- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

The latest “big” thing in vehicles is hybrid technology. That’s the mating of gasoline engines with electric motors for the purpose of reducing fossil-fuel consumption. Vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid have generated a loud buzz as well as robust sales activity. It’s a small wonder that other manufacturers are rushing to find ways to stick the hybrid label on one or two of their products.

Hybrid translates into progressive and that’s how every manufacturer would like us to think of it. GMC, the truck-only division of General Motors, is no exception. It has jumped on the hybrid bandwagon with the Sierra Extended Cab SLE Hybrid pickup. Indeed it is a hybrid, but don’t begin cutting up your gasoline company credit cards just yet. There are no promises of 30 or 40 miles per gallon. Fuel economy is improved, but not overwhelmingly.

The Sierra Hybrid isn’t a hybrid in the same vein as the Prius, Escape Hybrid or Honda Insight. It is more of a light hybrid. The electric motor doesn’t actually share in the real work of propelling the Sierra. This motor is best described as a starter generator. It enables the gas engine to be automatically shut off when the truck is stopped and then almost seamlessly restarted when pressure is applied to the accelerator.

Those periods of engine shutdown are the primary source of the modest fuel savings amounting to about 2 mpg in city driving and 1 mpg on the highway over a 5.3-liter gasoline-only Sierra.

The other notable feature of the Sierra Hybrid over standard Sierra models is the addition of four 120-volt/20-amp power outlets (two under the rear seat and two in the cargo bed). Rather than taking up precious cargo space with generators, the truck itself can serve as an electric source for power tools and whatever else you might want to plug in.

The only version of the Sierra offering this hybrid technology is the 1500 Extended Cab SLE short bed with the 5.3-liter V-8. It can be equipped with either two- or four-wheel drive.

In the Hybrid, the 5.3-liter V-8 delivers the same 295 horsepower and 335 foot-pounds of torque as in other Sierra applications. This is plenty of grunt for both determined acceleration and transporting heavy loads (2WD 1,600 pounds; 4WD 1,400 pounds). It can tow up to 9,000 pounds. A four-speed electronic transmission hands off engine power to the wheels. Acceleration is uneventful and determined. The V-8 and transmission are well suited to one another.

Given the Sierra’s mission as a “professional grade” work truck, it is pleasantly civilized in its over-the-road ride.

Fans of GM trucks will feel right at home inside the Sierra. The layout and controls are all very familiar. Everything is easily accessed with the glove box being the only real reach for the driver.

It is more than a 21-inch step up into the cabin of a 4WD Sierra — about two inches more than 2WD versions. Inside, the cabin is spacious and comfortable. Entering the rear seat is achieved through rear-hinged door panels. When the rear seat is in place, it can hold three passengers. When folded up, it creates extra cargo space.The SLE’s cabin reflects current trends regarding pickup trucks as a family’s primary vehicle. There are many upscale features .

Additionally, convenience equipment such as power windows/door locks with remote keyless entry, power heated outboard mirrors and a leather-wrapped steering wheel are also standard.

Base price of the Sierra Extended Cab SLE 2WD is $30,520, while the 4WD version commands $33,885. Adding the Hybrid system tacks an additional $2,500 to the bottom line. The total for a 2WD Sierra Hybrid is $33,020, and the 4WD is $36,385.



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