Compare and Contrast: 2019 Chevrolet Silverado & GMC Sierra
There’s more to set these trucks apart then ever.
By Randy Lioz, Editor, Car-ED.com | October 2018
What are these vehicles?
The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are General Motors’ two full-sized pickup entries, the combination of which allows GM to challenge its crosstown rival Ford in this segment. These two trucks are capable of reporting for duty for full-scale work tasks, like hauling huge payloads and serious trailering, but like the rest of the full-sized truck segment they’ve become luxurious and feature-packed enough to serve as daily drivers. If you spend any time in the great state of Texas, you’ll quickly realize how many people are actually doing this.
While these two trucks are quite similar overall, GM has focused a lot in recent years on differentiation among its brands, and with their debut for the 2019 model year, these all-new trucks are as distinct from one another as they’ve ever been. While they continue to over differences in terms of styling and interior materials, GMC is now focusing on packing the Sierra full of innovative tech, much of which isn’t available in the Silverado, to appeal to a different set of buyers.
Who are these vehicles for?
Any full-sized pickup now needs to appeal to personal-use buyers just as much as commercial customers, so these trucks focus on both capability and comfort. Many people in commercial trades like building contractors, plumbers and electricians, and maintenance technicians use their work trucks as their personal vehicles, too. But there are plenty of other buyers who don’t need their truck for work, but who simply prefer to own a pickup for its remarkable versatility, especially with the rise of crew cabs that have four doors and plenty of room in the back.
Pickup truck buyers tend to transcend expected classifications, which is the reason that this is the number two segment in the U.S. auto market, and sales for these full-sizers have grown by half a million units over the past five years.
Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?
GM has been locked in a long-running rivalry with Ford for pickup truck dominance for decades, so each all-new introduction in this segment is a very big deal. Ford last upped the ante in 2015, with a truck that ditched its steel body panels for aluminum, dropping nearly 750 lbs. on the way to leapfrogging the GM trucks in fuel economy. That was a relatively modest leap at 2 mpg combined, but it gave the 3.5L EcoBoost F-150 a 20-mpg rating, enough to get on the other side of the Silverado 5.3L V8’s 19 mpg, and perhaps an important psychological point for buyers. That Silverado V8 has similar power and pricing as Ford’s 3.5L turbo, and both occupy a similarly large share of sales within their lineups.
Sticking mostly to steel, GM has a smaller weight drop, which doesn’t quite allow it to match the F-150 in efficiency. So to steal the show with this intro the General is packing its trucks full of tech. Our experience with the Silverado focused heavily on the new tricks it’s got up its sleeve for towing, while the focal point for the Sierra was it’s clever new highly configurable tailgate, dubbed the MultiPro. The GM trucks have plenty of other features to talk about, like the new 6.2L V8 featuring Dynamic Fuel Management and paired with a sophisticated 10-speed transmission, and all the other tech baked in, so let’s take a look at these new trucks and how GM plans to escalate the fullsize pickup war with its latest volley.
Interesting facts about these vehicles!
GMC’s top-of-the-line Denali trim now accounts for nearly 30% of the Sierra’s sales, up from just 19% in 2013. There are now many high-end trim levels across the segment. They range from Platinum trims for the F-150 and the Toyota Tundra, to Western-themed jobs like Ford’s King Ranch trim and the Ram Longhorn versions. Chevy has even stepped in with High Country trims in recent years, but Denali is the original and still ruler of the trims, given its strength as a sub-brand across the GMC lineup.
The new “cheese grater” feature under the leading edge of the hood separates moisture from the air coming through the grille so it can enter the engine’s intake cleaner and drier. The trucks also have new strategies for airflow management to cut wind resistance, like outlets to route air around the front wheels, and a lip spoiler at the back of the Sierra’s cab that improves aero by 7%.
What Impressed Us / Top Likes:
1 — Having some experience with trying to hook up a trailer alone, we can say that the Silverado and Sierra have vastly improved an ordinarily frustrating process. The trucks offer camera angles in the central display that allow the driver to line up the trailer hitch perfectly every time. And when you’re using the trailer camera, your truck will automatically use the electronic parking brake to keep that hitch exactly where you thought you put it. There are few things more frustrating than getting out to settle the trailer on the hitch, and realizing your truck has rolled a few inches after you put it in park.
And when you have everything hooked up, there’s no need to recruit a friend to help you figure out whether all of your lights are working. GM’s multi-talented apps have a function that can put into motion a light sequence that shows you whether all of your lights are working, including on your trailer.
Finally, there’s always room for a good checklist. The infotainment system has a trailer function that includes profiles and checklists for each of your different trailers, that can even estimate the tire pressure based on the info that you’ve input about them.
2 — GM has cut around 450 lbs. from each of these trucks, using a combination of high-strength steel for the structure, and aluminum for the “swing panels” (doors, hood and tailgate). The company managed to cut this weight out despite increasing the dimensions, with length growing by about an inch and a half. GM talks about these being big trucks that drive small, and our drive in the Sierra confirmed that the truck does feel more nimble than its size would suggest, with relatively flat cornering that imparts a handling confidence that’s comforting when at the helm of a pickup. The suspension also offers great isolation from road imperfections, though it does allow some shudders to creep through.
3 — The size increase has allowed for a more comfortable interior that’s better for storage. The rear seats have bins both underneath and built into the seatbacks, to go along with the nearly three more inches of legroom. But these are pickup trucks, so Chevy and GMC have put a heavy focus on bed utility, starting with size. In fact, every bed configuration is bigger, since the first focus was on width. GM has increased the width at the widest points in the bed by nearly seven inches. That’s no small feat. But the improvements in back go well beyond just bed size.
4 — GM has increased utility in the bed, as well, starting with stronger materials. The steel used in the bed floor can handle nearly 50% more weight, while the tie-down points can now take double the weight (500 lbs. each) they could before. Both of these contribute to higher payload ratings for the new trucks, though of course these vary by configuration. Where things get really interesting is in the ways the two brands distinguish themselves from one another with their cargo bed advancements. Chevy’s biggest play here is its power tailgate, which can be lowered or raised using buttons in the cab or on the key fob. GMC’s innovations are a bit more interesting, and they warrant a whole separate entry, so…
5 — GMC’s bed upgrades start with an available carbon fiber pickup bed, dubbed the CarbonPro (GMC likes to emphasize its Professional Grade tagline). This is a first for pickup trucks, coming as the cost and production time of carbon fiber components has plummeted in recent years. We don’t know how you’d feel about tossing a load of bricks onto this high-tech surface, but GMC says that the material has the highest resistance to dents and scratches in the business, not to mention that it’ll never rust.
Then GMC raises the bar with its MultiPro tailgate, which is made of two panels, the upper one of which can be opened independently. Not only was it completely intuitive to use—we needed nary a word from the GMC reps there to figure it out—but it’s also useful in ways you might now expect. Naturally it can function just like a regular tailgate, if you’re so inclined. But push the upper of the two tailgate buttons and only the top half of the tailgate swings down. This can make for a good standing work surface, or just let you reach into the bed more easily without opening the entire heavy tailgate (GMC doesn’t offer Chevy’s power tailgate option). There’s even a door that swings up from this panel which can function as a cargo stop. This door can also be deployed when the bed is in full-open position. But it’s what’s under this door that really puts the tailgate back in tailgate party. The small tailgate panel has a built-in Kicker audio system that connects to devices via Bluetooth. When the tailgate is full open, with the top panel and cargo stop door down (now to function as a footrest) and the music blasting, the Sierra offers a perfect tailgating perch from which to survey all of the cornhole games and 7-layer dips in your domain.
The MultiPro carries on the GMC tradition of unique cargo management solutions. It brings to mind the Envoy XUV, which sported a power roof panel and reconfigurable “mid gate” that could open the cargo area and bridge the gap between SUV and pickup. The MultiPro tailgate seems just as clever, but simpler to use, and it’s standard on SLT and Denali trims.
6 — The new GM trucks also get upgraded power. The Silverado and Sierra are now available with a 2.7L turbo four-cylinder, which replaces the 4.3L V6 engine on the LT and SLE trims, respectively, and it’s standard on the new Silverado RST and Sierra Elevation, trucks that go for a sportier appearance with body color accents and more stylish wheels. That engine has 310 horsepower, an increase of 25 over the old engine, and its torque jump is even higher, with 348 lb-ft on tap versus the V6’s 305. That extra torque should be good for trailering, though there’s a chance this engine will be a bit overmatched by the size of the truck. We haven’t gotten a chance to drive it yet to find out. That engine has Active Fuel Management, which can cut off fuel to half the cylinders for better efficiency.
The V8 engines on offer go even further in their cylinder-management tech, with the ability to cut off fuel to any number of cylinders based on what’s needed. The new 5.3L and 6.2L V8s have Dynamic Fuel Management, with the ability to use 17 different cylinder profiles, compared to the previous versions of these engines that only had the ability to run with either four or eight cylinders.
GM’s pickups are also available with diesel engines, and the Silverado and Sierra both offer 3.0L V6s that are paired with the same 10-speed auto transmission as the 6.2L V8.
7 — Both trucks have a bunch of cool technology baked into the cabin. New infotainment systems are better organized and easier to use, helping to make the most of their new cameras and app connectivity. The screen gives you several options for viewing the space around the truck, including down the sides for trailering.
There’s also a new head-up display, surprisingly available on both the Silverado and Sierra. It shows a really nice full-color display, with tons of info available. We definitely feel this tech should be on many more vehicles, to keep drivers from having to look away from the road to get vital info.
Also available is the camera rear-view mirror, which may seem a bit unnecessary, but it was stunning to witness in action. This thing can zoom in and out and pan up and down, giving you a much winder range of views than you can get with a traditional mirror, and not forcing you to deal with visibility issues created by door pillars. And the resolution is suitably high so that it’s not just another distraction.
Items to Make Better (Least Favorite Things):
1 — While the trucks are equipped with Surround Vision cameras, we couldn’t quite figure out how to get a pure bird’s-eye view, which is something very important for vehicles as large as these. The best we could get was a view that showed us a view from the front that really just highlighted the sides and back. We can’t quite imagine a true bird’s-eye is not available, since GM has had this in the past on its trucks and other products, but it failed the intuitive test.
2 — With the weight that these trucks dropped, we were hoping for more of a fuel economy bump. The new 2.7L four-cylinder has a 2-mpg city advantage versus the 4.3L V6 from last year’s Silverado, but on the highway it actually has a 1-mpg disadvantage, working harder to keep the truck going at those speeds. The 5.3L and 6.2L V8s gain 1 mpg in the city from the combo of weight and the Dynamic Fuel Management (with no gain on the highway). That fancy cylinder deactivation software on the V8s is a great idea in theory, but the result isn’t as impressive, and it even seemed to impact drivability a bit, since the 6.2L Sierra we drove seemed to have some surging issues at low speeds. Mating a transmission that has 10 different speeds with an engine that has 17 different cylinder settings has perhaps proven quite a complicated task, since the Sierra bucked a bit when going from half-throttle to full.
3 — We also had some minor issues when trailering with the Silverado, with more pronounced bucking seemingly created by the trailer itself. The trailers GM had rented for the event had surge brakes, which meant that they were activated by backward pressure on the hitch. We’re not sure if the brakes on our particular trailer were a bit sticky, and GM wasn’t able to give us an answer on this, but the motion we felt inside the cabin was a bit disconcerting.
The Bottom Line:
Both the Silverado and Sierra are highly capable and tech-filled trucks. GM has done a great job distinguishing the exterior styling, especially up front, with the GMC variant presenting a looming grille that encourages comparisons with big-rigs—and presents a nice big canvas for all the chrome slathered over the Denali trim. The Chevy has a more horizontal theme that emphasizes the wider stance, and the bigger bed that comes with it.
The Silverado can present an excellent value at the bottom end, and it can be optioned up to a true luxury truck in the form of the High Country trim, with all the goodies you’d expect, and even some you wouldn’t, like the head-up display. The power tailgate is a perfect fit for this buyer, and perhaps GMC decided to pass on that feature not only due to its MultiPro tailgate option, but also because it might belie the brand’s Professional Grade tagline, since that’s the kind of feature that might draw mockery at the job site.
With the MultiPro tailgate and carbon box, the GMC now has more to distinguish itself from its Chevy platform mate, but of course it’ll be the Denali trim that draws many buyers to the more upscale brand.
Segment and Competitors:
The domestic brands rule the roost when it comes to full-size pickups, though there are some great entries from Toyota and Nissan as well:
- Ford F-150
- RAM 1500
- Toyota Tundra
- Nissan Titan
That’s about all, though, as this segment is pretty straightforward.
Pricing and Availability:
The Silverado starts at $29,795 for the Work Truck with a regular cab, the only trim that offers just two doors. That trim can also come with a double cab (with short rear doors) or crew cab (with longer ones). Custom, LT, RST and LTZ trims offer both of those cab styles as well, while the top-level High Country truck only comes as a crew cab, and it starts at $54,495 before tacking on any options. For that price you get a lot, though, like unique styling cues and the power tailgate, plus a standard 5.3L V8. The Custom and LT trims also offer Trail Boss variants with off-road focused equipment, like Rancho shocks. All of the Silverado trims are hitting showrooms currently.
GMC hasn’t quite released all the pricing for the Sierra, but the SLT trim available now starts at $48,590, while the Denali starts at $56,590. The Sierra’s off-road trim is called the AT4, and it’s slotted between the other two. Lower-spec base and SLE models (along with the Elevation trim), will be available later in the year.