2022 GMC Sierra AT4X and Denali Ultimate First Drive Review

When the most popular vehicles in the country are pickup trucks, automakers want to make sure they’ve got all the angles covered.

That is precisely why there is the new 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X, an even more qualified version of the AT4 off-roader; and if the regular Denali isn’t luxurious enough for you, there’s a new Denali Ultimate version of this halftone as well.

All Sierra models received an update for 2022, including fresh exterior styling; new interiors with a 13.4-inch touchscreen with Google Built-In standard on all but the base Pro; and a new high-output 2.7L four-cylinder turbocharged engine that is standard with Pro, SLE and Elevation trims.

AT4 gets extreme

Both the AT4X and Denali Ultimate use a 6.2L V8 that makes 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The Denali Ultimate can also be optioned with a 3.0L inline-six diesel engine that produces 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Both trims also come only as a short-bed crew cab—currently the popular configuration for buyers across all truck brands—and with all-wheel drive.

Mechanically, the AT4X’s big upgrade over the regular AT4’s fancy dampers were developed by Canadian company Multimatic. First used in the truck world on the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 – and now on the larger Silverado ZR2 – the so-called DSSV dampers make their first appearance on a GMC with this new AT4X. They respond at varying rates depending on driving conditions and do a better job of managing internal heat when the going gets tough—like desert racing—than a conventional shock thanks to the use of spool valves rather than a piston-and-shim startup.

The AT4X also has electronic differential lockers front and rear; more suspension travel than the regular Sierra AT4 (50mm front and 25mm rear); and a single-pedal drive version for low-speed off-road driving.

On the outside, the AT4X differs from the AT4 with a dark grille, red reset hooks and 18-inch gloss black wheels. It’s also a premium truck beyond its off-road capability, so the interior includes massaging front seats, a 12-speaker stereo, micro-suede headliner and real wood accents. Premium, of course, costs money and it starts at $89,393 including a non-negotiable $2,095 delivery fee.

It handled an off-road course as expected, including an exercise where I deliberately got stuck in sand and then locked the differentials so the truck could crawl out. Also as expected, higher speeds over a bumpy path in a gravel pit didn’t faze it either, with only the most serious bumps giving it a slight sideways jolt. But if you’re on the pavement, the same shock provides a smooth ride and does an equally good job over potholes.

Denali becomes more delightful

Although it has the inherent off-road ability of its all-wheel-drive system, the Denali Ultimate is all about upper-end. Denali has actually become a sub-brand of GMC, available on all its trucks and SUVs, and accounts for 26 percent of all sales, according to the brand.

As with the AT4X, this trim includes massage seats and premium stereo, and with a 15-inch head-up display, leather-trimmed door panels, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, dark chrome grille and a tough but lighter carbon fiber trim. – fiber bed interior. It’s standard for 2022 but will be an option on the 2023 truck. The Denali Ultimate starts at $94,683, including shipping. Opting for the diesel actually costs less, with a starting price of $92,958.

Hands-free towing

An available option is Super Cruise, a hands-free driving system introduced with Cadillac before driving over other General Motors (GM) vehicles. When you’re on a pre-mapped highway—there are about 200,000 miles (320,000 km) in its system right now spread across North America, and more are always being added—and the conditions are right, you’ll get a message in the instrument cluster that you can activate the system and take hands off the steering wheel.

You still have to pay attention, but the truck handles everything else, including changing lanes if it comes up on a slower vehicle and there’s nothing next to it. You can also activate file changes by pressing the wheel. Super Cruise also works when towing a trailer, even if the automatic lane change feature is disabled.

I towed with Super Cruise engaged, as well as the available “Transparent Trailer” feature. It requires you to connect a dealer-available accessory camera to the trailer, but once it’s on, you can pull up a center screen display that shows what’s behind and next to the trailer as if it’s invisible. The blind spot monitoring warning also includes trailer length.

Super Cruise is a fascinating technology, and it’s a step on the road to autonomous vehicles; but it’s not there yet. I previously drove an equipped truck (sans trailer) on a busier highway, where my vehicle changed lanes by itself. In the rear view, I caught sight of a driver weaving between lanes. As he zigzagged behind traffic into my lane, I knew his next move. As expected, he lurched to the left and floored it as my truck began to change lanes, and I brought it back before anything else needed to be done to avoid a collision. The system is smart, but it still can’t handle everything that humans can do, including anticipating problems. Still, I was happy with the Super Cruise at this event, when it handled a long and monotonous drive up a mostly empty highway, and many drivers will appreciate it for those conditions.

Final thoughts

The 2022 GMC Sierra is a good driver overall, with responsive steering, a relatively tight turning circle, the strong 6.2L V8, and a smooth ride—and in my eyes, it’s better looking than its mechanical twin, the Chevrolet Silverado. The AT4X now gives GMC fans a shot at the Silverado ZR2’s capabilities within their beloved brand; and if sedan and SUV buyers can get exclusive luxury, the Denali Ultimate also gives truck buyers the option.

Competitors

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