GMC didn’t waste any time fixing its full-size pickup truck problem, and in doing so, it has outgunned the competition.
For 2022, GMC overhauled the pickup and added a Denali Ultimate model to the top of the lineup that comes with a terrific driver-assist system, nifty towing tech, and an eye-watering price tag.
It’s a Super Cruiser
In a move that should’ve happened with the 2019 launch of the current generation Sierra 1500, the full-size GMC pickup can now be had with GM’s Super Cruise system.
While Super Cruise was already hands-down the best driver-assist system on the market, and one of only two currently on sale in the U.S. that enables truly hands-free driving on limited access highways, it had limitations. The system has learned new tricks, including trailering functions and automatic lane changing to pass a slower moving vehicle with zero driver involvement. Soon, GM will double the mapped roads to cover 400,000 miles.
Hands-free towing is a real trip and brings the awareness of how terrible other people are at driving to a whole new level. Adding more than 20 feet of trailer to the back of the Sierra while the driver next to you comes way too close to the painted lines on the road can lead to squeamish moments, but the system keeps the truck straight and true in its lane. The system also integrates the truck’s blind-spot monitors to account for the trailer’s added length. Good show, GM.
In my testing, the updated Super Cruise in the Sierra Denali Ultimate changed lanes to pass slower moving traffic multiple times on Minnesota’s I-94, while properly engaging the turn signal without driver intervention. Its manners and lane discipline were better than many drivers on the road today.
The Ford F-150 has a limited hands-free driver-assist system called BlueCruise, but it comes in second place compared to Super Cruise. The system can’t tow, fails to keep the vehicle centered in the lane, and can’t automatically change lanes. A pending update should enable hands-free lane changes and better lane guidance.
Ram doesn’t have any sort of hands-free driver-assist system at all, yet.
Other towing advantages of the Sierra (and subsequently the Chevrolet Silverado) are a better towing receiver and emergency chain setup than the Toyota Tundra, Ford F-150, and Ram 1500. The receiver doesn’t feature any weird double walling like the Tundra, and the safety chain hookups feature large holes and aren’t tucked under the rear end as in the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.
Finally, a competitive interior
The biggest weak point when the current Sierra debuted was the interior. For 2022, GMC swapped in a new dashboard and a 13.4-inch touchscreen, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, and soft-touch materials across the lineup except for the base Pro work truck trim.
Unfortunately, that digital gauge cluster isn’t as creatively laid out as what’s in the Ford F-150, and the big touchscreen now runs on Android software that can lag before actions are registered.
In a genius move, GMC put the Sierra’s available 15 camera angles to work in a smart way when towing. When a trailer was connected, the system engaged the side mirror-mounted camera when the turn signal was on. This then put a side view of the truck and trailer on the entire touchscreen, allowing me to see the trailer as it rounded the corner. Slick.
High-zoot Denali Ultimate models slather on the amenities with a 15.0-inch color head-up display, open-pore Paldao wood trim, a stitched leather dashboard, cross-stitched accents on the seats and door panels, a suede headliner, and massaging seats. The Ram 1500 Limited interior is still a nicer place to be both in terms of comfort and materials, and for less money than the Denali Ultimate. Notably, the Denali Ultimate’s full-grain leather seats might be the nicest leather in a mass-produced GM vehicle.
Carry over the good and bad
Much of what can’t be seen, and even some of what can be, on the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 carries over from its predecessor, for better and worse.
The massive bed still has tall sides that I can’t reach over at 5-foot-10. The front end is massive and intimidating; the hood and tops of the fenders nearly reach the top of my chest. The front cowl is puffed up to match the macho hoodline. All of it seems utterly unnecessary, as if the truck’s compensating.
Occupants still sit low inside the cab, which makes forward vision more difficult because of the high front cowl compared to the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150.
Upscale Denali Ultimate models ride on 22-inch wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Alenza luxury truck tires, which slip and slide in winter but are quiet and track well on the highway in the summer.
The Ultimate tester and its 12-speaker Bose audio system failed to impress due to too much bass and muddy lows. Fiddling with the sound system equalizer settings did little to fix the issues.
While base trucks received an uprated and upgraded 2.7-liter turbo-4 with 310 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque, top-spec trucks such as the Ultimate Denali can be had with either a 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft or my tester’s smooth and torquey 3.0-liter turbodiesel-6 with 277 hp and 460 lb-ft. A 10-speed automatic sends power to a four-wheel-drive system and 2-speed transfer case.
The turbodiesel-6 powertrain carries EPA fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg city, 26 highway, 24 combined. On a 206-mile highway road trip with the cruise control set at over 70 mph, I averaged 23.8 mpg, according to the onboard trip computer. Speed and wind were a factor and 26 mpg feels achievable with less of a lead foot and less wind.
At $82,795 the Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate is one of the most expensive full-size light-duty pickups money can buy, but it makes some weird cost-conscious concessions. The sunroof cover is a cloth material that doesn’t match the suede headliner. The rear windows don’t have an auto-up function that is standard on a $25,450 Volkswagen Taos.
Also concerning was the fact that my essentially new (it had just over 1,500 miles on it) Denali Ultimate tester’s rear roof-mounted spoiler rattled each and every time the rear doors were closed.
Perhaps the most egregious and perplexing oversight of all is there is no 12-volt outlet in the entire Sierra 1500. A 12-volt outlet is a feature found in every other full-size pickup truck sold today, except in the main Sierra lineup. The base Pro work truck retains a 12-volt outlet and the outgoing truck’s dated dashboard.
Finally worthy of the Denali badge
That (massive) 12-volt oversight notwithstanding, the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate rights the interior wrongs of the latest GMC full-sizer. It also brings forth a new level of luxury for the brand with nice leather, great towing technology, and Super Cruise.
Frankly, anybody that plans to do long-distance highway driving, especially while hauling, should consider the Sierra Denali with Super Cruise and the butter-smooth turbodiesel as their top pick, for now. As long as you don’t need a 12-volt outlet.
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