On the Road Review: GMC Sierra AT4X 1500

The pickup wars are heating up. Generating huge income for the automakers just as they are being pressured to spend billions to build battery-electric-vehicles, the Big Three’s pickup brands — Chevy, GMC, Ford and Ram — are going to have to deliver the big bucks necessary to make these dreams possible.

For buyers, this means constrained supply and retail prices that will shock drivers who haven’t been in the market for seven or eight years. Case in point is this week’s well-equipped GMC Sierra AT4X crew-cab 1500 pickup, in handsome Cayenne Red Metallic paint. With base Sierra trucks starting around $33,000, our built-in-Mexico AT4X stickered for an eye-watering $76,790. Perhaps this number is in preparation for what the Sierra EV will sticker for at this time next year.

After collecting my thoughts, the first impressions from behind the Sierra’s upgraded helm were very positive. A midlife upgrade has bestowed the Sierra with the content, and polish, that many pundits have griped about when considering GM’s best pickups versus the latest Ram and Ford high-end models. And then you realize, the retail numbers are closer than you think. Selling at full retail, absent the large discounts and rebates of just two years ago, almost 80-large for a new half-ton pickup seems, well, you fill in the blank.

With more than just ample leather replacing the plastic look too long favored by GM, this Sierra also stocked a new horizontal 13-inch touchscreen stocked with apps and performance. It fits the instrument panel nicely and seems to “work” better than the large vertical screens used by rivals. Complemented by a large bank of conventional buttons and knobs below, the Sierra offers a plethora of easy-to-use controls. Even the buttons for managing the excellent HID display of information on the windshield is three simple toggle controls left of the steering wheel instead of buried deep in a menu on the screen.

The front seats are cooled and heated, and now have 16-way massaging action! The big screen includes navigation plus the full array of GM’s towing camera apps, including a new lane-change camera, which is very helpful when pulling a trailer. In the back the seats have hidden compartments in the backrest, with storage slots under the folding seatpan. Comfort is very good all around.

Other noteworthy features include trailer brake controller, power rear window, sunroof, 12-speaker Bose stereo, power tilt/tele wheel, rear camera mirror, LED cargo lamps, Multi-Pro Tailgate, heated steering wheel, plus adaptive cruise and an extensive list of electronic driving aids.

With AT4X models, you get a 2-inch body lift supported by multi-matic DSSV dampers. The off-roading-biased chassis includes front and rear locking differentials, Goodyear Wrangler mud-terrain tires, underbody skid plates, as well as special 18-inch AT4X wheels. The stance is beefy — the climb in suggests maybe some kind of step or running board might be necessary for anyone less than 6 feet tall.

With the tow package and all of those cameras, we had to see how the Sierra would do pulling the boat. Steering feel is light, almost giving you the impression that the truck is agile, with a plush, well-damped ride no doubt helped by the large gas shocks below. The optional 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 didn’t even break a sweat, while the selectable view from the cameras helped relieve any stress behind the wheel while driving and backing down the ramp. EPA mileage estimates are 14/18 with this powertrain and a 3.23-rear axle. We saw 12 mpg towing, 17.5 mpg on the highway, while we easily coaxed 20 mpg from the spirited AT4X in urban driving without a hurried pace.

Picks and pans: The upgraded interior is well done. Not as posh as the top Rams, it is still recognition that GMC needed more luxury for its top series pickups. The controls earn high marks, comfortable and quiet cabin, too, while the larger V-8 proved to be very relevant when towing. Interestingly, there are no stylized exhausts outlets at all — both tailpipes are tucked behind the rear bumper, where they point downward. Big likes for the rear bumper steps, but with a pickup bed shoulder high, GMC should also include a step in the fender ahead of the rear tire. You just can’t reach much over the sidewalls.

GMC trucks are selling better this year. Maybe more computer chips are finding GMC logos on them. Combined with Chevy, the GM pickup twins are closer to Ford than they have been for years. With their sibling Tahoe/Suburban/Yukon SUVs clobbering Ford’s Expedition series, as well as Jeep’s new offerings, GM might be edging ahead in the race for capital to make EVs that will cost this much — and more.

Tipping point ahead?

Next week: Hyundai Elantra N

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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