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The Sierra AT4 tones down the chrome and sits five cm higher than the stock Sierra, so it can tackle rougher terrain.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

Lighter, stronger, smarter – the 2019 GMC Sierra is a worthy contender in the ferocious pickup war for market share dominated by the Detroit Three. It’s also proof that if you want to get ahead sometimes you have to look to your rear.

General Motors engineers have done several clever things with the rear in this major overhaul of its mainstay full-size pickup. One of them is a tailgate that folds like origami to increase access, capacity and convenience. Another is some amazing optional technology that makes hooking up and towing a trailer as simple as pulling a Radio Flyer wagon.

But about that MultiPro tailgate, which comes standard on the SLT, Denali and new off-road AT4 models: This all-aluminum component can be configured in six different ways. One setup provides a step that can handle up to 170 kilograms; another creates a handy workstation. It also has a flip-up load-securing ledge and even space for optional built-in Bluetooth speakers perfect for your next tailgate party.

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“We really think the MultiPro is a game changer,” Carl Hillenbrand, product segment manager for GM light trucks, said at the vehicle’s unveiling in St. John’s.

Equally impressive is the optional ProGrade trailering system. It comes with an in-vehicle app that uses cameras to enable the driver to manoeuvre precisely into position, and then provides a comprehensive electronic checklist, trailer tire pressure monitoring and even an automatic trailer light check. “It’s a marriage-saver,” quipped one GM rep, referring to the inevitable spousal conflicts over pretrip light checks involving a spouse.

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A tailgate-mounted camera looks down at the hitch for easy hook-ups. With optional camera packages, the driver can see all around the vehicle.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

The 2019 Sierra’s front wheels have been pushed out, extending the wheelbase to 3,745 centimetres in the crew cab configuration. The crew cab is also slightly longer than its predecessor, and much of that space is used to add 7.5 centimetres of leg room to the rear seat. The effect is cavernous. Yet the vehicle is up to 163 kilograms lighter through the use of aluminum for the doors, hood and tailgate. The boxed steel frame – part of GM’s new T11 platform – also saves 40 kilograms over the previous Sierra through the use of high-strength steel, bringing the curb weight on a four-wheel-drive crew cab to 2,274 kilograms.

Unlike Ford’s F-series, however, GM has chosen to keep the cargo box all steel, and enlarged it on the inside to the point that the Denali’s short box (173 cm) now has 1,784 litres of volume. With the dent resistance of aluminum a matter of fierce debate, GM has instead chosen to offer a “virtually indestructible” optional carbon-fibre box later in the model year. (Pricing is not yet available, but carbon fibre tends to be an expensive material.)

The Sierra is handsome in a dressy kind of way, especially in the chrome-heavy Denali version – too much for my taste. Still, its look is ever-more similar to the archrival F-series Fords, right down to the C-shaped headlamps.

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The Denali version of the 2018 Sierra comes with a chrome-heavy trim which looks similar to Ford F-series trucks.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

The truck, which is shipping to dealerships now, debuts with three engine choices: a 285-horsepower 4.3-litre V-6 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the 355-horsepower 5.3-litre V-8 paired with an eight-speed automatic and – for serious haulers – a 6.2-litre V-8 connected to a new 10-speed automatic. The latter pumps out 420 horsepower and 460 pounds of torque, enough to trailer up to 5,488 kilograms.

A 2.7-litre turbo four and 3.0-litre V-6 turbo diesel will arrive later in the model year.

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The two V-8s come with GM’s dynamic fuel management system, which uses a variety of technologies to improve fuel consumption. A computer continually disables and engages cylinders as needed. In those rare perfect conditions, as few as two cylinders can push these behemoths down the road.

Fuel economy, however, is still very much pickup-like, varying from a rated 15.7 litres/100 km city to 10.4 highway, depending on configuration. The biggest savings can be achieved on the highway with an unloaded vehicle.

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The premium Denali trim level is front and centre because it represented one-fifth of GM’s total product line in this country in 2017, according to GM’s Philippe-André Bisson.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

Journalists at the Sierra’s debut had a chance to put the Denali, SLT and AT4 through their paces over Newfoundland’s rugged roads. The big V-8 made large tow loads feel easy. The Denali’s adaptive ride control, which continually adjusts damping, smoothed the rough spots, but the vehicle jiggled its way through washboard ruts, reminding you this is still a pickup. The off-road capable AT4 is lifted five centimetres and fitted with skid plates and other off-road paraphernalia. It proved competent enough on a mild off-road course, but seems unlikely to strike terror in the hearts of Ford’s Raptor.

GM has a lot at stake in its Sierra nameplate, especially in Canada, where the company sells more Sierra SUVs and trucks than any of its other brands. Mike MacPhee, director of Buick GMC at GM Canada, called it “the most important launch ever” for the GMC lineup. And the premium Denali trim level is front and centre because it represented one-fifth of GM’s total product line in this country in 2017, according to GM’s Philippe-André Bisson.

The big question is whether an innovative tailgate and some amazing electronics (much of it only available in higher trim levels) can give GM a bigger bite of the market. That is ultimately a consumer decision, but GM has clearly kept the new Sierra right in the hunt.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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Images are unavailable offline.

The Sierra's MultiPro tailgate can be configured in six different ways. One setup provides a step that can handle up to 170 kilograms; another creates a handy workstation.

Douglas Firby/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

Base price/as tested: not yet released (2018 Denali starts at $67,495)

Engines: 4.3-litre V-6, 5.3-litre V-8, 6.2-litre V-8

Transmissions: V-6, 6-speed automatic; 5.3-litre V-8, 8-speed automatic; 6.2-litre V-8, 10-speed automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100km): 15.5 city/11.9 highway (4WD with 6.2-litre V-8)

Alternatives: Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra

Ratings

Looks

GMC fans will probably love the heavy chrome dressy look, especially in the Denali, but it lacks the aggressive edge of its competitors.

Interior

Quality fit and finish in the interior, with easy-to-understand dash layout. Crew cab legroom is absolutely decadent.

Performance

The Sierra benefits from its weight-loss program. Its big V-8s have ample muscle for any condition. It still rides and corners, however, like a big pickup.

Technology

A dazzling array of technological options add to safety and security. Highlights include heads-up display, a camera screen rear-view mirror that reduces blind spots and ProGrade trailering system and associated app that makes hitching and hauling a snap.

Cargo

GM has pushed out the interior dimensions of the box, providing more usable space.

Verdict: 8.5

As with Ford’s F150, GM has gotten serious about cutting weight. It has also employed safety and convenience technologies that make this an easy truck to drive.

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