From guest contributor Gigi Leonard

We know when an architect designs a structure, he wants the building to reflect the environment that it’s in. So how does that philosophy apply in other disciplines? Is that even possible? That intriguing question is what I contemplated as I dashed off to New York City when GMC extended an invitation to a special design panel discussion and driving event.



After my quick flight, I was immediately whisked away from the airport and taken to the Conrad Hotel, located in Battery Park on the south end of Manhattan. It is impossible not to be struck by the space once you enter, with its towering marble staircase and dramatically stark yet welcoming elements like leather couches in muted dove grey. The minimal tones of the lobby carried over to my room, number 404. When I open the door I was struck by the warm textures and tones of the elegant two room suite, filled with velvet upholstery, sliding glass barn doors and earthy grey and gold bamboo paneling. More importantly I was struck by the sheer size of my accommodations. In all my travels to New York, I have never stayed in a place that was so spacious. Not to put too fine a point on it, but space is a luxury in the city. The Conrad clearly wished to indulge me, and I was pleased to surrender to it.



The Conrad also wants you to feel like you’ve escaped your mundane life to be wholly enveloped in the lap of luxury, and you absolutely are. This is made possible by a high-end espresso maker, a poured concrete wet bar area and enormous walk-in shower – gargantuan by any city standards, not just those of New York. Closet space is ample while patiently holding all the items you need to feel tidy and chic at all times – a fluffy white robe, an umbrella for inclement weather, cozy slippers and a wood handled lint brush.

Shortly after checking in and admiring my digs, we were taken to the Skylight Modern, where we were treated to a gorgeous catered dinner and an interactive experience with an expert design panel, which included titans from a variety of fields: Photographer Michael Avedon, Urban Architect and Developer Jonathan Segal, Men’s RTW Designer Michael Bastian and the Director of Global Design for GMC, Helen Emsley. It was fascinating to hear each of the panelists speak on what was so important about their work, and what was important to have a successful product: high quality materials, a passionate commitment to the project at hand, meaningful knowledge of the needs and desires of their clientele, and the freedom to imagine and create on a broad scale.

So we know that for GMC, design is of utmost importance. Enthusiasts of the brand are sophisticated, tech-savvy and delight in an upgraded, designer-inspired interior as well as exterior. Denali represents the top range within the GMC brand. It is the jewel in their crown, and represents 20% of all GMC sales. Knowing this, I was compelled to focus my radar on the details of the 2016 Sierra Denali on our drive the next day. GMC crafted a beautiful driving route which took us through the winding Hudson River Valley from the city up to Beacon Falls, a charming little burg about 90 minutes north of Manhattan.

As I walked up to the truck parked outside the hotel for us, the first thing I noticed was how bold the exterior was, and how, oddly enough, it fit into the urban environment despite its enormity. The first (and perhaps most) beautiful detail was the jewel-like chrome grille, which sat in between the distinctive C-shaped LED headlights and matched nicely with the gleaming 20” wheels. As I opened the door, a power articulating assist step elegantly appeared, swiftly and quietly like a butler, helping me climb up into the cab.

I spread my things out and relaxed in the vented leather passenger’s seat on the ride up, admiring the extensive interior storage (you can place hanging file folders in the center console), the 4G LTE hotspot and wireless phone charger, the perfectly scaled 8” screen for the IntelliLink system and the multiple places in which one could plug a plethora of devices. I wondered what would make this truck stand out not only among other brands but also within its own group of vehicles. I had spent a good amount of time in the Canyon, their midsize truck, which I am wild about and which really felt great to drive. But I am here to tell you that if the Canyon feels great, then the Sierra Denali is beyond sublime.

The first thing that struck me as I perched atop the asphalt and rolled along the highway was the fact that you could have heard a pin drop in the cabin. The noise deflection and dampening is superior. That’s because of two things: there’s a woven polyethylene (which resembles fabric) lining the wheel wells for noise dampening, and there’s Active Noise Cancellation in the model with the 6.2L engine. To be specific, that vehicle (the one I was in) has a 6.2L Gen 5 small block V-8 engine – a similar base engine to the Corvette – with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Not too shabby; it’s the most powerful engine in its class.

After swapping seats with my driving partner, I was ready to test drive the Sierra myself, and let me say, it felt just as good to be a driver. The truck handled responsively in winding turns, was easy to manage on steeper grades and had plenty of power to advance when inclines became more noticeable. The quiet ride was made even more comfortable due to Magnetic Ride Control – smoother shocks that “read” the road and limit the amount of response depending on road conditions. The ride is safe too – for 2016, GMC is offering Forward Collision Alert seat vibrators, which indicate if you are approaching the car in front too quickly, Intellibeam headlamp control to monitor high beams in oncoming traffic, and Lane Keep Assist to gently manage the steering wheel to keep you in the right place at speeds over 35 mph. After all, luxury seekers purchasing an automobile also want to feel safe, right?



The Sierra Denali is perfect for people who wish to be immersed in elegant surroundings and require the most au courant technology available. They drive with great frequency, conduct a lot of business while on the road in their vehicles and enjoy driving trucks that are built for both work and pleasure – capable of towing toys – big ones. The maximum payload rating is 2070 pounds and the max trailering rating is 12,000 pounds on the 2WD with the Z82 package.

And oh – that executive I am speaking of – he’s not a flashy type. He’s a guy who appreciates high quality materials and workmanship, and respects the subtlety of good design. Because it just makes sense.

It feels good to be the boss.