Tobermory, Ontario- With oil prices climbing to record highs and anything everything electric on people's mind these days, it's easy to conclude that big displacement V8 engines are nearing its way out of existence. The opposite couldn't be more true if pickup trucks continue its hold as North America's best-selling vehicle. See, all top three spots in U.S. 2021 sales chart belong to pickups. The two newest GMC Sierra models reviewed here are also adorned with arguably the biggest displacement V8 engines one can find in 1500 truck series.
"Pickupland" is where GMC showed off both the terrestrial and the cocooning capabilities of Sierra's newest AT4X and Denali Ultimate models to auto journos this past week. In fact, you don't have to drive past Tobermory (actually, you can't as Tobermory is already at the tip of Bruce Peninsula) to appreciate that pick-ups are much larger in life than you think. GMC is also the fastest growing truck brand here in Canada with shares grown from 16% to 18% last year.
It might not seem much by just looking at their names as both the AT4X and Denali Ultimate appear to be mere extensions of their lesser counterparts. They are in fact much more capable and much more luxurious than existing AT4 and Denali sub models, to the extent that GMC can now claim to have the most advanced and most luxurious pickups in the market.
For those not in the know, GMC Sierra 1500 comes in a lot of different forms, cabs and configurations. Pro, SLE, Elevation and SLT models are available not only in either 2WD or 4WD forms, but can also be configured as regular cab, double cab or crew cab with cargo beds measuring short (69.92 inch), standard (79.44 in) and long (98.20 in). The matrix is huge but rest easy, both the AT4X and Denali Ultimate are sold only as crew cab, short bed. MSRP for 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X and Denali Ultimate starts at $87,248 and $90,763 respectively with the latter when equipped with V8 (instead of diesel) jumps to $95,148.
Let's first start off with GMC and yes, GM's ultimate pickup, the Denali Ultimate. This Cadillac of Sierras comes standard with a long list of premium features. Exclusive to Denali Ultimate (vs Denali) includes a 12-speaker Bose® with Centerpoint® surround sound, 16-way power massaging front seats, leather wrapped dash and door panels and 22-inch gloss black aluminum wheels. Carried over from the Denali are full-grain leather seats with double-needle stitching and microsuede headliner, sun visors and pillars. Carbonpro box optional on the Denali is standard on Denali Ultimate. Last but not least is the availability of Super Cruise, a $2,610 topping that most Denali Ultimate buyers will ultimately tick on their option boxes.
If luxury and peacefulness ranks high on your list, look no further. The cabin is one of the most lavishly appointed you would ever find in a pickup. You have to touch and feel to appreciate how harmoniously the leather-wrapped dashboard accentuates itself with authentic Vanta ash wood trim. Topographic map of Mount Denali artistically etched into the wood on the glovebox more than meets the eye, it's taste and thoughtfulness that count. GMC has truly elevated the Sierra from a nice truck to a legitimate luxury.
There's over 40 inches of digital display as GMC likes to point out, but that's only if the expansive 15-inch head-up display is also taken into account. Nevertheless, the customizable 13.4-inch infotainment screen and the 12.4-inch instrument cluster are right on offering built-in Google Maps, Google Play and Google Assistant. The layout of the screens, climate panel and the array of physical controls occupying the centre console might feel too traditional for some, but for me, it fares better than those pretending to be Teslas or electric.
As advanced as driver assistant goes, autonomous hands-free driving is definitely the most if not the biggest revolutionary technology featured in cars these days. First debuted on 2018 Cadillac CT6, GM's Super Cruise was the most advanced semi-autonomous driving technology in the industry and remains happily so.
With Super Cruise, one can drive hands-free on more than 300,000 kilometers of compatible roads in U.S. and Canada, not an easy feat other Adaptive Cruise Control can muster. GMC Sierra has become the first non-Cadillac to adopt Super Cruise and with Sierra Denali Ultimate, it can even make lane changes either on its own or to driver's input. If the vehicle ahead of you is slower than your set speed say on 400-series highway, Super Cruise will scan adjacent lanes and determine whether it's safe for your Sierra to make a lane change. If all is well, it will activate the turn signal and move your Sierra to the faster lane but it will also bring it back to the right slow lane once it deems appropriate. A bit too constrictive some may say.
GMC has also brought Adaptive Cruise Control to a level no other pickups have, trailering while using Super Cruise. All negative impacts that come with towing like drag and increased braking distance are factored and calibrated to deliver an unrivalled towing experience. An Auxiliary Trailer Camera costing $610 provides additional display screens allowing you to choose Transparent Trailer, Rear Trailer or Inside Trailer Views.
Sierra Denali Ultimate owners are just as happy throwing a tailgate party than getting their back massaged sitting inside their cabin. The Carbonpro carbon-fiber composite bed is a showcase by itself. Add the fancy six function MultiPro tailgate and music (will flow) to your ears literally and figuratively through its two 50 watts per channel Kicker speakers. Never mind how often the transformer tailgate would get used, workhorses do tend to be treated just like show ponies.
Changes transforming AT4 to AT4X truly deserves a full review of its own. But for now, it's suffice to say the all-new AT4X model has added a whole new dimension to Sierra's capabilities, an off-road talent that nobody had previously imagined in a Sierra.
Taking a chapter out of Sierra's lesser cousin Chevrolet's Silverado ZR2, AT4X is similarly enhanced with a plethora of off-road features like Multimatic DSSV performance shocks, front and rear E-Lockers (electronic differential locks), Terrain, 4-Low and off-road drive modes, 18-inch Goodyear DuraTrac all-terrain tires and tons of underbody metal shields, instantly turning the Sierra into a fully-capable off-road machine.
I have done a lot of off-roading throughout my 30 plus years of writing, memorable ones include BC's Whistler and Ontario's Bon Echo and Algonquin provincial parks, but never have I done one in a quarry like the Randy Noble and Meredith Chandler pit at Manitoulin Island. That's where AT4X's all-terrain prowess was put to the test.
With as many as eight different drive modes to choose from- 2Hi, Auto, 4Hi, 4Low, Terrain-4L, 4L front e-lock, 4L rear e-lock and 4L front rear locks, there's really no terrain the AT4X can't conquer. The mostly muddy and rocky pit is no walk in the park and if there's any challenge we were all looking for, that would be how to get it stuck. Only once did I need to press the rear e-locker switch (located under the climate control panel) to free the deeply buried left rear wheel, pity the front e-locker left feeling so unwanted. The DSSV dampers did a commendable job bouncing the 33-inch DuraTrac tires off its long-travel suspension. Its ability to soften big landings without bottoming out never fails to impress.
With such a good-looking truck like this, you might not want to let it play in the mud after all. Especially when those signature red recovery hooks looks best body-on-white. Both AT4X and Denali Ultimate have their own exclusive exterior highlights with the most pronounced details found in AT4X's interior, Obsidian Rush Interior to be exact. Most if not all of Denali Ultimate's luxury amenities like full-grain leather and massaging seats and even the Bose premium audio are also shared with AT4X, rendering the latter a seemingly more valuable proposition than the former.
Surprisingly, it's the AT4X and not the Denali Ultimate that starts off with a 6.2-litre V8 engine. The 3.0-litre Duramax Turbo-Diesel 6-cylinder that is base on the Ultimate is not available on AT4X. Much improvement have been made to the V8 engine last year, notably a new Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM) technology bettering the Active Fuel management system by employing 17 different firing modes and shutting down as many as 6 cylinders depending on the driver's demand for torque. DFM operates across a wide spectrum of conditions, there wasn't one minute in my 12 hours (over 3 days) of driving I could decipher how many cylinders were running at any moment of time.
The big displacement V8 is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission delivering a maximum of 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The diesel engine though has an equal amount of torque is much weaker, 143hp weaker. Excellent fuel efficiency aside (Diesel City/Highway 10.5/9.1 L/100 km), I highly recommend going for the V8 engine instead. The noise and clatter that came with the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Diesel we drove last November was a spoiler I could hardly forget. Fuel consumption for the V8 is 15.7 and 11.9 L/100 km City and Highway respectively.
GM has finally emptied its wallet to differentiate the Sierra further from the Silverado. Now if there is such a thing as a Sierra Denali Ultimate AT4X, it will definitely be a game-changer, both on-road and off-road.
Model: 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X/Denali Ultimate
MSRP: $87,248.00/$90,763 (Diesel) $95,148 (V8)
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,916/2,063/1,990
Engine: 6.2-litre EcoTec3 V8/3.0L Turbo Diesel 6-cylinder
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Suspension-Rear: Solid axle
Tires: Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac 275/65R18/Bridgestone Alenza A/S02 275/50R22