The 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 aims to stand out in the highly competitive field of full-size pickup trucks, but the results are a mixed bag. Along with being undeniably handsome, the GMC can be equipped with a carbon-fiber cargo bed and a multi-function tailgate. It also offers a 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8, which is the largest among half-ton trucks not called the Chevy Silverado 1500, and among the myriad engine options on the roster. The lineup is headlined by the popular Denali model and an off-road-oriented AT4 trim. While they look great in the valet lane or out on the trail, the Denali’s interior doesn’t live up to its luxury billing, and the AT4 can’t compare to the Ford F-150 Raptor or the Ram 1500 TRX. Instead, the 2021 Sierra 1500 is a stylish and capable option that lacks the refinement and excitement of some full-size rivals.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, GMC gifts the Sierra 1500 with several new or enhanced trailer-assistance features. The latter is highlighted by a jack-knife alert that does what its name suggests and a trailer-length indicator that lets the driver know when nearby traffic might interfere with a connected trailer. Likewise, the Sierra’s Multipro tailgate now enjoys wider availability, there are more paint options, and the AT4 model adds new Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires and a high-clearance step. The optional diesel engine also gets a $1500 discount from the previous model year, so it now only costs $995 more than the 5.3-liter V-8.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Sierra is available with five different engines, three different transmissions, and rear- or all-wheel drive. The base setup is a 285-hp V-6 paired with a six-speed automatic. The available 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 pairs with a six- or eight-speed automatic. The 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 and torque-rich diesel six-cylinder (making 460 lb-ft) solely operate through a 10-speed automatic. The Sierra 1500 also can be had with adaptive dampers and other content that separate this truck from its Chevy sibling. Both GM pickup trucks lack the extreme off-road abilities of the high-flying Ford F-150 Raptor, but they do offer a dedicated off-road variant. In the Sierra’s corner is the rugged AT4 model, which boasts a 2.0-inch suspension lift and other legitimate equipment. The Sierra has a rougher ride than the 10Best-winning Ram 1500, but it and the Silverado handle better thanks to responsive steering and restrained body roll.
Towing and Payload Capacity
The half-ton GMC pickup can tow up to 12,200 pounds and support a payload up to 2240 pounds, when properly equipped.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The 2021 Sierra 1500 has several different powertrain combinations, which means its fuel-economy ratings will vary. Those most concerned with fuel efficiency should entertain the optional diesel engine, which is rated up to 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, according to the EPA. However, most Sierras will be packing the 6.2-liter V-8 that comes with every Denali model. The EPA estimates this engine will earn 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway when paired with all-wheel drive. The Sierra 1500 Denali we tested achieved 18 mpg in our real-world highway test.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Sierra cabin prioritizes functionality, practicality, and spaciousness. Although the latter is most obvious on models equipped with the crew cab, every version has an upright center stack with logical buttons and user-friendly controls. The top-of-the-line Denali model costs the most and sells the most, but its interior materials don’t meet expectations compared with luxurious rivals. Desirable content includes an available head-up display, heated and ventilated front seats, and more. Interior cubby storage is more than adequate for storing all manner of small items and stuff. While GMC doesn’t offer any particularly innovative storage features, the Sierra 1500 can be had with a trick tailgate that has multiple configurations. There’s also a class-exclusive carbon-fiber-reinforced cargo bed that is lighter and supposedly stronger than steel.
Infotainment and Connectivity
A touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability is standard. Likewise, every model offers a mobile hotspot for Wi-Fi on the go. Other available infotainment features include a Bose audio system, built-in navigation, wireless charging for phones, and additional power points.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Sierra 1500 earned a four-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the last version that was evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was not named a Top Safety Pick. However, the GMC pickup truck has a host of available driver-assistance technology. Key safety features include:
- Available forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Available lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Available blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert