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2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate, AT4X: Up Close

gmc-sierra-1500-denali-ultimate-2022-02-black-exterior-front-angle-grille-truck 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

I’ve been an unabashed fan of the latest generation of GM full-size pickup trucks ever since their appearance for the 2019 model year. The dramatic exterior styling, fantastic driving dynamics, impressive capabilities, often jaw-dropping technology (the rearview camera system can make your trailer disappear!) and its variety of powertrains speak to GM’s commitment to spending money on what truck buyers value most: capability and durability.

But GM fell prey to its own market research, building the new trucks to be only as good as its own buyers said they wanted. Meanwhile, competitors like Ram went above and beyond to craft trucks just as capable and innovative, yet they also delivered an unparalleled interior that left everyone scrambling to play catch-up. Did pickup buyers really want a full-on luxury-car-level interior? Or was just some leather and fake wood enough? Regardless of what buyers wanted, that’s what Ram delivered, and it became the benchmark for the class — and it made GM’s underwhelming, cheap-and-plasticky cabins look even more neglected and out of step.

Related: 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Updated With Even More Luxurious Trims

Not anymore. Fast forward three years and add a crash course in interior quality for the full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and you have the new 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 with not one, but two redesigned interiors. The work-truck-level Sierra Pro carries on unchanged (it’s less than 5% of Sierra volume, according to a GMC spokesperson), but the SLE and SLT trims get a new dash along with new doors, console, seats and headliner that’s shared with the ‘22 Silverado.

It’s immediately noticeable as a far better interior layout. It’s lower and wider-looking than the previous one, with easier access to things like the trailer brake controller that’s now on the center console by your right hand and a big, horizontally oriented multimedia touchscreen that integrates a new Google functionality right into the operating system.

gmc-sierra-1500-denali-ultimate-2022-12-center-stack-display-dashboard-drivers-seat-front-passenger-seat-front-row-interior-steering-wheel-truck 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

But GMC didn’t stop there. It created a second new interior, even more premium than the newly minted SLE/SLT cabin, made especially for its luxury Denali trim and its newer off-road luxury trim, the AT4. And on top of that, GMC added two new top-level luxury trims, the Denali Ultimate and AT4X, because we still haven’t seen where the luxury pickup segment’s limit is in terms of price or amenities.

Pick Your Flavor: On-Road or Off-Road Luxe

I tested the two new top trim levels, the Denali Ultimate and the AT4X. The Denali lineup has been massively successful for GMC, with a Denali version of everything the brand offers. It’s meant to signify a more luxurious but on-road-oriented version of that truck or SUV — but with so many customers opting to max out their options list on the Sierra Denali, the brand figured they’d just include everything on a new top trim level, give it some special wheels, trim and an even more posh interior and call it Denali Ultimate.

“Ultimate” is no misnomer: This is by far the nicest pickup interior GM has ever produced, and that includes the old Cadillac Escalade EXT that was based on the Chevrolet Avalanche last available for 2013. The newfound premium materials are only part of the story, but they are a big part of it. The leather looks and feels good, the stitching is all appropriately straight, the complimentary colors and real wood textures (that are actually located in your line of sight and not down by your knees, as in the current Denali) elevate the truck to compete against the best from Ram. But other attention to detail is obvious, too, such as revision to the door handles inside (they no longer feel rough to the touch) and the return of height-adjustable seat belts, which frankly never should have been eliminated from such a vehicle. There’s a lot to like in the new interior, and while we don’t yet know how much the Denali Ultimate will cost, it’s sure to be dear (for context, a loaded 2021 Sierra Denali with the current Denali Ultimate option package can easily top $76,000).

gmc-sierra-1500-at4x-2022-04-exterior-front-angle-red-truck 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

If you still prefer some off-road ability — the Denali Ultimate’s standard 22-inch wheels and tires aren’t meant for mud — the new AT4X’s combination of upgraded suspension goodies (it gets the same Multimatic dampers and off-road-tuned springs as the ‘22 Silverado ZR2, which originally appeared on the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2) and top-notch interior works well. It doesn’t work quite as well as the new Denali Ultimate’s cabin, though. This boils down to color: It’s too dark in the AT4X, largely grayed out to the point that you can’t even tell that it’s using real dark wood trim; it blends in too much with the rest of the grayscale interior. It’s still quite nice, however, and loaded with real leather and contrasting piping.

Limitations

The only minor disappointment in these top two trim levels is their powertrain limitation: The Sierra offers a variety of engines and powertrains, including a revised turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that now makes some stunning torque and a wonderful turbo-diesel 3.0-liter, but the only engine offered in these top trims is the top engine — the massive 6.2-liter V-8. Ford and Ram let you choose your powertrain even in their top-spec trims, as people do like variety and choice. Perhaps more will be offered after the trucks launch in early 2022.

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