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2014 GMC Sierra: In your face, but customizable to any taste

With nearly endless combinations of powertrains, features and cab choices, you would be hard-pressed to find two identical pickup trucks on the road.

That's certainly the case with General Motors' light-duty cousins - the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra - although both share the same basic structure and running gear.

For 2014, each continues with its own style and attitude, although the "attitude" part is hard to define, exactly. While Chevrolet positions the Silverado as a kind of middle-ground pickup for both work and play, in the Sierra's case those virtues are distinctly separated. More basic GMC models accentuate the "Professional Grade" tag and the pitch is directed at buyers who rely on their pickups to earn a living. At the opposite end of the scale is the Sierra Denali sub-brand that places a much higher value on coddling content.

In either case, the Sierra's primary identification point can be spotted in your rearview mirror. The entire front end, including grille, headlights, bumper and in-your-face GMC logo, are more massive than before and in total make a bolder statement than the Silverado does. The Denali's nose is even more arresting with its mesh-style insert and projector-beam headlights ringed with LED running lights.

Some minor sheetmetal differences exist between the Chevy and the GMC, but that's about it. Even the interiors of the two pickups share the same basic dash, control panel and available touch-screen communications center that are a masterstroke of efficient legibility.

Of course as you scale the trim-level ladder the appointments become more luxurious and the cabin resembles something approaching a high-end limo, especially in the four-door crew-cab models.

Limo-quiet cabins have also been the focus of GMC's designers. Improvements in aerodynamics, insulation and weather sealing help shut out intrusive noises. The doors are now "inlaid" into the side of the cabin instead of extending up and onto the edge of the roof, which GMC says cuts wind noise.

Note that for 2014 the rear doors of the double cab (which has smaller doors than the crew cab) are now front-hinged just like the crew cab's doors, as opposed to being rear hinged, to provide easier access to the back seat.

Just as a greater use of aluminum in fabricating various body panels and suspension parts has kept the Sierra's weight in check, the V6 and V8 engines also benefit.

All use aluminum cylinder blocks and incorporate direct injection, whereby fuel is force-fed into the cylinders under high pressure. That allows the fuel load to be tailored for very specific use. There's also continuously variable valve timing for improved low- and high-speed performance, while half the cylinders in V8 engines will automatically shut down in steady-state cruise conditions to save fuel. The V6 engine also runs on four cylinders in such situations.

What that all means is a standard 4.3-liter V6 - for all cab styles and in rear- and four-wheel-drive - that might have the same displacement as before, but now makes 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. The old iron 4.3 was good for just 195/260 pound-feet. Now, that's good progress. Mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy is also up by three mpg in the city and two on the highway (now 18/24).

V8 choices consist of a new 5.3-liter unit with 355 horses and 383 pound-feet, up from 315/335, and a 6.2-liter piece rated at 420/450 pound-feet. That compares to the previous 6.2's 403/417 rating. The new engine is based on the V8 in the new 2014 Corvette.

The 5.3 is rated at 16/23 mpg, but the 6.2's fuel numbers have yet to be divulged, although GMC says it will have a 12,000-pound tow rating.

The 6.2 is standard in the Sierra Denali, not to mention a rather substantial list of content. Unique 20-inch chrome wheels adorn the exterior, while wood and leather (including heated and cooled front seats) coat interior surfaces.

The Sierra starts at $25,100 for a basic V6 work truck, but heading into Denali territory and you could easily double that amount. Either way, with variety like this it's even more doubtful that you'll find two identical Sierras anywhere.

2014 GMC SIERRA

Type: Two- /four-door, rear-/four-wheel-drive full-size pickup
Engines (hp): 4.3-liter OHV V6 (285); 5.3-liter OHV V8 (355); 6.2-liter OHV V8 (420)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic
Market position: New pickup geared to deliver better power, fuel economy, towing, interior quality and a quiet ride. That's a tall order for a truck, but GMC nails it.
Points: Bolder look than Silverado; "Inlaid" doors help make a quiet cabin; Trailer-towing electronics integrate stability control and trailer braking to make anyone a pro; GMC touts 4.3 as being built specifically for a truck rather than being adapted from a car; a direct shot at Ford and Ram; "Grade braking" downshifts the engine to save brakes when heading downhill; V6 up by 90 horsepower/three mpg in the city.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 18/24 (V6)
Base price (incl. destination) $24,600

BY COMPARISON

Ford F-150
Base price: $24,950
Top-selling pickup offers turbo V6 engine to blend power and fuel efficiency.

Ram 1500
Base price: $24,000
Highly touted V6 and V8 offer buyers fuel economy or heavy hauling power.

Toyota Tundra
Base price: $26,900
Texas-built workhorse gets a new look and a revised cabin for 2014. 

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