Expert Reviews

2022 GMC Sierra AT4X and Denali Ultimate First Drive Review

When the most popular vehicles in the country are pickup trucks, automakers want to make sure they’ve covered every angle.

That’s precisely why there’s the new 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X, an even-more-qualified version of the AT4 off-roader; and if the regular Denali isn’t luxurious enough for you, there’s a new Denali Ultimate version of this half-ton, too.

All Sierra models got an update for 2022, including refreshed exterior styling; new interiors with a 13.4-inch touchscreen with Google Built-In standard on all but the base Pro trim; and a new 2.7L four-cylinder high-output turbocharged engine that’s standard with the Pro, SLE, and Elevation trims.

AT4 Gets Extreme

Both the AT4X and Denali Ultimate use a 6.2L V8 that makes 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque and comes mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The Denali Ultimate can further be optioned with a 3.0L inline-six-cylinder diesel that makes 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Both trims also come only as a crew cab with short bed – currently the popular configuration for buyers across all truck brands – and with four-wheel drive.

Mechanically, the AT4X’s major upgrade over the regular AT4 is its fancy dampers developed by Canadian firm Multimatic. First used in the truck world on the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 – and now on the larger Silverado ZR2 – the so-called dynamic suspension spool valve (DSSV) dampers are making their first appearance on a GMC with this new AT4X. They react at variable rates depending on driving conditions, and do a better job of handling internal heat when the going gets tough – such as desert racing – than a conventional shock absorber thanks to the use of spool valves rather than a piston-and-shim setup.

The AT4X also has electronic differential lockers front and back; more suspension travel than the regular Sierra AT4 (50 mm in front and 25 mm in rear); and a version of one-pedal driving for low-speed off-roading.

On the exterior, the AT4X differs from the AT4 with a dark grille, red recovery hooks, and 18-inch gloss-black wheels. It’s also a premium truck in addition to its off-road functionality, so the interior includes massaging front seats, a 12-speaker stereo, micro-suede headliner, and real wood trim. Premium costs money, of course, and it starts at $89,393 including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $2,095.

It handled an off-road course as expected, including an exercise where I intentionally got stuck in sand and then locked the differentials so the truck could crawl out. Also as expected, higher speeds across a rough trail in a gravel pit didn’t faze it, either, with only the most serious bumps giving it a slight jitter sideways. But if you’re on the pavement, those same shocks provide a smooth ride and do an equally good job over potholes.

Denali Gets More Delightful

While it has the inherent off-road-ability of its four-wheel drive system, the Denali Ultimate is all about upper-upscale. Denali has actually become a sub-brand of GMC, available on all its trucks and SUVs, and accounts for 26 per cent of all sales, according to the brand.

As with the AT4X, this trim includes massaging seats and premium stereo, and with a 15-inch head-up display, leather-wrapped door panels, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, dark chrome grille, and a tough but lighter-weight carbon-fibre bed interior. It’s standard for 2022 but will be an option on the 2023 truck. The Denali Ultimate starts at $94,683, including the delivery charge. Opting for the diesel actually costs less, with a starting price of $92,958.

Hands-Free Towing Capability

An available option is Super Cruise, a hands-free driving system introduced with Cadillac before moving across other General Motors (GM) vehicles. When you’re on a pre-mapped highway – there are 320,000 km or so in its system right now spread across North America, and more are always being added – and conditions are right, you get a notice in the instrument cluster that you can activate the system and take your hands off the wheel.

You still have to pay attention, but the truck handles everything else, including changing lanes if it comes up on a slower-moving vehicle and nothing is alongside it. You can also activate lane changes by tapping the steering wheel. Super Cruise also works when you’re towing a trailer, although the automatic lane-change feature is disabled.

I towed with Super Cruise activated, as well as the available “Transparent Trailer” feature. It requires you to attach a dealer-available accessory camera to the trailer, but once it’s on, you can pull up a centre-screen display that shows what’s behind and beside the trailer as if it’s invisible. The blind-spot monitoring warning also includes the length of the trailer.

Super Cruise is a fascinating technology, and it’s a step on the way to autonomous vehicles; but it’s not there yet. I previously drove an equipped truck (sans trailer) on a busier highway, where my vehicle changed lanes itself. In the rearview, I caught sight of a driver weaving between lanes. When he zigged in behind traffic in my lane, I knew his next move. As expected, he zagged to the left and floored it as my truck started to change lanes, and I brought it back before anything further had to be done to avoid a collision. The system’s smart but it still can’t handle all that humans can do, including anticipating problems. Still, I was glad of Super Cruise on this event, when it handled a long and monotonous drive up a mostly-empty highway, and many drivers will appreciate it for those conditions.

Final Thoughts

The 2022 GMC Sierra is a great driver overall, with responsive steering, a relatively tight turning circle, that strong 6.2L V8, and a smooth ride – and, to my eye, it’s better-looking than its mechanical-twin Chevrolet Silverado. The AT4X now gives GMC fans a chance for the Silverado ZR2’s capability within their beloved brand; and if sedan and SUV buyers can get high-end luxury, the Denali Ultimate gives truck buyers the opportunity, too.