New Car/Review

1999 GMC 1500 Sierra Pickup - A Tale of Two Trucks

by Carey Russ

The all-new 1999 Sierra, GMC's core model, is designed for today's truck buyer. Because pickup trucks are vehicles of many uses, a comprehensive lineup of Sierra models is offered in two series, the medium-duty 1500 and heavy-duty 2500. Numerous new technical features give all more towing and hauling power, more passenger and cargo room, and more comfort amenities than earlier versions. Completely new and much stiffer frame and body structures add strength, help improve ride and handling, and reduce noise levels. New V8 engines give the new trucks improved fuel economy and power. And, to better differentiate the Sierra from its corporate cousin, the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC and Chevy now have their own body styling. Most importantly, all models of the new GMC Sierra and its Chevrolet cousin have standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes for safer, quicker stopping ability.

The Sierra 1500 series is designed for personal use as well as work, and is offered in three trim levels, in regular and extended cab form with a choice of bed styles, and two- or four-wheel drive. Because of the variety of pickup models available, I arranged to drive two very different 1500 models during consecutive weeks. They exemplify the ends of the full-size pickup spectrum. At the press introduction, GMC representatives declared that the company was positioning itself as the premium truck maker in the General Motors family. "We're going after the horse-trailer set," they said. Horse people should love the upscale extended-cab 4x4 V8 SLT model, a pickup that will be at home in front of the country club or hauling a trailer. At the other end of the scale, the V6-powered, 2-wheel drive, regular cab model is a working truck with plenty of strength and comfort for a very reasonable price. GMC may be wooing the upper crust, but it is not forgetting the working folks.

APPEARANCE: In any form, the new Sierra is a modern truck that's not ashamed to look like a truck. In all forms, the new Sierra is ruggedly handsome, with no styling gimmicks. Subtly rounded at the edges and corners, with a slight bulge in the center of the hood and small fender flares, it is assertive without being overly aggressive. The chrome-trimmed eggcrate grille proudly displays the company logo. That grille, and the flanking composite headlights, give the Sierra's front end a strong resemblance to GMC's premium Denali SUV. The cab, in either regular or extended form, is as conservatively rounded as the body. Both full-width "Wideside" and narrow, retro-look "Sportside" cargo boxes are available. The Wideside is functional. For maximum style, a regular cab Sportside is hard to beat.

COMFORT: Increased interior space and improved use of that space is evident throughout the 1999 Sierra lineup. All models and trim levels share a well-designed instrument panel with good control and instrument placement. Useful storage spaces, including a large fold- down center console, and twin power points in addition to a lighter add convenience. Only the interior materials differ. Both test trucks had the 60/40 split contoured front bench seat, great with cloth upholstery in the base V6 or leather in the SLT. The base-model regular-cab V6, while basic in amenities, with roll-up windows, an AM/FM radio with no cassette or CD, is honest and comfortable. The SLT extended cab can give any near-luxury SUV serious competition for appointment, comfort, and space. Space? In an extended-cab pickup? Believe it. Three real people can fit in back comfortably, thanks to an angled seatback. They have storage areas and cupholders, too. The extended- cab Sierra is as much a 6-seater as any 6-passenger sedan, and has a much larger trunk.

SAFETY: Safety features of all new Sierras include four-wheel antilock disc brakes, seat-mounted 3-point safety belts for outboard front passengers, and dual front reduced-force airbags with an on/off switch for the passenger-side bag.

ROADABILITY: A new, ultra-rigid three-piece frame with a hydroformed front section and much stiffer body structure improves the Sierra's ride and handling by allowing softer suspension calibration and reducing chassis noise. Thanks to that, both trucks feel quiet, stable, and comfortable on all surfaces, including dirt roads. The relatively light 2WD regular cab Sierra seems almost as small and maneuverable as a compact truck. It's a little bouncy - not unusual for a lightweight truck with a healthy load capacity - but not at all uncomfortable. In comparison, the extended-cab 4x4 feels as big as a locomotive. Because of the longer wheelbase and greater weight, it rides smoothly. Light power-assisted steering makes either easy to maneuver at any speed, and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes stop very quickly.

PERFORMANCE: Power choices for the 1500 series of the new Sierra include a 4.3-liter V6 and new 4.8 and 5.3-liter "Vortec" V8s. All are designed for hauling and towing, and boast great power characteristics and good fuel economy for their class. The 4x2 regular cab truck with the 4.3-liter, 200-hp V6 is in no way underpowered, and averaged a very good 20mpg. It has a payload capacity of up to 2177 lbs, and can tow up to 4000 lbs. The 4x4 extended-cab truck with the 4.8-liter, 255- hp V8 is quick and quiet, with 255 horsepower and 285 lb-ft of torque. Payload capacity is up to 1779 lbs, with towing ability of up to 6500 lbs. A 270-hp, 315 lb-ft 5.3-liter version of the V8 is also available for heavier duty.

CONCLUSIONS: "Luxury pickup" an oxymoron? Not the new GMC Sierra. Even the base model is quiet and comfortable, and the top of the line challenges luxury SUVs for comfort and room.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 15,955
Price As Tested          $ 18,427
Engine Type              Pushrod overhead valve V6
Engine Size              4.3 liters / 262 cu. in. 
Horsepower               200 @ 4600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           260 @ 2800 rpm
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       119.0 in. / 203.0 in.
Curb Weight              3923 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    19.6
Fuel Capacity            26 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular, 87 octane        
Tires                    Goodyear Wrangler ST P235/75 R16
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc,
                         4-wheel antilock standard
Suspension, front        independent, coil springs rear      
                         solid axle with semi-elliptic multileaf springs
Drivetrain               front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed 17 / 23 / 20
0 to 60 mph                  est. 10.5 sec
Towing Capacity                   4000 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

      Regular Cab 2WD V6                         
Extended Cab V8 4WD
Option Package 1SB: requires minimum
  purchase of: Wideside body, deluxe front
  appearance, chrome rear step bumper,
  black body side moldings, painted
  alloy wheels                     $ 625
Air conditioning                   $ 805
Electronic speed control           $ 240
power door locks                   $ 162
Destination charge                 $ 640

     SLT Extended Cab 4WD
Base Price               $ 27,210
Price As Tested          $ 30,853
Engine Type              Pushrod overhead valve V8
Engine Size              4.8 liters / 294 cu. in.
Horsepower               255 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           285 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission             4-speed electronic automatic
Wheelbase / Length       143.5 / 227.5
Curb Weight              4621 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    18.1
Fuel Capacity            26 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                    Goodyear Wrangler RT/S P 245/75 SR16
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc, 
                         4-wheel antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent, torsion bars /
                         solid axle with semi-elliptic multileaf springs
Drivetrain               front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      15 / 18 / 16
0 to 60 mph                        est. 9.5 sec
Towing capacity                        6500 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Option package 1SD: requires minimum purchase of:
SLT decor - includes front leather seating,
power windows and locks, remote keyless entry,
air conditioning, chrome grille, rear bumper,
wheels, & hub caps, 2-speed active transfer case,
electrochromic rear view mirror, 6-way power
front seats, Wideside body, heavy duty suspension,
front 60/40 split bench seat, alloy wheels, AM/FM
stereo w/ CD                       $ 2,185
Locking rear differential          $   270

electric rear window defogger      $   154
Front foglamps                     $   140
Deep tinted glass                  $   107
P245/75 R16 tires                  $   105
Heated outside mirrors             $    42
Destination charge                 $   640

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