Words: Sammy Chan
Photography: Sammy Chan
Published: July 27, 2022
TOBERMORY, Ontario - With oil prices climbing to record highs and anything electric on people's mind, it's easy to think that big displacement V8 engines are on their way out of existence. The opposite couldn't be more true, as pick-up trucks continue to be North America's best-selling vehicles.
The two newest GMC Sierra models reviewed here are also adorned with these large V8 engines, and we had a chance to test the off-road and on-road capabilities of the newest AT4X and Denali Ultimate trims.
GMC is the fastest growing truck brand here in Canada with shares that have grown from 16% to 18% just last year. The Sierra 1500 comes many forms, cabs, and configurations. Pro, SLE, Elevation and SLT models are available not only in either 2WD or 4WD forms, but can also be configured as regular cab, double cab or crew cab with cargo beds measuring short (69.92 inch), standard (79.44 in) and long (98.20 in). The spread is huge but rest easy, both the AT4X and Denali Ultimate are sold only as crew cab, short bed. The MSRP for 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X and Denali Ultimate starts at $87,248 and $90,763 respectively, with the latter jumping to $95,148 when equipped with V8 instead of diesel.
The Denali Ultimate is the Cadillac of Sierras, and comes standard with a long list of premium features, including an exclusive 12-speaker Bose with Centerpoint surround sound system, 16-way power massaging front seats, leather wrapped dash and door panels, and 22-inch gloss black aluminum wheels. Carried over from the Denali are full-grain leather seats with double-needle stitching and microsuede headliner, sun visors and pillars. The Carbonpro box is optional on the Denali and standard on Denali Ultimate. Last but not least is the availability of Super Cruise, a $2,610 topping.
If comfort and luxury amenities rank high on your list, you really can't go wrong with the Ultimate. The cabin is one of the most lavishly appointed you would ever find in a pickup. You have to touch and feel all the surfaces to truly appreciate how the leather-wrapped dashboard accentuates itself with authentic Vanta ash wood trim. There is a topographic map of Mount Denali etched into the wood on the glovebox and there's over 40 inches of digital display (when you also take into account the 15-inch head-up display). Nevertheless, the customizable 13.4-inch infotainment screen and the 12.4-inch instrument cluster are noteworthy on offering built-in Google Maps, Google Play and Google Assistant.
The layout of the screens, climate panel and the array of physical controls occupying the centre console might feel too traditional for some but for me, it fares better than those pretending to be a Tesla. As far as driver assistant features go, autonomous hands-free driving is definitely the most if not the, biggest revolutionary technology featured in cars these days. First debuted on 2018 Cadillac CT6, GM's Super Cruise was the pioneering semi-autonomous driving technology in the industry and remains happily so. With Super Cruise, one can drive hands-free on more than 300,000 kilometers of compatible roads in U.S. and Canada.
The GMC Sierra is the first non-Cadillac to adopt Super Cruise. It can even make lane changes on its own or with driver input. If the vehicle ahead of you is slower than your set speed, Super Cruise will scan adjacent lanes and determine whether it's safe for your Sierra to make a lane change. If all is well, it will activate the turn signal and move your Sierra to the faster lane but it will also bring it back to the right slow lane once it deems appropriate. GMC has also brought Adaptive Cruise Control to a level no other pickups have: trailering while using Super Cruise. All negative impacts that come with towing like drag and increased braking distance are factored and calibrated to deliver an unrivalled towing experience. An Auxiliary Trailer Camera costing $610 provides additional display screens allowing you to choose Transparent Trailer, Rear Trailer or Inside Trailer Views.
Sierra Denali Ultimate owners will be just as happy throwing a tailgate party than getting their back massaged sitting inside their cabin. The Carbonpro carbon-fiber composite bed is a showcase by itself. Add the fancy six function MultiPro tailgate and music (will flow) to your ears literally and figuratively through its two 50-watts-per-channel Kicker speakers. Never mind how often the transformer tailgate would get used, workhorses do tend to be treated just like show ponies.
Changes transforming the AT4 to an AT4X deserves a full review of its own, and it's suffice to say that it adds a whole new dimension of off-road abilities to the Sierra. Taking a chapter out of the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2,the AT4X is similarly enhanced with features like Multimatic DSSV performance shocks, front and rear electronic differential locks, off-road drive modes, 18-inch Goodyear DuraTrac all-terrain tires, and underbody metal shields.
I have done a lot of off-roading throughout my 30-plus years of writing, memorable ones include BC's Whistler and Ontario's Bon Echo and Algonquin provincial parks, but never have I done one in a quarry like the Randy Noble and Meredith Chandler pit at Manitoulin Island. That's where AT4X's all-terrain prowess was put to the test. With as many as eight different drive modes to choose from- 2Hi, Auto, 4Hi, 4Low, Terrain-4L, 4L front e-lock, 4L rear e-lock and 4L front rear locks, there's really no terrain the AT4X can't conquer. The muddy and rocky pit is no walk in the park and if there's any challenge we were all looking for, that would be how to get it stuck. All it took was a simple press of the rear e-locker switch (located under the climate control panel) to free our deeply buried left rear wheel. The DSSV dampers also did a commendable job bouncing the 33-inch DuraTrac tires off its long-travel suspension. Its ability to soften big landings without bottoming out never failed to impress.
Surprisingly, the AT4X comes standard with the 6.2-litre V8 engine, not the Denali Ultimate which gets the 3.0-litre Duramax turbodiesel six-cylinder instead. Many improvements have been made to the V8, including a new Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM) technology that employs 17 different firing modes and shutting down as many as six cylinders depending on the driver's demand for torque. DFM operates across a wide spectrum of conditions, and there wasn't one minute in my three days of driving that I could decipher how many cylinders were running at any moment in time.
The big displacement V8 is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission delivering a maximum of 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The diesel engine has an equal amount of torque but is much weaker with a 143 hp deficiency. Excellent fuel efficiency aside, I highly recommend going for the V8 engine instead of the diesel. The noise and clatter that came with the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Diesel we drove last November spoiled the experience.
GM has finally emptied its wallet to differentiate the Sierra further from the Silverado, and both the AT4X and Denali Ultimate both showcase what a luxurious pick-up has to offer. Amenities and creature comforts aplenty, we've never been so impressed by a truck's handling and both on-road and off-road capabilities, and finally see why they continue to be North America's preferred type of vehicle.
Model: 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X, Denali Ultimate
Base Price: $87,248 - $95,148
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,916 / 2,063 / 1,990
Engine: 6.2-litre V8, 3.0-litre turbodiesel six-cylinder
Horsepower: 420 hp, 277 hp
Torque: 460 lb-ft, 460 lb-ft
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Tires: Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac 275/65R18/Bridgestone Alenza A/S02 275/50R22