Driving Impressions – July 2012

The 4th of July Special
2012 GMC Sierra 1500 SLE Rocky Ridge Altitude Edition

By Greg Cavanaugh

Driving Impressions Gallup JourneyIf I even attempted to write this review in the same vein as all my others, I’d just be kidding everyone, so let’s get rid of the “pleasantries.”  As a daily driver, this truck is poor at best.  Eco friendly?  I think the sticker on the window summed it up nicely: Environmental Impact Score: 3 out of 10.  In and egress?  Labored.  Turning radius?  WIDE.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

Because the Rocky Ridge starts life as a brand new Sierra, it retains all of its good characteristics.  The ergonomics are top notch and immediately familiar.  The cabin is full of storage and awesome cup holders (American sized)! The styling is no doubt an evolution of GMC design language, but it’s handsome and not overwrought. The truck is ready for years of hard work and abuse.

Rocky Ridge is a certified custom “upfitter” for GM.  GM trucks are sent directly from the factory to the Rocky Ridge shop in Georgia where they are transformed into a myriad of forms.  The Altitude package you see here adds a 6-inch pro-comp lift kit, 20-inch custom wheels, 35-inch Mickey Thompson off-road tires, body color, fender flares, oval side steps, chrome mirror and handle overlays, rain guards, stainless exhaust tips and a few other small details.   Because of their upfitter status, all of this arrives at your dealership ready to go and fully under warranty . . . all you have to do is buy it and drive it.

Everyone who saw this truck during my test drive said, “What is that?” If you need a vehicle that’s going to make everyone look and notice, the Rocky Ridge Sierra succeeds . . . in bounds.  The Altitude package takes a standard pedestrian-grade Sierra and jacks it up to the stratosphere with a chaser of testosterone. The Sierra becomes a veritable monster truck and, in the words of an unnamed friend, “every redneck’s dream.”

Taking the Rocky Ridge Sierra off road lets the package shine.  Even with the 4-door crew cab’s relatively long wheelbase, high centering becomes a thing of the past.  The 20-inch wheels with 35-inch rubber means you need some seriously deep ruts before the wheels are even challenged.  Although lifted, the rest of the suspension stays stock, meaning you are not getting added suspension travel or a bottomless feeling ride.  In fact, the ride becomes a bit harsh compared to stock. On road, those deeply treaded tires were surprisingly quiet at freeway speeds, though the rear end did seem about 2 seconds behind the front when changing lanes. But then again, who cares?  Look how big this thing is!

Because the powertrain is untouched, you can count on GM’s 5.3 VVT V8 and 6-speed automatic to be smooth, dependable and always willing to work.  But because it’s untouched, it’s a bit more labored than in a stock half-ton Sierra.  The 5.3 will work just fine, but getting those big wheels and tires moving requires some serious stabbing of the throttle.  At 315 HP and 335 lb-ft. of torque, by today’s standards the 5.3 is a bit on the light side.  For comparison Ford’s 5.0-liter makes 400 HP.  Fortunately GM’s has an all-new Sierra coming in 2013 with some expected improvements in the powertrain department, most likely including direct-injection.  For those who can’t wait, order the truck with the 6.2 VVT V8 and you’ll have 403 hp and 417 lb-ft. on tap.

A five-and-a-half-foot box in any Sierra certainly compromises cargo capacity, but move it up another foot and it becomes almost impossible to use.  Getting some mountain bikes into the Rocky Ridge Sierra was a two man job and getting out takes a solid jump, or a demoralizing crouch-down-onto-your-butt-sit-on-the-tailgate-and-slide-off maneuver.  The good news is that anything you keep in the bed is relatively safe even without being locked up . . . because nobody can see in!

So the big question is price. This SLE model had leather, a reverse camera, power adjustable pedals, remote start, etc. There’s also no doubt that there is a lot of money in just wheels and tires alone, followed closely by the lift kit and fender flares.  Combined with all the other details, the package adds up to a sticker price of over $50K on this truck.  In some respects, there is good value in this truck being delivered straight to the dealer ready to go and fully under warranty, but there’s no denying that this is a bit of a big toy for big boys.  In all, figure about $10K for the Altitude package on top of a standard Sierra.

As we celebrate our nation’s independence, let remember that in America, trucks like this are not only allowed, but gawked at and often times lusted after.  There’s no doubt I had fun with the Rocky Ridge Sierra and can actually see its appeal to a small subset of the driving population looking for a unique and overly capable ride.  For everyone else . . . just stay out of the way!

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