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With the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali, the maker set out to prove a rugged, capable truck could also deliver a luxury driving experience.

One trend that’s giving Detroit’s Big Three automakers a real lift is that their most loyal customers are now buying more expensive, luxury oriented pickup trucks.

The trend began in Texas but sales of pickup trucks with price tags beyond $40,000 now account for more than a third of all pickup trucks sold across the United States.

That’s created a big opportunity for the all-new 2014 GMC Sierra Denali. While it shares its new platform and powertrains with more plebian versions of the ’14 Sierra pickup, the new Denali boasts a decidedly more luxurious interior that is equal to what you might expect to find in a similarly-price luxury sedan – as well as advanced safety equipment, such as lane departure warning, along with new connectivity tools.

The interior features the sort of details normally expected on a luxury sedan.

GMC has always billed itself as an upscale brand but it’s been feeling the heat of late from competitors such as Ford’s F-150 King Ranch edition and the Ram 1500 Laramie.

So, GMC clearly had to step up the challenge with the new Sierra Denali.

On the outside, the new Denali pickup features a new chrome grille, 20-inch chrome wheels, a polished stainless steel exhaust and body-color front and rear bumpers. Denali-specific interior details include script on the bright door sills that’s also embossed into the front seats and real aluminum trim.

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Another modern luxury detail found on the new Denali is the use of projector-style headlamps with LED daytime running lights tucked neatly into the corners of the front fascia.

Key to the Denali package, however, are the notable improvements that GM has made to the chassis and suspension of its new generation of pickup trucks – which include not only the GMC Sierra family but Chevrolet’s new-for-’14 Silverado.

The new Denali is offered with a 6.2-liter V-8 GM claims is the most powerful in its segment.

The multiple improvements help keep the cabin quiet, give the vehicle the ride of a luxury sedan and greatly improve the handling and with an assist from the new electric power steering system that keeps the driver solidly connected to the road.

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As a result, the new Denali delivers the kind of smooth ride found in an expensive sedan rather than old-line pickup truck where the premium was put on durability, utility and efficiency at the expense of passenger comfort.

That’s not to say GM has ignored the utilitarian side of the pickup market.  The Denali still has the ruggedness needed to handle large trailers and heavy payloads. And it claims a new generation of brakes that last longer and deliver more stopping power in a shorter distance.

The confident handling and surprisingly smooth ride make it easier to enjoy the luxury features inside the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali. The instrument panel is one of the best designs GM has installed in one of its vehicles of late – truck or passenger car — wrapped in rich, carefully stitched leather to create a premium feeling for both the driver and passengers.

The 2014 GMC Sierra Denali is the first truck to win a full 5-star IIHS rating since crash testing was revised by the safety trade organization in 2011.

Indeed, the ambience is way different than the spare utilitarian cabs found on the vast majority of the pickup trucks built by Detroit – and Asian carmakers.  The cab is filled with the latest amenities, starting with an eight-inch Customizable Driver Display that can show relevant settings, audio and navigation information.

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There’s also a large touch display for navigation and audio functions, along with GMC’s Intellilink located above the center console.  It serves as the main hub for Bluetooth-connected phones and portable devices connected through five standard USB ports.  A Bose audio system, heated and cooled leather front bucket seats, a heated steering wheel, front and rear park assist and a power sliding rear window with defogger help round out the package.

The new 6.2L V-8 is available in Sierra SLT and Denali models. It is rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque – the most horsepower and torque of any light truck in the industry. The new V-8 enables a 12,000-pound maximum towing capacity for the GMC Sierra Denali 1500, which GM expects to be the highest rating in the class.

The 2014 Sierra Denali is far and away most powerful, most advanced and most refined truck in the brand’s 111-year history. The Denali version of the Sierra isn’t cheap, starting at close to $56,000. But more and more buyers are finding the price worth paying — and after driving the 2014 Sierra Denali, it’s hard to say they are wrong.

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