Review: 700 Miles In A GMC Denali 2500 HD 4×4

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
review 700 miles in a gmc denali 2500 hd 4 215 4

The last few years have been a struggle for a lot of folks. Financial meltdowns. Millions of bankruptcies. Massive unemployment. Our ‘global’ economy continues to experience a maelstrom of wealth destruction that seems to make nearly everyone guard their money.

It’s been hell for most…. but guess what? In spite of it all you are among the few who have thrived. In fact you are laughing all the way to your nearest dealership.

So get your something nice! Let’s say the budget is up to $65,000. What would you buy for yourself? Would it be a lightly used Lexus with all the trimmings? A new BMW 5-Series? Maybe one of those VW Touaregs with the diesel engine and all the luxury trappings of a neo-Audi.

In my neck of the woods where the suburbs meets the ex-urbs, this question has only one suitable answer… a truck.

This is what you see when you enter the dealership closest to my home. Trucks. Not just any trucks. But 26 consecutive four-door Chevy and GMC trucks that are ripe for the taking. The GMC Denali HD 2500 4X4 is an upscale supersized Cadillac in a town where the only true upscale vehicles have 4WD and altered suspensions.

Don’t even think about getting an Impala or a Malibu in rural America. Those are parked in the back at the dealership. The way back. The Hardy Boys (even 70 year old men are still boys in the South) want you to buy big and haul ass. That’s why they put the trucks as close to your eyeballs as possible.

“Oh… my… gosh… that’s one big puppy!”

Back at home, my wife was completely in awe of the truck that we magically found on our driveway last Monday. No doubt delivered by Brazilian elves who apparently worked for a press fleet company.

The heavy duty truck Marcello’s elves left us bordered on the gargantuan

To call the GMC Denali HD 2500 4X4 large would be a mild understatement. Think about a truck that dwarfs SUV’s and most everything else on the road. How big are we talking about? I’ll put it to you this way. In downtown Atlanta I saw this seemingly small vehicle scurry right past it. I first thought at first it had been a Beetle or a Civic.

It turned out to be a Hummer.

The truck is larger, longer and heavier than the two cars we drive put together. More than seventy five hundred pounds of big. Even with a regular bed. This Denali HD 2500 along with the Ford F-250 and Dodge Ram 2500 want to make the Lincolns and Cadillacs of the road look as low to the ground as coffins on wheels.

They do it…. because that’s what the buyers want.

So with ‘big’ out of the way let’s go straight to price. The 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD 2500 4X4 Diesel I tested will also tip the scales with a $62,124 price tag which includes over $15,000 in options. That amount alone would give most customers pause… except for a few notable things.

First off you’ll never have to pay anywhere near that price. But more on that later. Let’s first look at what guides the brow of this behemoth. A 6.6L Duramax diesel engine will offers today’s blue collar executive 397 horsepower and 765 lb. ft. of torque. That is tops for the class on paper, and is all well and good.But on the road it’s incredible.This vehicle can go from 30 mph to 70 mph with a Baruthian thrust. The engineers at GM put the torque right at the low to mid end of the scale which means that if you drive normally, you’ll rarely see it go beyond 2000 rpm’s. When you want power, you’re launched. 0 to 60 time is 7.4 seconds which for a work truck is simply unheard of.

So a plain jane Camry with a V6 is faster you say? You’re missing the point. This truck can also haul 21,700 lbs. with a fifth wheel while comfortably going 80+ mph on the open road. No kidding. No lawyers will even want to dispute that number.

Regular towing will yield 13,000 lbs. and the bed alone can haul over two tons. All of these numbers rate it top in the class. In functional terms you can’t buy the power of this truck at this price range in anything other than a new Corvette or an abandoned Libyan airfield.

If power alone could sell trucks the Denali trimmed HD 2500 would be hard to beat. But you have to look at the whole package. Here is the point where I have to throw in a disclaimer. Most work trucks have interiors that look like they came from cars that were half the price.

The one in this truck is nice… in the same way that an Impala LTZ is nice. You get thick leather seats up front that can be heated or cooled. Wood and aluminum accents throughout the cabin that aren’t ‘super-sized’ just because it’s a truck. A navigation system along with a touch screen that is surrounded with too many small plastic buttons that are of little use Plus you get a dashboard and door panels that look to be directly lifted out of a GMC Yukon Denali.

If you love GM full-sized trucks, you will love the interior of this truck.

On the road the overall set-up is tuned towards comfort and ease of use. The ride is slightly stiff without a load which is to be expected in a work truck. But the steering has a directness and precision that is more like a modern full-sized sedan than a truck. The seats in particular put a smile on my face during long drives through Atlanta and North Georgia. Over 750 miles worth in a week. Even in traffic, the Denali was a wonderful vehicle in most every respect and surprisingly easy to drive. But there are still more than a few opportunities for improvement.

GMC’s nav system is not nearly as intuitive or seamless as the Sync on the 2012 Ford F-250. For example, I was able to locate a nearby hotel and have the number called while driving down the road using the nav system quite easily. Other primary functions are easy as well.

Radio controls are on the steering wheel, the display screen is easy to read, and the trip computer offers quick feedback on the fuel economy, fluid levels and tire pressure.


So the main functions work. But I had to also read through the manual more than once to fully understand a lot of the other buttons and features. The small plastic buttons that surround the nav screen are particularly heinous in their feel and design, and should be shelved.

Another weakness? Although the vehicle is 241 inches long the back seats are also works in progress. The rear space is small compared to competitors and although an unusually upright position may be fine for kids and teens, your adult friends may not be happy if you take them on a road trip.

Finally I wish all automakers, GM included, would focus a bit more on upgrading some of the little things in their trucks once they venture into the higher price ranges. The power features along the door panels (windows, door locks, mirrors) would have been perfectly at home in a leftover Chevy Cobalt. The antenna is a base universal screw on and the intake louvre on the hood looks cheap compared to the rest of the vehicle .The bedliner also should have been upgraded with stronger materials to reflect the higher price.

Are these things dealbreakers? Not at all. But in a $62,000 truck these little things should be tended to as well. Especially since we’re talking about a truck with an asking price that can now get you a decent house in the ex-urbs where I live.

Which brings me to the key question. Is this loaded up work truck worth the ‘real world’ price? That answer has a twist given the time of year we find ourselves in.


As a 2011 changeover this model will go for thousands less than the new F-250. More than likely in the mid-50’s. With that you get a better ride, greater hauling capability, an interior that is better proportioned for most drivers, and a powertrain that is far better noted for durability.

If you are the type who buys new and keeps forever, I would consider it. But (and this is one I can’t help mentioning given what I see at the auctions) work trucks have phenomenal levels of depreciation. Due to the economy a lot of work trucks have been repossessed. It’s one of the few vehicles that is not in short supply in the used car market. As a matter of fact, when I parallel parked this truck in a street at the Atlanta zoo I happened to see…

The market on full-sized diesel work trucks is very soft at the moment, new or used. However October and the first fifteen days of November is an absolute dead zone in the car business. No tax refund checks. No Christmas bonuses. No holidays to encourage whatever conspicuous consumption is left in the marketplace.

With this also being the tail end of model changeover time, you should be able to get this truck for a lot less than $62k+. Think about right around $54,000. At that price it’s worth considering.

A press fleet company provided me with one full tank of gas, insurance, and one nice conversation for this review. This particular model came with a Power Sunroof ($895), 20” Forged Polished Aluminum Wheels ($850), 6” Tubular Chrome Assist Steps ($689), Front Heated & Cooled Seats ($650), Rear Vision Camera System ($450), and a Heated Steering Wheel ($150).I did run over an opossum during the course of this review. I’m thinking about getting it stuffed and taxidermied so I can use it as my profile picture on Facebook. .

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  • Thecavanaughs Thecavanaughs on Nov 01, 2011

    Right- it isn't fast because it is heavy. I didn't say there wasn't a reason that it isn't fast. I just said it isn't fast... because it isn't.

  • Oilfield Trucker Oilfield Trucker on Aug 20, 2013

    So maybe I am a lil late on this post, but I just bought a brand new 2013 Denali HD and ABSOLUTELY LOVE it!! I think the interior is just fine and immaculate. The engine has more power and for sure more torque than most sports cars. And it DEFINITELY goes!! The ride isn't always the best, but what do you expect from a 3/4 ton pickup?? Like I said I am happier than hell and proud to be a new Denali HD owner!

  • 28-Cars-Later Isn't that the Cayenne?
  • Kendahl I will look at my phone long enough to determine whether the caller is someone I really should talk to. If it is, I keep driving until I find a safe place to pull over before answering. If it isn't, to hell with them.I am greatly annoyed by people who sit at green traffic lights or drive well below the speed limit because they are focused on their phones instead of their driving. However, I don't express my frustration because (1) they don't think they're being inconsiderate and (2) may retaliate with road rage.
  • VoGhost What to name a car for people insecure about the size of their 'manhood'? Magnum. What do name a car for people insecure about their orientation? STR8. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- knows their customer base like FCA/Stellantis.
  • VoGhost Finally! The minivan that Porsche owners have been clamoring for all these years?
  • 2ACL Random fact: despite cratering sales and discontinuation, the 200 is regularly featured in national top 10 lists for catalytic converter theft.
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