By Derek Price
Years ago, one person might buy a rugged off-road pickup for getting to the job site and beating up on remote, challenging, rocky trails.
Another buyer might pick a luxury truck with leather seats and lots of add-ons to pamper them in comfort when they pull up to the symphony-hall valet.
These days, strangely enough, you can get both those trucks at the same time.
I just finished a week behind the wheel of GMC’s Sierra 1500 AT4, a truck that tries to straddle the wide gap between off-road capability and on-road luxury.
In my mind, it’s a weird thing to try, but it’s surprisingly popular with new truck buyers who apparently don’t want to compromise on anything — nor should they, with the prices of pickups ratcheting higher every year.
Unlike the Ram 1500 Rebel and Ford F-150 Raptor, two trucks that look almost comically macho, the off-roading Sierra seems restrained with its body color trim and no-bigger-than-usual “GMC” logo on the grille.
In today’s world of over-the-top truck design, it takes some serious self restraint to keep the letters in your logo smaller than dinner plates.
Still, the AT4 rides a whopping two inches higher than the regular Sierra, which is already no shrinking daisy in terms of size and intimidation factor. The lifted suspension not only helps with ground clearance when off-roading, but it makes driving the truck more of an adventure.
It’s a truck you have to hike and lift yourself up into, not merely plop into a seat.
It also dips deeply into the Sierra Denali’s well of luxury features. It comes standard with the origami-like MultiPro Tailgate, for example, and soon will be available with the Denali’s carbon fiber box. A black chrome finish gives it just a hint of the Denali’s bling.
It’s the off-road features that make it really stand out, though.
The AT4 comes standard with four-wheel drive, a locking rear differential, two-speed transfer case and skid plates to protect its sensitive bits from scraping on rocks.
Other standard goodies include your choice of all-terrain or mud rated tires, hill descent control, eye-catching red tow hooks, and a sophisticated traction system that changes transmission shift points, throttle mapping and electronic traction control depending on the driving conditions.
The Sierra AT4 is available with one of the most unique and customizable heads-up display systems in the world. You can change the information it displays on the windshield, including an inclinometer to show how extremely the truck is tilting left and right, or forward and back, which is a useful way to help keep the driver’s eyes outside the cabin during intense off-road maneuvers.
Similarly, Surround Vision gives a bird’s eye view of the truck when moving slowly. On cars, this is most useful when parking in small spots or maneuvering in a garage, something even more helpful when parking huge trucks like this. But it has an added benefit when driving slowly on trails, letting you get a cursory idea about rocks and ruts that could be challenging.
While the Sierra is highly competitive in terms of capability, it’s less so in refinement and luxury compared to the new Ram and Ford half-ton trucks. Even after an all-new design this year, the Sierra doesn’t feel like it made the same leap into the future that its soft-riding, quiet competitors did, something that might matter more to cross shoppers than to the legions of General Motors faithful.
As a do-anything, go-anywhere truck, though, the AT4 is a fascinating attempt at straddling the luxury and off-road sides of the market. And it does so in a way that seems more tasteful than its oversized-logo competitors.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 ($50,800). Options: Off-road performance package ($4,940), AT4 Premium Package ($2,600), technology package ($1,875), driver alert package II ($745). Price as tested (including $1,595 destination charge): $63,055
Wheelbase: 147.4 in.
Length: 231.7 in.
Width: 81.2 in.
Height: 78.4 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 19 highway
Why buy it?
Designed for off-roading but equipped more like a luxury truck, the Sierra AT4 occupies a unique spot in the marketplace.