By LEN INGRASSIA

Arcadian Auto Editor

Facing too much of a good thing within its ranks, GMC has done a complete turnaround with its new Sierra in an attempt to distance itself from the company’s popular Silverado.

And it may be just the ticket.

Aside from new sheetmetal, the Sierra adds an innovative multi-function tailgate and an available carbon-fiber bed in place of steel or aluminum. Sierra is a great vehicle for work, play or loading lumber/yardscape at the local Lowe’s/Home Depot.

Pros:

Powerful engines

Stretch-out cabin

Touchscreen improvements

Very cool tailgate

Cons:

Dated instrument cluster

Just okay interior

Pricey upper trim levels

Lousy mileage

Curb appeal: The new Sierra has a commanding presence at all four corners, with C-shaped headlights surrounding a massive grille. Side panels are straight-lined for the most part, with towering wheel wells that expose 18-, 20- or 22-inch rubber, plus nearly a foot of open air leading to curved moldings.

Sierra has four engines choices in six trim levels starting at $29,600, running into the mid $60s for the fully optioned Denali trim. All have available four-wheel drive. The base is a work truck with minimal equipment and regular cab; SLE adds a few features; Elevation offers a dressed up interior with double cab; AT4 is geared for offroad, and the Denali features upscale luxury.

Bed sizes range from standard (6 foot, 7 inches) or extended (eight feet); double cabs contain the standard bed, and crew cabs have standard size or a short bed (5-feet, nine inches).

Our test AT4 was right at home offroading along Florida’s gulf coast. While the terrain lacked substantial elevation, there were areas to test its aptitude for climbing, traveling through sand and mud, hovering around boulders and testing grip of its all-terrain tires.

Its two-speed transfer case, skid plates and two-inch suspension lift made hill climbing and descending simple using its selectable traction control system. There was no hint of slippage or lack of power from its 6.2-liter V-8.

Other engines are a 4.3-liter V-6; 2.7-liter four-cylinder; 5.3-liter V-8, and the larger V-8 with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Where the Sierra outshines all rivals, though, is with the versatility of its tailgate. Basically two tailgates in one, the Multi-Pro’s design serves to extend the inner gate to lock in longer items such as plywood sheets. An inner panel can be unlatched, creating a four-foot-wide step rated for 375 pounds and a hand-grab can be folded outward for added stability.

A work surface is also built in, with a 120-volt outlet, and a Kicker sound system belts out 100 watts of sound suitable for tailgating. Audio equipment is weather protected by a custom baffle, as is the system’s wiring harness.

Sierra’s innovative design sets it apart from the Silverado as a truck, although mechanically they remain near twins.

Contact independent automotive columnist Len Ingrassia at lenscarcorner@comcast.net

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