Chevy and GMC introduced all-new heavy-duty models for 2020. Which should you choose?
You could say that General Motors is the master of badge engineering.
During Detroit’s heyday, Chrysler Corporation offered Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth brands, while Ford Motor Company countered with Ford, Lincoln and Mercury. GM, on the other hand, lead the charge with Buick, Chevy, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac, each with distinctive looks and features designed for a specific buyer. In fact, each of GM’s divisions even had its own unique engine offerings to underscore their differences and strengthen brand loyalty.
While Oldsmobile and Pontiac have long since been consigned to the annals of history, and GM’s powertrain offerings are shared across multiple platforms, the company still stands out as the only manufacturer to offer two truck brands: Chevy and GMC. Why?
While we don’t have the space for a complete history lesson here, suffice it to say that both brands go back more than 100 years — each securing a strong following along the way. In fact, GM maintains that very few truck buyers “cross shop” Chevy and GMC, considering them different brands and therefore remaining faithful to one or the other. Early on, the differences were limited mainly to exterior appearance and interior design, but over the years GMC was positioned as a premium offering, while Chevy remained the “working man’s” truck. Today, the water is muddied even further with high-spec trim levels from both brands, but two truths remain: You can still get a Chevy for less than a comparable GMC, and GMC still offers features you can’t get in a comparable Chevy.
In the September 2019 issue of Trailer Life, we presented a complete overview of the 2020 Chevy Silverado HD, so rather than rehash the same information on the GMC, we figured it would be more useful to tell you what’s the same, what’s different and how the new GMC differs from previous models.
Not Identical Twins
Like the heavy-duty Silverado, the 2020 Sierra HD is essentially all new from the frame up, and is a physically larger and more dominant-looking truck than its predecessors. It has a longer wheelbase, greater overall height and a raised hood line that allows for a massive grille.
Compared to the Silverado, however, the Sierra incorporates new LED lighting for the headlights, taillights, marker lights, available fog lights, available clearance lights (standard on dually 3500HD models and all Sierra Denali models, except where prohibited by law, according to GMC) and the signature “light blade” daytime running lights. The Sierra also features LED marker lights at each fender, which the Chevy doesn’t.
Compared to the 2019 model, the 2020 Sierra HD now features cargo side steps (in addition to corner steps), along with a bed lift-in height that is 1 inch lower than before, which will make accessing cargo (or your fifth-wheel hitch) a bit easier.
Both the Chevy and GMC feature a revised bed design with 12 fixed tie-down rings and a
width that has been increased 6.7 inches over previous models, along with an available 120-volt AC power outlet. However, only the GMC offers the MultiPro six-function tailgate, which is available on all grades. The MultiPro does some neat things (see “Six Tailgate Tricks” on page 24) and will soon be available with an integrated Kicker audio system that gives a new meaning to the term “tailgating,” but the gate’s usefulness will depend on how you plan to use the truck.
If you frequently carry things in the bed or find the need to climb in and out of it on a regular basis, the MultiPro will probably be worthwhile. On the other hand, if you plan to use the truck chiefly for towing a fifth-wheel, it probably isn’t worth the extra $445 (if ordered as a stand-alone option; it may be bundled with more equipment at additional cost). Then, there’s the risk of theft. Truck tailgates are already a hot commodity in many urban areas, and GM tells us that it has made no provisions to make the MultiPro more difficult to steal than any other tailgate.
Both trucks offer trailering-assist packages that include up to six cameras and 15 camera views, but Chevy calls its package the Advanced Trailering System, while GMC has dubbed its version the ProGrade Trailering System. Both incorporate a trailering app, which includes a trailer-light test, trailer electrical diagnostics, trailer tire-pressure and -temperature monitoring, pre-maintenance reminders and a departure checklist. The iN-Command control system from RV supplier ASA Electronics, which allows the user to monitor and operate certain features on the trailer from the radio head via a connected mobile device app, is also offered whether you opt for a Chevy or GMC.
Where the Sierra equipment differs is with the availability of two interesting features: a segment exclusive 15-inch (diagonal) Head Up Display (HUD) and Rear Camera Mirror. The HUD projects vehicle speed and navigation (among other things), onto the windshield directly in front of the driver, which we found useful. The Rear Camera Mirror, meanwhile, projects a natural-looking image of what’s behind you on the rearview mirror but can be switched to standard rearview mirror if desired. We actually preferred the camera image, as it is clearer and more defined, provided the camera is clean, of course.
Half-ton trucks are commonly available with off-road pack- ages, but for some reason heavy-duty models are usually not. GMC is changing that with the introduction of the Sierra HD AT4. While not as hardcore as Ram’s Power Wagon, the HD AT4 is more than capable of handling normal off-road work and doesn’t sacrifice tow capacity to do it like the Power Wagon does. Equipped with the available Duramax diesel, the 2500HD AT4 can tow up to 18,500 pounds, while the Power Wagon 2500 is only available with the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 and tows 10,620 pounds. A 2500HD AT4 equipped with the base 6.6-liter gas V-8 still tows 14,400 pounds.
To highlight its capabilities, GMC paired us with a gas-powered AT4 saddled with a claimed 2,000 pounds of log cargo, and turned us loose on the rutted dirt roads of a 300-acre Wyoming ranch. Rest assured, we drove this truck like we stole it, but the ride remained composed, and the handling was predictable. We could see this truck as a perfect fit for those that want to tow a large toy hauler to their desert playground.
Positioned between the SLT and Denali trim grades, the AT4 comes equipped with Rancho shock absorbers, skid plates, an Eaton locking rear differential, 18-inch wheels with Michelin all-terrain tires, a traction select system with off-road mode, and hill-decent
control/hill-start assist. The aforementioned HUD and an HD Surround Vision system, designed to assist with low-speed views of the vehicle’s surroundings, are optional.
The AT4 is distinguished by dark-chrome exterior finishes, unique wheels and a black-chrome grille matched with body-colored bumpers and grille surround. The theme continues inside with a Jet Black interior (which looked more like dark gray to us), dark trim, and leather-appointed seats featuring Kalahari (tan) color accents, “live” stitching and AT4 headrest badging. All-weather floor mats are also part of the package.
Now that we’ve driven the 2020 Chevy and GMC HD offerings, we can say that both offer the core features that RVers want: powerful engine choices, tough transmissions, rugged frames and big tow ratings, plus new additions that make towing easy, even for beginners. There are some differences, certainly, but ultimately, your choice will probably come down to which one you just like better. After all, that’s the way it’s been for more than 100 years.
Six Tailgate Tricks
For as long as the humble pickup has been available, the tailgate simply went up or down. There have been some welcome improvements over the years, of course, like lower/lift assist and power-locking features, as well as some attempts to make them more, uh, interesting, like side-opening designs. GMC, however, thought there was room for improvement, introducing the six-position MultiPro tailgate first on its half-tons and now on its heavy-duty models (they are unique to each truck and aren’t interchangeable).
We took a few minutes with GM’s chief executive engineer, Tim Herrick, to see how it works and what advantages it offers.
1. Pushing the top button allows the top half, or “minor gate,” to open. This provides a flat surface on which you could, for example, use a laptop. Its other purpose is “two-tier loading,” where longer items (like 2x4s) could be placed atop the minor gate and other items stowed below.
2. A load-stop can then be pulled out of the minor gate to prevent items from shifting rearward on acceleration.
3. Pushing the lower button lowers the entire tailgate.
4. From here, the load-stop can be deployed again.
5. The minor gate can then be dropped from this position, forming a U-shaped relief in the tailgate that makes it easier to reach into the bed or load things into it.
6. Lowering the load-stop from this position makes a handy step into the bed.
GM’s 3.0-liter Duramax diesel Inline six is powerfully different
If you like the features of the heavy-duty AT4 but don’t need the extra tow capacity or added bulk, consider the Sierra 1500 AT4. Introduced late in 2019, this smaller AT4 includes much of the same equipment as the HD AT4, including the MultiPro tailgate, Rancho shocks, skid plates, locking rear differential, 18-inch wheels with off-road rubber, hill-descent control and traction-select system, plus a factory 2-inch suspension lift. It even offers a multicolor Head Up Display system, the ProGrade trailering system and Surround Vision, plus a choice of a standard 5.2-liter V-8 or 6.2-liter V-8, the latter of which is paired with a 10-speed automatic.
If you want the new 3.0-liter Duramax six-cylinder, 10-speed automatic combo, you’ll have to wait a little longer. It was originally slated for the 2019 model year, but due to delays in emissions certification it won’t be on dealer lots until the 2020 models roll out.
Also exclusive to the light-duty AT4 is the available CarbonPro bed, made with virtually indestructible carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. Some 60 pounds lighter than rolled steel and impervious to dents, it’s a worthwhile option if you occasionally haul broken concrete, rocks or other items that can potentially damage a traditional bed.
A frequent contributor to Trailer Life, Chris Hemer is the former technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome, and has been an RV and automotive journalist for more than 20 years. An outdoor enthusiast who now makes his home in Portland, Oregon, he enjoys camping, motorcycle riding, mountain biking and hiking.