Full-size pickup trucks are so ruthlessly benchmarked against each other that it’s hard to find one that’s an outlier in any major way. For example, if the 2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate had participated in our recent comparison test, its 5.4-second 60-mph time would have placed it just behind the Ford F-150 PowerBoost (5.3 seconds) but half a second ahead of the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro (5.9 seconds). Its 6.2-liter V-8 makes 420 horsepower, which is a little less than the hybrid Tundra’s 437 horsepower and a little more than the Hemi Ram 1500 Limited’s 395 horsepower. And it goes on, from towing to braking to features and pricing. To stand apart, a truck requires some sort of proprietary weapon—Ford’s built-in alternator or Ram’s impeccably tailored interior. Luckily, the Sierra Denali has its own killer app: Super Cruise. GM is the only company that has it, and no one else’s hands-free driver assistance works as well (sorry, Ford BlueCruise). If you do a lot of highway driving, Super Cruise may be the feature that swings your decision toward the GMC rather than a comparably stylish truck from a competitor. Just make sure it’s available, as GMC has periodically paused Super Cruise availability due to delivery issues. As of now, it is available to order on 2023 models.
Not that Super Cruise is all the Sierra Denali Ultimate has going for it—and with a starting price of $84,995 with the 6.2-liter engine, it better not be. The Sierra benefits from GM’s 2022 interior overhaul, which brought an updated design with a 13.4-inch touchscreen, and then piles on the goodies: a 15.0-inch head-up color display, heated and ventilated front seats with massage and the nicest materials this side of an Escalade. The door panels are wrapped in leather, the Bose speaker grills are stainless steel, and the open-pore Paldao wood is laser-etched with topographical maps and the GPS coordinates of its famous mountain namesake. Now that we mention it, this Denali might be nicer inside than an Escalade.
Among all the interior details, it’s easy to miss the small infrared camera that sits on top of the steering column. It’s the driver monitoring hardware for Super Cruise, and it enables hands-free driving – the truck needs to know you’re awake and alert before it hands over control. When it does, the Super Cruise proves impressively competent. During our drive, it regularly went 60 miles or more before disconnecting, usually due to a construction zone or running out of approved road. You can now engage Super Cruise while towing a trailer, and it can also automatically pull the truck out of its lane to pass slower traffic and then move back into it, both talents that GM has liberally advertised.
What GM hasn’t offered is Super Cruise’s ability to handle freeway changes. As our route took us from one freeway to another, we expected the Super Cruise to turn off as we tunneled toward the 90-degree intersection. Instead, the Sierra slowed from 70 mph to about 55 mph and the steering wheel cranked over hard to the left as the truck made its way around the curve. As the road straightened out, the Sierra resumed its set speed and continued along the (now different) freeway. In other words, it did exactly what we would have done, had it handed over control. The fact that it didn’t need to drain caused some surprise and, we admit, joy: cool. Hey, we love driving, but three hours on the freeway is three hours on the freeway, so hallelujah to a truck that can help alleviate that monotony.
Once you find your way back into some corners, the Sierra Denali Ultimate isn’t a bad dance partner, thanks to its standard magnetic ride control dampers. Although the Sierra uses a relatively crude solid rear axle with leaf springs, the magnetic ride control tames the yips and jumps associated with an unloaded bed, reading the road 1,000 times per second. The Denali Ultimate managed 0.78g of skipad grip, which would have tied the Ramen for the best in that comparison test. And its ride is about as serene as the Ram’s, even without air springs. The Denali is light, for a full-size full-luxury pickup—5,586 pounds—and that relative agility shines through in its handling.
While the standard Sierra Denali is offered with GMC’s 5.3-liter V-8, in addition to the 6.2-liter V-8 and 3.0-liter diesel I-6, the Ultimate only gets the latter two engines. GMC positions the diesel six as the entry-level powerplant, priced $2,500 below the gas V-8 model. Although the diesel six makes just 277 horsepower, it matches the V-8’s 460 pound-feet of torque and is a rewarding engine in its own right, if you can live without the V-8 model’s 13.9-second quarter-mile to 100 mph . (When we tested a Chevy Silverado with the 3.0-liter diesel, it ran the quarter in 15.5 seconds at 88 mph.) The diesel also earns a 24 mpg EPA combined fuel economy rating, which easily beats the gas car’s 17 mpg. We averaged just 15 mpg during our time with this Denali.
When you’re Super Cruising down the highway and getting a massage from your heated seat, you might forget there’s a pickup bed riding along behind the cabin. But it actually exists and it’s a new one, because it’s made of carbon fiber. Sure, GMC’s CarbonPro bed probably won’t make a huge difference in your life, but we always recommend getting more carbon fiber, and it’s sure to be a conversation starter at your local mulch supplier. Also, think about the money you save on a bed linen. The Sierra’s MultiPro tailgate also folds down to a variety of cargo positions. At this point you might be saying, “For $84,995, that tailgate better have its own stereo!” Rest assured, it does.
In fact, the Sierra Denali Ultimate’s price is its biggest drawback. A regular ol’ non-Ultimate Sierra Denali 4×4 with the same powertrain — 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 and 10-speed automatic — costs $12,500 less and is also available with Super Cruise (those are the only two Sierra trims available to get it, for now). Again, the Ultimate’s sticker price looks like a bargain compared to the upcoming Sierra flagship, the 2024 Sierra EV Denali Edition 1, which will cost $108,695 when production starts in early 2024.
But for now, this is the top of the Sierras. If you can stomach the price, there’s nothing else like it.
2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate V-8
Vehicle Type: Front Engine, Rear/4 Wheel Drive, 5 Passenger, 4 Door Pickup
Base/As Tested: $84,995/$84,995
pushrod 16-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Volume: 376 inches36162 cm3
Power: 420 hp at 5600 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft at 4100 rpm
Suspension, F/R: control arms/live axle
Brakes, F/R: 13.0-inch ventilated disc/13.6-inch ventilated disc
Tires: Bridgestone Alenza A/S 02
275/50R-22 111T M+S TPC Spec 3112MS
Wheelbase: 147.4 inches
Length: 231.9 inches
Width: 81.2 inches
Height: 75.5 inches
Passenger volume: 136 feet3
Bed length: 69.9 inches
Curb weight: 5586 lb
CD TEST RESULT
60 mph: 5.4 sec
100 mph: 13.9 sec
1/4-Mile: 13.9 sec @ 100 mph
The results above omit the 1-foot launch of 0.3 sec.
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 5.9 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 3.1 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 3.9 sec
Top speed (gov ltd): 106 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 182 feet
Roadholding, 300 ft. Skidpad: 0.78g
CD FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 15 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 17/15/20 mpg
CD TESTS EXPLAINED
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