2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Review

The 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 represents the best light-duty luxury truck option from the GM family.

Jeff Zurschmeide
  • Wide range of powertrain options
  • AT4 rules off-road
  • Denali is the peak of pickup-truck luxury
  • Duramax diesel engine maximizes towing prowess
  • Have you seen the MultiPro tailgate?
  • Big on the outside and big on the inside
  • Top-trim-level models cost as much as some houses
  • Bundled optional safety features quickly add cost

The 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 is a full-size half-ton pickup truck that has been engineered to serve as a utility vehicle, luxury transport, and a mobile office. GMC adopted the Sierra name for its full-size pickups in 1988. The brand added the luxurious Denali trim level to Sierra in 2002, and the new AT4 off-road trim in 2019. Available with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, Sierra comes with a broad range of engine choices from a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder turbo to a 6.2-liter V8 to an inline 6-cylinder turbo-diesel, and more, and with regular cab, Double Cab, or Crew Cab configurations. Pricing for the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 starts at around $31,000.

Sierra Exterior

The 2021 Sierra 1500 follows the rugged trend in modern truck design, and shares its underpinnings with corporate sibling Chevrolet Silverado. It looks tough and capable, with a big grille up front that highlights the truck’s width and height. GMC still offers a regular two-door cab on base trim Sierras, or the buyer’s choice of an extended Double Cab or full four-door Crew Cab design. If you buy the regular cab, the Sierra comes with an eight-foot bed. Double Cab models offer a 78-inch (6-foot, 6-inch) bed, while Crew Cab models come with the buyer’s choice of 68-inch or 78-inch beds. 

The most notable exterior feature is GMC’s industry-exclusive MultiPro tailgate. This is optional on lower trims, but includes a tailgate-within-the-tailgate that enables six separate functions. You can drop the inner tailgate for easy bed access, or use it as a backstop to create extra bed length. You can also drop both gates and the backstop to create steps up into the bed. 

Another unique option worth noting is GMC’s Carbon Pro bed. With this option, the inner bed walls are made from a carbon-fiber composite material that dramatically exceeds the strength and damage resistance of a steel or aluminum bed. 

Sierra Interior

Climb inside a GMC Sierra and you’ll find a passenger cabin that ranges from a pretty standard pickup truck interior up to the most luxurious and technologically advanced environment on the market. In the base trims, the Sierra has a functional working cab with cloth or vinyl upholstery. There’s a large center console with ample storage, two glove boxes, and a basic set of gauges and climate controls. Infotainment is based on a 7-inch touchscreen system with support for AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay.  All GMC Sierra models have a 4G/LTE receiver independent of your phone, and can create a Wi-Fi hotspot inside the vehicle with an appropriate subscription. 

The interiors get much better as you start climbing the trim ladder. If you select a mid-grade trim, the infotainment goes to an 8-inch system that adds support for Satellite and HD radio, USB playback, and voice command control. Navigation is optional on the AT4 and standard on the Denali trim levels. As you move up to more luxury you’ll find heated leather seats, automatic climate control, wireless device charging, and some really nifty pieces of technology like the camera-based rearview mirror and a head-up display. Higher trim levels also offer an optional Bose premium audio system (standard with Denali trim). 

One important interior feature to mention is the extra storage you can get on Crew Cab models. The optional Preferred Package includes storage bins built into the rear seatbacks. These have enough space to hold frequently used items, and while they’re not lockable, they are invisible if you don’t know they exist. The package also includes storage under the rear seat. For even more security, GMC sells an accessory lockable center console vault. 

2021 GMC Sierra

Sierra Powertrain Options

GMC offers a wide range of drivetrains with the Sierra. The most affordable Sierra models use GM’s EcoTec3 4.3-liter V6 engine (285 horsepower/305 lb-ft of torque) or the EcoTec3 5.3-liter V8 (355 hp/383 lb-ft of torque). Both these engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission and the buyer’s choice of rear-wheel or dual-range four-wheel-drive. In higher trims, the 5.3-liter V8 is also available with 8-speed and 10-speed automatics. 

If you move up the trim ladder you can choose the innovative 2.7-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine (310 hp/348 lb-ft of torque), with its 8-speed automatic transmission. Both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive are available. This engine choice is remarkable for its power, given its small size. The turbo 4-cylinder pulls like a larger engine, besting the 4.3-liter V6 soundly. 

Another attractive powertrain choice is the 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel (277 hp/460 lb-ft of torque). This is an inline 6-cylinder diesel engine mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Again, rear-wheel drive is standard while four-wheel drive is optional. The Duramax is known for its V8-like pulling power and its excellent fuel economy. With rear-wheel drive, the Duramax returns up to 30 mpg in highway driving, and 26 mpg with four-wheel drive. 

At the top of GMC’s powertrain lineup is the EcoTec3 6.2-liter V8 engine. This option is available only on the top trims, and it’s the most expensive. The 6.2-liter engine (420 hp/460 lb-ft of torque) comes with a 10-speed automatic transmission and is available only with four-wheel drive. The 6.2-liter is really the king of the hill if you plan on towing a trailer. 

Sierra Driving Experience

The driving experience in pickup trucks has come a long way, but you’re still piloting about 5,000 pounds of truck with a solid rear axle. If you’re an experienced pickup truck driver, you’ll notice the solid, level ride and the quiet cabin of the Sierra, even on rough pavement. All Sierra models place the driver up nice and high, so visibility is excellent. Depending on the drivetrain you select, on-road power ranges from acceptable to excellent. The 2.7-liter turbo engine is a standout if you don’t plan on heavy towing. 

The V8 and diesel options provide the torque you need to pull big trailers, and we tested both engines. One important available feature is the 15-view camera system included with the ProGrade trailering system. Using cameras installed around the truck, you can see down either side of a trailer as well as in the bed of the truck and looking down on the hitch for easy connecting. Using accessory cameras mounted on the trailer, you can look inside an enclosed trailer, or make the trailer virtually disappear to see what’s following you on the highway. On a course set up to highlight typical towing challenges we were able to navigate a trailer with only inches to spare, and back up the connected rig with professional confidence. 

The ProGrade trailering package also includes advanced capabilities like setting profiles for different trailers, so your trailer braking system knows the difference between your boat and your equipment trailer. The Sierra with ProGrade will run through a trailer light check automatically. Perhaps most important of all, if someone tries to steal your trailer while the Sierra is parked and locked, the Sierra’s onboard alarm will trigger the lights and horn. 

One more feature to mention is the available Automatic mode on the four-wheel-drive system. This mode allows the Sierra’s powertrain to operate like a full-time active AWD system. You can put the truck in Auto mode and leave it there forever. In this mode, the Sierra will respond to conditions by engaging the front wheels when needed. It’s fantastic in the winter, because the Sierra can respond to an ice patch or deep water instantly. This mode is also great for trail driving when full 4WD isn’t needed. 

2021 GMC Sierra

Sierra Trim Levels & Pricing

The 2021 Sierra is available in a variety of trims from basic to rugged to luxury. Each trim can be built with either RWD or 4WD, except AT4, which is 4WD only. 

  • Sierra (starting around $31,000) — The base trim, and the only trim with the regular-cab option, equipped with the 4.3-liter V6 or available 5.3-liter V8.  You can also get the Double Cab or Crew Cab bodies; with those body styles you can specify the 2.7-liter turbo engine.  
  • SLE (starting around $39,500) – Unlocks some more possibilities, including the optional Duramax turbo-diesel engine, and the 8- or 10-speed transmissions with the V8.  
  • Elevation (starting around $42,000) – For buyers who want a rugged, off-road look, with blacked-out trim elements, recovery hooks, and unique 20-inch wheels. Available in Double Cab and Crew Cab setups.
  • SLT (starting around $46,000) – The start of GMC’s premium trucks. Available with the 5.3-liter V8, Duramax diesel, or the 6.2-liter V8. SLT interior trim is also a big step up
  • AT4 (starting around $52,500) – GMC’s newest trim, and goes all-out with rugged off-road equipment and 18-inch wheels. The Multi-Pro tailgate comes standard with this trim.
  • Denali (starting around $56,500) – The top of the heap. This is where you get it all, from the head-up display and heated leather seats to the Multi-Pro tailgate. All Sierra Denali trucks use the Crew Cab platform; you just choose the 5.5-foot or 6.5-foot bed. Denali models use the 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter V8 engines, or the Duramax.

 If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a Sierra 1500 on GMC’s official web site.

Sierra Best Features

It’s hard to make a choice to name the Sierra’s best features because the selection depends on your use. If you tow a trailer, the ProGrade Trailering system is a game-changer. You’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. If you use your truck’s bed every day, then the Multi-Pro tailgate and the CarbonPro bed will really make a difference. And if you just want to drive in convenience and comfort, it’s hard to beat the camera-based rear-view mirror. Especially if you put a shell or camper on the bed, this camera is a wonderful feature. 

Our Favorite Version

If we were spending our own money on a new Sierra, we’d pick an AT4 with the Duramax diesel engine. The AT4 has enough of the luxury to make daily driving a pleasure, and the towing, hauling, and off-road capability to make our Sierra the most versatile truck we’ve ever had. 

2021 GMC Sierra

Notable Safety Features

The Sierra has a full suite of standard and optional safety features, but the one that stands out for us as trailer-towing people is the ProGrade Trailering system. While it’s not strictly safety-related like airbags and automatic braking, accidents that involve trailers are particularly dangerous so reducing the chance of a wreck while hooked up is a godsend. 

As is traditional for GMC, most of the advanced safety features available on Sierra come in option packages. Depending on your Sierra’s trim level, different packages are available with a list of features that grows as you climb the trim ladder. All include desirable features such as parking proximity alerts, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Higher trims add automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, and lane change assistance. 

2021 GMC Sierra 1500

Who Should Buy a 2021 GMC Sierra 1500?

The GMC Sierra 1500 is made for the person who drives their truck every day and wants to be comfortable in the cab and confident in the truck’s ability to handle any task.

Even if you never tow, the Denali trim will provide as much luxury as you can get from any truck manufacturer. The Sierra 1500 is a great choice for anyone whose office is wherever the job happens to be that day, and who wants to show up in comfort and style.

Sierra can also be a great choice for active families, as its Crew Cab versions have passenger capacity and amenities comparable to a two-row SUV, but with the added capability of a bed and pickup truck toughness. 

2021 GMC Sierra

CarExpert’s Take on the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500

The 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 represents the best light-duty luxury truck option from the GM family. Other automakers have competing luxury trims, and some of those are very close in amenities and performance. GMC sets the Sierra apart with industry-exclusive features like the CarbonPro bed and MultiPro tailgate (now also available on stablemate Silverado as “Multi-Flex Tailgate” for 2021). If you like those features, the Sierra is your only choice. 

2021 GMC Sierra

Competitors to Consider

  • 2021 Ford F-150
  • 2021 Chevrolet Silverado
  • 2021 Ram 1500
  • 2021 Nissan Titan
  • 2021 Toyota Tundra

Photos courtesy Jeff Zurschmeide and GMC


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Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 7.7
Ride Comfort 8.4
Safety 8.5
Fit for Purpose 8.8
Handling Dynamics 8.4
Interior Practicality and Space 8.6
Fuel Efficiency 8
Value for Money 7.8
Performance 8.3
Technology Infotainment 8.4