Review: The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 is the off-road truck, refined

Key Points
  • The AT4 is the capable, off-road trim of the GMC Sierra.
  • It's comfortable, capable and a great all-around truck.
  • Still, it can't match the luxury of the Ram 1500 or the Ford F-150 Raptor.
The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Since the launch of the Ford F-150 Raptor, we've been waiting for General Motors to hit back. When we heard about the GMC Sierra AT4, an off-road focused truck design with a huge motor, we thought it might be the Raptor rival we've been waiting for.

It isn't. The Sierra AT4 is less outrageous, more luxurious, and more usable than the feisty Ford. If Ram is making the best luxury truck right now and Ford has the most exciting off-roader, the Sierra AT4 splits the difference between them.

The good

With big trucks like these, we can't overstate how important it is to look the part. Part of the reason people spend so much on these things — in this case, $66,365 — is that they function as extensions of the owner's ego. Like an exotic sports car, trucks convey an image of power and wealth.

The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC

In that sense, the AT4 is a huge success. While the top-trim American trucks can often be chromed-out beyond reason or taste, the AT4's brutish snout and lifted stance amplifies everything we love about trucks. The large grille evokes the business end of a sledgehammer and the red tow hooks function as nice accents.

You may also notice a strange cut line in the tailgate. All Sierra AT4s come with GMC's MultiPro tailgate. GMC calls it a six-function tailgate, allowing you to contort the three-part assembly into an extended bed stop, a standing desk, a cutaway tailgate for loading, or a staircase into the bed. There's also a fold-out handlebar to make the staircase more usable, though we should note that the Sierra also has steps cut into the bumper that are only a few inches higher and require no origami.

The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC

That being said, the large staircase with the fold-out handlebar proved extremely useful when loading a big batch of cargo into the Sierra's bed. Especially given the raised ride height, we're really happy that the AT4 provides an easy way in and out of the bed.

With the bed loaded, the Sierra was also a completely comfortable companion on the 7-hour drive from Philadelphia to Cleveland. The seats are great, the cabin is gargantuan and the truck is perfectly happy at rural highway speeds. With its big leather ventilated thrones, heated steering wheel, head-up display, Bose stereo and high-definition, digital rear-view mirror, the Sierra checked a lot of luxury truck boxes.

Power from the supersized 6.2-liter V-8 is always available, even though the 10-speed transmission can be a bit confused sometimes. Even with a few hundred pounds of gear in the bed, the Sierra was seriously quick.

The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC

It's also capable. It's not the high-speed baja machine that the Raptor is, but with knobby off-road tires and a lot of ground clearance, it feels ready to tackle trails. Through foot-high floodwaters and muddy, rutty park roads, the Sierra barely seemed to notice any obstacles.

The bad

This is out of character, but we're going to argue against the big engine option. Here's the problem with paying $2,495 to upsize the V-8 from 5.3 liters to 6.2 liters. If you want a bigger engine in a truck, you want speed or you want hauling capability.

On something like a Raptor, which is built for more high-speed desert running and jumping, a big engine makes perfect sense. But the AT4 is more measured than that, build for rock crawling and crushing obstacles. You're not going to need the extra power off-road.

The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC

On road, the Sierra is limited to 98 mph. The truck is still pulling hard at this point, charging up the speedometer until — WHAM — you smack into the speed limiter like a brick wall. Power isn't the limiting factor; the tires can only handle so much speed. So if you're after speed, optioning the 6.2 won't actually help.

If you want to tow more, well, the 6.2-liter engine doesn't help there. The maximum tow rating of the AT4 is 9,400 pounds with the 5.3-liter engine. Upgrading to the 6.2-liter reduces it by 100 pounds. Either way, the soft off-road suspension means that you can tow thousands of pounds more if you skip the AT4 trim altogether.

So we don't love the 6.2 and its insatiable need for gas. Also, the interior design of the Sierra is pretty weak. Despite having just been redesigned, it looks like a previous-generation interior. The infotainment display looks tiny on top of such a large center stack and the column shifter is vague and dated.

The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC

There's also an annoying droning from the tires at around 30 mph. It goes away at higher speeds, but it drones around town.

Finally, it's ridiculous that an all-new truck in 2019 does not even offer adaptive cruise control. Ford offers it on the F-150, which hasn't been fully redesigned in years, but GMC doesn't. GMC is fixing it for 2020, but given how many miles buyers put on their trucks it was a disappointing omission on our test truck.

How we'd option it

The AT4 is definitely our favorite Sierra, so start with a crew-cab, short-box AT4 with the 5.3 for $54,795. Unless you want basic white or black, budget $495 to pick a premium color. The $3,100 Premium Package brings upgraded speakers, navigation, wireless phone charging, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors and other niceties. We'd also suggest the $745 Driver Alert Package II to get forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams and lane-keeping assist.

The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Our total price is $59,135 with destination and before any discounts.

Final thoughts

The Sierra AT4 is an extremely impressive truck, a happy middle ground between the hilarity of the Raptor and the opulence of the Ram. Still, our tester was more expensive than either with an interior that didn't live up the $66,365 price tag.

It's not the best luxury truck or the craziest off-roader, but it's competent everywhere.


Exterior: 5

Interior: 2

Driving Experience: 3.5

Value: 3.5

Overall: 3.5

Price as tested: $66,365

The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4
Mack Hogan | CNBC