Automobiles

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X First Drive Review: Rugged and Refined

It might not have the best off-road chops, but no other truck can match its luxury.

It seems every truck wants to be an off-road truck these days, even the fancy-pants ones. Such is the case with the 2022 GMC Sierra AT4X. Available only with a crew cab and a 70-inch short bed, the AT4X is meant to serve those who want more capability than the Sierra AT4 but who desire more luxury than the AT4X's sibling, the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2. If you're looking to hit the trails with the massaging seats going and butt coolers on full blast, keep reading. This is not a bad way to travel.

The Sierra 1500 can be had with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, a 5.3-liter V8 or a 3.0-liter diesel I6, but this AT4X trim gets a 6.2-liter V8 mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Whether on or off the road this powertrain is pretty good. With 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, acceleration is brisk and the transmission does its thing competently in the background. If I want a little more control there are paddle shifters, but during my day with the truck, I don't really feel the need to use them.

And speaking of my day with the truck, it's a hot one. The mercury is at a blistering 106 degrees Fahrenheit and there isn't a cloud in the desert sky. All day I drive up and down hills, plow through silt and go full bore up a soft wash with the air conditioning on full blast -- and the ventilated seats as well -- and the engine's temperature gauge stays planted right smack in the middle.

However, what I'm really here for are the Multimatic DSSV dampers. These shocks have the best kind of engineering magic, essentially providing the flexibility of adaptive dampers without actually having adaptive dampers. Inside the shocks are tiny variable-rate spring valves that allow GMC to give them an incredibly precise tune. And by changing the shape of the opening the shock oil goes through, the dampers are really firm and sporty on the pavement but soften up nicely on the dirt. These dampers are complicated, sure, but if you want to get your engineering brain on, my colleague Antuan Goodwin has a great explainer. I'll just say that I love them and wish I could get a set for my own off-road Miata.

However, don't go thinking the AT4X is some kind of high-speed desert monster. It's still limited by its 9.8 inches of travel in the front and 10.6 inches in the rear. That's plenty for most people, as is the ground clearance of about 11 inches. Wearing 32-inch Goodyear Duratrac rubber and equipped with driver-selectable front and rear lockers, the AT4X can scramble up most things, although it's limited by its low front fascia. The AT4X has an approach angle of only 25.5 degrees and a breakover angle of 22.7 degrees. Choose your line wisely or have someone spot you when driving over anything difficult, lest you tear things off the truck. Side note: If you do tear something off the truck, be a dear and go back for it. Nobody likes a messy trail.

The AT4X can rock crawl better than any other Sierra.

GMC

An Off-Road mode loosens up the driver-assistance nannies and lets me hang the rear of the truck out a bit, while Terrain mode is best for slower, more technical trails. When used with low-range four-wheel drive, one-pedal driving is enabled in Terrain mode. Think of this as off-road cruise control; there is no need to left-foot brake here. Just lift off the throttle and the brakes are automatically engaged whether you're going up or downhill. For those with good throttle control, Terrain's higher Level 2 mode will still let the truck coast a bit. Newbies will likely prefer Level 1 with its more aggressive braking.

If you're going to take some toys with you, the AT4X can haul 1,420 pounds of payload and drag 8,900 pounds behind you on a trailer. Other trims and configurations of the Sierra can tow more, but this is enough for a camper or an open trailer with a side-by-side and a few motorcycles. Plus, the AT4X can be had with 14 different exterior camera views, including the cool transparent trailer view, which shows you what's behind your trailer.

So, what of the luxury part of this truck? Well, you'll find quite a few niceties in here beyond just the heated, cooled and massaging front seats. The rear seats and steering wheel are also heated, and the interior materials are pretty upscale, with plenty of leather, dark open-pore wood, contrasting stitching and a microsuede headliner. I dig the power sliding rear window and I like how the climate controls are tilted up a bit so it's really easy to manipulate the dials -- there aren't any sliders or on-screen controls here. These controls also have a nice texture to them for better tactile feeling. Sure, there are some cheap-o buttons from the General Motors parts bin, but there are enough aesthetic differences in here to convince me I'm in a nicely appointed truck.

The interior is so, so, so much nicer than before.

GMC

I love the new 13.4-inch touchscreen running a new version of GMC's infotainment. I definitely want to spend some more time with it, but I can tell you that the integration of Google Maps is well worth the price of admission. (Finally, manufacturers have stopped reinventing the wheel.) We all know Google Maps, and we all love it (at least I do), so it's a relief to not have to relearn some inferior navigation system.

In addition to Google Maps, Google Assistant is also here so I can just ask it for directions or play my favorite song. Google Play is also along for the ride. If that doesn't float your boat, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and Amazon Alexa is available.

The 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster is great with plenty of easy-to-find information pages. And heck, if I'm having trouble, I can just look up to my standard 15-inch color head-up display. With all this screen real estate, if you don't have the information you want in your line of sight, maybe you don't really need it.

It's no Raptor, but it's a better off-roader than many other full-size trucks.

GMC

The AT4X has many standard driver-assistance technologies, including forward-collision alert, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking and GM's Safety Seat Alert. I'm not going to say a vibrating seat is fun when you're on a tight and twisty trail lined on either side with cactus, rocks or both, but I don't hate it, either. Also standard on the AT4X is adaptive cruise control, but those wanting the excellent Super Cruise will have to give up their off-road dreams and move up to the Sierra 1500 Denali.

When it comes to price, you're looking at $77,395 including $1,695 for destination. That's a healthy $14,000 over an AT4, but the AT4 does not have the killer Multimatic shocks. Looking at the competition, the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is less expensive and has more power thanks to its hybrid powerplant, but it can't compete with the feature list of the AT4X. The Nissan Titan Pro-4X is cheaper, but it's also down on power and doesn't come close to matching the refinement of the AT4X. And the Ford F-150 Raptor? It's certainly the king of the off-road trucks, but the Sierra still takes the edge on luxury. This GMC is definitely worth the price.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.