2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD Reviews and Ratings

Crew Cab SLE 2WD

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2003 GMC Sierra 2500HD
Jim McCraw

GMC Sierra is redesigned for 2003. It comes with a bolder, raked front end. Its interior is new as well, redesigned for improved function and appearance. The brakes have been upgraded, and the engines run cleaner. New options include a Bose sound system. Crew Cabs even offer a rear-seat DVD entertainment center, making for an attractive alternative to an SUV.

Sierra offers some of the best and most advanced engineering among pickup trucks. It does everything pickups have always done, only better, with first-class hauling and towing capabilities. Sierra rides and handles better than any pickup ever did before.

Of course, much of this is equally true of the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra's mechanical twin. We think the Sierra looks a bit classier than the Silverado. GMC's styling is more conservative, more mature, with smoother, more sophisticated lines. Sierra also offers the intangible value of GMC's 100-year heritage of building trucks and only trucks.

GMC also offers model and equipment variants that Chevrolet does not, including the high-performance, high-luxury Sierra Denali and a Professional Package designed for, well, professionals.

Model Lineup
GMC Sierra comes in two- and four-wheel-drive models, in light-duty (1500) and medium-duty (2500) loading and towing capacities, with short-bed and long-bed bodies, and with fendered or full-width beds. There are standard-length two-door cabs, extended-length cabs with two auxiliary doors in the rear, and a 1500 HD Crew Cab with four full-size doors.

Engine choices include 4.3-liter V6, 4.8-liter V8 (standard with 4WD or an extended cab), and 5.3-liter V8 (standard with an extended cab and a long box). 1500 HD and 2500 models come with a 6.0-liter V8. Five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are offered.

The basic trim level for 2003 is the W/T work truck, which comes with vinyl seats and air conditioning but not carpeting. The Standard Sierra upgrades to cloth seats and carpeting. SLE adds niceties such as a CD player, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. SLT trim, available on extended cabs and crew cabs, adds fog lamps, automatic air conditioning, and OnStar telecommunications.

Denali is the flagship, available only as an extended-cab, short-bed 4x4. Denali packs a 325-horsepower version of the 6.0-liter V8, along with automatic transmission and an exclusive, sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system. Denali comes with OnStar, tone-on-tone leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, extra sound deadening, a Bose audio system with separate controls for rear-seat passengers, a unique console and other exclusive amenities. Eight buttons on the steering wheel operate OnStar, along with the sound system, trip computer, and other programmable functions. Denali also provides a lockable floor console large enough to hold a picnic lunch for a family of four; it comes with a reversible, removable cup holder tray and a storage nook in front of the lid.

Quadrasteer is available on Sierra 1500 short-bed extended cabs, 1500 HD crew cab, and Denali. An electronically controlled four-wheel-steering system, Quadrasteer reduces Sierra's curb-to-curb turning diameter by 21 percent, to just 37.4 feet, similar to a mid-size car. Quadrasteer also enhances high-speed stability. Quadrasteer comes packaged with a limited-slip differential and a trailer-tow package.

Professional ($2457) is an option package available on all Sierras that includes a special full-length console with concealed storage for a personal digital assistant (PDA), cell phone, and other items; a seven-quart cooler; a cooled or heated cup holder, and a second Big Gulp-sized cup holder. The console can be converted for hanging file folders. The Professional also features additional lockable storage under the rear seat, a bold chrome grille, 16-inch alloy wheels, a bed liner, and the Z85 handling/trailering suspension.

Sierra prices cover a broad range, starting at $19,391 for a 1500 2WD V6 Work Truck, and more than doubling to $44,250 for the luxurious, high-tech Denali. A short-box, 4WD extended-cab SLE would include the 4.8-liter V8 for $29,963; and many popular 2WD models list in the $24,000-$28,000 range.

GMC Sierra sports an all-new front end for 2003 that ties it more closely to the GMC Envoy mid-size SUV. The new grille consists of three black horizontal bars that prominently display a big red GMC emblem. New chromed front bumpers include two airflow cutouts. Up-level models have a body-colored lower fascia; base models, a light charcoal fascia. Premium models offer new 16-inch, six-spoke, bright-machined aluminum wheels, while a new optional grille/brush guard adds front-end protection. New bodyside moldings create a cleaner side appearance. A single OnStar roof antenna, combining the previously separate GPS and cell-phone antennas into one, adds to the cleaner look.

Overall, it's a look that a lot of truck buyers will like: more upscale than the Chevrolet pickup, more conservative than the Dodge or Ford pickups.

The 2003 Denali stays with last year's styling.

All GMC Sierras are built on the stiffest and lightest truck frame General Motors has ever produced. The frame rails are hydroformed, a process that uses high-pressure hydraulics to shape relatively large steel components. Tubular crossmembers and roll-formed mid-rails increase rigidity further. This stiff structure enhances handling and ride quality immensely, while improving crashworthiness.

The interior of the GMC Sierra is extensively redesigned for 2003. Its cab remains the roomiest in the industry, and its door openings are the largest. New dual-stage airbags deploy with less force in less severe collisions. Three-point seat belts are provided in all first and second-row seat positions of 2003 models.

New sound and climate controls for 2003 are more sophisticated, yet easier to operate than last year's. XM Satellite Radio is great for traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country, allowing you to keep up on news and weather or listen to your favorite types of music. You still get ads, but XM Satellite seems less commercial than FM. The system comes with AM, FM1, FM2, XM1, and XM2 bands. New audio controls on the steering wheel make it easy to switch among station presets and modes. Set your stations carefully and you can quickly zip to favorite stations scattered among AM, FM, and XM Satellite without taking your hands off the wheel.

Seats have been redesigned for 2003. Standard with the bucket seats is a revised and extended center console that flows into the instrument panel. It includes a storage compartment and a 12-volt power outlet at the rear. (All Sierras come with three 12-volt power outlets at the bottom center of the dash.) Vents and HVAC controls for rear-seat passengers are mounted on the rear of the center console on crew cabs and extended cabs.

The instrument cluster has been revised for better readability. The Denali's gauges feature blue backlighting and white pointers; other models have white backlighting and orange pointers. A new driver information center reports on as many as 27 vehicle functions (nearly twice as many as the previous message center) with an easy-to-read, single-line LCD display. A compass is incorporated into the overhead console, along with three storage areas for sunglasses, garage door opener, and small items.

Extended-cab models offer surprisingly good back-seat accommodations. Climb through the reverse-opening rear door and the rear seat is reasonably comfortable. Rear-seat passengers get their own air-conditioning outlets and a set of drop-down cup holders. When cargo capacity is more important than hauling passengers, the entire rear seat assembly can be loosened from the floor with a wrench and removed through one of the side doors. Not exactly quick release, but a useful feature.

The rear seats in the 1500 HD Crew Cab are as roomy as the second-row of seats in a Suburban. This truck is capable of carrying six passengers and feels roomy with four. Ours came with leather and it felt truly luxurious. Rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down, providing a large protected cargo area inside the cab.

A Panasonic DVD system ($995) is available for the 1500HD Crew Cab, turning it into a real family vehicle. The system comes with a 7-inch flip-down screen, music-CD capability, two sets of wireless headphones with independent volume control, a wireless remote control and three sets of auxiliary video and audio inputs.

Driving Impressions
On the road, the GMC Sierra is quiet and well behaved.

The extended cab model's long 143.5-inch wheelbase improves its ride and enhances high-speed stability.

The 1500 HD 4WD Crew Cab does not ride as smoothly as the Chevy Avalanche, but the ride was reasonably good for what is practically a three-quarter-ton truck with no weight in the bed. Adding some weight back there would undoubtedly smooth it out.

Two-wheel-drive 1500s have rack-and-pinion steering, but there is still a fairly wide dead spot in the center when cruising. (GMC says this is intentional, to minimize steering corrections on the highway.) The steering feels a bit light, but the truck tracks beautifully and handles well on pavement, loose dirt, deep dirt and even off-road. Recirculating-ball steering comes on 2500, four-wheel-drive, and Quadrasteer models.

Quadrasteer works amazingly well. Backing a long trailer into a parking space at a 90 degree angle is much easier with Quadrasteer than without it. The system shortens turning circles with trailers and makes backing up more intuitive. On the road, our Quadrasteer-equipped truck felt more stable, especially on winding roads, where it was easier to drive, and where the trailer tracked better behind it. If you tow frequently, you really owe it to yourself to test out a truck with Quadrasteer. Even without a trailer, Quadrasteer makes it much easier to park in tight spaces, such as underground garages and crowded parking lots. Quadrasteer is built on a heavy-duty rear axle, however, which offers a rougher ride.

Our extended-cab Sierra had the larger 5.3-liter V8, an enjoyable motor around town and on the Interstate. The 5.3-liter (327-cubic-inch) engine is rated 285 horsepower with 325 pounds-feet of torque, plenty for light towing and hauling. The V6 produces 200 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque, but most Sierra buyers opt for a V8 and automatic transmission. The 4.8-liter small-block V8 is the most popular engine for this truck. 2003 V8s come with new electronic throttle control and more efficient oxygen sensors for smoother operation and reduced exhaust emissions. (For 2003, the 5.3-liter offers flexible fuel capability, allowing it to run on a mix of up to 85 percent ethanol.)

A Tow/Haul mode on the four-speed automatics helps the transmission keep its cool when towing. Press the Tow/Haul button on the end of the shifter and the transmission holds gears longer before shifting up or down, reducing the annoying tendency to hunt between third and fourth gears in hilly terrain. Shifts are harder and quicker in Tow mode, reducing heat buildup in the transmission. We find it improves the performance of the truck when pulling a trailer and reduces driver annoyance levels.

The Sierra 1500 HD can tow trailers weighing up to 10,200 pounds, or haul up to 3094 pounds of payload (2783 with 4WD). It comes standard with the Z85 handling/trailering suspension designed to provide a smooth ride. Though its bed is short, this truck is a great choice for people who tow horse trailers, race cars, or campers. The 6.0-liter V8 that comes standard in 1500 HD models is tuned with considerably more torque in the four-wheel-drive versions (488 pounds-feet) than in the two-wheel-drive versions (360 pounds-feet); the 4WD model trades off 76 peak horsepower to the 2WD model to do this.

Brakes are large, heavy-duty discs on all four corners; ABS is standard on all models. The brakes are excellent. For 2003, they offer increased stopping power, improved pedal feel with less pedal effort, and quieter operation.

Dynamic Rear Proportioning improves stability under heavy braking whether the truck is loaded or empty and can reduce stopping distances. Jam on the brakes and most vehicles without ABS will lock up the rear tires because most of the weight is being transferred to the front wheels. With ABS, the rear wheels won't lock up, but you still lose some braking performance as most of the weight is transferred to the front tires. With Dynamic Rear Proportioning, brake pressure is transferred to the tires with the best grip, thereby reducing stopping distances.

Optional Autotrac four-wheel-drive allows the driver to lock the axle speeds together in low range for maximum off-road traction or select an automatic mode that sends power to the wheels with the best grip. Autotrac uses electronics to control a conventional, truck-style two-speed transfer case. It's a great setup for serious off-road duty, be it mud, deep snow, silt, sand, or rugged terrain. The system has been refined for 2003, for better fuel efficiency in two-wheel-drive mode, and improved low-speed cornering feel in the Auto mode.

It's fun to drive the Denali on winding mountain roads. It handles well with responsive steering and delivers strong acceleration performance. The Denali features a full-time four-wheel drive system. A planetary center differential provides a permanent 38/62 front/rear torque split; while a viscous coupling locks up progressively if one axle or the other starts to slip. It's a good system for snow, ice, heavy water, gravel, dirt, or anywhere that presents inconsistent traction conditions. Denali rides on a uniquely tuned suspension as well, designed to limit body roll (or lean). Denali comes with the Z82 towing package. Its all-wheel-drive system can help pull a boat up a slippery ramp, and it's fitted with high-capacity disc brakes from the Sierra 2500HD/3500.

GMC Sierra delivers lots of power, big payload capacities, and lots of towing capability. It looks classy and distinctive. The extended-cab SLE is among the smoothest, quietest, most civilized, best equipped, and most enjoyable pickup trucks we've ever driven. The GMC Sierra is a must-see if you're buying a new full-size pickup.

Model as tested
1500 HD 4WD Crew Cab ($33,620)
Basic Warranty
3 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Pontiac, Michigan; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
5{1600) includes leather seating surfaces and power front driver's seat, fog lights, OnStar; front full-feature reclining bucket seats ($2125) include power lumbar support, heat and memory, 6-way power for passenger seat, rear-seat audio controls; heavy-duty trailering equipment ($215); AM/FM/CD/cassette ($595); polished aluminum wheels ($150); 4.10 rear axle ratio ($50)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
2WD Regular Cab 6.5-ft. box Standard ($18,603), SLE ($24,079); Extended Cab 8-ft. box SLE ($27,986); SLT ($29,586); 1500 HD Crew Cab ($30,220)<P>4WD Regular Cab 6.5-ft. box Standard ($23,315), SLE $27,171); Extended Cab, 8-ft. box, SLE ($31,063), SLT ($32,663); 1500 HD Crew Cab ($33,620)<P>Denali Extended Cab, 6.5-foot box ($44,250)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual-stage front airbags with front passenger suppression switch, ABS with Dynamic Rear Proportioning, LATCH-style child-seat anchors
Safety equipment (optional)
6.0-liter ohv 16-valve V8
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
dual-zone air conditioning, 6.0-liter V8, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, 4-wheel ABS with dynamic brake proportioning, cruise control, electronic shift transfer case, light package, electric rear defrost, power windows and door locks, remote locking/security system, deep tinted glass, inside mirror with compass and temperature readouts, mini overhead console, storage tray, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, outside folding power heated mirrors, driver message center, handling/trailering suspension package

Engine & Transmission
6.0-liter ohv 16-valve V8
Drivetrain type
four-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
224 @ 4400
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS and Dynamic Rear Proportioning
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
live axle

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

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2 / 5

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