Review: 2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate
Where I live, on the edge of what the state of Florida calls the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, the aspirational vehicle among young people is not a Mazda Miata, Toyota 86, BMW 3-Series or even a Chevrolet Corvette. It’s more along the lines of a diesel-huffing Ram with four-wheel drive, 37-inch tires, and a lift kit so extreme the driver needs a rope ladder to reach the cockpit. A number of these youths ogled the 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate pickup I recently tested, which seemed like a nice blank canvas for their coal-rolling dreams.
Undeniably the king of luxurious trucks—and priced like it at $80,840—the Ultimate comes from the factory with everything. Except, oddly, front and rear park assist—a likely casualty of a chip shortage at the time of this build. But the rest, yeah, you name it and GMC threw it at the Ultimate: adaptive ride control, a newly developed Bose sound system, 16-way massaging leather seats, power running boards, and even Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving that allows for true hands-free operation. I still find technology like this vaguely creepy, but I tried it out anyway. It works fine. I’ve never aspired to sneak a look at a crossword puzzle while the truck drives itself on any of the thousands of miles of mapped highway on which it works, nor have I found that having a hand or two on the wheel is an imposition of any sort, but maybe that’s just me.
The Ultimate is, of course, four-wheel-drive, but the idea of scratching up the truck’s Titanium Rush Metallic paint (a $495 option) in the brush seems … sacrilegious. The heaviest duty a Sierra Denali Ultimate is likely to see is a ranch owner checking on the livestock. This is, in fact, what Kevin Costner should be driving on TV’s Yellowstone. If you really need off-road capability, there’s the $77,395 AT4X, only slightly less luxurious than the ultimate Ultimate.
All Ultimates are crew cabs with short beds. Standard power comes from a 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter Ecotec V-8 (the 5.3-liter V-8 is standard on the Denali), mated to an excellent 10-speed automatic transmission. Mileage is a grim EPA-rated 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, and 17 mpg overall. Forty-two percent of the truck’s content is from the U.S., with 44 percent from Mexico. It is assembled in the Roanoke, Indiana factory, and quite well, I’d add. It’s hard to imagine that the Ultimate doesn’t get a little extra attention on the assembly line.
Inside, it looks like a saddle maker stitched the full-grain leather upholstery. There are etchings around the cabin, including on the wood panel above the glove compartment door, of Alaska’s Denali peak (formerly known as Mount McKinley). The cabin is exceptionally comfortable, with plenty of room for five, six-foot-tall cowboys or guys wearing cowboy boots. There’s even a power sunroof, even though this is not really a sunroof-type vehicle. Sound comes from a new 12-speaker Bose system; but the radio only gets George Strait and Alan Jackson. Kidding! It’s Wi-Fi hotspot capable, via OnStar, and the 13.4-inch diagonal touch screen is reasonably intuitive, as are the other controls. There’s a huge heads-up display, to boot, and it looks rather high-end.
Outside, the bed is lined and there’s LED lighting back there with a handy 120-volt power outlet. The Denali also has the “multiple” tailgate from the Silverado, which either opens all the way or just the top third. I didn’t find any major difficulty with it, but your mileage may vary. It’s certainly more complicated than a traditional manual-release unit. A trailering package is standard, with a trailer brake controller and Stabilitrak with trailer sway control. Tires and wheels are 22-inchers; the Bridgestone radials handle dry and wet conditions equally well and are very quiet. This is the fourth year for this body style, but GMC has made it look very fresh on the Denali Ultimate.
On the road, the Ultimate rides smoothly but perhaps not to the same magic-carpet-ride degree as a Ram 1500. Acceleration is brisk, thanks to the 10-speed transmission and the proven pushrod engine, which hasn’t meaningfully changed in years. (That’s more or less true of the GMC version of this truck in general; the Denali received a new nose for 2022 and a new interior, but otherwise it looks and feels quite familiar.) Potholes are merely incidental due to the premium suspension with adaptive ride control. There’s minimal head-toss on bumpy turns. The truck feels smaller than its 232-inch length, and that’s a good thing. Steering is precise and linear, and brakes feel numb but get the job done. Sports-car levels of feedback are not essential to the proceedings here.
The Ultimate is an appropriate name. Sure, you can load up a Sierra 1500 or a Chevrolet Silverado with almost as much stuff, but there is a certain sense of occasion with the Denali. Are etchings of the mountain in Alaska worth $80,840? Entirely up to you, but the rest of this luxo-pickup leaves next to nothing on the table.
2022 GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate
Price: $78,700/$80,840 (base / as tested)
Highs: Rootin’ tootin’ interior, good acceleration, every imaginable option included.
Lows: Expectedly dismal mileage, Super Cruise an acquired taste, pricey.
Summary: A sumptuous, purposeful companion both in the city and out on the prairie.