It’s traditionally been a challenge to tell General Motors’ two full-size pickup truck lines apart. In recent years, however, GMC has been working to differentiate itself from the more mainstream Chevrolet while giving meaning to its “Professional Grade” tagline.
The best examples yet come with the launch of the new Sierra Denali Ultimate and AT4X packages, both taking the full-size Sierra 1500 pickup to new extremes.
To get a sense of what they had to offer I jumped on a flight to San Diego where I spent two full days behind the wheel of the 2022 models, both on road and off.
Gone are the days when pickups were the purview of contractors, farmers and fleet users. Today, they’re a fixture of suburban life. But, for many buyers, they serve a variety of duties, including hauling, towing and heading off-road, while also providing a comfortable, even luxurious, driving experience. That’s where the two new versions of GMC’s familiar Sierra pickup come into play.
While GMC likes to tout its products as “Professional Grade,” the nearly $83,000 2022 Sierra Denali Ultimate takes the original Sierra Denali up to new levels. It can only be described as a luxury pickup, with the sort of features — and ride — you’d traditionally expect from a high-line luxury sedan. This is a full buffet package. The only options available on the Ultimate are paint color and your choice of a diesel or gas engine.
At the other extreme, there’s the new 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X. Like the Ultimate, it pushes to new level, here adding even more off-road capabilities to the original Sierra AT4. But, like the Denali Premium, the AT4X doesn’t scrimp when it comes to creature comforts. It’s a beast on the trails yet provides a surprisingly comfortable driving experience before you head off-road.
Like the rest of the GMC Sierra line-up, both the Denali Ultimate and AT4X trim levels get updated looks for 2022, starting with new grilles, front fasciae and headlamps. But each model has been uniquely customized.
The Denali Ultimate’s grille, for starters, is bigger than before, and finished in a striking black chrome, with what GMC describes as a “Vader chrome finish” on the brand’s familiar logo. The new projector LED headlamps are more distinctive and flow into the front quarter panels. And the massive 22-inch wheels enhance the truck’s imposing presence.
Distinctive topographic maps are overlaid on the Denali badging, inside and out. The truck also features a CarbonPro carbon fiber composite bedliner and GMC’s Multipro tailgate. Think of it as the pickup equivalent of a Swiss Army knife in that it can open or fold in a variety of different ways to assist whether you’re loading in cargo, off-roading or working at a construction site.
The six-way Multipro tailgate is shared with the Sierra AT4X. But this big, bad off-roader features its own nickel grille, and the integrated headlamps design to give it a wider appearance. When approaching or walking away from the truck you activate a distinctive lighting sequence.
The front fascia is distinctive, as well, designed to provide an increased approach angle to enhance the truck’s off-road capabilities. And like the lower-grade AT4 model, you get an extra 2 inches of lift for greater ground clearance. The package is completed with 18-inch wheels and 32-inch tires.
GMC aims the Sierra Denali Ultimate at those who want a luxury vehicle with the capabilities of a pickup. The interior is refined and features plenty of upscale details, including full-grain leather heated, cooled and massaging seats, stainless steel etched speakers grilles, a microsuede headliner and real wood accents. Even the back seats are heated leather with contrast stitching. It’s a big step up from the already well-appointed Sierra Denali.
The Ultimate puts a premium on digital technology, with a 12.3-inch LCD gauge cluster, a 13.4-inch infotainment touchscreen and a 15-inch head-up display that’s one of the largest on the road. The latest GM infotainment system is both faster and easier to use than earlier models, with lots of programmable features. But the truck retains some hard buttons for climate control and other vehicle controls — a plus in my mind.
While not quite up to the range-topping Ultimate, the Sierra AT4X introduces a lot of high-line features off-roaders might not have expected. That starts with a full-grain leather interior and 16-way power massaging seats. They proved quite useful after jouncing around off-road. The instrument panel also features the same size screens and head-up display, though the AT4X adds some unique gauging — such as tilt and roll angle displays — specifically designed for use on the trail.
Along with your choice of paints, the Sierra Denali Ultimate gives you one other box to check. You can choose either the 6.2-liter gas engine or a 3.0-liter diesel. Both deliver power to all four wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The Ultimate’s V-8 makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, while the old-burner pushes out 269 hp and 460 lb-ft.
If you go for the off-roader, the AT4X is exclusively offered with the V-8 — which makes the same numbers as in the Ultimate package. It’s rated at 8,900 pounds for towing and can carry up to a 1,420-pound payload. But here you get an Autotrac two-speed transfer case, with selectable modes, including Terrain Mode with one-pedal driving.
The AT4X adds a number of other features meant to turn it into the ultimate off-roading pickup. These include front and rear e-locking differentials that help direct torque where needed in low traction conditions. It also gets Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers and a stainless steel transfer case skid plate. Additional rocker protection is available.
Safety and Technology
The infotainment system in both trucks is now Google-powered, adding cloud-connected features that enhance navigation and introduce some streaming options. You’ll find both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and you can still use the system to access Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant if that’s what you use to power your home. A Qi wireless smartphone charger is built in atop the center console cover.
Climb inside the 2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate and you may notice a couple sensors staring at you, including one built into the top of the steering wheel. That’s a clear sign that the truck includes parent GM’s Super Cruise system. The technology allows you to operate hands-free on up to 200,000 miles of limited-access highways. There’s even a “preview mode,” which lets you see where Super Cruise will operate ahead of time once you plug in a destination on the built-in navi.
For 2022, the system adds some new features, including the ability to tap the turn signal to have the Sierra change lanes. It also will automatically pass slower vehicles, where possible. The system even operates while towing a trailer — though the auto-pass functions are disabled.
The AT4X, meanwhile, comes with a 12-speaker Bose Premium sound system — in the cabin, with a second, Kicker audio system built into the MultiPro tailgate.
The two trucks feature an array of advanced driver assistance systems, including active cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot warning.
The AT4X adds useful features like a grille-mounted front camera useful for both towing and off-roading. Both trucks add cameras providing multiple views to ease towing, as well.
If you’re looking for a truck that can tow and haul, yet deliver a surprisingly smooth on-road experience when you’re just looking to cruise, the 2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate certainly delivers on its promise. You might forget you’re driving a truck when you’re on the highway, it’s so quiet and well-mannered.
I spent a long day flogging the Ultimate around San Diego and then up to the picturesque old gold mining town of Julian — with a stop for a slice of the well-known local pie. When you’re on back roads, you do feel the mass of this big rig, but it remains easily tamed and ready to handle tight turns.
With all the features built in, including the massaging seats, the miles just seemed to melt away.
Perhaps the bigger surprise was the 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X. With those 32-inch wheels, I was expecting a rough and noisy ride, but that’s one place I’m glad it didn’t deliver on expectations. The AT4X may be ready to take on extreme off-road conditions, but it was surprisingly tame on-road, as well. The Multimatic dampers helped soak up bumps and potholes surprisingly well and GMC engineers have done a solid job of isolating tire, wind and road noise.
As I had to catch a flight out, I didn’t get to experience the full off-road route GMC lined up. What I did experience was impressive, however, the truck making easy work out of deep sand and silt conditions. Colleagues later advised me that the AT4X was more than up to the task of handling boulder climbs and other tough challenges.
It helps that the AT4X offers enhanced ground clearance of 11.1 inches, an approach angle of 25.5 degrees, a departure angle of 23 degrees, and up to 10.62 inches of suspension travel in the rear.
2022 GMC Sierra AT4X Crew Cab Specifications
|Dimension||L: 241.5 inches/W: 81.2 inches/H: 78.2 inches/Wheelbase: 157.1 inches|
|Powertrain||6.2-liter VVT DI V-8; 10-speed transmission 4wd (gas engine)|
|Fuel Economy||13 mpg city/17 mpg highway/14 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $77,395; As tested: not available, plus $1,695 delivery fee|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
The 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate comes in at $82,795, including $1,695 in delivery fees. That pretty much covers it all, as there are only those two options: paint color and a choice of a gas or diesel engine.
The 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X starts at $77,395, including delivery fees. You’ll find a variety of options on the off-roader, including rock sill protection.
There’s no question that GMC has come up with two new extreme machines that can appeal to pickup buyers with deep pockets. Both trucks deliver precisely what they promise.
2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate and AT4X - Frequently Asked Questions
What is the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate package?
It’s the pickup equivalent of a luxury vehicle, with high-line features like leather, wood and microsuede, lots of technology and a smooth, comfortable ride. But it retains Sierra’s hefty towing and hauling capabilities with its choice of a 6.2-liter V-8 gas engine or a 3.0-liter diesel.
What is the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X?
The GMC Sierra AT4X takes off-roading to the next level beyond the old Sierra AT4 package. It adds a variety of features, including Multimatic dampers, new skid plates and a unique 2-speed transfer case.
How much do the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate and Sierra AT4X cost?
The Ultimate package comes in at $82,795 and offers only two choices: a V-8 gas engine or a 3.0-liter diesel, and your paint color. The AT4X starts at $77,395 — these prices including delivery fees.