GMC Sierra conquers all (or no) roads

By Casey Williams

(January 27, 2019) GMC Sierrra sales are up 32 percent year over year thanks to the redesigned model released last year, so it is clear truck buyers are giving it a vote of confidence.  But, there’s always room for improvement — like a serious off-road version and fortified Heavy Duty models.  I had a chance to sample both recently at their recent launch in San Diego, Calif.

2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Taking Sierra down tougher trails is the all-new AT4 performance package, which packs all manner of style and substance to attract a more adventurous truck buyer.  It’s currently the fastest-selling Sierra and it’s not difficult to see why.
“The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 debuted all-new, purposeful technologies for the premium truck segment and the new Off-Road Performance Package takes it a step farther,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global GMC.  “It offers optimized performance, both on- and off-road.”
You’ll notice the AT4’s 2” factory lift, black chrome exterior trim, body color grille surround, 18” wheels, off-road tires, and red vertical recovery hooks from the curb.  There’s even GMC’s Multi Pro tailgate that can be configured six ways including a workbench, wide step, or bed extender.  You might also admire body color door handles and bumpers, but you’ll have to slide behind the wheel to really appreciate all the AT4 offers.  
Behind the black grille insert is a snarling 6.2-liter V8 engine delivering 435 horsepower and 469 lb.-ft. of torque – 15 horsepower and 9 lb.-ft. more than standard Sierras – all connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission.  Choose the optional performance exhaust system and stomp the throttle often for big giggles.  Engineers also conjured standard four-wheel-drive with two-speed transfer case, locking rear differential, skid plates, and Rancho monotube shock absorbers.  Hill descent control and GMC’s traction select system take it to the trails.
When pavement turns to rugged dirt, you’ll really appreciate the AT4.  We spent several hours weaving up and down narrow rutted roads that only Border Patrol find appetizing.  We also climbed up rock faces and slammed Interstates.  In all conditions, the big truck felt nimble, absorbed the rough trail, and never put a wheel wrong.  Passengers checked their e-mail with 4G Wi-Fi, cranked up their heated seats, synced up to two phones via Bluetooth, and did so in a hushed cabin.  A 15” diagonal widescreen head-up displayed included speed and vehicle inclinometer.  It’s way over-kill for the morning commute, but almost nothing will stop your morning commute if you’re driving this truck.
It does all that, and comes with an advanced suite of crash avoidance tech that includes surround vision cameras, lane change alert, side blind zone alert, front pedestrian braking, and low speed automatic braking.  A camera in the nose even helps you maneuver through tight obstacles – whether in a downtown parking garage or threading through boulders and trees.  The AT4 adopts GM’s Rear Camera Mirror that places an obstacle-free video screen in the rearview mirror.
Given the Ram Rebel and Ford Raptor, GMC needed a bit more capability in the big and brash pickup wars.  But, GMC should always do so with class.  And, it does – the AT4 feels quiet and smooth, no matter the road.  Drive it to work, or haul its acrobatic tailgate across some of the roughest trails you can find, and the Sierra AT4 will feel at ease.  Prices rise from $50,800.
If you like the Sierra AT4’s style and capability, hang on.  GMC plans to roll out AT4 models across the entire model range, beginning this year.

2020 GMC Sierra HD
While driving the AT4 off-road would have been enough reason to visit southern California in January, GMC had another surprise:  The 2020 Sierra Heavy Duty.  Sporting the same refined looks as its light duty sibling, the HD is a gentle giant that can move monumental loads while ensconcing passengers in absolute luxury.
“The all-new 2020 Sierra HD is the most capable heavy-duty truck that we’ve ever offered,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global GMC.  “For customers who demand a premium, innovative heavy-duty truck that supports their passions, the next-generation Sierra HD can pull like a pro.”
During the preview, the truck pulled 225,000 pounds of Viking yacht and rigging away from the water.  You obviously can’t hike that down the Interstate at full tilt, but the truck will pull over 30,000 pounds of trailer cross-country, should you desire.

That’s made possible by a standard 6.2-liter V8, or more likely the 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engine that delivers 445 horsepower and a whopping 910 lb.-ft. of torque through an Allison 10-speed automatic transmission.  About 90% of Sierra HDs arrive in owner driveways configured as crew cabs with diesel engines.
Given a three-inch longer cab, passengers will be very comfortable.  They can choose all of the features that make light duty truck owners giddy, including the luxed-out Denali trim with wood trim, stitched dash coverings, Bose audio, and heated/ventilated seats.  It also shares the segment-exclusive wide head-up display, rear camera monitor, and 15 camera views that includes a revolutionary “transparent trailer” view that lets drivers “see through” what’s following them.

Sierra’s six-function MultiPro tailgate is part of the deal – as are power retracting mirrors, corner step bumpers, and load height reduced load height.  Further helping trailering are electronic trailer sway control, in-dash brake controller, and diesel engine braking.
If none of that excites you, Sierra HD is available in off-road AT4 trim (in case you need to drag heavy loads through Hades).  Sales of all models commences this summer with prices expected to start under $40,000.
Sierra AT4 is built in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Sierra HD will be assembled in Flint, Mich.