The 2019 GMC Sierra is basically the luxury-branded version of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, offering number of fun tech goodies that the Chevy doesn’t. But as fun as those are, it’s really the styling of the off-road model, the AT4, that makes the Sierra stand out.
(Full Disclosure: GMC flew me to St. John’s, Newfoundland in Canada, put me up in a nice hotel, and fed me foods that had to be described at length by waiters prior to consumption.)
The GMC brand is an odd one, with all of its vehicles being based on the same platforms as Chevrolets, but with unique styling and a few features that GMC hopes will help its products look a bit more “premium” than the ones with bowties on their grilles. It works, too. These things sell like hotcakes.
The 2019 GMC Sierra, for example, is built on the very same bones as the Silverado, and is powered by the same engines. But to make it stand out, the “professional grade” truck has some fun tech features like a crazy multi-mode tailgate and a fancy carbon fiber bed. (Expect a bigger deep dive into the tailgate soon.)
But as cool as I found them to be, the one thing that would compel me to snag the GMC over the Chevy isn’t the gizmos.
GMC claims that the new Sierra has been more differentiated from its Silverado chassis-mate than ever before, with the luxury-branded truck getting a unique hood, unique fenders, a different front fascia, a special box, and GMC-tailored rear lights. The only major body parts shared with the Silverado, GMC representatives told me, are the cab and the rear doors.
On top of that, the GMC gets a bunch of fancy features not available in the Silverado, like an available adaptive damping suspension setup, that optional carbon fiber box, and of course the ridiculously complex six-position MultiPro tailgate. Plus, the Sierra can be had with a special ProGrade Trailering System that includes cameras and apps to ease the burden of towing.
As far as mechanical bits go, the GMC gets the same powertrain options as the Silverado. There’s the old 4.3-liter V6 and 5.3-liter V8 from the outgoing generation of trucks, both of which are bolted to six-speed automatics. Plus there’s a new 2.7-liter turbo inline-four and an updated 5.3-liter V8, which are both hooked up to eight-speed autos.
And there’s an updated 6.2-liter V8 and a fresh new 3.0-liter turbo diesel inline-six, which both spin input shafts of 10-speed autos.
The updated 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter now have what GMC calls “Dynamic Fuel Management,” which is an advanced cylinder deactivation technology that—instead of switching between eight and four cylinder modes—actually allows the two motors to run in 17 different patterns between two and eight cylinders in order to optimize efficiency.
Also new for the 2019 Sierra is an “AT4" trim level, which represents GMC’s version of the Chevrolet Silverado’s “Trail Boss,” and which, like the Chevy, gets unique styling to separate it from other trim levels.
Like the Silverado, the AT4 also gets a two-inch lift, underbody skid plates, Rancho monotube shocks, optional Goodyear Duratrac all-terrain tires, and—most importantly—a locking rear differential.
I’ll begin by saying that the AT4 Sierra is just a sharp looking truck.
It takes the standard Sierra, throws some black chrome in the fog lamp bezels, fender surround, and grille insert, plus it turns the grille surround, door handles, and bumpers body-color—a huge improvement over the gaudy chrome that accentuates the weird shape of the grille on other trims. On top of that, the AT4 trim slaps on some red tow hooks onto the lower fascia and bolts on unique 18-inch or 20-inch wheels.
GMC says the AT4 offers “authentic off-road capability,” and while that’s totally subjective, I will say that there were three features that—based on the extremely light off-roading during my time with the truck—really help the AT4 when it comes to wandering off the trail
The optional Goodyear Duratrac tires not only look great, but they are just fantastic, and highly respected in the off-road scene. The rear solid axle, as you can see in my little flex above, offers an impressive amount of articulation, even if the front independent suspension setup does not. Plus, the two-speed transfer case’s low-range gearing (activated through a simple switch on the left side of the steering wheel, shown below) made crawling a breeze.
I’ll also say that the two-inch lift kit—which, it’s worth mentioning, is surprisingly bone-simple, consisting of a two-inch block in the rear and lifted spring perches up front—yielded respectable ground clearance, even if that front fascia’s chin is a bit closer to the dirt than I might like.
I only drove the 6.2-liter V8 during my time with the GMC Sierra. The motor makes a solid 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, and lugs around about 5,400 pounds of weight respectably, making a pleasant growl with the pedal mashed to the floor. Sure, it only manages about 15 MPG in the city and between 19 and 21 on the highway depending on trim, but the power is worth the thirst. (These are good words to live by).
The 10-speed automatic—the same one used in the Chevy Camaro and GMC Yukon, though calibrated differently—shifted nicely and felt like it was always in the right gear at the right time. And, to be honest, when I wasn’t deep on the throttle, I just forgot about it and that big V8, as the cabin isolated me into a cocoon of comfort.
Speaking of comfort, I can’t say the Adaptive Ride Control made the Sierra’s ride any nicer than that of the latest Ram 1500 I drove, but it actually did a decent job shrugging off the the heavily-potholed roads in Newfoundland, especially for a heavy body-on-frame, leaf-sprung pickup.
Another area where the Sierra excelled was in the clarity of its Cameras. The backup camera, the Surround Vision “bird’s eye” camera, and even the rearview mirror camera were all beautifully sharp.
The picture on that rearview camera can even be tiled and zoomed in, and though I found myself just using the standard mirror, there’s no denying that this camera was well executed.
The trailer hitch camera on the tailgate gave a nice view just above the center of the hitch, and though I didn’t have a chance to actually back up and hook up a trailer, this is one of those features that seems like it’ll be a godsend when trying to pick up a project car with a U-Haul.
I did use the big three-inch by seven-inch head-up display pretty much the entire time, and thought it was great, giving me the speed limit and navigation information I needed without being overly obtrusive. Plus, the gauge cluster was also crystal clear and easy to read.
Plus, I found the truck’s MultiPro tailgate, which can be configured into six different positions, to be intuitive and a hell of a lot of fun, even if I don’t think buyers of $45,000 to $70,000 trucks are necessarily going to take advantage of the added utility. (A full review on the tailgate will come later).
I spent much of my time driving the nearly $70,000 GMC Sierra Denali, and as nice as the interior was comfort wise, I didn’t find the design particularly appealing.
The dashboard looks like it’s giving birth to the chunky center console (sorry for that image everyone), the dual gloveboxes with their huge handles aren’t particularly pretty, and the eight-inch infotainment screen is just a little boring.
By comparison, I recently sat in a Ram 1500, and just look at how well FCA hid the second glovebox by using a button instead of a handle. And check out that impressive display in the center that reminds you that yes, this is an expensive-ass truck.
The GMC Sierra is also an expensive-ass truck, but despite the aluminum bits and the nice leather trim, GMC’s devotion to looking “professional grade” (i.e. chunky) yields an interior design doesn’t make that obvious enough.
I also wasn’t particularly impressed by the automatic rear locker, which required quite a bit of wheelspin before actually locking up—that’s not something you want when traversing a technical rock-bed.
The underbody skid plates also looked a bit modest, with GMC saying there’s just a front oil pan skid plate (that silver thing shown above, presumably), and a transfer case skid plate. The fuel tank, I noticed, was unprotected.
The GMC Sierra can be had with a lot of fun features, like a wacky and fun multi-mode tailgate, a carbon fiber bed (which I didn’t get a chance to really put to the test), a crystal clear rearview mirror camera, a big head-up display, and adaptive damping. These features aren’t only fun, they do a decent job at masking the fact that, at its core, this truck is a basic machine with a pushrod V8 sending power through a solid axle connected to a frame via leaf springs.
But in the end, to me, what makes the Sierra compelling isn’t all the tech, it’s something a lot simpler: the styling. (The new, controversial Silverado is growing on me too, I’ll admit.)
In AT4 guise, the Sierra is a sharp looking machine. That more than anything, along with its general competence, is what draws me to it.
Correction Aug. 31, 2018: The 3"x7" head-up display is not a GMC-exclusive feature; it’s also available in the Silverado, as is the rearview camera mirror.