2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X and Denali Ultimate Review Update

Beverly Braga, Independent Expert | May 12, 2022

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Along with SUVs, pickup trucks continue to reign supreme on the road and in automaker's coffers. Of the 15.4 million new vehicles sold in the United States in 2022, light-duty trucks accounted for 75 percent of them. Seventy. Five. And, again, the Ford F-150 was the king of the castle. Following in a distant second and third were the Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado 1500, respectively. Even further back in the sales race was the Silverado's mechanical twin, the GMC Sierra 1500, whose sales were a third of the F-150's.

Despite the F-150's sales dominance, competition within the large light-duty truck segment remains strong since pickup trucks offer flexibility, utility, and premium amenities. High profit margins for automakers help, too. Therefore, even the fourth-place Sierra 1500 must keep up with the Ford Joneses.

Completely redesigned in 2019, GMC significantly refreshed the Sierra for 2022GMC outfitted the truck with new exterior and interior design elements, updated engines, and notable upgrades in technology. Also, two new top-tier trim levels—the luxury-leaning Denali Ultimate and 4-wheeling AT4X—join a lineup that includes Pro, SLE, Elevation, SLT, AT4, and Denali.

Noteworthy changes to the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 include:

  • All-new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (SLE trim and above)
  • All-new 13.4-inch infotainment touchscreen (SLE and above)
  • All-new Electronic Precision Shift (models with front bucket seats only)
  • Available 15-inch multicolor head-up display
  • Available 16-way power-adjustable massaging front bucket seats
  • Available 12-speaker Bose Premium Series with Center Point surround sound
  • Standard Super Cruise (Denali Ultimate only)
  • Retuned turbocharged 2.7-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine
  • Retuned turbocharged 3.8-liter Duramax 6-cylinder diesel engine
  • Redesigned front fascia, grille, and headlights
  • Redesigned center console
  • Unique-to-GMC switches and controls
  • New Elevation Premium package
  • New power-adjustable steering wheel (standard on upper trims only)

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2019 GMC Sierra 1500 and 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Duramax. This review focuses on the Sierra 1500's updates for 2022. It also provides an in-depth look at the new AT4X and Denali Ultimate trims and how they potentially impact the Sierra's overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the GMC Sierra 1500 - Find the best GMC deals!

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate Quicksilver Metallic Front Quarter View

Photo: Beverly Braga

The GMC Sierra 1500 competes in the Large Light Duty Pickup market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 92 percent of new GMC Sierra 1500 buyers are male (vs. 90 percent for the segment), and the median age of a new Sierra 1500 buyer is 58 years (vs. 56).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the Sierra 1500 in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Powertrain
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Getting in and out
  • Driving comfort
  • Setting up and starting
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Sierra 1500 ranks second out of six Large Light Duty Pickup models.

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This review focuses on two different examples of the GMC Sierra 1500: Denali Ultimate and AT4X—all-new trims for the 2022 model year.

Up first is the Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate. While GMC did not provide pricing specific to my test vehicle, utilizing the build-and-price configurator on the brand's consumer website shows an estimated MSRP of $84,450. This includes the starting price of $81,100 as well as add-ons such as Quicksilver Metallic paint ($495), Cargo Convenience package ($535), premium front and rear floor liners ($130), and an Auxiliary Trailer Camera ($595). GMC applied a $50 discount per feature for missing equipment, likely due to supply chain issues. These are for the steering wheel lock and carpet liners for the front and rear seats. The destination fee is $1,695, bringing the Denali Ultimate's total cost to $84,450.

The second truck I tested was a Sierra 1500 AT4X, with an estimated price of $80,220, including the destination charge. Extras included Cayenne Red Metallic paint ($645), Cargo Convenience package ($535), rocker guards ($1,150), and an Auxiliary Trailer Camera ($595). And, like the Denali Ultimate, the omitted steering wheel lock and carpet liners for the front and rear seats added a $100 credit.

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate Specs

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate Interior Dashboard Front Seats

Photo: Beverly Braga

The all-new GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate is an appropriate moniker for a truck that tops the model line. For those who thought the Sierra Denali wasn't "professional grade" luxurious enough, without question, the Denali Ultimate ups the ante.

All 2022 GMC Sierra models receive new exterior styling. Although dimensions have not changed, the Sierra appears lower, wider, and just plain brawnier because of the bolder front-end design. But it's not. Well, it's not lower or wider. The Sierra is still about 81.1 inches at the waist for all cab sizes and 75.4 to 78.4 inches tall, depending on bed type and drive configuration.

Specific to Denali trims is a unique grille to separate them from the non-luxury lineup further. GMC refers to the design as a "tri-linear" theme with "cross-car" inserts. It's rather indecipherable, but what is clear is that the previous model's mesh pattern is long gone. In its place, especially in Denali-trim chrome, is a blinged-out grin. The Denali Ultimate receives "Vader bars" instead of chrome ones. Distinctive breathing is not included.

New headlights complete the truck's widened appearance. New split-design LED projectors follow the contours of the grille, bookending the new fascia's seemingly expansive appearance. The Denalis also receive new 22-inch wheel designs. Machined alloy with chrome inserts for the Denali; low-gloss black with machined details for the Denali Ultimate. The rest of the truck body is unchanged for 2022.

Exclusive to the Denali Ultimate is an Alpine Umber interior featuring full-grain leather and authentic open-pore Paldao wood, both embossed or laser-etched with topographical maps of Denali itself—the highest mountain peak in North America when measured from sea level. The premium upholstery provides soft, comfortable cushioning highlighted by unique accent stitching and crosshatch-style piping. Also, the standard front bucket seats offer heat and ventilation options, 16-way power adjustment, and massage settings. For the back, heated rear seats, A/C vents, charging ports, multiple cupholders, and hidden in-seat storage compartments are standard.

The technology is equally extravagant. Standard on all but the entry-level Sierra Pro trim is a 12.3-inch driver information cluster with a 13.4-inch infotainment touchscreen. An available 15-inch head-up display is standard equipment on the Denali Ultimate. Together, that's 40 inches of screen. All digital. All color. All customizable. All are highly responsive in operation.

 The Sierra also comes with Google built-in compatibility with Android- and Apple-based devices. GMC gives owners of any AT4 and Denali variant three years of complimentary service. The comprehensive Denali Ultimate connectivity features list includes wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with wireless device charging, Bluetooth, and premium Bose surround sound. The package also includes SiriusXM satellite radio with a free 3-month trial, Wi-Fi hotspot capability, voice activation, and an in-vehicle trailering app. Oh, and Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving—newly available for the Sierra but only on the Denali Ultimate.

Driving the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate

As part of a GMC-hosted media event, I was able to test drive the new Sierra Denali Ultimate. GMC outfitted the truck with the Sierra lineup's highest-output engine—a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. A 3.0-liter Duramax turbodiesel is optional and, like the V8, punches out 460 pound-feet of torque. On paper, the Duramax's 277 hp is best-in-class compared to other diesel-powered light-duty pickups. Standard for both engines is a 10-speed automatic transmission. Lastly, the Sierra Denali Ultimate is available only in a crew cab/short box configuration equipped with a 6-way MultiPro tailgate and standard 4-wheel drive (4WD).

Marketed toward a more affluent demographic, GMC's Denali sub-brand offers luxury car comfort without sacrificing work-truck capability. The new "Ultimate" label elevates this premium 4-wheeler lifestyle even more. Case in point: only the Denali Ultimate has Super Cruise. According to GMC, the Level 2 semi-autonomous driving system is easy to activate and operates smoothly and reliably on more than 200,000 miles of mapped roads in the U.S. and Canada. For 2022, GMC has enhanced the advanced hands-free driving technology with trailering capabilities, automatic lane changes, and updated Super Cruise-optimized navigation.

Note that while trailering, the lane-change feature is not available simply due to the current limitations of the technology. However, the Trailer Side Blind Zone Alert works with adaptive cruise control (ACC) to account for the truck-plus-trailer length when making manual lane changes.

Unfortunately, with a small window for test drives, I wasn't able to try out the new trailering feature, but I did give the new Super Cruise system a spin—for all of two highway exits. The predetermined drive route was a truncated 25-mile jaunt through the San Diego suburbs. When I finally reached an on-ramp for Interstate 5, the hotel was a mere three miles away. Sigh.

Not one to squander the opportunity, as minute as it was, I used Super Cruise, anyway. Activation is as simple as turning on ACC. When the instrument cluster icon turns green, simply press the Super Cruise button located on the same steering wheel spoke as ACC, and voila! However, if the steering wheel-embedded light shines blue, you'll need to center the vehicle within its lane until the lightbar changes to green. Green is your "good to go" signal for removing your hands from the steering wheel and turning on the massaging seats!

Even in that short distance, Super Cruise proved to be as good as it ever was. It was the onset of rush hour, so there was surrounding traffic traveling at inconsistent speeds (because California). But Super Cruise handled acceleration and braking with little fuss. There were no surprise lunges or decelerations. If you're one to take long drives, Super Cruise is a welcomed co-driver.

While meandering through the hills of Carlsbad and its surrounding neighborhoods, the Sierra Denali Ultimate offered a pleasantly quiet and compliant ride. As it should because its suspension features segment-exclusive Adaptive Ride Control. Naturally, there is some body roll, which you might expect from a 5,000-pound pickup with an 8.1-inch ground clearance traveling on 22-inch chrome wheels. Prepare to take turns methodically, and you'll be fine. Try to drift through a corner and, well, just don't do that.

Visibility is decent for a big truck, and tight maneuvers in a parking lot didn't present much of a challenge. With its sophisticated look, the Sierra Denali Ultimate did attract attention when I stopped for photos, with passersby impressed with the high-end materials, utility, and technology. Target audience achieved, I'd say.

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X Specs

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X Cayenne Red Metallic Front Quarter View Dirty

Photo: Beverly Braga

Like the Sierra Denali Ultimate but unlike the Sierra AT4, GMC builds the new Sierra AT4X in a single configuration: a crew cab body with a short bed and standard 4WD. Under the hood, there is one option: the 6.2-liter V8 mated to a 10-speed automatic. It's a one-size-fits-most approach with the AT4X, while buyers can option the AT4 with a standard-size box and the Duramax turbodiesel. As the "X-tra" version of the Sierra AT4, the AT4X has a few trim-specific mechanical bits for added off-road capability.

Bold AT4X badging is evident inside and out, but the truck's uniqueness lies under the sheet metal. The new Sierra AT4X has a 2-speed Autotrac transfer case and a 3.23 axle ratio. Its selectable drive modes include Normal, Off-Road, and a new Terrain mode that works while in 4Lo. GMC also equips the AT4X with front and rear e-locking differentials—another segment exclusive. Competitors have either a front-only e-locker or an open differential.

According to the automaker, GMC specifically calibrated the AT4X chassis and suspension for off-road performance. Only on the AT4X will you find Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers and specialized springs that allow for an additional 50 mm and 25 mm of wheel travel in the front and rear, respectively, versus the AT4. This totals to 9.84 inches up front and 10.62 inches out back.

Wrapped around its standard 18-inch gloss-black alloy wheels are 32-inch Goodyear Mud-Terrain tires. At 78.4 inches in height and possessing 11.1 inches of ground clearance, the AT4X is on the tall end of the Sierra scale and has enough underbody space to do the limbo. Speaking of which, you'll find a larger steel transfer case skid plate while you're under there, and protective rocker guards are available as an accessory.

The AT4X's approach angle of 25.5 degrees and break-over angles of 22.7 degrees are the best among non-AT4 Sierra crew cabs. On the other hand, the truck's 23-degree departure angle (same as AT4) is one of the worst among the same group. Also, its payload of 1,420 pounds and towing maximum of 8,900 pounds are toward the bottom of the Sierra family. Those looking for a load-carrying, long-hauling Sierra have plenty of other options within the lineup, of course. GMC intended for the AT4X to be out and about, destroying dirt hills and stuff. That is precisely what my test drive of the AT4X entailed. Sort of.

Driving the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X

I had what can only be described as an exorbitant amount of time with the Sierra AT4X compared to my short sprint in the Sierra Denali Ultimate. From event headquarters in Encinitas, California, the round trip to and from our base camp within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was about 230 miles. There, event organizers aired the tires down from 41 psi to 24 psi and set the drive mode to Off-Road in 4Hi before the group ventured out in a lead-follow convoy. Our destination was the Diablo Drop-Off.

The precipice was as ominous as it sounds. Angled at a steep 45 degrees, the hill itself is short but drops about 100 feet of elevation in that distance. There are also two separate tracks. One side consists of soft, loose sand with a surprise twist in the middle. The other side featured more interesting ruts and steps that could snag a longer vehicle. Dry conditions mean fun, but slight moisture could mean no.

With the drive mode set to 4Lo and the rear e-locker activated, the AT4X descended through the silty section and its questionable jut. There was no out-of-control slippage or unnatural creaks from poor articulation. The AT4X had excellent traction and grip. The only uneasiness was hearing the underside assistance of the skid plate and rocker guards. Even if no detrimental damage, the sound of scraping metal is always unpleasant. On the uphill, I activated both e-lockers, and the AT4X proved slow, steady, and easy peasy. The truck's short overhang kept it moving, while the increased wheel travel and adaptive suspension meant fewer bruises.

The Diablo Drop-Off was exhilarating, albeit fleeting. Thanks to the ever-changing topography, the desert drive was enjoyable, but the route was nowhere near as technical. Sure, I encountered washboard roads, slotted canyons, tight turns, and an unrelenting dust cloud from the truck in front. But one could easily drive through the same obstacles while piloting a Subaru Outback or Forester. Or any one of the growing number of small crossover SUVs offered with an off-road package and decent ground clearance. The underwhelming drive in no way showcased the AT4X's allegedly off-road skill set that I was hyped up about, and that was disappointing.

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2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate Quicksilver Metallic Rear Quarter View

Photo: Beverly Braga

For all the suggested capability of the GMC Sierra AT4X (plus miles and hours behind the wheel), I came away thinking that it's a comfortable full-size truck to drive daily and maybe can handle off-road adventures. Because despite its 4WD setup, the AT4X wasn't a chore to handle when on the pavement. The cabin was still quiet, even with the chunky all-terrain tires. The fuel economy was horrible, though.

With an EPA-estimated 13 mpg city, 17 mpg highway, and 14 mpg combined, for a 24-gallon tank, efficiency is not a priority. In fact, after a full day of driving, idling, and keeping the automatic climate control at 65 degrees F (ambient temperatures reached 97F), I returned to Encinitas with maybe 10 miles of range remaining. But I can't be sure because the cluster read "Low" when the distance-to-empty reached about 30 miles. I still had about half of that to go.

As for the AT4X's off-road skills, that's also questionable. And at 80-grand, it's a heck of a gamble for something untested. At least on that day in the desert.

However, the Sierra Denali Ultimate showed that it's a worthy investment. My time with the new pickup was minimal. Still, I don't need to burn a full tank of premium dinosaur bones to know a vehicle is comfortable, has intuitive tech, boasts good power, and offers more utility than I personally need.

In general, pickup trucks have unwittingly become a luxury purchase. The price walk for the GMC Sierra starts at $36,295 (including destination) for a Pro regular cab 2WD model and ends at the Denali Ultimate, which costs more than twice that to start. Thankfully, within the Sierra lineup (and any other brand's truck lineup, for that matter), the model selection is varied enough to meet the needs of your daily commute or long road trip. Off-roading, though? Your guess is as good as mine.

Beverly Braga is a freelance writer and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a storyteller and communications professional. In addition to JDPower.com, her work has appeared in numerous print and digital outlets covering the automotive, entertainment, lifestyle, and food & beverage industries.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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