The 2019 GMC Sierra isn’t all about V8 engines. There’s also a turbo available, and we’re about to review it.
EASTERN-TOWNSHIPS (Québec) – When you hop into a full-size truck like the 2019 GMC Sierra, you expect a variety of available V8’s under the hood, or at least, a bargain-basement V6 for the more affordable trim levels. The last thing you expect is a four-cylinder engine.
When GMC released its all-new rig during the fall of last year, it promised a truck that would finally be distinguished from its Chevrolet brethren. It started with a model-exclusive carbon fibre box, a tailgate that flips in a variety of configurations, and a badass AT4 trim to satisfy off-road enthusiasts. For the first time in its history, the GMC finally felt like a different truck than the Chevrolet.
But the biggest news – both from GMC and Chevrolet -, was the addition of an all-new, 2.7-liter, turbocharged four to their respective lineups, making them the first ever of their kind. Can a full-size truck still be…a full-size truck with a four-cylinder engine under its hood? We drove one to find out.
For Smaller Duties
GMC admits that the four-cylinder option is aimed at a completely different demographic than the rest of the Sierra lineup. According to Mark Alger from GMC Canada, “it’s not everyone who needs to tow heavy loads, and this is the kind of buyer we’re aiming with this truck.”
Hence, towing capacity is rated at a comfortable 6,900 pounds (3,129 kg), placing the “baby” Sierra a in the same ballpark as GM’s own Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon cousins (7,000 lb / 3,175 kg). As a matter of fact, with this engine, the full-size Sierra suddenly becomes a compelling rival to the entire midsize truck segment, which is seeing a solid comeback with offerings such as the Honda Ridgeline, Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier and Jeep Gladiator.
What the four-cylinder engine lacks in towing capacity, it makes up for with impressive horsepower and torque. This little four-pot is rated at an impressive 310 horsepower and 348 lb-ft of torque. That’s just 35 lb-ft less than the available 5.3-litre V8, and 25 horsepower more than the 4.3-litre V6. Plus, acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is claimed at 6.8 seconds, a full second faster than the V6.
Our drive in the Eastern Townships region, in Québec, focused mainly on the Sierra’s Elevation package, which can be grafted added onto four-cylinder, six-cylinder diesel, and 5.3-liter V8 engines. GMC calls this aesthetic package the “gateway to the brand”, which is why it recommends it mostly on the four-cylinder trucks. Sitting just over the SLE trim level within the Sierra hierarchy, Elevation adds a body-colour surround grille with black inserts, a set of black 20-inch wheels, LED fog lamps, GMC’s Traction Select System drive modes, and keyless access and start. All four-cylinder Sierra trim levels come fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
On the Road
Our drive was comprised of a mixture of country roads, highway cruising and stop-and-go traffic. The first immediate sensation with the four-cylinder is that, to nobody’s surprise, it feels a lot lighter than its V8 counterparts. And it’s not only felt during acceleration and handling, but also during braking, where you simply sense there’s less mass sitting underneath you.
Then, there’s the way the engine sounds, which, we’ll be honest, sounds a lot like a Chevrolet Malibu when on idle. That’s the inevitable outcome of downsizing. No matter how much carmakers try, a four-cylinder will never be as smooth as a V8, or even a V6.
But there’s a lot to like here. Torque kicks in way down low in the rev range, and once that turbo kicks in, albeit after a short delay, power delivery is smooth and flat all the way to redline, allowing for some more than adequate acceleration. The transmission helps a lot at attenuating any dead zones in the powerband by shuffling through the gears at the utmost ideal rpm. Transmission calibration remains a GM strongpoint, and with this light-duty truck, its engineers have done a bang-up job.
However, we were disappointed with the engine’s occasional hesitations when asking for power. We’re not sure is this is due to a throttle-by-wire system that still needs work, but during a few notable occasions, we felt awkward thumps during stop-and-go accelerations, with the engine simply refusing to respond. The same happened when removing our foot from the throttle, the engine kept going. Could this be done on purpose to mitigate turbo lag? Perhaps, but it leads to a significantly less refined engine than the naturally aspirated stuff GM sells.
But these are minor flaws the average owner will probably never notice, or care about. The four-cylinder puts its power down in such an impressive manner, that it makes you wonder why one would even get the V8. As for the rest, the Sierra’s cabin remains a Spartan place to be, with a simplistic design and functional layout, and above average build quality. It’s also one of the more spacious and comfortable cabins within the full-size truck segment.
While we’re still not certain if truck fans will embrace the idea of a four-cylinder in a full-sizer like the 2019 GMC Sierra, we’re satisfied with what we experienced behind the wheel. The numbers are there, and towing rating is more than ample for light-duty needs. Plus, unless you listen closely, it’s hard to make out what kind of engine is providing locomotion.
With an entry price just a hair under $45,000 for a two-wheel drive standard box model; it’s priced to come gnaw at the ankles of the midsize truck segment. Except with this one, you get the cabin space, longer box, and full-size truck status as added bonuses. We say that’s a darn good deal.