Encinitas, California Leave the cool embrace of Encinitas and the Pacific Ocean, head inland along the Mexican border and you may eventually find yourself on the Great Southern Stage Route and dig into a completely different type of terrain. Slalom and shudder through sandblasted arroyos, through washes and canyons that lie dry and bare under the 100 degree heat, rocks that clatter, clouds of dust billow behind you.
The ground is open and empty. Everything that lives here is prickly, prickly and willing to kill you.
Eventually, you can stay on top of the Diablo Drop in your 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X and watch custom SUVs try, and sometimes fail, to scale the steep slopes below.
Then it’s your turn. Switch to 4Low and activate the terrain mode to enable single-pedal rock crawling. Press the button for the front and rear e-locking differentials that determine power delivery and traction for each individual wheel. Then shift the 10-speed automatic transmission to Low and start lightly down the slope, the 18-inch black wheels with Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac Mud-Terrain tires crawl for purchases across the floor, stones tear against the protective rocker guards, slide plates and transmission cover shield.
At the bottom, sigh in relief, spin the truck in the powdery dust and climb up again, nothing but sky in the windshield, the 6.2-liter V8 that coos but pulls effortlessly, Multimatic DSSV spool valve damper and longer-terrain suspension which sucks up the shocks as you slide and grip uphill.
The only thing that makes all this desert stress and effort almost unbearable is the gentle breeze from the air conditioning inside the Sierra and the cool ventilation in the 16-way electrically adjusted seats. And, hmm, maybe turn on the massage mode and add some light chamber music from the Bose Premium sound system with 12 speakers.
Yes, such is the harsh task of cross-country skiing in modern times.
GMC has always tried to differentiate itself from the competition and strengthened the brand to ever higher premium levels, best exemplified by their Sierra Denali luxury pickup offerings and the Sierra AT4 off-road vehicle, two different but decidedly exclusive flavors that have served as the symbol of robust elegance.
Until now. For the 2022 model, the GMC Sierra pickup range has raised the upper levels of excellence with two new “halo” trucks – the first Sierra AT4X ever, an elevated premium off-road vehicle I drove at the beginning of this review, and its new siblings Sierra Denali Ultimate, the most advanced and luxurious Sierra ever, with GMC’s hands-free Super Cruise driver assistance technology as standard.
Our testers were powered by a standard 6.2-liter V8 VVT DI with Dynamic Fuel Management that provides 420 hp and 460 lb-ft or torque via a 10-speed automatic and standard 4WD (a 3.0-liter DIHC I-6 turbodiesel also available in Denali Ultimate). Both trucks are based on new Sierra adjustments for 2022 with new wheels, new added colors, revised design of the front bumper, facade and grille along with new LED headlights with dual projectors and C-shaped DRL combinations that light up with animated sequences on approaching, at start or when leaving.
Inside, comfortable and spacious cabins feature a cockpit-oriented layout, a new console and electronic toggle controls and over 40-inch digital display – a new larger central 13.4-inch color touch screen, a new 12.3-inch configurable instrument cluster and a multicolored 15-inch head -up display, all with configurable levels of personalization to suit all drivers’ needs.
And with all the expected apps and technologies, most Sierra models now offer Google built-in, compatible with Apple and Android devices, available Amazon Alexa and host of mobile phone features we are used to using, such as Google Maps, Google Assistant and Google Play.
Keep checking the content levels and you would not be far from believing that the AT4X and Denali Ultimate do pretty well all available Denali features as standard – rear camera mirror, electric sunroof and the aforementioned brand new Bose Premium 12-speaker audio system with Center Point surround sound, AudioPilot and a Richbass bass, just to name a few.
The luxury-focused AT4X’s Obsidian Rush interior features dark technical leather and trim details, dark Vanta ash strips and the contrasts of white tubes and red stitching to reflect the red theme of the AT4X brand and front towbars.
Denali Ultimate makes a different but also dark style statement, standing on larger Low Gloss Black 22-inch wheels and with its unique grille and GMC emblem clad in low-key Vader chrome. GMC’s six-way MultiPro tailgate comes standard as well as the lightweight and durable CarbonPro composite cargo box with Denalis Premium Suspension with Adaptive Ride Control and GMC’s power assist steps.
Drop into Denali Ultimate’s Alpine Umber interior and you’re embedded in full-grain leather appointments enhanced by open, poor Paldao upholstery. There is a nice exclusive touch inside Denali Ultimate with topographic maps of the top of Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America, laser etched over Paldao’s wooden-mounted dashboard and also embossed over the leather upholstery on the front seats with marks, at the back. seat and door panels. The topographic touch on the Easter egg even carries out on the outer fender valves. The leather accessories are complemented with premium micro suede on the ceiling, visor and pillars. It’s a particularly handsome cabin, with sensible controls, logical layout and, along with the expected apps and technologies, most Sierra models, including the Denali Ultimate, now offer Google built-in, compatible with Apple and Android devices, available with Amazon Alexa and the mobile phone features we are all used to, such as Google Maps, Google Assistant and Google Play.
Trying out the trailer-capable Super Cruise was interesting. We have all become accustomed to adaptive cruise control and file keeping technology, but it still takes a hope to drop our hands off the wheel and just sit back.
And with the majority of Sierra customers using their vehicles for towing, other related technologies include up to 14 camera views, including Transparent Trailer, a GCW warning, app and vehicle trailer info, Trailer Blind Zone Alert and adaptive cruise control trailer enhancements. And the list goes on.
Over the years, GMC has drawn us across continents to demonstrate the latest technology, the latest features and extra amenities that at the time made these trucks the best Sierra pickups ever built.
This year, they’ve done it again, with the 2022 Sierra Denali Ultimate and the 2002 Sierra AT4X, with new apps, new luxuries and new levels of content, making these latest models, once again, the most inclusive premium pickups GMC has ever built.
At least for now.
2022 GMC Sierra AT4X & 2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate
Body style: premium pickup trucks (two-row, five passengers)
Driving method: 10-speed automatic, 4WD
Engine: 6.2-liter V8 VVT DI with dynamic fuel handling (420 hp, 460 lb-ft of torque)
Fuel economy: 15.7L / 11.9L / 100 km (estimates for city / road)
Traction rating: AT4X 4,037 kg (8,900 lb); Denali Ultimate up to 5,897 kg (13,000 lb)
Load volume: Short Box 1,809 liters (63.9 cu-ft)
Award: Launch MSRPs AT4X $ 85,748; Denali Ultimate $ 93,648