Sierra Defies the Image of the Full-Size Pickup

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CHATHAM, Mass. – Trucks, like the GMC Sierra, are not what they used to be – and that’s a good thing!

The 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab AT4 I spent last week driving around the South Shore and Cape Cod once again proves that strong, capable work vehicles can also be vehicles to take you to fun adventures with full-time four-wheel drive, off-road suspension and trailer aids as well as providing comfortable, amenity- and technology-filled every-day rides.

And, thanks to this version’s 3.0-liter diesel engine, they can also provide a reduced carbon footprint (compared to competitors) while getting 25 miles per gallon – an amazing number for a light-duty pickup — as it goes about its varied duties.

AT4 and AT4 Premium Package add features inside and out

For the 2019 model year, GMC introduced the Sierra AT4 which combined increased off-road capability with some modern technological touches. Significant parts of the package include four-wheel drive; locking rear differential; two-inch factory-installed lift kit for increased ground clearance; off-road tuned Rancho monotube shock absorbers; brake-pad wear monitor; Hill Descent Control; Traction Select System and the GMC MultiPro Tailgate (which can be opened conventionally or as a step system for easier bed access).

Related post:
GMC Sierra: Big, Comfortable and Capable

The Traction Select System allows the driver to choose from preset drive modes that have been tailored for different terrain or weather conditions. Selecting one of these modes adjusts Sierra’s transmission shift points, throttle mapping and StabiliTrak suspension to optimize performance for the situation at hand.

Handling these responsibilities are the sturdy X31 Off-Road suspension: independent coil-over-shock up front and solid axle with semi-elliptic, variable-rate, two-stage multi-leaf springs in the rear. The brakes are four-wheel brake discs with an electro-hydraulic power assist and anti-lock (ABS); vented front and rear Duralife™ brake rotors (13 inches in the front and 13.6 inches in the rear).

All this adds up to a tough truck on any kind of road surfaces, able to clear obstacles up to 10.6 inches high and get you to wherever you want to go, even if the road ends before you get to your destination.

There are compromises – the ride is a bit stiff, and road irregularities come through to the cabin, but not in an objectionable manner. On the highway, the Sierra is smooth, relatively quiet and comfortable. The heated (front and rear) and ventilated (front) leather seats (electric adjustment up front with memory for the driver’s) are firm and supportive; excellent perches upon which to head off to the mountains or the lake or grandma’s house across the country.

Dual-zone climate control, a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel and 60/40  folding rear bench seat are part of the basic AT4 setup. Technology features include USB ports, keyless entry and start, 120 Volt power outlets in the cabin and the bed and remote start.

Jumping up to the AT4 Premium Package like the truck I drove brought features like a power rear sliding window; an infotainment system centered around an eight-inch color touch display with navigation and voice activation; Bluetooth audio streaming, USB and SD-card inputs, and WIRELESS Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system’s sound is pumped out by a seven-speaker Bose Premium Sound System with Richbass woofer.

Speaking of pumping out sound, the AT4 CarbonPro Edition package brought a CarbonPro composite bed, unique-to-this-model grille surround with black chrome finish, unique badging, black dual exhaust tips, 18-inch wheels with Goodyear DuraTrac and a MultiPro Audio System by Kicker.

The Kicker puts two amplified speakers in the drop-down section of the MultiPro tailgate which are an external Bluetooth speaker system (or can be connected through cable or source sound from a USB stick) providing true tailgate entertainment.

Technology makes driving easier and safer

The AT4 comes with GMC’s two-speed AutoTrac transfer case which allows the drive to choose between rear-wheel drive high and low, depending upon road conditions, or a full-time four-wheel drive allowing set-it-and-forget it convenience (virtually all-wheel drive, like today’s SUVs).

The Sierra AT4 comes with the kinds of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) which makes driving vehicles as large as this full-size pickup ( 231.7-inches long, 81.2-inches wide and 78.4-inches high) much easier, especially along the crowded roads of Cape Cod during the crushing summer season.

Driving aids –ADAS — which are part of the AT4 model are front and rear park assist; lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert.

2020 GMC Sierra AT4

The Technology Package adds surround vision (360°-view camera) with two trailer camera provisions; rear-view camera (and bed-view camera) while the Driver Alert Package II brings forward collision alert; lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning; automatic emergency braking (AEB); front pedestrian braking; Intellibeam auto high beam; adaptive cruise control, and following-distance indicator.

The Driver Alert Package also includes a safety-alert seat which provides vibration whenever one of the ADAS alerts detects an issue.

There is also a very competent head-up display to help you keep your eyes on the road and still be able to monitor things like speed, navigation instructions and ADAS warnings.

A truck to get you where you want to go

As usual for a comprehensively equipped domestic pickup, the 2021 GMC Sierra AT4 has more features than I could name (for example it comes with an intuitive trailer system which makes this one-time burdensome task relatively simple).

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This is a comfortable, well designed and thought-out full-size pickup. The diesel engine provides long life when compared to a gas engine; excellent towing capability (up to 8,800 pounds); a payload of up to 1,990 pounds and car-and-SUV-like fuel economy (I got 25 mpg; the federal Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 24 overall, 22 in the city, 26 on the highway) and it is no louder than a gas engine.

This is a solid, well thought out truck which can do many things well. All these features and capabilities come at a price, in this case a very competitive $64,430.

Next week TBR Drives the Volvo XC60 compact sport utility vehicle.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.