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2019 GMC Sierra AT4 First Drive: Provider Emeritus

San Diego, CA – On climbing into the AT4 version of the new 2019 GMC Sierra, I immediately started looking around for the info sheet manufacturers usually provide at first-drive events like this one. It’s a ritual for me, because that sheet always contains a ton of relevant info about the vehicle.

But most importantly, it lists the price.

On this day, I am proud to report that I was able to hold on to the nutritious breakfast of yogurt, strawberries and orange juice I had just ingested on arriving at the line with the dollars and cents, which read: $66,365 USD.

Some quick math to convert that roughly into Canadian dollars, and I came up with $75,000. Before taxes of course. All told, you can therefore expect to shell out $85,000 CAD for the AT4 (base price is $53,200 USD, by the way).

So where’s the problem, you might say. Well there isn’t one actually, because the buyer of a GMC truck is ready to pay that and perfectly free to do so. To wit, 54% of Sierra models on the road are the highest-priced Denali edition.

Read also our review of the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali

Photo: D.Rufiange

I did feel like I should start with a mention of the price of the AT4, because of what it tells us. First, it says much about the love consumers have for this kind of vehicle, and second, it shows us how important models like these are for the financial health and even survival of a division like GMC.

Fun fact: Already, 20% of the orders made on the 2019 Sierra are for AT4 editions.

And so, over and above the vehicle, its qualities, its warrior-like demeanour and its advanced technologies, the Sierra should be seen as a provider. It provides sustenance for GMC, like the Silverado does for Chevrolet.

The Chevy Silverado’s cousin has already been introduced, starting with its appearance at last year’s New York auto show. Here we’re focusing on the AT4 edition, designed for off-roading primarily.

Le cousin du Chevrolet Silverado vous a déjà été présenté. Son descriptif général se trouve ici. On se concentrera donc sur la variante AT4, pensée pour la conduite hors route.

Cousin of the Silverado it may be, but the Sierra is, on the outside anyways, no twin. Beauty is, as they, in the eye of the beholder, but on the question of exterior looks, the consensus is that the GMC wins it hands down.

As for the AT4 version, it has a number of distinguishing facial features like a unique grille, two additional inches of ground clearance, red tie-down hooks in front, different 18-inch wheels (20-inch as an option) and, of course, AT4 badging splayed out here and there.

Photo: D.Rufiange

In the office…
Inside, the presentation is… functional. Let’s be clear, it’s not unattractive, and the level of quality is decent. But when you compare them to competing models, the Achilles heel of GM products is exposed. Everything seems a little effaced, from the visual presentation for the quality of the materials. These might be mere details for some, but they can be disappointing to those who are up on the latest advances and trends.

As for the space and cargo/storage compartment, no complaints there. Cabs in modern-era trucks are veritable mobile offices, and given the price point we discussed earlier, the list of included safety and connectivity features is comprehensive.

I did note one shortcoming, however. In the case of an elevated cab like this one, footboards should be included standard. No need to force owners into acrobatics to get into their vehicle…

Photo: D.Rufiange

The box and the tailgate
The bed in the back is short but deep and practical. Clearly, there’s a bit of price being paid for the space in the cab, though in the case of an off-road leaning model like this that’s not a huge drawback. The AT4 will more often accommodate motocross bikes than it will sheets of plywood.

In any case the salient feature is the multifunction tailgate. It can be deployed in several ways, making it easier for example to access the bed. It’s a nice innovation, not to mention that when it’s closed, it provides a unique design element that’s new for this type of vehicle.

Two things are cause for worry, however. It’s easy to imagine a malfunction and the repairs that could entail. As well, as my colleague Vincent Aubé astutely pointed out at the launch event, the many joints and different sections that make up the tailgate would seem to make for vulnerability to corrosion. And if you’ve had occasion to observe truck gates over the years, you know how common a problem this is.

This would be worth monitoring, in fact we would recommend that future AT4 owners be proactive by having regular rustproofing treatments applied.

Photo: D.Rufiange

Mechanically competent
The AT4 comes with three different mechanical setups. The standard engine is GM’s 5.3L V8, but also available is a 6.2L V8 that delivers 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Even better, an available performance package boosts that output by 15 hp and 9 lb-ft of torque. This was the configuration of our AT4 on the day of the first-drive event. And while it certainly did its job moving us around, keep in mind that our total weight was considerable.

The 6.2L V8, as well as the 3.0L Duramax turbodiesel engine that's also part of the product offering, work with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The 5.3L V8 gets an 8-speed automatic.

The sound produced is quite pleasant, by the way. How could it not be?

All-wheel drive is of course standard, de rigueur equipment. Switching from one mode to another is done via a button on the dashboard, to the left of the steering wheel. Mechanical support systems for off-road trekking abound, including hill descent assist.

As for the chassis of the AT4, it gets a two-speed transfer case, a reinforced and locking rear differential and a suspension calibrated for off-road driving; this last also features Rancho monotube shocks.

In short, it’s all packed up and ready to go off the beaten trail.

Photo: D.Rufiange

Our session driving the Sierra AT4 was a relatively short one, consisting of a 45-minute drive in the direction of an off-road trail… which we then rode on in single-file, led by a guide.

There was nothing really extreme about the experience, to be honest. Later in the day, a somewhat more-intense little exercise awaited us, though even there there was nothing too taxing for the vehicle.

We have no reason to doubt its abilities, but it would have been nice to push the AT4 hard in more intense conditions. A few years ago, to give you a comparison, Chevrolet let us loose to test the ZR2 version of the Colorado. We were able to attack trails that appeared impossible, allowing us to determine the true potential of a vehicle of this kind.

On this day, there were no such discoveries.

In any event, on the road, which is where most our drive time was spent, the vehicle proved itself highly comfortable. At least in this respect, we can vouch for the ability of the AT4 to provide a pleasant experience to its owner.

Photo: D.Rufiange

GMC will be adding an AT4 edition to each of its models over the next two years. We have no doubt they will all be capable, but the most capable of them all will likely still be this Sierra pickup.

Which is the prime justification for buying it, of course – that, and its unique appearance. But it will be important for potential buyers to properly evaluate their needs, because the price exacted will be high.

On the other hand it’s true that it’s often “the company” that’s paying for it.

This is something GMC understands very well. As we’ve said before, this product is first and foremost a money-making machine for the automaker. A provider emeritus.

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