A fierce battle is raging in pickup trucks, the most lucrative territory of the vehicle market. Appropriately, the focus is Texas.
The state is pickup heaven, accounting for one out of every six full size pickup sales in the nation. It means more than 200,000 Texans bought pickups in the first nine months of 2013. Dallas and Houston together account for more sales than any state, including No. 2 California, according to an Automotive News analysis.
Unlike the famed battle of the Alamo in 1836, there are more than two sides in this fight. Six names are engaged: Ford, Chevrolet, Ram, GMC -- the subject here -- Toyota and Nissan. The big guys are the four U.S. manufacturers. The last two are minor players, despite the fact that Toyota builds its Tundra pickup in San Antonio, home of the Alamo.
Though manufacturers and owners would dispute it, full size pickups are essentially the same, having evolved into capable people and cargo movers that can haul gobs of stuff and tow trailers weighing five tons or more. Big sellers these days have four doors and carry up to six people.
The most important pheromone of any pickup is loyalty. Pickup owners generally are slavish disciples of their brands. A Ford owner sniffs at a Chevrolet, for example, and vice versa.
That means a manufacturer seeking conquests must hack away at the margins, like a rustler picking off stragglers on a cattle drive. A serious way to do that is to design a classier conveyance.
That brings us to the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali Crew Cab, a monster in metal with the bragging rights of a 6.2-liter gasoline direct injection V8 engine rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque, or twisting force.
More than that, it is a designer boudoir crammed with extravagant accommodations, equipment and appointments that shames almost any luxury car.
Sure, a fully equipped Denali costs well north of 50 grand. But for sheer customer coddling, it rivals luxury cars costing twice as much. Plus it can haul nearly two tons of stuff and pull a trailer weighing almost five tons. No wonder it fits Texas mythology.
Denali, the name of a national park in Alaska, is used on vehicles across the GMC line. It denotes top-of-the-line flagships and has become so ingrained in the customer psyche that owners often say they drive a Denali rather than, say, a GMC Terrain Denali or Yukon Denali.
On the Sierra full size pickup, Denali means stitched leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, color-keyed carpeting, 20-inch chrome wheels, high-end Bose audio system, a unique chrome grille, projector headlights, 12-way power bucket seats and navigation with GMC's IntelliLink connectivity system.
On the tested truck, the package also included a motorized glass sunroof, rear entertainment system, an integrated brake controller for towing, upgraded Z71 suspension and a driver alert system.
On the road, the first thing you notice is what you don't notice: noise. The Sierra Denali is whisper quiet: no wind or mechanical sounds despite the powerful V8 under the hood, and tire noise only when the road is particularly potty.
Comfort in the back seat and the big bucket seats up front is first cabin, though climbing up there, especially on the tested four-wheel drive version, can be a challenge for smaller folks. Once settled, however, there's a commander's perch to survey all of the obsequious machines on the road.
The handling and ride would not be off-putting to almost any driver; it's nearly as good as that of standard sedans a decade ago. Of course, it's a pickup truck with rear leaf springs so the rear end bounces around on curves with pockmarked pavement. Other than that, the ride is settled.
At the same time, this is a vehicle that is more than 19 feet long and weighs more than two and one-half tons, so rapid movement is not an option. Figure on driving in slow motion and taking wide turns to prevent the rear wheels from banging on curbs.
But cruising serenely on the Interstate or a country road with light traffic is almost relaxing. The big V8, which has cylinder deactivation, runs on four cylinders to enhance fuel economy and delivers its vast power unobtrusively through the six-speed automatic transmission.
Texans may have latched onto something here.
Model: 2014 GMC Sierra Denali Crew Cab 4WD four-door pickup truck.
Engine: 6.2-liter V8, direct injection with active fuel management, 420 horsepower, 460 pounds-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with four-wheel drive.
Overall length: 19 feet 2 inches (with 5 feet 8 inch box).
Weight: 5,395 pounds.
Payload: 1,805 pounds.
Towing capability: 9,500 pounds.
City/highway fuel consumption: 14/20 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $50,960.
Price as tested: $56,330.