2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate First Drive

gmc sierra-1500 Full overview

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you went through and just checked all the boxes? Well, when it comes to GMC’s 2022 Sierra 1500 pickup truck, this is it. The new Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate is the best of the best. With a starting price of $82,795, this truck has only two major factory options to choose from: engine — either the 6.2-liter V-8 or 3.0-liter Duramax I-6 diesel — and color. That’s all. Everything else is standard.

Unique exterior design elements

When you walk up to the truck, the most immediate way you’ll know you’re dealing with a 2022 Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate is the unique grill dressed in dark Vader chrome accents. While most of the 2022 Sierra lineup will benefit from an updated grill and fascia, these dark chrome accents will only be found on the Denali Ultimate. The truck’s side badging will also carry the Denali Ultimate name, and feature a topographical map element of Mt. Denali. These trucks will feature unique 22-inch low-gloss black aluminum wheels with machined accents.

Standard on the Denali Ultimate is GMC’s CarbonPro carbon fiber composite bed and the Kicker sound system embedded in the MultiPro tailgate step. Overall, we’re quite impressed with the exterior styling of the Denali Ultimate, and love how all the parts work well and complement each other. We especially love the combination when paired with GMC’s Onyx Black or Titanium Rush paint colors, even though we’re not usually fans of dark trucks.

The ultimate Denali interior

This is the interior that GMC would have had, ever since the new Sierra body style was introduced for 2019. The 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate has a single interior style. The Alpine Umber interior features full-grain leather seating surfaces with 16-way adjustment and massaging front seats. Authentic open-pore Paldao wood detailing and leather accents are found throughout the new interior, along with topographic map patterns and the GPS coordinates of Mt. Denali. The truck has more than 40 inches of combined digital displays, which includes a 15-inch head-up display, 12.3-inch driver instruments and 13.4-inch infotainment screen. The Denali Ultimate is also equipped with a 12-speaker Bose Premium Series audio system with Centerpoint surround sound, among other features.

Although our time in the Denali Ultimate was short, we were thoroughly impressed. The truck is as quiet as it is comfortable, with the new massaging seats really stealing the show. While we haven’t typically been wowed by Bose audio systems in the past, the new 12-speaker Premium Series system in the Denali Ultimate sounded great at all volume levels and really impressed us. We also appreciated the new console-mounted transmission shifter and, of all things, the location of the wireless phone charging pad.

We really only have two relatively minor quibbles with the interior, both of which come down to personal preference. The first is about the number of interior colors. GM generally has had an ability to combine many different color tones in their interiors. This Alpine Umber interior matches brown leather with dark brown wood, piano black, stainless steel and two different contrasting colors. While it’s a bit much for our eyes, it’s certainly not as bad as previous generations. Our second question concerns the use of Google maps and the company’s infotainment operating system. Since we are so deep in the Apple ecosystem, the transition to Google is not something that can happen easily in a couple of hours. Usually we can ignore this. But trying to use Apple CarPlay proved challenging, as Google’s operating system didn’t seem to want to play nice. Again, these are minor and personal complaints – your mileage may vary.

Super cruise is coming to Sierra

While we’re still getting used to the idea of ​​Super Cruise, we can certainly appreciate that it’s standard on the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate. Super Cruise is available on the 2022 Sierra 1500 Denali, but it’s bundled with the $6,500 Denali Reserve Super Cruise Package; then you might as well choose the Denali Ultimate.

Driving with Super Cruise is a simple task. Once you’re on one of the Super-Cruise-enabled roads (there are currently 200,000 miles of them, and more to come) and see the steering wheel icon appear on the driver information screen, a quick press of the steering wheel-mounted button activates the system. When the LED lights on the steering wheel turn green, you are free to take your hands off the wheel and let the truck drive. Of course, as with any level 3 autonomous drive system, you still need to pay attention to the road and be ready to take over at any moment. The system uses a steering column-mounted camera to track eye and head movements to ensure the driver is paying attention.

While we’ve been able to test the latest generation of GM’s Super Cruise on a closed course, this was our first time using it on the open road. Having been fans of the previous generation Super Cruise for a while, it didn’t take long to win us over. Once we settled into the flow of traffic on California’s busy I-5, we engaged Super Cruise and let the Sierra take over. This new generation of Super Cruise has the ability for the vehicle to not only change lanes on demand, but to do so automatically to overtake slower traffic. We are happy to report that the system worked as intended. As we sat in the driver’s seat, hands on our laps, the truck made it easy to maintain our desired speed, passing slower traffic before returning to our chosen lane, sometimes even making two lane changes to complete the task.

If you are not used to this type of hands-free driving, it will take some time to get used to using Super Cruise. But once you do, there’s no going back. We just wish there were more avenues available to use the feature.

Towing With Super Cruise

Another new feature for the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate and its new version of Super Cruise is the ability to tow while driving hands-free. This one will take us a little more time to adjust to. We tow thousands of miles every year and can totally see the benefit of Super Cruise on straight, empty roads in the middle of nowhere. However, towing in heavy traffic is a completely different beast. GMC provided us with a new Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate attached to a large trailer and said we’d have fun on the same tight I-5 freeway we’d just driven unloaded. Once on the freeway and into traffic, we activated Super Cruise. In its defense, the system worked as advertised. But what the system doesn’t take into account are semi-trucks and trailers that like to hug the line or even crawl over. We found the Super Cruise did an OK job of staying centered in a lane (if not a touch towards the left lane line). However, it doesn’t adjust for vehicles that crawl a little too close for comfort. Although we were never in any particular danger, the distance between the trailers often made for a more nerve-wracking experience than if we had been in control of the steering.

Aside from our discomfort with how close the trailer would get to other vehicles, we found the Super Cruise did a good job of leaving enough room to properly stop the truck and trailer when traffic slowed, even suddenly, and it would accelerate with correct speed when traffic started moving again too. With a trailer in tow, the system can no longer make lane changes on its own due to the rear sensors being blocked. To change lanes, the driver can take control of the steering wheel (indicator lights change from green to blue) and complete the maneuver as needed. Once done, the driver can release the steering wheel again when the indicator lights return to green. There’s no reason to disable the file swapping system even though it can’t do it for you.

Final thoughts

We still have a hard time believing that automakers haven’t yet found a ceiling in the light-duty pickup market, but if that means we get trucks like the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate, we’re OK with that. The Denali Ultimate looks good on the outside, stylish on the inside, offers plenty of power and drives great. This truck is truly the ultimate Sierra.

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