2022 GMC Sierra First Drive: Tux To Trail, Denali Ultimate And AT4X Have It Covered

With the reveal of the refreshed 2022 GMC Sierra, the ever-popular half-ton pickup offers a pair of new premium trim levels that build upon the goodwill established by some well-regarded predecessors. For those looking for the last word in pickup truck luxury — imagine reading that phrase in 1977 — GMC one-ups the Denali with the Denali Ultimate. Conversely, the off-road-focused AT4 trim sees significant upgrades into the new AT4X trim, upgrades that find the baddest Sierra yet aiming squarely at Ford's F-150 Raptor.

Every 2022 Sierra sees a facelift, with a new grille and headlamps paired with a revised interior layout. The new trims, however, add even more: from Multimatic spool-valve dampers and front/rear locking differentials for the rugged AT4X, to the Super Cruise hands-free driver assistance system on the Denali and Denali Ultimate trims. Newly, that Super Cruise system will now function with a trailer in tow.

Exterior styling changes

The exterior of the 2022 GMC Sierra really only sees significant changes to the fascia, with a more defined grille that is much less mustache-shaped than last year's model. The grille has a variety of finishes — from bright chrome on the Denali to a handsome dark nickel on the AT4X to a dark chrome (Vader Chrome for the Star Wars fans) — depending on the trim selected.

With that new grille comes a new bumper and headlamps. Those new lights are dual-projector LED lamps, echoing last year's shape in a thinner, more refined pattern. A surprise-and-delight feature that might grow old after a few months are animated lighting sequences that will activate when starting the truck, and on approach and departure from the vehicle.

Three new, extra-cost paint finishes have been added: Titanium Rush Metallic, Dynamic Blue Metallic, and Desert Sand Metallic.

Interior updates

The interior sees some welcome changes, bringing the materials and layout back in line with the competition; some might say, bringing it to where it should have been when this generation of truck was introduced a few years ago. A new 13.4-inch infotainment touchscreen (fitted to SLE trims and above) looks impressive, and gives enough visual real estate to display a standard wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto interface as well as a small section off to the side for a clock or other information. Much like on the new Hummer EV, Google is built into the new Sierra on all models except the Pro.

Adding to the center touchscreens, a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (again, SLE trim and above) is configurable to display a wealth of information. Both of these screens are bright and clear without being distracting, and I found the center display especially useful when navigating obstacles off-road with the remarkably clear exterior camera displays. I'll have you know that the scrapes on the lower air dam on the blue truck in these photos were there when I hopped in for the first time.

GMC has added an available 15-inch multi-color heads-up display as well, which will project navigation and vehicle information virtually onto the road ahead. Using some creative math known not to my kids' pre-calculus teacher, GMC marketers claim the combination of these three available screens as "more than 40 diagonal inches" of digital display space.

Size isn't everything

It's all about size for some people. When you think about "40 inches" of screens, the immediate thought is of a single flatscreen television roughly the size of the windscreen – but, no. These displays, while indeed large, look well integrated into the layout of the interior. Some of the plastics — namely, those toward the knees on the dashboard, and maybe the buttons on the steering wheel — still feel somewhat cheap and are likely to show fine scratches over the life of the vehicle, but the majority of the materials feel top-notch.

Further, I'm delighted by the heads-up display as it legibly displays road speed and navigation (whether using the baked-in Google nav or the phone-projection options) with a readout that worked well with my polarized sunglasses. I've seen too many such displays wash out when my skull is equipped for the sun, but not here.

Let's talk luxury

There is a new electronic console shift lever that works intuitively, with the standard integrated trailer brake control mechanism situated just aft. This feels like a great location: too many other trucks have the switch somewhere on the dash, often partially hidden by the steering wheel and maybe a Big Gulp. When towing, if you need that switch you need it right now. Bravo to GMC for putting it where it falls immediately to hand.

Several trims, including the Sierra AT4X and Denali Ultimate, have new sixteen-way adjustable front seats with a massaging feature that was quite welcome. A tap of a button on the side and the knots from a bad airline seat slowly melted away. GMC reps, as they set us off toward off-road obstacles, ensured that while we had the transfer case and electronically-locking differentials set properly for the terrain ahead, we also remembered to activate the massage.

Powertrains for 2022

Much as last year, GMC offers a quartet of engines in the 2022 Sierra: the big change this year is in the 2.7-liter turbocharged four cylinder. Still rated at 310hp, torque gets a massive bump from 348 lb-ft in last year's edition to 430 lb-ft in 2022. The four now offers 9,600 pounds (2WD) or 9,300 pounds (4WD) of towing capacity, and is fitted with an eight-speed automatic.

A ten-speed automatic is used with the 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter gasoline V8s, as well as the 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline six. Chassis changes have been made this year to allow the max tow package to be fitted with the diesel, adding 4,000 pounds of towing capacity: a properly-equipped max tow diesel Sierra 1500 2WD can manage 13,200 pounds, or 13,000 pounds with 4WD. The 6.2-liter V8 — standard in the top-trim AT4X and Denali Ultimate trucks tested — can similarly tow up to 13,000 in a 4WD truck with the NHT-code Maximum Tow package.

Safety and Super Cruise

As one might expect from any new or refreshed vehicle these days, the Sierra is quite well stocked with enhanced active safety features. Forward collision alerts, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and automatic high beam headlamps are among these features. Another addition is a blind spot alert that works while towing; taking into account the length of the trailer, it will alert of potential obstacles while changing lanes.

Super Cruise is once again available on the Sierra Denali, and is standard on the new Denali Ultimate. Unlike other driving systems that claim to be autonomous, the Super Cruise simply allows for freeway driving — on over 200,000 miles of roads mapped by GM across North America — with hands off of the steering wheel. The system uses cameras and other sensors to confirm that the driver's eyes are indeed on the road, ready to retake the wheel at any time.

New this year, Super Cruise has been upgraded with hands-free towing capabilities. GMC offered a couple of Sierra Denali Ultimate trucks equipped with an enclosed trailer for brief tow tests.

Beyond the weird factor

At first, towing with Super Cruise feels almost disturbing. Pressing the button and engaging the hands-free driving assistance feature feels natural after having driven the Sierra without a box hanging off the tail, but then you realize that you're not constantly correcting the attitude of the truck and trailer combo as you drive on down the interstate. It's at once weird and, soon thereafter, refreshing.

I've done a couple of long tows in other vehicles: a twelve-plus hour day steering both a truck and RV is genuinely exhausting. While Super Cruise doesn't take away from your responsibility when you're behind the wheel of five tons or more of metal, it might ease the tension just that little bit.

Without a trailer, Super Cruise will now change lanes for you if the vehicle you're following slows too much for you to maintain your preferred set speed. It'll notify the driver, signal, and change lanes to the left where appropriate. It's not autonomous — thank goodness — but it takes just a bit of the burden off of the driver during a commute.

Where equipped, the Super Cruise feature is included in the cost of the Sierra for three years – after that, it costs $25 per month to keep the functionality. It seems we are in a future where we will be paying for subscriptions to everything.

Denali Ultimate

The Denali Ultimate trim is, well, the ultimate Denali. Where the standard Sierra Denali is a chrome-and-leather laden luxury truck, the Sierra Denali Ultimate makes the exterior luxury a little less ostentatious with the Vader Black dark chrome grille and other trim. The 22-inch alloy wheels wear a low-gloss black finish with machined alloy accents. The fender trim below the A-pillar (with bold but subdued ULTIMATE spelled out) has a texture of a topographical map of Mount Denali.

That topo map detail is carried over to the interior, with textures embossed into the full-grain Alpine Umber leather, as well as etched into the Paldao wood trim on the upper glove box door. The coordinates of Mount Denali appear in a few places throughout the interior as well, in case you get lost and need to get to Alaska.

That Alpine Umber leather drapes throughout the cabin, looking and feeling like a luxury vehicle should. A microsuede headliner, pillar trim, and sun-visors contrast nicely with the hides. The 6.2-liter V8, ten-speed automatic, and four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case, are standard on the Denali Ultimate.

Sierra AT4X

The Sierra AT4X goes beyond the AT4 off-road package by adding an X. Several other additional important details add to the AT4 as well: most notably Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers, which are position and speed sensitive, and help control the big truck no matter the road or trail.

These dampers have been fitted to the Chevy Colorado ZR2 in the past, among other performance vehicles, and the feel is nothing short of magical. Our initial drive route through the mountains east of San Diego led us on roads much better suited for lithe sports cars than a half-ton truck, with narrow lanes and switchbacks. The Sierra AT4X hucked around corners at speeds well out of character for such a big vehicle, especially considering the standard Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac 32" mud terrain tires.

Those tires and dampers acquitted themselves nicely once we met our destination in the desert, where after airing the Goodyears down to 15psi we blasted over washboard surfaces and crawled through rocky terrain.

When the trail looked less beaten and more natural, the terrain mode (available when the transfer case is switched into 4WD low) was quite welcome. This allowed for driving with one pedal, automatically activating the brakes as you lift off the throttle. Much finer control over slow, technical terrain was afforded.

Keeping it real

It's been said before but, for these first drive events, automakers generally won't put their vehicles into a situation where they're at all likely to fail. Rather, they'll look for settings where the particular car/truck will shine. Indeed, the Sierra AT4X never put a foot wrong in our long day to, from, and in the desert, but I do feel that those looking for a truck that can both swiftly get to the trail in comfort and manage just about any sort of terrain could do worse than choosing the AT4X package. The gaggle of trucks ran all day in 90-degrees-plus temps, air conditioning blasting, with absolutely no issues.

The AT4X seems to compare nicely to the ever-popular Raptor. While the styling doesn't quite shout "look at me" as does the big Ford, as the Sierra AT4X doesn't wear massive flared fenders or vinyl rear-quarter graphics, the performance both on and off road is quite similar between the two. It's a matter of choosing understated luxury versus a rolling billboard of testosterone – the choice is yours.

2022 Sierra pricing and final verdict

As you'd expect considering the vast array of options, features, bed and cab lengths, pricing varies quite wildly for the GMC Sierra. Starting with the base-trim Sierra Pro — focused as a work truck — at $36,295 including destination charges, the price of a Sierra 1500 can more than double as one checks the boxes.

The headliners include the Sierra AT4X at $77,395 delivered, and $82,795 delivered for the Sierra Denali Ultimate. A healthy payment to be certain for both, but as maxed out as they are for their intended purposes GMC won't have any problems selling every one they can make. After all, the existing Denali and AT4 trims make up for nearly half of all GMC brand sales: extending the market upward is a no-brainer.

The full-size truck market is vast. There is room for a great variety of flavors, from basic work trucks to hardcore terrain blasters to leather-lined trucks suited for livery service. The latest GMC Sierra does a superb job of making a truck work for just about anyone who needs one. And they cross the streams quite nicely – should you decide to step out on the town wearing the hiking boots of the ATX4 or hit some moderate trails whilst suited up in the Denali Ultimate, you can't go wrong.