Exclusive special trucks are beginning to dominate the full-size pickup space. GMC has been at the center of that conversation since the very first Denali pickup debuted long back in 2001, and that sub-brand has been a monster hit for GMC ever since. If GMC is good at one thing, it would be to create stylish trucks that buyers really long for. If this is your jam, prepare to get in line with everyone else who can not understand owning a luxury vehicle that can not tow a boat, as the new 2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate is the most luxurious truck the company has ever produced.
If you do not believe such people exist, consider this: GMC says Denali models make up about 20 percent of all sales of the Sierra 1500. And they expect this new Ultimate model to add another 10 percent to it. the mix for Crew Cab models. In other words, about 30 percent of all GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cabs will soon have a sticker price north of $ 65,000. It’s amazing.
But Ultimate is not just about pampering. It is also technically forward-looking. This is the first pickup to offer GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driving assistance, and here it’s smart and capable enough to work even when towing. Yep, you can pull a trailer on the highway with your hands off the steering wheel.
Super Cruise is truly impressive technology. And a comfortable interior is always welcome. But does the $ 82,795 Ultimate really offer more luxury than a regular Denali? After all, with equal powertrains, the Denali base costs around $ 13,000 less than the Ultimate. Is the upper upholstery worth the extra scratch? I road tripped from Los Angeles down to Encinitas, California, to find out.
2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate Specs
- EcoTec V8: $ 82,795
- 3.0 Duramax Turbo-Diesel: $ 81,690
Driveline and performance:
- 6.2-liter petrol V8 | 10-speed automatic | four-wheel drive | 420 hp at 5,600 rpm | 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
- 3.0-liter diesel I6 | 10-speed automatic | four-wheel drive | 277 hp at 3,750 rpm | 460 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
- Seating capacity: 5
- Dimensions 4×4 Crew Cab (length | width | height): 231.9 inches | 81.2 inches | 75.5 inches
- Service weight 4×4 Crew Cab: 5,640 lbs
EPA fuel economy:
- V8: 16 mpg city | motorway 20
- Diesel: 23 mpg city | motorway 30
- Quick tag: A very well-equipped luxury car that requires a serious price tag.
- Do: 7.5 / 10
GMC keeps the exterior of the Sierra Denali Ultimate stylish. Yes, this is a premium truck, but the look is not overly flashy. In fact, GMC went the dark trim route and it looks sharp. There is only a modest fender brand that calls out Ultimate trim and the engine on board. Sierra gets a subtle exterior update for 2022 that includes new grill designs and reworked headlights.
Ultimate has its own grid dressed in what the company calls Vader Chrome – and it’s cute. The color treatment also extends to the trimming. The dark 22-inch wheels with elaborate accents are quite handsome. As you can imagine, side steps are standard here even if this truck is not very high. Ultimate is an all-in-one model, which means that they included almost all the cool features in GMC’s toolbox. So this rig gets the CarbonPro composite bed together with the six-way folding MultiPro tailgate and the built-in Kicker sound system. And because it comes standard with the Super Cruise, GMC redesigned the rear bumper to fit all the short- and long-range radars needed for that technology.
One can imagine that the Ultimate can get more power or torque than the normal Sierra. But that is not the case. Each Ultimate comes standard with the venerable 6.2-liter V8 at 420 horsepower, with a torque of 460 lb-ft. The 3.0-liter Duramax diesel inline-six, rated at 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, is optional. Both engines are connected to a 10-speed automatic. Four-wheel drive with two-speed gearbox is part of this package and includes an automatic four-wheel drive mode, which is perfect for driving on the street in bad weather. Mechanically, the Ultimate is identical to the Denali and has that model’s adaptive drive control suspension.
Inside, Ultimate delivers a cohesive, well-thought-out and remarkable upgrade over other GMCs. The leather is soft and the special wood, Paldao with open pores, is particularly attractive. What’s cool is that GMC has decorated different surfaces with laser etched topographic maps of Mount Denali. You can see and feel it on the wooden upholstery, the backrests and it is also on the charging plate on the center console. Raise your hand to the ceiling and you will touch the new headline in micro suede. It is a good step up from a typical truck interior.
Sierra will have a much-needed and much-improved dash layout for 2022. And for the first time, GMC has a unique interior design compared to its Chevrolet brothers. The more expensive GMC models (AT4 and up) have interiors with distinct ventilation shapes as well as the placement of instrument knobs and switchgear. The centerpiece of the interior is the dual screens. There is a 12.3-inch digital and reconfigurable meter cluster and a 13.4-inch infotainment touch screen. And you can drag around icons that you use more often on the screen, which is useful. These both come with SLE and higher ratings and include Google built-in. That integration works well. I could simply press the voice button and ask for a gas station and a taco shop (not at the same time) and Google simply asks if I want to navigate to these places. Say “yes” and you’re on your way. So simple.
There is also a large 12.3-inch heads-up screen. None of this is specific to the Denali Ultimate, but the clarity of these screens along with the depth of their functionality really suits this truck. The only reason to consider a Chevy interior instead is for the location of the infotainment screen. On Chevrolet’s dashboard, the screen is higher up on the dashboard, level with the meter cluster. GMCs have the screen a few inches lower and closer to the driver. For me, I like the GMC layout.
Ultimate comes standard with massaging front seats that work great once you figure out how they work. The functions are controlled by a steering wheel deep down on the side of the seat. The touch screen tries to help you guide your hand in which way to turn that button and which buttons to press, but it does not allow you to simply use the touch screen to make these commands. After two days, one Ultimate and the other rode in an AT4X with the same seats that it was still frustrating to use.
Overall, the interior is a great place to spend time, but there are a handful of areas where GMC could have increased its game. After all, this is the “Ultimate”, right? The paddle gears are made of plastic, not metal, and look a bit chintzy. And while the leather on the dashboard is of quality, there is hard plastic underneath. A thick layer of soft padding would add to the luxurious atmosphere. The top models from many European luxury brands often have a special center console or unique interior details that you simply cannot have on lower models. GMC could have taken that approach here as well and offered an outstanding luxury feature not found on standard pickups, such as perhaps a beverage cooler for the center console.
On the road, Ultimate drives less than it actually is. The street-oriented suspension and low-profile tires offer a level of maneuverability that full-size off-road-focused trucks simply do not have. The driving is also smooth, despite these tires. GMC says it’s the foremost suspension feature their Denali customers want. And Ultimate really delivers. I encountered some bumpy roads and railroad crossings, events that would likely cause the rear end to hit or step out, and Ultimate tracked straight and sucked up these bumps.
There is a little more road noise in the cabin than I expected. The Bose sound system with 12 speakers has AudioPilot that adjusts the music to compensate for road noise, but the truck does not have a specific noise reduction system on board. GMC should lead the group with this technology plus a little more NVH insulation to provide an even quieter cab.
The propulsion from the 6.2-liter V8 is impressive. This is a very fast truck that pulls hard from any gear. You can easily break off the rear tires from a stop. And it sounds good too. The setting of the gearbox is perfect and by clicking on the driving mode selector for Sport, the driveline feels even more nimble. The brake pedal is steady and the brakes themselves are strong and responsive; this is not typical of most pickups.
After just a short drive on the highway, it became clear that Super Cruise is a technology you really want on a pickup. The technology has been upgraded and updated to work on the Sierra and some Chevrolet Silverado models. (It’s optional on regular Denali.) Last year, Super Cruise had the option to change lanes by pressing the turn signals. But Ultimate has the ability to change file automatically if it sees that the file is free and decides that the move would be beneficial.
I really liked using the system; or rather, see it go to work. The truck was able to stop behind a slowing vehicle without any problems. But in one case, my plan was to take the next exit and Super Cruise wanted to move me to the next lane to pass someone. I had to override the system and stay in the intended lane for that exit. The good news is that you can deselect this automatic file switching feature in the vehicle settings and have the turn signal change. All the while, the infrared camera mounted on the steering wheel kept an eye on my eyes. If I looked down at the infotainment screen for too long, the green band on the steering wheel would blink and told me to pay attention.
Later I got a chance to tow while using the Super Cruise. And it worked well, to be sure. GMC says it has added a cornering speed control function that works when towing. So the system will slow down the truck and trailer slightly in a curve to make the curve a little more comfortable when towing. Smart. In heavy traffic, the system is a real savior. But as the traffic increases speed and then slows down quickly, the inputs from the throttle or brake are a bit abrupt. For loads where smooth driving is very important, such as pulling a horse trailer, for example, I can choose to take the reins myself.
The only hairy moment when I used Super Cruise was passing a semi-truck that was driving a little near my truck. I really wanted to push the wheel and give myself a little more space. But luckily there were inches left. Those sensors in the rear bumper are blocked off when towing, so unfortunately the system’s lane change functions are deactivated with a towed trailer. After talking to GM’s Super Cruise experts on hand, it seemed that GMC could offer a solution to this in the future.
Ultimate delivers a lot of equipment and technology in a package that is really good to drive. It is priced right on top of a Ford F-150 Limited when that truck is optional with the expensive hybrid driveline. At the same time, a Ram 1500 Limited comes in about $ 10,000 cheaper. I like the Ultimate interior, Super Cruise and the dark chrome upholstery. But you can get a lot of the same equipment (including Super Cruise) by charging a Denali with lots of options and saving a few thousand dollars in the process. But for those who want the best GMC – and a little help from the machines when it comes to highway cruising and towing – Ultimate will probably not disappoint you.
Ben Stewart lives in Southern California and has been a car journalist for almost 30 years. He specializes in inspecting cars, trucks and SUVs.
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