2016 GMC Sierra 1500 4×4 All Terrain X

2016 GMC Sierra 1500 4×4 All Terrain X

Instrumented Test

Gas prices have dipped nearly 50 cents per gallon in a year, providing suburban cowboys with a guilt-free opportunity to scratch that off-road itch. Enter GMC with a well-timed All Terrain X package for the Sierra 1500.

The truck reviewed here is a two-step march up from the base $48,465 Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab SLT, which lives just below the Sierra Denali in GMC’s pecking order. The $2105 All Terrain package contains a mix of hard- and soft-core upgrades: an off-road suspension with Rancho shocks, a locking rear differential, an eight-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels, body-color bumpers, a spray-on bedliner, Bose audio, heated leather seats, and a center console with wireless charging. The $4315 X package—available on Sierra SLT 4x4s in the crew-cab, short-box body style as well as double-cab, standard-box form—kicks in additional macho gear: Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac on-/off-road tires, black-finished wheels and mirrors, LED headlamps and taillamps, side steps, a performance exhaust system that adds 10 horsepower for a total of 365 hp, and a full set of rubber floor mats. A bed-mounted sport bar touts your Sierra Club membership in mega-red letters. Add a few more upgrades—a $995 power sunroof, GMC’s $495 Intellilink infotainment system with navigation, and a $275 trailer-brake controller—and you’ll match our truck’s $56,695 window sticker. For reference, that tops a BMW M2’s base price by exactly $4000.

This king’s ransom buys surprising versatility. The stiffer suspension doesn’t beat you to death when you drive on pavement, the standard 5.3-liter V-8 is all but silent at work, and the eight-speed automatic transmission—introduced for 2015 and now available with the smaller Sierra V-8—shuffles gears with the skill of a Vegas blackjack dealer. This transmission offers trailer-tow and manual shift modes, allowing you to hold your selected ratio up to the engine’s fuel cutoff. The refinement GMC has put into this truck is what makes it popular with well-heeled customers seeking a pickup with a wide range of on-road, off-road, hauling, and towing capabilities.

Casual shoppers, though, must be cautioned. This is a huge truck, and its 12-foot wheelbase and 47-foot turning circle mean it takes planning and practice to enter a standard parking spot. Every trip to the driver’s seat is a two-step climb, and the 35-inch-high tailgate is annoyingly high for performing normal truck tasks such as loading dirt bikes, home-improvement materials, and lawn fertilizer. During our 1000-mile drive, which involved minimal hauling and off-roading and no towing, we averaged 19 mpg. That’s respectable for a buff 5688-pound vehicle. One quirk is that lighter, less luxurious Sierra 4x4s equipped with GMC’s six-speed automatic transmission outscore the eight-speed’s 15/21 mpg city/highway EPA ratings by 1 mpg each.

While our Sierra’s 19-mpg observed fuel economy beat two Ford F-150 pickups we recently tested by 3 mpg, this GMC fell behind in practically every other test. The run to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds is 0.3 second slower than the 385-hp F-150 V-8 and 0.8 second slower than the 375-hp EcoBoost V-6. Chalk that up to the Fords’ aluminum cab and bed construction, which gives them a 255-to-468-pound weight advantage. (The GMC earns partial credit for its aluminum hood.) The Sierra’s off-road rubber hurt it in traction tests, where it needed more than 200 feet to stop from 70 mph (versus 179 to 187 feet for previous four-by-four GMCs without the off-road kit and tires). It also scored only 0.70 g of lateral adhesion on the skidpad, versus the F-150 V-8’s 0.75 g and the 0.77 g that its GMC siblings managed. The GMC’s highway cruising noise level is four decibels higher than the Ford’s and two decibels louder than with ordinary all-season tires. That’s the price you pay for driving on treads molded to dig into mud and dirt.

Fortunately, there is compensation for these performance shortcomings. This Sierra is a handsome piece, with minimal chrome disrupting its black exterior theme. The 3.5-inch-high GMC letters in the black chrome grille are quite effective at brushing left-lane laggards out of the way. The X package’s few flashy bits live discreetly in the LED lamps, lug nuts, and Sierra All Terrain badges. One flight of fancy is the double-tube bed adornment, a visual throwback to the Chevrolet Avalanche and the Cadillac Escalade EXT. Any potential rollover protection is squandered by securing this aluminum arch atop the bed flanks with just a few fasteners. This sport bar’s main purpose is to look cool while carrying the CHMSL and a pair of LED jacklights.

Before you plan your attack on the Rubicon, be advised that the All Terrain label is hyperbole. This truck is too wide to slip between trees and boulders. There are guard plates under the engine and transfer case, but the fuel tank, front air dam, spare tire, and side steps are vulnerable to attack from the dark side. This Sierra should confidently handle trails and year-round slippery conditions, but those serious about taking the fight to Mother Nature will need a lift kit, taller tires, and additional underbody protection.

Inside, this high Sierra is a model of impeccable taste. The three-adults-wide back seat, a vanishing attribute in the car world, lives here in comfortable splendor. Lifting the split bottom cushions opens space to secure camping gear, beverage coolers, and sporting equipment galore. The red-stitched leather seat trim has side bolsters accented with a convincing use of woven carbon fiber. The ignition still requires a key, but the cabin is otherwise well stocked with contemporary features. The front seats are heated, and the pedals are adjustable. There are enough AC, DC, USB, and wireless-charging receptacles to dazzle an electrician. The center console and twin gloveboxes are commodious enough to support a mobile business. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (although at this writing, there’s a hold on this feature in some Sierra configurations, including this model, and a $200 credit for doing without). The bank of six analog instruments will impress classic-gauge fans, although a 140-mph speedometer in a vehicle governed at 98 mph seems silly. There’s a handy inclinometer in the driver’s cluster to report pitch, roll, and steering angles. One lapse is that the cab lacks high-level cooling vents for rear occupants.

It’s no easy feat to charm buyers with a traditional pickup while the horde of crossovers offers creative solutions to transportation and hauling needs. But as long as Texas keeps pumping and fracking continues to suppress pump prices, pickup fans will keep coming back for GMCs that have a fresh face and a sense of adventure.

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