Why are so many people buying fullsize trucks and SUVs? Yes, gas prices are relatively low and the economy is supporting a record number of good paying jobs. But sales records show that many more people are buying such large vehicles than actually need them.
One answer occurred to me when I was test driving a 2019 Sierra Denali 1500 4WD Crew Cab pickup on Interstate 5 recently coming out of Portland, Oregon. Shortly before that, I was focused on maneuvering the long and wide vehicle through downtown traffic for a scheduled appointment. I felt lucky to find a parking space at the end of a block that didn't test my parallel parking skills.
If I was a contractor who relied on such a rig for work, I'd be used to driving it and not be so concerned. But because I mostly test smaller vehicles, driving the big GMC truck in such an urban environment was a bit unnerving.
But just as a hit the freeway home, the skies opened up with one of the heaviest rainstorms of the approaching winter. The freeway turned into a river, with every vehicle throwing up sheets of water. In a smaller vehicle, I would have had trouble seeing where I was going and staying in my lane. But the Sierra easily plowed through everything in its path, never having its visibility hindered by the deluge, and easily passing slower vehicles ahead.
After I got safely home, I realized I hadn't even pressd the dash-mounted button to turn on the four-wheel-drive system to increase traction. The sheer bulk of the 2019 Sierra Denali was more than enough for a safe ride through a typical Pacific Northwest rain storm. That's probably a good thing. In 4WD, I would have been tempted to drive over the slower vehicles, not around them.
If I think hard enough, I'm sure I can come up with some rationale to buy the Sierra, which was completely revised and upgraded for 2019. For starters, the inside of the Crew Cab is roomier than most cars, and will easily carry five adults in comfort and style. It is as quiet and plush as most luxury cars. And the optional Denali Ultimate package includes advanced safety features, like a multi-color heads-up display that warns when you're approaching traffic too fast.
It also comes with a unique Multipro tailgate that not only folds down, but can be configured as a step up into the bed or a work bench. I may not actually ever build anything on it, but my friends will be very impressed by how it works.
And a propertly equipped Sierra will tow up to 14,100 pounds. That might be a little more than my occassional trash runs, but on those snowy days when nobody is suppose to be driving, I'm sure I'll be able to pull some lesser vehilces out of ditches.
Of course, if you don't actually need such a truck, there are some drawbacks. In addition to the sheer size, the optional 6.2-liter V8 in my test Denali is only EPA rated at an average 17 miles per gallon. I actually got a little less. But with 420 horsepower and 460 foot pounds of torque on tap, I didn't really notice. I was constantly amazed at how all that power moved the nearly three-ton vehicle so quickly through its standard 10-speed automatic transmission.
In truth, given my needs, if I was going to buy a new truck, it would more likely be the small but very capable mid-size Canyon. Not only does it look like a smaller version of the handsome Sierra, it would fit in my driveway, too.
But I can't begrudge anyone who wants the fullsize version, whether they really need it or not. During a week of daily driving, I still felt invincible every time I took it out. And after a few days, I didn't even worry about going downtown, either.
2019 GMC Sierra Denali 1500 4WD Crew Cab
Base price: $58,000
Price as tested: $67,735
Type: Full-size pickup truck
Engine: 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 15/19
Overall length: 241 inches
Curb weight: 5,400 pounds
Final assembly: Fort Wayne, Indiana