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car review

The 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Trucks are big business in Canada with three pickups in the top four for overall sales last year. The Ford F-150 is the overall winner most years, but GMC is trying to steal some market share. For this year, it has refreshed the Sierra 1500 and added two new trims – the Denali Ultimate and the first-ever AT4X.

Like the name implies, the Denali Ultimate is the ultimate Sierra 1500, filled with all the comforts of home and new technology. But it comes at a price. Starting north of $90,000, it’s the most expensive Sierra money can buy. For that, you get soft leather seats with accent stitching and piping, heated and ventilated 16-way power front seats with massage functions, and topographical maps and GPS co-ordinates of Mount Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, laser-etched on the paldao wood. Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free driver assistance technology, is also standard on this model, allowing the vehicle to perform semi-autonomous functions such as change lanes or adjust the speed without the driver’s input.

Driving south on the Interstate-5 highway from Encinitas to San Diego in the Denali Ultimate truck is a great place to test Super Cruise – push a few buttons on the steering wheel, wait for the car icon in the new 12.3-inch driver cluster display to turn green and the top of the steering wheel to turn green and then, take your hands off the wheel. Not only can the system apply the throttle and brake as needed to maintain a safe distance with the vehicle ahead, it can also change lanes on its own – without the driver touching a pedal or even hitting the turn signal stalk. If the vehicle ahead is moving slowly, the system will determine if it’s safe to change lanes, engage the turn signal and change lanes on its own. Once the manoeuvre is complete, it turns off the signal. At first it’s unsettling to see the vehicle change lanes by itself, but it works like a charm with only one minor caveat – it didn’t recognize it was unsafe to cross the double-lane markings into the high-occupancy vehicle, or carpool, lanes. The vehicle kept turning on the signal and trying to move into the lane. But touch the steering wheel or pedal and the driver is back in control.

The system is mind-boggling to watch in action takes the stress out of driving long distances, especially in heavy traffic.

The 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

While the AT4X doesn’t have Super Cruise, it makes up for it with its off-roading capabilities. Compared to the AT4, which was first introduced in 2019 and designed to bring new, younger customers to the brand (more than half of the AT4 buyers are new to GMC), the AT4X ups the ante by adding an enhanced two-speed transfer case with selectable modes including off-roading and terrain, a full-size spare tire, front and rear e-lockers, multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers, and a larger steel transfer case skid plate and available rocker protection. It has an approach angle of 25.5 degrees, a departure angle of 23 degrees, and ground clearance of 11.1 inches. The front suspension can also travel nearly ten inches; while the rear suspension moves nearly 11.

To test the AT4X’s capabilities, we drive east to Julian, Calif. and down into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where the scorching temperatures hit 43 degrees Celsius. Lower the tire pressure to 15 PSI (pounds per square inch) and we begin a desert adventure.

Driving through sandstone, canyons and washes, the AT4X is right at home. The most challenging part of the route is known as the Diablo Drop Off. It has narrow steep drops filled with wheel ruts and rocks that require moving this big truck gingerly. Going down hill in Terrain mode, the one pedal driving feature comes in handy. There’s no need to touch the brake, the feature can bring the truck to a full stop. A few Jeeps sharing the trail got stuck up and down the hill, but all of the AT4Xs made it through, unscathed. No blown tires, and only a few side rockers scraped.

The revised 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 with its new Denali Ultimate and AT4X trims are arriving in dealerships now. The AT4X starts at $85,748.

Tech specs

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 (Denali Ultimate and AT4X trims)

  • Base price: AT4X $85,748 (plus freight of $1,950); Denali Ultimate with 6.2-litre is $93,648 (plus freight of $1,950); Denali Ultimate with three-litre diesel is $91,873 (plus freight of $1,950)
  • Engine: 6.2-litre V8 engine with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque (three-litre Duramax Turbo Diesel is available on Denali Ultimate trim)
  • Transmission/Drive: 10-speed automatic/four-wheel drive
  • Fuel consumption: TBC
  • Alternatives: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, RAM 1500, Ford F-150, Jeep Gladiator, Toyota Tundra

Looks

Menacing, imposing looks, especially at the front end. A new massive bold grille gets an updated take on GMC’s signature C-shaped LED headlamps. The Denali Ultimate grille has cool, dark Vader chrome and 22-inch low-gloss black aluminum wheels; while the AT4X has dark nickel bars and 18-inch wheels.

Interior

The Denali Ultimate comes with a 12.3-inch cluster display, a larger 13.4-inch centre touch screen and a 15-inch head-up display.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The cabins get a new instrument panel with a 12.3-inch cluster display, a larger 13.4-inch centre touch screen, a 15-inch head-up display, new audio, infotainment and climate controls as well as a new gear shifter and a chrome push-button start. Not a fan of the massage seat controls located on the side of the seat – it requires multiple steps, turning dials and hitting buttons, to engage and unfortunately you can’t adjust by touching the centre screen.

Performance

Both V8 test models were powerful, yet smooth on paved roads. The trucks feel heavy when launching from a standstill, but both have excellent braking power. It can also haul up to 8,900 pounds and has a payload of 1,420 pounds.

Technology

There is no shortage of technology including Google built-in with Google maps and a personal assistant, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and Super Cruise, which is standard on the Ultimate trim.

Cargo

The AT4X includes a six-way Multipro tailgate to hold and haul gear and a carbon fibre composite material in the bed to help reduce dents, dings and scratches when loading items inside.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Two new bed innovations include a six-way Multipro tailgate to hold and haul gear easier and a carbon fibre composite material in the bed helps reduce dents, dings and scratches when loading items inside. The 69.9-inch box has 1781 litres of capacity.

The verdict

The Sierra 1500 likely won’t steal the top-spot from the king of trucks, the F-150, but there’s no denying it’s ultra luxurious and super capable, especially going off road in the AT4X.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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