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2022 GMC Sierra Shines in Top Trims – But at What Cost?

2022 GMC Sierra Shines in Top Trims – But at What Cost?

Sierra 1500 shoots an ambitious shot

  • Newly available Super Cruise semi-automated driving system also works when towing
  • New AT4X trim level combines greater off-road performance with upgraded interior
  • New Denali Ultimate trim level is the pinnacle of the Sierra 1500 lineup
  • Part of the fourth Sierra 1500 generation introduced for 2019

What is the Sierra 1500?

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

When the newest GMC Sierra 1500 launched in 2019, it already felt a little behind the times. The redesigned Ram 1500 — which also bowed that year — set a new standard for the class, but the Sierra even felt less refined than the aging Ford F-150.

Not content with a distant third place, the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 now offers a number of upgrades to separate it from the heavy hitters in the class and from its Chevrolet Silverado stablemate. There are two top trims, the opulent Denali Ultimate and off-road AT4X, that come with plush features including a suede headliner and massaging seats. However, the biggest addition is GM's Super Cruise, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel in certain circumstances, even while towing, a first for this class of trucks.

How does the Sierra 1500 drive?

The 4.3-liter V6 that used to be the Sierra 1500's standard powertrain has been mercifully axed for 2022. In its place is an upgraded version of the turbocharged 2.7-liter inline-four that was optional for the 2018-2021 Sierra. Horsepower holds steady at 310, but torque gets a major bump, from 348 lb-ft to an even 420 lb-ft. All other engine choices carry over, including the 5.3-liter V8 (355 hp, 383 lb-ft) and 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft). The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six diesel (277 hp, 460 lb-ft) also returns, with a 13,200-pound maximum tow rating that eclipses last year's max of 11,800 pounds. The four-cylinder drives the wheels via an eight-speed automatic, while all other engines use a 10-speed auto.

Both of the Sierras we drove, the Denali Ultimate and AT4X, come standard with the big 6.2-liter V8, with the Denali Ultimate also offering the diesel as an option. The 6.2-liter V8 offers admirable power, especially early from a stop, that is well suited for getting this truck up to speed with style. On a winding cruise through canyon roads, it didn't excite, but it did offer consistent thrust when coming out of a sharp hairpin or a faster sweeping bend. And of course, in off-road situations the copious low-end torque comes in quite handy. The steering and body control felt a half-step ahead of some competitors on our drive, but the brick-like brake pedal stuck out. We'll soon conduct a full test of the Sierra 1500 to see whether it affects stopping performance.

What are the AT4X and Denali Ultimate trims?

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

The AT4X is even more focused on off-road performance than the trail-tackling AT4. On top of the AT4's upgrades — which include four-wheel drive with low range, protective skid plates and General Motors' unique one-pedal off-road driving — the AT4X comes with specialized shock absorbers, electronically locking front and rear differentials, and 32-inch all-terrain tires. This is similar hardware to what's on the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 off-road variant, though by comparison the AT4X is toned down. It has a more street-friendly front bumper that sacrifices approach angle for style, and the tires are a step lower on the extreme scale from the ZR2's 33-inch mud-terrains. Still, the AT4X proved plenty capable over rough terrain, scaling steep dirt inclines and tackling deep ruts with ease thanks to soft cushioning from the advanced suspension dampers by Canadian company Multimatic. It's the first time I've personally off-roaded while enjoying massaging seats as well.

Besides massaging seats, highlights of the AT4X's cabin include a suede headliner, upgraded leather and a 15-inch head-up display. You'll also get these features and more on the new Denali Ultimate level, which is the pinnacle of the Sierra 1500 lineup. It doesn't have the AT4X's off-road hardware, but it does carry forward many of that truck's interior appointments. It also has unique extras such as laser-etched open-pore wood and extended use of upgraded leather throughout the cabin. The truck makes a strong luxury statement with 22-inch wheels and a black chrome grille, while GMC also includes its full suite of flashy features like a carbon-composite bed, adaptive suspension dampers and power-retractable side steps.

How comfortable is the Sierra 1500?

In its Denali Ultimate trim, as to be expected, the Sierra 1500 is a very comfortable truck. There is impressive sound deadening inside the cabin that prevents noise from the road, wind and engine from interrupting your cruise. The adaptive suspension also works well, helping the heavy pickup rebound from bumps and cracks in the road. Unlike some other adaptive systems, though, this one only reacts to the road it encounters — it cannot scan ahead and prepare for imperfections in advance. So you do feel the road through your seat, more than in some versions of the Ram 1500, for example. Still, the Denali Ultimate and its more plush aspects stand out in the class.

As for the AT4X, it feels immediately more comfortable than its Silverado ZR2 cousin. This is largely due to the smaller, less aggressive all-terrain tires that emit less noise and muffle some bumps in the road. But the luxury trimmings in this off-road truck can't be denied. Soft materials abound, and both heated and ventilated front seats are always welcome off the beaten path.

How's the Sierra 1500's interior?

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

One of the reasons this Sierra generation felt so old upon release was the underwhelming interior design. The dashboard's focal point was a relatively small touchscreen surrounded by a sea of buttons on the center console. That changes for 2022 with a new 13.4-inch landscape-oriented touchscreen that comes standard on all but the base Pro model. The center stack then cascades, with the panel underneath the air-conditioning controls and off-road toggle switches angled slightly upward. Between the stack and center console is a new car-like shift lever that replaces a traditional column-mounted stalk.

This interior is a massive upgrade over the previous Sierra's. The laser-etched topographical accents in the Denali Ultimate are especially a classy touch, while the improved controls and screens should elevate all Sierra trim levels regardless of price. The overall result is a cabin that seems more impressive than its predecessor.

But it's not without stumbles. Next to the impressive touchscreen is a single volume knob that accentuates the large amount of surrounding piano black plastic along the screen apparatus and throughout the flimsy button layout below. Piano black looks nice when new, but it quickly becomes greasy and scratched after continued use, and the glossy shine can't hide the fact that it's just plastic on a truck that — in the Denali Ultimate's case — costs $80,000. This is a minor issue, though, in what is otherwise a stately interior design for the Sierra.

How's the Sierra 1500's tech?

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali

The most significant addition to the 2022 Sierra 1500 is the adoption of GM's Super Cruise — a seriously impressive suite of driving aids that allows for hands-off driving in certain circumstances. This newest version also includes an automated lane change system that activates when it senses a slowing vehicle ahead of you and executes a pass when it's safe. Note that automatic lane changes are not available while towing, but other Super Cruise functions are. When using navigation, Super Cruise-enabled routes will be highlighted on the map, so you'll know exactly where the system can be engaged.

Unfortunately, Super Cruise will cost more than what you'll pay for its package price. Standard on the Denali Ultimate and optional on the Denali, Super Cruise requires a subscription fee. Three years is included to get you started, but after that, you'll have to pay to continue using the service. GMC has not yet announced pricing for Super Cruise once the trial period ends.

We were given the opportunity to test the Sierra 1500's Super Cruise system both with a trailer and without, and can report that the truck accelerates and brakes naturally with the system engaged. It is seriously impressive to confidently remove your hands from the wheel while towing. Later, we tested Super Cruise without a trailer and found the automatic lane change feature also raised an eyebrow or two. The system intelligently and smoothly changes lanes, though why it did so wasn't always clear. We're looking forward to more testing opportunities. It does help that the system issues a notification by buzzing the left or right side of the driver's seat instead of sending alarming flashes or warnings. It's also easy to retake control of the wheel at any time and reactivate the system later when you're ready for it to operate again.

Edmunds says

A raft of changes and updates means the 2022 Sierra 1500 is a reformed truck in any trim level, thanks to upgraded power and a sharper interior throughout the range. The new Denali Ultimate and AT4X trims push the Sierra to new heights. However, so do their prices. Stay tuned for a full test in the near future to see where it stacks up against the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.