But for the brand badges and subtle differences in grilles and headlights, it has typically been difficult to tell apart General Motors’ two full-size pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. But the automaker seems determined to eliminate this archetypal example of badge engineering.
When it launched new versions of the Silverado and Sierra for 2019, they boasted more dramatic visual differences, inside and out, than ever before. And they even split when it came to appealing new features. The Chevy, for one, got a power-operated tailgate, while GMC’s truck introduced a multi-function tailgate that can be opened and used in a variety of different ways, such as creating a workbench or bed extender.
Now, GMC is itself planning to broaden out its line-up in a bid to win over more buyers. As a counterpoint to its plushly outfitted Sierra Denali model, it is launching the all-new off-road-oriented Sierra AT4. We had a chance to take the new model for a test drive through the mountainous terrain southeast of San Diego recently and found it surprisingly competent, both on-road and off.
Our planned route had undergone some last-minute revisions due to the month-long federal government shutdown, the national park we were scheduled to drive through closed for the time being. Instead, our caravan of AT4s headed off on a windy mountain pass took us weaving and bobbing ever closer to the existing wall marking the border with Mexico. It also appeared to send up a warning flare for the U.S. Border Patrol, a big helicopter suddenly darting over the horizon.
(GMC unveils 2020 Acadia. Click Here for the story.)
We’re not sure if the folks from USBP thought we were part of the long-threatened Mexican caravan, somehow finding its way across the border, but the chopper buzzed the group several times. Then again, the crew might just have been admiring our trucks. The one hanging out of the open door gave us an admiring thumbs-up after the last pass, the chopper heading off over the hills.
We received a number of admiring looks and positive comments about the Sierra during our drive, reflecting our own feelings for the truck.
For those familiar with the latest-generation GMC Sierra 1500, the off-road version gets some modest but functional tweaks, starting with a set of bright red tow hooks, skid plates, suspension lifts that add two additional inches of ride height, new wheels and knobby tires – either 18 inches or 20s – better at gaining a bite into mud, sand or gravel, new monotube shocks and a locking rear differential.
The combination clearly came together as our caravan worked its way its way up to 5,000 feet and back down again, with a sheer cliff, rather than a guardrail, off our left shoulder most of the way. The truck never lost its grip and, later in the day, as we took it out on an obstacle course, slamming our way across rocks and potholes, the AT4 proved pleasantly stable and sure-footed.
Unlike some off-road editions, the AT4 isn’t meant to be your classic, stripped-down truck. Its impressive capabilities are matched by a surprising level of refinement and comfort on-road. Better to think of it as a ruggedized version of the Sierra Denali. On pavement, the AT4 driving experience was essentially just as comfortable as in the top-line Sierra, but for the singing of those knobby tires. That’s great news for those who might like the occasional off-road jaunt while still using their truck as a daily driver.
(Click Here for more about the 2020 GMC Sierra HD.)
The AT4 is offered with two powertrain packages, the base being a 5.3-liter gas-fed V-8 making 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. For our day’s driving, however, we opted for the upgrade package, a 6.2-liter V-8 that bumps the numbers up to 435 hp and 469 lb-ft. That was more than enough for the AT4 to show its stuff with an 8,000-pound trailer attached.
Shedding the trailer, the big engine is surprisingly smooth, even on undulating roads, thanks to a well-programmed 10-speed automatic gearbox.
The AT4 doesn’t feature all the bells-and-whistles of the Denali, but it comes close – in price, too. Our test model was priced at $65,330. That was nearly $11,000 over the base AT4. Indeed, the starting price with a crew cab is $54,695, just short of a Denali. The test model included an array of useful on and off-road features, including a 360-degree camera, an off-road performance kit and head-up display.
And, like the standard-issue Sierra, it had a variety of appealing features starting with the Multi-Pro tailgate which, GMC points out, can be operated eight different ways. Add the rear step-up built into the bumper, and the emphasis really is on functionality over form.
(To see more about GM’s plans for electric trucks, Click Here.)
The Chevy Silverado remains the big seller in the General Motors truck line-up. But GMC is doing a solid job of trying to differentiate itself and give meaning to its long-running slogan, “Professional Grade.” For those who want a truck that can handle a broad range of challenges, whether towing, heading off-road or simply hauling around the family, the new AT4 model is clearly worth checking out.