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2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Test Drive Review
The 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 is updated with new tech features (Super Cruise!), and it introduces new trims with the ultra-luxury Denali Ultimate and purpose-built AT4X.
The GMC Sierra 1500 light-duty pickup has been around since 1999 but has seemingly lived in the shadow of its identical twin, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ever since. This is despite the fact that GMC is marketed as the premium alternative. Sales tell a different story, though, with the everyman Silverado moving twice as many units last year as the Sierra.
The GMC Sierra receives a significant makeover for 2022. With a bolder exterior design, a more lavish interior, standard high-end technology, and increased utility, the new Sierra also further elevates the GMC brand with its new high-grade Denali Ultimate and off-road-tuned AT4X models.
Look and Feel
All-new for the 2022 GMC Sierra lineup are the Denali Ultimate and AT4X variants. These models expand on the already premium and purpose-built Denali and AT4 trims, respectively. Now featuring eight trim levels, the Sierra is available in Pro, SLE, Elevation, SLT, AT4, Denali, AT4X, and Denali Ultimate. And compared to the Silverado’s own mid-cycle makeover, the Sierra appears larger, meaner, and just plain agitated.
Even though its dimensions haven’t changed, the Sierra appears wider thanks to an updated grille, front fascia, and headlight design. The new split-C headlights have been adapted so they look integrated within the grille, further accentuating the breadth of it all. It’s a seamless, precise look.
On the Denali, the grille changed from a mesh pattern to what GMC refers to as a “tri-linear” theme. Basically, the chrome inserts are thicker, chunkier, and reminiscent of an extravagantly blingy smile. Yet, somehow, the toothiness also comes off as tough. Likely because the entire thing is so massive. On the Denali Ultimate, the chrome-heavy grille is replaced with trim-exclusive, dark-colored “Vader bars” inserts. Like the sheer size of the grille, there is little subtlety in that reference. On Sierra SLT, AT4, and AT4X trims, the new grille designs are less showy but just as intimidating with chrome, black, and dark nickel accents.
Denali and Denali Ultimate also get new 22-inch wheel designs. Bright-polished chrome for the former; low-gloss black for the latter. SLT models feature new wheels as well. The rest of the pickup’s exterior design (profile and rear) is unchanged, and you still get your choice of standard, double, or crew cab with standard box or short and long box options for the crew cab and standard cab, respectively. Also available is a carbon fiber composite bed and six-function MultiPro tailgate. Plus, three new premium paint options. They are Titanium Rush Metallic, Dynamic Blue Metalic, and Desert Sand Metallic.
The GMC Sierra’s interior is where the most notable changes are. Again, the dimensions haven’t changed but through the redesign, the truck’s cabin feels wider and more spacious. The dash design is akin to the truck’s exterior grille, represented by long, straight lines versus the previous model’s affinity for rounded edges. New materials are available as part of packages, but both the new AT4X and Denali Ultimate elevate their respective games.
The new Sierra AT4X is developed for off-road driving but, as a top-of-the-line trim, its cabin is no less luxury-focused. Premium leather abounds and is highlighted by contrast white piping and red stitching. There are also genuine Vanta ash wood trim inserts and a microsuede headliner. The equally new Sierra Denali Ultimate, however, is probably peak Denali. The interior features full-grain leather, open-pore Paldao wood, and microsuede trim throughout. Tastefully embossed and laser-etched within the woods and leather are multiple topographical maps of Mount Denali itself.
With four engine options, two transmissions, and rear-wheel-drive (RWD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) configurations, the 2022 GMC Sierra can be spec’d in a multitude of ways. Both the standard 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 3.8-liter Duromax turbo-diesel inline-six engines have been enhanced for the 2022 model year.
The smaller turbo-four now produces 310 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. That’s 20-plus-percent more torque than the 2021 model. The gear ratios of its eight-speed automatic transmission have also been revised for smoother shifts. A more rigid cylinder block plus a 30-percent stiffer crankshaft also lent themselves to reduced overall noise and better torque. These updates increased the base engine’s maximum trailering rating to 9,600 pounds for 2WD models and 9,300 pounds for 4WD ones.
The diesel engine also sees its tow rating increase. With its class-leading 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, certain turbo-diesel Sierra 2WD models that are optioned with the Max Trailering Package are rated up to 13,200 pounds. That’s 4,000 pounds more than the previous year. 4WD models are rated at 13,000 pounds, which is best-in-class for light-duty diesel trucks.
Other Sierra engine options are a 5.3-liter V8 that produces 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque and a 6.2-liter V8 with an output of 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission is standard for the six-cylinder diesel and V8 engines. For the new trims, the higher-output V8 is standard on the AT4X and Denali Ultimate, with the 3.0-liter Duramax an option for the latter.
On the road, the Sierra Denali Ultimate 4WD was as smooth as butter. Its ride was quiet, comfortable, and compliant but not necessarily lithe. After all, the truck is 75.4 inches tall, has an 8-inch ground clearance, rides on 22-inch wheels, and weighs more than 5,000 pounds. The fact that it doesn’t maneuver like a bus is a godsend. Behind the wheel, the Sierra is undoubtedly big, but with its high-end look, inside and out, the Denali Ultimate fits in wherever you take it.
The Sierra AT4X was a surprise. Its on-road manners were almost as smooth and luxurious as the Denali Ultimate—despite standing a couple of inches taller, boasting 11.1 inches of ground, and weighing a few hundred more pounds. It’s not as quiet as the Denali, but we were expecting a bit more noise due to its 32-inch Goodyear Mud-Terrain tires wrapped around 18-inch wheels. Thankfully, road noise was isolated, unlike other off-roading trucks and SUVs.
Our off-road test took place at the famed Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Located in Southern California and traversing across three counties, the state park is popular with four-wheeler fans and outdoor adventurers. But it's not as off-the-grid as its slotted canyons, dry lake beds, and eroded peaks would suggest because, somehow, in the middle of all of that, we still had cellular service.
Anyway, from our lunch stop in the park, we aired down the tires from 41 psi to about 25 psi before venturing out into the 97-degree dry desert heat. What’s exclusive to the AT4X are Multimatic DSSV dampers and unique springs that allow the front and rear suspension an extra 50 mm and 25 mm of travel, respectively, versus the AT4. The Sierra AT4X is also equipped with front and rear e-locking differentials, which are class-exclusive. The truck’s chassis and suspension have been further calibrated for off-road readiness.
Of the three drive modes (Normal, Off-Road, Terrain), we set the AT4X in Off-Road 4HI as we drove about an hour to the Diablo Drop-Off, a steep and sandy precipice that even in favorable weather should be attempted only with a high-clearance vehicle. And when we mean steep, we mean a nearly 45-degree angle that loses roughly 100 feet of elevation in a very, very short distance. How’d the AT4X do? Easy peasy. Thankfully, our test truck was also equipped with standard underbody shields and optional rocker guards because even with nearly a foot of clearance, rock rubbing was inevitable.
But that single drop was as technical as our off-road test got. The commute between the lunch/break trailers and the Diablo Drop-Off didn’t showcase the AT4X’s abilities, which we’re sure are stellar. But the silt beds, rocky traverse, and tight canyons could’ve been managed just as easily in a Subaru Outback or Forester—and not even the Wilderness versions. This isn’t a dig to the GMC Sierra but rather props to Subaru, its stellar all-wheel-drive system, and the company’s lack of fear in showing that off. For whatever reason, outside of Diablo, GMC seemed to approach its test set to the lowest bar in terms of AT4X off-road fun and adventure. And that was a bummer.
Form and Function
There is no question regarding the roominess and utility of the GMC Sierra. Even its short bed offers best-in-class cargo capacity. But the interior is a sanctuary. Front headroom is about 43 inches across the lineup, regardless of cabin type. With a rear seat, headroom averages about 40 inches. Legroom for front-seat occupants is 44.5 inches across the board. For double-cab rear-seat passengers, they get 35.2 inches of legroom while those sitting in a crew cab enjoy 43.4 inches to stretch out in.
There are also more than enough nooks, crannies, and hidden seat compartments to store your belongings. With the new dash, the gloveboxes are on the smaller side, though. The lower compartment has enough room just for the owner’s manual and related papers while the upper compartment can accommodate two 16.9-ounce water bottles. But only if angled and with a slight shove.
Ergonomics get a bit perplexing. As nicely appointed as the Sierra cabin is, the centerline of the driver-oriented cockpit is rather low. The screens are positioned low, which means the knobs and buttons are also low. That means the time your eyes spend moving from the road to a screen or button is much longer. Could be a fraction of a second, but a lot can happen in that short window.
And there are a ton of knobs and buttons, too. Overwhelmingly. While other automakers are opting for larger screens and utilizing integrated digital touchpads in place of traditional buttons, GMC has gone in the opposite direction. It’s as if a supplier had a fire sale on switches and GMC raised its hand while saying, “All of it.”
Also, in the AT4X, the off-road controls are positioned in two different places: to the left of the steering wheel for drive modes and 4HI/4LO settings; on the center console for hill descent and differentials.
One welcome feature is the massaging seats. Operating them is not intuitive at all, but figuring out the on/off button was easy enough. And once you had the seat doing something, massaging in whatever pattern it set itself to (because we couldn’t figure out how to adjust from lumbar to shoulders), it nevertheless feels nice, and it definitely broke up the minutia of the 250-miles roundtrip drive.
Standard for 2022 are larger display screens. The driver information display is a 12.3-inch digital cluster and the infotainment is a 13.4-inch touchscreen with Google built-in, similar to the Yukon and Hummer EV. Compatible with Android and Apple devices, three years of complimentary service is included for Sierra AT4 and Denali trims. A neat feature is the interactive start-up screen for Denali models. Within the instrument cluster, the welcome screen shows the Denali materializing and disappearing over the same topographical maps you see around the cabin.
The infotainment screen offers a clean and simple display with large, easy-to-read icons. The system is fast and responsive but if you have your smartphone connected, figuring out which map you’re using can be confusing. The in-car Google-based navigation screen looks similar to how Google Maps is projected from your phone. However, the various map icons are only slightly different and we found ourselves hitting the Home button repeatedly as a way to “reset” the screens.
The larger touchscreen allows for personalization and dual modes. For example, you can see both navigation and trailering details while driving, or you can prioritize one over the other. Wireless device charging is standard across the Sierra lineup. Available options include a 15-inch multicolor head-up display and a 12-speaker Bose premium surround-sound system.
GM’s Super Cruise is probably the greatest addition to the 2022 GMC. Like other semi-autonomous driving systems on the market today, Super Cruise is considered Level 2 in self-driving capability. Although indeed a hands-free driving system, Super Cruise still requires the driver to be alert and able to retake control of the vehicle. But Super Cruise is also one of the best Level 2 systems out there, if not the best.
On a brief test on San Diego’s Interstate 5 during the onset of rush hour, Super Cruise was as intuitive as ever. Once we activated the system and made sure the truck was centered in its lane (the steering wheel light bar will change from blue to green), accelerating and slowing down didn’t seem to burden the big beast. In our experience, Super Cruise is the least complicated autonomous system to use and the smoothest when in operation.
Unfortunately, Super Cruise is limited to the Sierra Denali Ultimate, where it is a standard feature. It has also been updated to handle automatic lane changes as well as offer trailering capability. The Sierra already is equipped with up to 14 camera views to further assist with trailering. And a new GCW Alert feature can determine if the truck is overloaded, signaling when the maximum weight has been exceeded. Another trailering-specific safety feature is Trailer Side Blind Zone Alert, which takes into account the length of the trailer when changing lanes. Adaptive cruise control has also been updated, so it’s now activated while trailering.
GMC Pro Safety is the automaker’s suite of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). On the Sierra, standard features include forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane-keep assist, a following distance indicator, and IntelliBeam automatic headlights.
The 2022 GMC Sierra received mostly “Good” crash safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) but received a “Marginal” grade in the front-passenger small overlap test, and it earned a “Poor” grade for headlights. Even with the Driver Alert 11 package, Sierra is not equipped with adaptive front headlights, which led to its less than stellar test result. With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Sierra 2WD models earned four out of five stars for crashworthiness. 4WD variants have not yet been rated.
As expected with full-size pickups, the 2022 GMC Sierra pricing is as varied as its available configurations. A Sierra Pro 2WD with a regular cab and standard box starts at $36,295 (including a $1,695 destination fee). Move up the chain of command to the top-ranked Denali Ultimate 4WD with a crew cab and standard box and you’re looking at $82,795 before options, taxes, and fees. The new Sierra AT4X starts at $77,395. So, you could purchase two Sierras for the price of one or vice versa. It all comes down to what you need the truck to do and what you want it to do. And if you’re lucky, you can afford both. But trucks are just pricier than ever, regardless of which model.
Sierra fuel economy is a bit of a stinker, at least with the trims we drove. The EPA estimates the AT4X, at its worst, to achieve 13 city, 17 highway, and 14 combined mpg. With a 24-gallon fuel tank, you’re looking at 336 miles of range. The loop from Encinitas, CA to the Anza-Borrego state park was about 250 miles total. Add the low tire pressure commute to the Diablo Drop-Off and lots of desert idling with the air conditioner set to 65F and you’ve got a recipe for running out of gas. Which we almost did!
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