2023 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X Review and Test Drive
GMC was founded on trucks, and the AT4X is its most off-road-capable full-size pickup.
The roots of GMC are in commercial operations, heavy transport, and military trucks, and the 1500 is the company's light-duty full-size pickup. It comes in a whopping eight trim levels and with four engine choices. The lineup starts with the basic Pro trim at about $39,000 and climbs to more than $84,000 for the off-road-ready AT4X.
For this review, I test-drove an AT4X fortified with the AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) Edition package, packing a 6.2-liter V8 making 420 horsepower. AEV is an off-roading equipment company, and the package includes steel bumpers, unique 12-spoke wheels, rocker panel protectors, skid plates to protect the differentials and other vulnerable hardware, and AEV logos on the seats and tailgate.
My test truck's only options were the AEV package and an unusual Deep Bronze Metallic paint. Those enhancements brought the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $90,935 including a $1,895 destination charge to ship the truck from the Silao, Mexico, assembly plant to the dealership. GMC provided the vehicle for this Sierra review, and I evaluated the truck in Arizona.
2023 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X Review: The Design
GMC refreshed the Sierra in 2022, giving it a bolder exterior design and — more importantly — an up-to-date interior with a large, highly functional infotainment screen. Since the AT4X is just one rung shy of the Sierra's top trim level, it receives full-leather seating, contrasting-color stitching, multi-adjustable heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and an artificial suede headliner.
The quality of the materials inside the GMC is above average. Still, it could be better, as I don't feel it's at the level of a $90,000 vehicle. While it's undoubtedly suited for a pickup's rough-and-tumble life, it doesn't exude refinement.
I found the controls easy to understand and first-row comfort excellent — the AT4X even comes with massaging front seats. While the September climate in Arizona precluded using the seat heaters, the seat cooling proved meager against the triple-digit desert temperatures. GMC provides hard buttons for all the main climate adjustments. The lid atop the center console is big enough for laptop work, though my laptop — with a 13-inch display — didn't fit inside the center storage well. Door pockets provide lots of space, and there's more room to be found in the upper and lower gloveboxes.
Even larger adults should fit well in the back seats. Rear passengers also have air-conditioning vents, USB ports, and two semi-hidden storage compartments nestled within the seatbacks. Those rear seats pivot up to reveal a flat in-cab load floor and open storage directly under the chairs. Between the door pockets, seatback map pockets, and cupholders, rear passengers also have lots of locations to stash stuff.
The only genuine problem inside the Sierra AT4X isn't actually inside. In my opinion, it's getting there, as the lifted suspension can make entry and exit a hassle. What seem like steps, or powered running boards that deploy when you open a door, aren't running boards at all. These bars just protect the body, rocker panels, and frame from dents and chips while off-roading. An excellent feature to have, certainly, but I think GMC could have engineered them to do double duty. Optional bolt-on steps are available to aid getting in and out, but they can't be kept in place when off-roading.
In exchange for the AT4X's enhanced off-roading abilities, drivers sacrifice payload capacity, as the AT4X is rated at 1,290 pounds of payload, whereas similarly configured Sierra four-wheel-drive (4WD) pickups can cart 1,660 pounds. The AT4X can tow 8,900 pounds, down only 100 pounds from a Sierra 1500 4WD without the beefier off-roading equipment.
A MultiPro Tailgate is standard, and provides a smaller gate-within-a-gate to quickly reach into the bed. It also features a fold-down step and Kicker speakers for tailgate parties. You can connect to these speakers either through Bluetooth or a USB cable. The truck bed also has 12 tie-down rings and a 120-volt power outlet.
2023 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X Review: The Technology
The AT4X's 13.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system scores well on user friendliness and functionality. The system's overall processing speed is quick, the graphics are clear and crisp, and it runs Google built-in and the associated apps. In addition, my test truck offered a detailed trailering-assistance program, where you input various trailer stats to make towing easier.
Pairing my iPhone with the Sierrs's infotainment system was easy, and Apple CarPlay launched quickly and seamlessly through a USB cable or Bluetooth. The system includes Google Assistant, a natural voice recognition system with a digital assistant. Prompted by saying, "Hey Google," this feature allows you to control music, climate settings, podcasts, or navigation via Google Maps. Even instructing the system to find businesses and restaurants with confusing names didn't trip up Google Assistant.
GMC pairs the infotainment system with a partly configurable digital instrument panel that I found clear and concise. There's also a standard head-up display along with a rearview mirror that uses either standard glass or a display fed by a wide-angle camera. This allows you to see behind the truck even if the bed is full — but I found refocusing my eyes when it was in camera mode took some acclimation. Drivers can choose between the mirror or camera by flipping the toggle under the mirror — like an old-school day/night mirror.
The AT4X also features a surround-view camera that provides a clear view of obstacles when off-roading. You can call them up in various ways on the center display. Since judging the extremities of such a large truck can be tricky, this helps with accurate and careful placement when out on the trail.
All Sierra AT4Xs have adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and front and rear pedestrian braking. The AT4X's adaptive cruise control worked quickly and without a hitch, picking up lane-changing traffic ahead and regulating distance and speed quickly and without any real abruptness. The truck's lane-keeping assist — it did not come with lane-centering assist — worked moderately well. However, it allowed the truck to break out of a lane twice on a two-lane divided highway.
On the crash safety front, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awards all the 4WD versions of the 2023 Sierra 1500 its highest overall safety rating of five stars. However, as of publication, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not tested the 2023 GMC Sierra 1500.
2023 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X AEV Edition Review: The Drive
GMC equips each 2023 Sierra 1500 AT4X with a 6.2-liter V8 engine making 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission is a 10-speed automatic boasting a hefty transfer case with high and low ranges. Since the AT4X AEV weighs a substantial 5,780 pounds, acceleration isn't in league with the supercharged Ram 1500 TRX or Ford F-150 Raptor R. Still, forward progress feels brisk and comes with a muscle car soundtrack — even if it doesn't deliver the velocity.
The transmission clicks off smooth shifts under normal driving and with moderate crispness under hard acceleration. But since pouring vast quantities of fuel into a thirsty beast chafes my conscience, I drove the big rig gingerly. As a reward, the test truck returned no better than 13.2 mpg on my 73-mile loop of mixed driving in Arizona. Considering the truck is EPA-rated at 14/17/15 mpg city/highway/combined, it underperformed on this part of my test.
With the significant off-roading capability required of the AT4X AEV, you might figure on-road behavior would suffer. It doesn't. Well, it mostly doesn't. Though I didn’t exceed 80 mph, I found the knobby, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory MT tires loud, though the oversized side view mirrors didn't cause much of a stir. So while it’s not as smooth as some other pickups I've tested, the AT4X's highway ride quality is reasonably good.
On secondary roads, I think ride quality could be better. In addition, I didn't find any joy in improvised slaloms and chicanes on paved roads. Over some bumps, I experienced pronounced head toss as the truck rocked about its roll center. But given its mission — and nearly three tons of weight — I think the AT4X handles tarmac pretty well.
Notably, the AT4X AEV returns an impressive amount of feel back up the steering column — but what the steering gods give, they taketh away. As with all full-size trucks, the turning radius is gigantic, meaning any shopping escapade will likely require backing into spaces.
Braking is the only driving quality that definitively gives away the truck's big and heavy nature. There's plenty of bite when you want it, but it takes a firm leg to whoa this horse.
On the afternoon I took the AT4X off-roading, I found some challenging rocky inclines to test the 4WD system, front and rear locking differentials, and ground clearance. Despite surface sand and dirt making it slippery, a low-range climb up a rocky hill posed no difficulty for the AT4X, and Hill Descent Control made creeping down easy.
The rock formations on my descent were like giant lateral steps. They used every bit of clearance under the truck, but it never scraped. The truck's ground clearance ensured no skid plate was harmed in the production of this review.
Is the 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X AEV Edition a Good Truck?
For those seeking a full-size, light-duty truck with off-roading ability, the Sierra AT4X AEV is an impressive performer. While it doesn't compete with the Ford F-150 Raptor R or Ram 1500 TRX on sheer horsepower, the big GMC pickup is capable and well-equipped for real-world off-roading. But for $90,000-plus, it ought to be.
That said, most folks looking for the best off-roading capability in a truck will not consider a full-size model, which is no fault of the AT4X. Full-size pickups are too big, heavy, and wide to fit on some popular off-roading trails. Enthusiasts with a laser focus on deep back-country action generally look to midsize trucks such as GMC's own Canyon, the Chevrolet Colorado, the Ford Ranger, the Toyota Tacoma, or the Jeep Gladiator.
So while the Sierra AT4X AEV is a fine choice if you can manage the price, a smaller truck might be the better pick for serious off-roading. They're also easier on the fuel budget.