2022 GMC Sierra AT4X First Drive Review | Luxury off-roader

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BORREGO SPRINGS, Calif. – What does the 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X have in common with the Aston Martin Vulcan, Mercedes-AMG GT, Camaro ZL1 and Ford GT? The answer: Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers. These dampers – or shock absorbers as they’re also called – are a lot like the adaptive dampers found in many sport and luxury vehicles. In a general sense, they allow drivers to select how soft or firm a ride they want, but the Multimatic dampers are quicker to respond and have additional benefits related to off-roading.

Off-roading is the main reason this new AT4X model has been added to the Sierra lineup this year, along with its elevated levels of luxury. It’s a big step up from the existing less-capable AT4 trim, which misses out on the DSSV dampers, electronically locking front and rear differentials, and 32-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac Mud-Terrain tires. The timing of this debut coincides with a significant overhaul for the entire 2022 Sierra lineup, including revised styling, a more muscular 2.7-liter turbo-four engine, and most notably, an interior overhaul that replaces this generation’s dull and outdated dashboard with a fresh, modern and more competitive interpretation bolstered by a large 13.4-inch touchscreen powered by the Android Automotive OS. Upping the luxury further is a new, fully-loaded Denali Ultimate trim that includes the Super Cruise automated driving system, though our time in the revised 2022 Sierra was almost entirely in the AT4X.

In addition to the off-road equipment and interior improvements listed above, the Sierra AT4X features the 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 as standard equipment, improved underbody skid plates, and a new Terrain drive mode. But that’s not all, because the AT4X is also differentiated by the X-less AT4 with a cabin that’s almost as extravagant as that luxurious Denali model, minus the availability of Super Cruise. Ventilated seats with massage functions, premium leather upholstery, wood trim and Bose audio are all standard. Altogether, this big truck could be the perfect way to get to your next glamping adventure.

We had the opportunity to check out the AT4X’s capabilities within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a few hours east of San Diego. There, we encountered long stretches of dried riverbeds, narrow chokepoints as well as steep climbs and descents. After dropping pressures in the Goodyear mud-terrain tires to a flaccid 15 psi, we skimmed through the silted riverbeds with ease.

The chokepoints proved more challenging as the view from the driver’s seat doesn’t give a very good indication of where the truck’s corners are. The new dashboard is still tall enough to prompt a 5-foot-10 driver to increase the seat height to at least see the hood, but even then it was likely to misjudge clearances by a full foot. The numerous trail cameras proved useful, but only if the lenses were kept clean. With a light dusting covering them, the view from that new infotainment screen resulted in a blinding haze of beige. Instead, we opted for the inelegant solution of having the passenger hang their head out the window to serve as a spotter.

At the Devil’s Drop-Off, a parallel set of steep hills with offset undulations that could swallow a Miata, we stopped to switch to low-range gearing with a push of a button. We also popped the new, console-mounted electronic gear selector to neutral, tapped another button below the touchscreen to lock the front and rear differentials, then selected the new Terrain mode with a knob to the left of the steering wheel. With second gear selected, we cautiously crept to a large depression on the left, then another on the right, and so on. Terrain mode allows for one-pedal driving in situations like this, with enough engine braking to come to a full stop on course.

Making it to the bottom was easy, but those offset undulations put a spotlight on the AT4X’s breakover angle. We dragged the optional rock sliders (called Rocker Guards by GMC) across the top of almost every hump, making taller tires seem like a good idea. Sadly, GMC states that 35-inch tires will not fit without modifying the truck. Then again, this obstacle is likely more advanced than most drivers will encounter.

Climbing the parallel course was similarly easy and the 11.1-inch ground clearance proved adequate for some large rocks in our path. Power from the big V8 was well suited for this climb and the truck’s gearing. Reaching the summit at a slow and steady pace was so easy it was almost anticlimactic. The AT4X occasionally had a wheel hanging well off the ground, but the rigid frame did not emit any creaks from the resulting twist.

Suspension travel is stated as 9.84 inches for the front and 10.62 inches for the rear, which is less than the minimum clearances of the Ford F-150 Raptor (13 inches) or Ram TRX (14 inches). The AT4X’s approach angle of 25.5 degrees comes up short against the Raptor’s 31 degrees and TRX’s 30.2 degrees, but its departure angle of 23 degrees is only a fraction of a degree less. The Raptor is eligible for 37-inch tires, though, allowing it to pull even further ahead.

If anything, these deficiencies highlight the fact that the AT4X and its equally new Chevy Silverado ZR2 cousin aren’t intended to be apples-to-apples competitors for the Raptor and TRX. Basically, they slot in between those trucks and lesser off-roading trim levels like the carry-over AT4, Ford F-150 Tremor and Ram 1500 Rebel. At the same time, the AT4X also boasts advantages that could be more beneficial than whatever hardcore all-terrain challenges it can’t quite tackle.

Specifically, since most of us have to travel in order to get to a suitable off-road area and use our weekend playthings for the daily commute, less committed off-roaders should find the AT4X’s on-road manners to their liking. Thanks to those Multimatic dampers, the ride quality is noticeably smoother than the Raptor or TRX. While none of these trucks exhibit any real harshness, there is less bouncing and jostling inside the GMC, making it feel more settled and calm. It’s also quieter, with barely detectable amounts of wind noise and no howl from those chunky tires.

There are some driving quirks to acclimate to, however. The steering has a good on-center feel, allowing the truck to track straight down a highway lane with minimal input from the driver, but when navigating tight turns on mountain passes, the steering feels oddly lazy. On more than a few occasions, the truck would run wide in these turns unless we kept feeding more steering input throughout. The brakes also require an increasing amount of pedal pressure to stop, which resulted in some quickened heart rates.

There isn't just one new interior for the 2022 Sierra, but two. The SLE, SLT and Elevation trim levels share the same updated design as the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado (SLT pictured above right), while the AT4, AT4X, Denali and Denali Ultimate get their own variation on the same general theme (the AT4X is pictured above left). It's a similar approach to what you'll find in the GMC Yukon. With either design, you're looking at a serious improvement. The interior they replace looked old the second it debuted, suffering from a small touchscreen and an abundance of cheap-looking plastic surfaces. It was particularly noticeable on upper trim levels, where token bits of “wood” were somehow meant to be enough to compete with an Ram 1500 Limited. The overhaul for 2022, including the sleek new infotainment screen, graceful center stack and soft-touch materials, now places top Sierra trim levels on even footing with the Ram. The unique design also gives the top Sierras a clear point of difference with their Silverado counterparts.

Nitpicks? We would have preferred to have the transfer case and drive mode dials grouped near the rest of the off-road buttons at the bottom of the center stack or on the center console. Everything’s a little too scattershot. The new electronic gear selector and accompanying trailer brake controller also take up a lot of real estate on that center console, making us wonder if GM could've come up with a better replacement for the old column shifter.

Taking everything into account, the 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X will likely meet the off-road expectations for the vast majority of shoppers. Those who aspire to conquer more challenging terrain will be better served by alternatives such as the Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 1500 TRX, as well as the Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler. The GMC does gain an advantage with its 8,900-pound towing capacity, beating the Raptor and TRX by as much as 900 lbs.

On the other hand, the AT4X will likely exceed shoppers’ expectations for comfort and luxury. It’s a better truck to drive on pavement in the everyday grind and comes with almost every available option. It is effectively the off-roading answer to the Denali trim, although that truck gets a few upgrades not available on the AT4X, including the option of the Super Cruise automated driving system. There’s also the new range-topping Denali Ultimate that elevates the upper crust Sierra cabin to the highest levels of luxury possible.

All of this comes at a price, of course. The 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X starts at $79,090, including destination charges. Compared to apex-predator trucks, this price isn’t as scary as you might think. A Raptor starts around $8,000 less, but a similarly equipped model (remember, the luxury-lined AT4X is already fully loaded) knocks that price advantage down to $1,000. A TRX starts a few hundred dollars more, but with competitive options, it’s closer to $90,000. Then again, the TRX has 282 more horsepower. Within GM’s own portfolio, the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 starts some $10,000 less and has nearly identical capabilities, but is less luxurious and does without the same standard bells and whistles.

The Sierra AT4X should be a good fit for deep-pocketed shoppers seeking a reasonable blend of all-terrain capabilities and on-road comfort. It’s one of those rare vehicles that can play in the dirt all day yet is posh enough for a night on the town, with only a car wash in between.

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