for a mountain range, but GMC may have taken the name from the beautiful Sierra Nevada range that runs through California and Nevada. The ruggedness and majesty of these mountains certainly make them an excellent namesake for GMC’s flagship truck. But for GMC, this name did not originally refer to a specific truck model. Instead, it first appeared for the 1970 model year to refer to an optional luxury package for the GMC C/K pickups and was also accompanied by the similar Sierra Grande option. These two packages proved popular, and for the 1972 model year, they became the top two trim levels for the GMC trucks.

When the GMC truck was updated for the 1973 model year, yet another even higher trim level was added, the Sierra Classic. The 1973 model year also saw the first use of the now-familiar 1500, 2500, and 3500 designations instead of the older 10, 20, 30 numberings. But by this point, almost every trim of the GMC truck was using some form of the Sierra name. So when the next generation truck was introduced for the 1988 model year, it was officially named the GMC Sierra, while the GMC SUV was rebranded as the GMC Yukon a few years later.

A red GMC 199 Sierra, the first used GMC Sierra, is parked in front of mountains.

The First Real Sierra?

However, the first GMC Sierra was a different truck than the GMC Sierra of today. Although it had a new name, the original GMC Sierra was actually just the fourth generation of the C/K platform shared by GMC and Chevy. This platform revolutionized the truck world when it was first unveiled for the 1960 model year, introducing new features such as a drop center ladder frame for a lower cabin and independent front suspension for superior ride quality. These features made the C/K platform one of the first trucks that was more than a utilitarian work vehicle and allowed it to legitimately support luxury options like the original Sierra package.

But by the time GMC rebranded its version of this vehicle as the Sierra, the C/K platform was growing long in the tooth and was in need of a replacement. This replacement finally came in 1999 with the introduction of an all-new shared platform and the introduction of the actual first generation of the GMC Sierra that we know today. And while GMC continued to use the Sierra name for its version, it could be said that this heavily updated truck was the first modern GMC Sierra even though it was not the first GMC truck to bear the name. This is also probably the oldest generation of the truck that should be considered by drivers looking for a used GMC Sierra.

However, there is also another reason why this GMC Sierra has a claim to being the first real Sierra. It was the first version of this truck to introduce the iconic Denali luxury trim. When the Sierra name was used for the GMC truck itself rather than for its higher trim levels, GMC was left without a good name for the most luxurious versions of its productions. For the second model year of this GMC Sierra, a top of the line luxury trim was introduced that added more power, improved styling, and additional features.

But while this trim made the already excellent truck even better, it carried the bland name C3. However, at the same time, the GMC Yukon SUV introduced its own luxury trim named for Alaskan Denali area. This clearly superior name was soon adopted for the top trim of the GMC Sierra, beginning with the 2002 model year. Today, the Denali name is as synonymous with luxury vehicles as the Sierra name was half a century ago. However, with every single vehicle in the current GMC lineup sporting a Denali trim, it is unlikely that we will ever see this name bestowed upon a single model as happened with the Sierra name.

Sierra Generations

A gray 2019 GMC Sierra Denali is parked on a mountain at sunset.

But while a second or even first-generation GMC Sierra can still make for a quality used truck, there have now been four generations of the GMC Sierra, and the more recent models have introduced countless improvements over the originals.

The first generation of the modern-day Sierra was released in the 1999 model year and continued through 2006. That said, the second-generation GMC Sierra hit the market for the 2007 model year and brought significant technological advances from USB ports to OnStar emergency services. However, it was also the first GMC truck that was not available with a manual transmission.

But today, the third generation GMC Sierra is the version that will be encountered the most often on the streets or at a used car dealership. These trucks were introduced for the 2015 model year and are thoroughly modern vehicles that can still compete with anything on the road today. The third-generation GMC Sierra also marked several notable “firsts” for the GMC brand, including being the first GMC truck to offer an engine with over 400 hp, the first GMC truck to use an eight-speed transmission, and the first GMC truck to use a modern touch screen infotainment system. All of this and more makes the third-generation GMC Sierra a highly capable and comfortable truck that is one of the best options available for any driver in the market for a used pickup.

But the third-generation GMC Sierra is not the most modern version of the truck as the fourth generation was recently introduced for the 2019 model year. Although, in terms of capability, it is not significantly superior to the third-generation GMC Sierra, the newest generation comes with a collection of new features that allow it to live up to the GMC reputation for high quality and comfortable vehicles. Perhaps the most notable of these features is the distinctive carbon fiber composite bed that combines lightweight with best-in-class dent, scratch, and corrosion resistance. However, the current GMC Sierra also stands out for other unique features such as its 15-inch heads up display and its six-position tailgate. And while the fourth-generation trucks are still relatively rare outside of new dealership lots, the latest generation of the GMC Sierra demonstrates the bright future ahead for both the Sierra name and the GMC brand.

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