One of the most challenging parts of reviewing cars is finding a way to put yourself in the mindset of a potential buyer. As a 30-year-old enthusiast living in a crowded city, it’s clear that cars such as the Hyundai Veloster N and Honda Civic Si are aimed at people like me. But what about ultra-luxury SUVs, $100,000 grand tourers, or (more relevant to this review) heavy-duty pickup trucks?
Typically, that’s where conversations with product planners come in handy. They’re more than happy to explain who the vehicle is aimed at, what they know about those types of buyers, and what decisions were made to appeal to them. That information can then shape the way you choose to review the vehicle.
But when I tried to have that conversation while driving the 2020 GMC Sierra 2500 HD, I got an answer I’d never heard before. Apparently, beyond having a need to tow heavy things, GMC’s heavy-duty pickup buyers tend to be pretty diverse. Some are recently retired couples who want to sell their house and spend the next few years bouncing around the country with a travel trailer in tow. Others are wealthy enough to do the same thing recreationally. Some transport horses that are individually worth more than the truck. Others just need to move things around their farm.
Built for Towing
I could keep going, but you get the idea. There are dozens of different reasons someone might want or need a heavy-duty pickup truck, but no matter who the buyer is, almost all of them walk into the dealership with towing in mind. According to GMC’s estimates, that figure is north of 90%.
With that in mind, GMC made sure the Sierra HD could tow pretty much anything buyers could think of. A 10-speed Allison automatic is the only transmission option, but you get your choice of a 6.6-liter gasoline V8 that makes 401 hp and 464 lb-ft of torque or a 6.6-liter diesel V8 good for 445 hp and 910 lb-ft. And while those numbers may not look as impressive in a world where Ram will sell you a truck with 1,000 lb-ft of torque, the Sierra HD’s tow rating definitely will.
Pick a Sierra HD dually in any configuration, and it’s rated to tow a full 30,000 lbs. The maximum tow rating is even higher, coming in at 35,500 lbs. Suddenly, the Ram 3500’s 35,100-lb tow rating looks, well, still like a lot. But if you ever need to tow something that weighs 35,200 lbs, you’ll want the GMC.
Still, there’s more to towing than having the truck with the biggest numbers on the spec sheet. The way a truck drives while towing is important, too. So when redesigning the Sierra HD, engineers focused on more than making sure the new truck was bigger and stronger than before. They also made sure it was easier to drive.
Part of that improvement comes from an upgraded suspension. There’s also a standard exhaust brake, a dedicated towing mode, and a seemingly endless number of camera views. One of the coolest (and potentially most useful) options is the new Transparent Trailer feature that uses a camera placed on the back of the trailer to stitch together an image that practically erases it from your screen.
The large, bright head-up display isn’t a gimmick, either. GMC was able to pack enough information into the display that you can use the center screen to monitor your trailer while driving. You’ll have to stick to the factory navigation system, though, since neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto works with HUDs yet.
Those cameras don’t just come in handy while driving or attempting to park, either. GMC also added one that should turn hooking up a trailer into a one-person job. That mode also automatically locks the wheels when you put it in park to keep the truck from rolling another inch or two.
Add it all together, and you get a heavy-duty pickup truck that turns towing into an almost stress-free experience. Whether we had 2,000 lbs of logs in the bed or 13,000-lb travel trailer hooked up, the Sierra HD proved remarkably stable. And since we could actually see, turns were a breeze, too. Mission accomplished.
That said, if the light-duty Sierra Denali could use a move upmarket, the heavy-duty version absolutely begs for it. $80,000 for a loaded Sierra HD is a lot of money, but animals and travel trailers often cost far more. The one we hauled costs a little less than $100,000, but an Airstream Classic will run you more than $150,000. Surely, the kind of person who would spend six figures on a travel trailer (or on a horse) would be perfectly happy to spend six figures on their truck, too, right?
We don’t mean to suggest that GMC should abandon more affordable versions of the Sierra HD to chase millionaires. There’s always going to be a place for a more basic heavy-duty pickup truck. And while we wouldn’t call the 2020 GMC Sierra’s $40,000 base price cheap, it’s certainly a much more affordable way to tow whatever it is that needs towing.
If you just want a truck to use as a daily driver while looking cool, we’d have a hard time recommending the Sierra HD due to its size and impracticality. But if you really do need a heavy-duty truck’s hauling and towing capabilities, we strongly recommend the GMC Sierra HD.