The premium pick-up segment is alive and well in America. For 2022, GMC is pulling out all the stops with two new top-of-the-line trims for the Sierra 1500: the Denali Ultimate and the AT4X.

We crossed the continental United States all the way to San Diego, California, to try out both. First up was the Denali Ultimate…

Just as the name alludes to North America’s highest mountain peak, the Denali trim is meant to be the peak of GMC’s premium offerings; the Ultimate elevates that further with a suite of upgrades, like 16-way power front seats with built-in massage functions-- heated and cooled, naturally-- a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, 13.4-inch infotainment screen, and a 15-inch multi-color heads-up display. Materials include a suede headliner, full-grain leather, and open-pore wood trim: complete with a topographical map of Mount Denali.

This entire package is driven by a standard 6.2-liter V8 engine or an available 3.0-liter Duramax Turbo Diesel; the former I was able to test thoroughly in the AT4X. The V8 with the 10-speed automatic made for exceptional throttle response and highway abilities: 420 horses and 460 lb-ft of torque will do that.

Our time in the Denali Ultimate helped us better understand this new summit and its 80-thousand dollar starting price. 

But that’s not all GMC had in store for us. It was our second San Diego sunrise which brought an entire day of on- and off-road rambles in the AT4X…

Much like the Denali Ultimate, the AT4X is meant to be a heightened form of a previous trim. The AT4 is GMC’s off-road answer for the adventurous consumer, and the X steps in to sweeten the deal through various improvements-- both comfort and capabilities. For starters, the interior features heated and ventilated 16-way power front seats with massage, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, and the same screens and heads-up display as the Denali Ultimate.

"There’s a whole lot of things to like about the AT4X, but my favorite is the 6.2-liter V8. At a time where we’re losing more and more V8s as the days go by, it’s so nice to come out here in the sand and shuffle through it and do a little bit of amateur baja-ing… it’s just fun."

I know you don’t need such a big engine to have fun, but I can’t stress enough how enjoyable desert running is with this V8-- similar to the one used to power the Corvette, no less; but, the AT4X’s trail prowess is also thanks to a slew of upgrades: Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers, and front and rear e-locking differentials, for example. The selectable drive modes, including a one-pedal trail option, and integrated trail cameras made it easy to clear the tighter obstacles.

"The AT4X is unsurprisingly competent when it comes to offroading. The 6.2-liter V8 makes it a whole lot of fun to shuffle sand, the suspension setup, the trail-tech– it all culminates into a very “confidence inspiring” experience. Which is really what you want when you’re out on the trail. It’s-- you kinda expect to lose some of the comforts and the “calmness” of highway driving, which the AT4X does still have, but when you’re out here you want to make sure that your ride is prepared for what lies ahead. And the AT4 does that just fine, but the AT4X just does it with a little more flair."

The AT4X is certainly more geared towards the rough-and-tumble than the Denali Ultimate, but it’s still packed to the brim with premium amenities. As such, the AT4X starts at 77-thousand dollars; nearly 15-thousand dollars more than the starter AT4.

GMC has been a player in the pickup segment for quite some time, and these newest offerings show where decades of experience and customer feedback can take them. And we look forward to seeing  what’s next-- no matter what it is, you can catch it right here on MotorWeek!