At first glance, the 2024 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate 2500HD appears to be the “Undercover Boss” version of the heavy-duty truck realm. It’s as if it has donned work boots but forgotten to take off the Rolex. Is it trying to deceive, or is it the embodiment of form and function in perfect harmony? Join us as we explore this intriguing addition to GMC’s lineup and find out if it lives up to the luxury it promises.
Unmatched Power, Yet Room for Improvement
Under the hood, the Denali Ultimate boasts a refreshed 6.6-liter Duramax V-8 turbo diesel engine as standard, churning out a respectable 470 hp and 975 lb-ft of torque. While these figures are impressive, they still fall short of the top diesel engines offered by competitors like Ram and Ford. However, there’s more to this story. The more potent 6.7-liter high-output Cummins is exclusive to the 3500 series, and the standard-output 6.7-liter Cummins lags behind the Duramax in both power and torque. Ford’s high-output 6.7-liter Powerstroke, while formidable, is an expensive option, pushing the Super Duty’s price beyond that of the Denali Ultimate.
Adding to the Duramax’s appeal is the smooth-shifting 10-speed Allison transmission, which contributes to one of the most refined and responsive heavy-duty powertrains on the market. In comparison, the I-6 Cummins paired with a six-speed automatic from Ram can feel somewhat agricultural, and Ford’s initial shifts with the 10-speed behind the V-8 Powerstroke lack the silkiness of the Duramax and Allison. Despite the need to deal with Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), the Denali Ultimate handles daily driving as effortlessly as a gasoline-powered truck. It’s worth noting that the Powerstroke offers an additional 225 lb-ft of torque, but the Duramax marks a significant leap forward in diesel engine drivability. Moreover, the Denali Ultimate’s exhaust brake operates with remarkable subtlety.
A Ride That Balances Comfort and Capability
The 2024 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Ultimate’s ride quality is a commendable match for its powertrain. The front end adeptly manages the weight of the diesel engine, preserving the nimble feel reminiscent of the Sierra 1500. However, this characteristic is a testament to GM trucks in general rather than a unique feature of the Denali Sierra. It’s important to note that the 20-inch wheels, as is common with trucks of this class, can accentuate road imperfections.
While the Denali Ultimate excels on pavement and highways, its off-road performance also deserves recognition. While not tailored for extreme off-road enthusiasts, it handles back roads, snow, and job site conditions with ease. The absence of manual engagement for the rear differential is compensated by the responsive automatic Eaton differential. Coupled with the automatic four-wheel-drive setting, the Sierra Denali Ultimate appears ready for various terrains. Even with all-season tires, it impressively conquers muddy ruts without a hitch. The automatic running boards prove less intrusive than fixed off-road boards, offering added convenience.
Real-World Performance That Packs a Punch
With its 8,346 pounds of mass, the 2024 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Ultimate accelerates to 60 mph in a surprising 6.5 seconds. It completes the quarter-mile run in 14.9 seconds at 93.2 mph, delivering smooth and graceful shifts throughout. While not a weekend drag racer, it possesses the power needed to reach its 11,350-pound gross vehicle weight capacity and 21,900-pound maximum towing capacity (22,500 pounds without a Crew Cab) without breaking a sweat. The brake pedal may exhibit the characteristic squishiness found in other GM heavy-duty trucks, but it consistently delivers reliable braking performance even under heavy loads, stopping from 60 to 0 mph in a mere 137 feet—better than some smaller SUVs.
In handling tests, the Denali Ultimate on 20-inch wheels showcases its prowess, surpassing the performance of most trucks in its class. It completes our figure-eight course in 28.5 seconds, achieving an average lateral acceleration of 0.60 g. On the skidpad, it manages an average lateral acceleration of 0.72 g. While it may understeer when pushed to the limit, it remains controllable. The precise and confident steering extends to towing at highway speeds, instilling driver confidence.
Style and Substance in Perfect Harmony
The 2024 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali Ultimate is dressed to impress, featuring an exclusive Vader chrome grille that exudes an edgy, ready-to-work aura while adeptly concealing dirt and bugs. The six-way MultiPro tailgate, equipped with the Kicker outdoor audio system, comes standard. Additionally, power-assist steps facilitate entry and retract smoothly, albeit slightly slower and noisier than some competitors.
Inside, the Sierra Denali Ultimate offers a luxurious cabin experience that, while reminiscent of Ford’s King Ranch interior, strikes a unique balance. It pays homage to the outdoors with topographical maps of the Denali Mountain range embossed on seat backs, door panels, and wood trim. The interior exudes modernity with exotic woods and stainless-steel accents, although certain plastic components in areas like footwells and cupholders detract from the overall premium feel. These thematic elements offer a fresh reinterpretation and echo the styling cues of the Hummer EV and its lunar theme.
A Few Quirks and Improvements
While the interior of the Denali Ultimate is visually striking, some ergonomic choices leave room for improvement. For instance, shifting the 13.4-inch diagonal touchscreen downward results in a portion of the display being obscured by the gear selector when the truck is in gear. Similarly, other physical controls are positioned at less-than-optimal heights.
GMC introduces a new toggle switch for start/stop functionality, but it relocates the trailer brake controller to the center console—a less convenient placement that consumes valuable console space. In contrast, the F-250 offers a more versatile console design, making the Sierra’s design feel somewhat lacking.
On a positive note, the Denali Ultimate trim comes with 16-way adjustable massaging seats, offering both comfort and adjustability. However, the control interface for these seats may prove somewhat finicky, requiring two-step adjustments.
Is the Investment Justified?
Opting for the Denali Ultimate trim elevates the base price of the 2024 GMC Sierra 2500HD to $94,895. With additional options such as a fifth-wheel prep package and Sterling Metallic paint, our test example reached a total cost of $96,260. If you’re considering a luxury heavy-duty truck and are prepared for the associated cost, the Denali Ultimate is a compelling choice. Despite some reservations about the interior, the allure of premium materials and progressive design grows over time.
One of the Denali Ultimate’s strengths lies in its standard equipment offerings compared to competitors. When you equip a Ram or Ford with similar options, including a diesel engine, hill-descent control, LED marker lamps, skidplates, massaging seats, and a top-tier