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2023 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate and AT4X First Drive: For Those Who Want More

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2023 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate
Photo: B.Charette
2023 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate

Auto123 gets in a first drive of the 2023 GMC Sierra 2023, in Denali Ultimate and especially AT4X versions.

Carlsbad, CA - The Denali deluxe version accounts for nearly 40 percent of GMC's Sierra sales. As for the AT4 version, it was successful right from its introduction, but some expected more from that variant designed for off-roading. For 2023, GM has addressed the desires of both that crowd and the luxury set by offering models that push the boundaries of both luxury and off-road capability.

In the case of the Sierra Denali Ultimate, GMC simply took all the options that existed on the Denali edition and made them standard and voilà - you get a Denali Ultimate version. The model starts at $93,000 with everything is included. Its engine is the 6.L V8.

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2023 GMC Sierra AT4X, badging for engine
Photo: B.Charette
2023 GMC Sierra AT4X, badging for engine

Same engine, different approach
After we briefly drove the Ultimate model to see for ourselves the changes it gets, it was on to the X. GMC set up a full-day adventure in the Borrego Desert in California to test the AT4X's capabilities.

For off-road enthusiasts, it's worth noting that GM added nearly $13,000 worth of extra equipment to the AT4 version to get the AT4X version. Its starting price is high at over $87,000, but you won't be lacking for anything.

Features include Multimatic DSSV shocks that increase suspension travel, an off-road mode that allows for single-pedal crawling and the addition of a front limited-slip differential to complement the one in the rear.

This model also comes with GM's 6.2L V8, power from which is sent to a four-wheel drive system via a 10-speed automatic transmission with transfer case.

2023 GMC Sierra AT4X, interior
Photo: GMC
2023 GMC Sierra AT4X, interior

Luxury off-roading
It's not every day you can go on a real off-road trip in a desert cooking at 110° Fahrenheit – that’s over 43° Celcius - with air conditioning and a massaging seat. Our test model also had full-grain leather, white piping and red stitching, real ash wood trim and a host of advanced technology.

A day in the desert
Our day began on the road between Carlsbad and the Borrego Desert with a stop at the Julian Pie Factory for a slice of Apple-Dutch caramel pie à la mode. Fomr there, we soon left the paved road for the packed dirt, soft sand and steep slopes of the Borrego Desert, where temps hovered between 100 and 110 degrees F (37-43°C).

The afternoon began with a small BBQ in the shade of a rare tree (yes, we eat often during these drive events). It was the occasion for GM folks to lower the tire pressure on our vehicles from 37 to 15 lb, done to improve comfort and grip on soft ground.

With my plate of pulled pork in hand, I looked over at the changes GMC made to these Sierra models for 2023. They’re subtle but compelling. One change involves the dual-projector LED headlight design with C-shaped daytime running lights. The Sierra 1500 has also been given some clever light animations inside. In addition, outside light animations have been added for when the owner approaches or leaves the vehicle.

2023 GMC Sierra AT4X, three-quarters rear
Photo: B.Charette
2023 GMC Sierra AT4X, three-quarters rear

The AT4X model retains the same length and width as the standard 1500 models, but it features a bumper with tow hooks. The AT4X has a 25.5-degree approach angle and a 23-degree departure angle, and it features its own wheel and tire combination with 18-inch wheels and 32-inch off-road tires.

Multimatic DSSV shocks increase suspension travel by 50 mm in the front and 25 mm in the rear, compared to the AT4's suspension setup. The AT4X's total ground clearance is 11.1 inches, and for when that's not enough, the rocker panels you see in the images are available as an option.

The six-function MultiPro tailgate is standard, and the CarbonPro carbon fiber composite body is a nice option if you plan on roughing it.

After the dessert, the desert
The first part of our itinerary saw us trample across dry river beds and bumpy roads; we quickly understood why GM had insisted on leaving only 15 lb-worth of air in the tires. The 420 hp of the V8 had no problem stomping over this terrain in almost embarrassing luxury under the circumstances.

You should also know that the payload is 1,420 lb and you can tow 8,900 lb. Another notable fact, the soundproofing on board is excellent. Even with Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac Mud-Terrain tires designed for off-roading, the cabin remained quite quiet.

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