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Trucks are more expensive than ever, making it tough to get the power you need to take on the workday. You’ll need a capable powertrain, a comfortable interior, and the latest features – all of which don’t come cheap. However, it’s possible to get a well-equipped 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 for less than $50,000.

This amount certainly isn’t chump change, but the Sierra affords you a ton of towing capability and features you’ll want from a brand-new truck. Which trim level and options should you choose for your new Sierra 1500?

The answer may depend on your needs. Regardless, there’s still a general setup that may give you the biggest bang for your buck. We’ll break down how we think you should equip your new 2021 GMC Sierra 1500.

Equipping the turbo-diesel engine is a no-brainer

The engine is the heart of every truck, and it’s crucial to choose the one that’s right for you. The Sierra 1500’s standard 4.3-liter V6 engine makes a respectable 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. However, it doesn’t have the power, trailering capability, and gas mileage you may desire.

Opting for the available 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or 5.3-liter V8 seems appealing. The former delivers 310 hp and  348 lb-ft of torque while achieving an EPA-estimated 21 MPG city/highway combined. Meanwhile, the latter kicks out 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque while getting gas milage as impressive as 19 MPG combined, depending on the truck’s configuration.

However, both of these powertrains pale in comparison to the available 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6. While its 277 hp doesn’t seem like much, its 460 lb-ft of torque does the heavy lifting. This turbo-diesel powerplant has a higher GCWR (15,000 lbs.) and max towing capacity (9,300 lbs.) than that of the turbocharged four-cylinder (14,500 and 9,200 lbs.)*

The 5.3-liter V8 performs better in these categories. However, 2021 GMC Sierra turbo-diesel models offer a 100-pound advantage in payload capacity. 

Additionally, the turbo-diesel V6 is the Sierra’s most fuel-efficient engine by far, and it’s more affordable than ever. It achieves a stellar 26 MPG combined, according to the EPA. Adding an available four-wheel-drive system only knocks two MPG off this figure.

*GCWR and max towing capacity based on double cab/standard box rear-wheel-drive models. Other configurations may differ

The 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 SLE offers insane value

If you’re sold on the turbo-diesel V6 engine, then you’ll need to upgrade to at least the SLE trim. On top of the base model’s standard features, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you’ll also get a leather-wrapped steering wheel and keyless entry.

This setup, paired with a double cab and standard box, has a starting MSRP of $45,385, leaving room for shoppers to add options or packages. 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 buyers could add the available four-wheel-drive system ($3,300) or the max trailering package ($1,125) for added capability. 

Meanwhile, the Preferred package ($820) includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, and an eight-inch touchscreen display. The Driver Alert I ($940) & Driver Alert II (1,045) packages add a host of driver-assistance features, and the ProGrade Trailering System ($490) comes with hitch guidance.

If you have a strict $50,000 budget, then you’ll have some serious decisions to make. For our money, we’d forego 4WD and add all of the above packages to our 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 instead. The inclusion of smart safety systems like automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring is crucial for everyday driving. Plus, you can take advantage of the added capability and high-tech interior features during your workweek.

Notably, choosing the Max Trailering Package requires buyers to add either the available 18-inch, six-spoke wheels ($300) or 20-inch wheels ($1,700.) However, we factored this cost into our calculations.

What about the mid-tier Elevation trim?

Car and Driver recommend opting for the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Elevation. This model adds LED cargo bed lights, remote start, and two extra USB ports. These are excellent features, but they won’t necessarily make or break your driving experience.

With a double cab/standard box and turbo-diesel engine, this model begins at $46,985. However, you may miss out on some other vital packages if you want to stay under $50,000.

Those who choose to opt for a lesser powertrain may have enough room in their wallet to spring for the Elevation trim with all the fixin’s. Conversely, the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 SLT Crew Cab, Short Box with a turbo-diesel engine comes in at a hair under $50,000. 

The SLT adds luxurious features like leather upholstery, heated seats, GMC’s multi-pro tailgate, and more. But choosing this trim means missing out on any of the truck’s much-needed packages.

All-in-all, a well-equipped SLE model is the best (relatively) affordable 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 you can buy.


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