GMC introduced the term Denali to describe a new top luxury trim level on the 1999 Yukon SUV. Designed to compete with other top luxury SUVs, Denali trim included a fine leather interior, wood accents, heated seats, and more.
Denali trim was first offered on the GMC Sierra half-ton pickup in 2001, and it has since spread throughout GMC’s line-up as a premium sub-brand. Now 24 years later, Denali models account for about half of all GMC sales.
The 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate is the most luxurious pickup truck ever conceived at GMC. If GMC offers it, it’s on this truck or at least available to order. That includes the CarbonPro bed and Super Cruise driver assistance tech. In addition to those optional features, the Denali Ultimate offers the very best of everything.
The GMC Sierra follows the industry trend of the past few years. It’s huge, with a massive grille and generally takes its visual cues from the Tonka tradition. The Denali Ultimate takes its front-end design on a massive leap over a pool teeming with sharks with the “Vader” chrome grille. Yes, they really went there.
The Denali Ultimate also comes with 22-inch black-and-silver wheels unique to the trim and the GMC signature MultiPro six-way tailgate. The Denali Ultimate trim is available only on a short-box crew cab truck, so we have a 69.92-inch (not quite 6-foot) bed.
Inside the Denali Ultimate, you get a state-of-the-art truck. There’s a massive touchscreen in the center of the dash, measuring 13.4 inches on the diagonal.
You’ll take your seat on heated and ventilated full-grain leather, with 16-way adjustment and a massage function. The rear seats are heated as well, as is the steering wheel. The wood trim in the cabin is Paldao, which comes from rain forests in Southeast Asia without a hint of irony.
The Denali wouldn’t be very ultimate if it didn’t come with GMC’s biggest and most powerful engine. That’s a 6.2-liter V-8, but you can also order the Ultimate with the 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel. The big V-8 offers 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, but the diesel is equally impressive with 305 hp and 495 lb-ft of grunt.
You can tow pretty much anything you want with an 8,900-pound rating with the V-8, or as much as 13,000 pounds with the diesel. There’s a trailer brake controller and automatic trailer sway control included, and a trailering app on the infotainment system to tell the truck what kind of trailer you’re pulling so the truck can adapt its tech features to the trailer.
Our test vehicle came with the 6.2-liter V-8, and it offers plenty of power at all times. What’s just a little bit incredible is that this engine in this truck still returns 15 mpg in city driving and up to 19 mpg on the highway.
Safety and Technology
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the 2023 Sierra with a five-star crash test rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Sierra with its best “Good” rating except for small overlap passenger side crashes, which get the next lower rating. NHTSA also gave the Sierra four stars for that test, so it’s consistent.
GMC outfits the Sierra Denali with everything they’ve got in terms of safety and driver assistance, and a few things that truck owners will appreciate. The blind-spot monitor extends to the areas next to a trailer, if you have one hooked up to your truck. If you ordered the optional Super Cruise hands-free highway driving package, that can also be used with a trailer. The Denali also includes a large head-up display and HD surround-view camera. Having a 360-degree camera is a Godsend in a vehicle of this size.
One other feature to call out is the camera-based rear-view mirror. Some people don’t like these, but we think they are fantastic, especially as night falls because the camera system offers much better twilight visibility.
A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is standard, and you get the 13.4-inch infotainment touchscreen. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard, but the native operating system for the infotainment includes Google Maps, Google Assistant and Google Play. Wireless charging is also standard, though it didn’t want to charge our iPhone 14 Pro Max in its case.
The Sierra 1500 is big. The front hood is essentially flat, so there’s a fairly large front blind spot. GMC knows this and during low-speed parking maneuvers there’s a forward-looking parking camera to help you not hit things. We bailed out of one busy Christmas season parking lot rather than try to park the Sierra where it wouldn’t be at risk of door dings or worse.
Out on the road, the Sierra Denali is comfortable, but it’s still very much a truck. This is not a performance model like a Raptor or TRX, but rather designed for a quiet, smooth ride with enough power to tow a whole city block without breaking a sweat. Yes, the four-wheel drive is there, and it works, but this is not a truck you’d ever take off-road.
If you’re planning to drive across North America on paved highways, this is the truck you want.
2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate Specifications
|Dimension||L: 231.9 inches/W: 81.2 inches/H: 78.3 inches/Wheelbase: 147.4 inches|
|Powertrain||6.2-liter V-8; 10-speed automatic transmission, 4WD|
|Fuel Economy||15 mpg city/19 mpg hwy/17 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $80,500; As tested: $82,855 plus $1,795 destination charge.|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
Since we’re already in the top sub-trim of the top trim of the GMC Sierra line-up, picking options will be pretty easy to do. The base price for the Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate is $80,500. What’s funny is that’s not even remarkable among pickups these days. Move up to the HD line from any Big 3 truck brand and you can hit six figures without even trying hard.
Our test model had a few options, like the carbon fiber bed for a $115 premium. That’s a no-brainer. You’ll spend more than that on bedliner before you drive any truck, or you’ll live with scrapes and rust forever. Our test model also had $495 added on for nice blue paint, and a $50 credit because the truck has no steering column lock, which GMC says is due to a supply chain issue. With that all accounted for, GMC tacks on the $1,795 destination fee and our truck stickers at $82,855.
We could have saved $1,055 on our truck by ordering the Duramax diesel engine. We’ve spent a lot of time in trucks powered by that engine, and it’s a real winner, so we’d definitely check that box to create our own Ultimate Denali package.
2023 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate — Frequently Asked Questions
Is a GMC Denali the same as a Sierra?
The Denali nameplate is the top trim available for the GMC Sierra and Canyon trucks, as well as Terrain, Acadia and Yukon SUVs.
What is so special about a GMC Denali?
Denali trim includes GMC’s best comfort and quality, including premium features and materials. You can get many of those features as options on lower trim levels, but Denali delivers the full package.
Is the Sierra better than the Silverado?
Both the 2023 Sierra 1500 and the Silverado 1500 come with the same powertrain options and performance capabilities, including the available Duramax turbo-diesel engine, 10-speed automatic transmission, and the available six-way tailgate.