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A grey 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is driving in a desert after winning a 2021 Ford F-150 vs 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 comparison.

Battle of the Beasts: The Ford Raptor vs GMC Sierra AT4

There’s a trend emerging (or should we say, re-emerging) in the full-size truck category, and the theme goes like this: which automaker can build the angriest, most ferocious truck in its class? Ford seeks to answer this question definitively with the Raptor. GMC counters with its off-road-ready AT4. In this 2021 Ford F-150 vs 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 battle of the baddest beasts, which one outperforms the other?

Sussing out which truck packs the most wallop is not easy at first glance. It takes a little spec-by-spec comparison but also a deeper dive into what constitutes epic off-roading capability. Specifically, which components make the Raptor a Raptor vs just a well-equipped F-150? And is GMC’s AT4 trim uniquely equipped to deliver more prowess than a standard Sierra 1500 on the trail?

Capability is the lens through which we determine the best and grittiest between these two competitors, but we also think looks matter. People who buy extreme pickup trucks want everyone else to know it. Appearance tweaks on both the exterior and interior are an important way manufacturers distinguish these often significantly more expensive trucks. So, which one looks the part?

High-performing pickups are a trend that’s here to stay. If you want to own a truck that’s at the extreme end of the capability spectrum, prepare to fork out some serious cash. Read on for our review of the F-150 Raptor vs Sierra 1500 AT4, and get ready to google the best techniques to remove mud from my wheel wells. If you’re driving one of these beasts, it’s a skill you’re going to have to get very good at.

Get to Know the Raptor

In a February 2021 press release announcing the third generation Raptor, Ford didn’t mince words. Calling it the “most off-road capable and connected F-150 Raptor ever,” Ford outlined the Raptor’s compelling list of new-age equipment and capability, positioning it as the ultra-high-speed off-roading machine.

Suspension

What’s behind that claim? First off, a brand new, Raptor-exclusive five-link independent rear suspension undergirds the narrative. Ford reports that the suspension offers more power and better control because there’s a wider range of wheel travel. Paradoxically, the extra-long trailing arms stabilize axle position, especially over uneven surfaces.

Together, these systems mean the Raptor absorbs bumps, delivers traction where it’s needed, and stabilizes the ride for more comfort and control. The FOX Live Valve shock system does the work of smoothing out the ride, absorbing bumps, and reacting almost instantly (approximately 500 times per second, to be exact) to changes in terrain.

Power

A third-generation 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost engine sits under the Raptor’s hood, ready to put the standard 10-speed automatic transmission to work and convert the rumored 450 horsepower into an exhilarating day of racing across desert terrain. The engine is tuned for plenty of low-range torque, making it extremely adaptable to crawling over rocky, uneven terrain.

Helping the engine stay cool is an advanced heat extractor made up of high-power fans, and the X-pipe exhaust arrangement improves sound quality and comes with a clever feature that lets drivers choose from four sound levels – Quiet, Normal, Sport, and Baja. An electronic locking rear differential is standard, so optimal rear-end traction is there when it’s needed.

Technology

Any advanced machine works best when the pilot can operate it from an advanced cockpit. That’s exactly how Ford describes the F-150 Raptor’s driver’s seat and in-dash technology. A 12-inch digital gauge cluster is standard and sits prominently above the steering wheel at eye level and displays key information, like turn-by-turn navigation and off-roading data.

In addition to the digital gauge cluster is a standard 12-inch infotainment touchscreen mounted in the center dashboard. All the usual Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity is lightning fast, thanks to Ford’s new SYNC4 operating system. The touchscreen also has split-screen display capabilities that work great when customers opt for the available 360-degree camera package.

A white GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 is parked in a grass field.

GMC’s AT4 Packs a Punch

Not known to be a shrinking violet, GMC answers the Raptor’s rugged power flex with the Sierra AT4, an off-roading dominator unto itself that adds its own twist on capability. Boasting a factory-installed lift and the option of V8 gas or turbo-diesel power, the AT4 earns a spot on the trail.

Suspension

GMC lands an uppercut to the competition right out of the gate by equipping the AT4 with a standard factory-installed 2-inch lift. That’s music to off-roader’s ears because more clearance means better water fording and crawling capability. However, matching the Raptor’s dynamic five-link suspension and FOX shock technology isn’t on the list of the AT4’s benefits.

Instead, the Sierra 1500 AT4 employs an independent front suspension with a coil-over-shock construction and a solid axle rear suspension that uses traditional leaf springs, twin-tube shock absorbers, and Rancho shocks. The biggest difference is articulation, with the Raptor’s five-link suspension providing more overall flexibility of movement.

Power

Two available engines – one gas and one diesel – mean the GMC Sierra AT4 is the more varied of the two competitors, but both engines fall short of the F-150 Raptor’s EcoBoost V6 horsepower rating. For the AT4, it’s choice of either a 3.0-liter Duramax Turbo-Diesel I6 (277 horsepower) or a 6.2-liter V8 EcoTec3 (420 horsepower).

Both engines are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, Driver Shift Control, and Tow/Haul mode. That final mode minimizes shift cycling to compensate for heavy loads. Powertrain Grade Braking helps controls downhill speed by adjusting the engine and transmission automatically.

Technology

Unfortunately, the AT4’s best available tech is optional, so prepare to spend a little more. The Technology Package adds a 15-inch Head-Up Display, a bed view camera, and an 8-inch diagonal Digital Driver Information Center (the Raptor’s is 12-inch and standard). The package also includes an HD Surround Vision Camera with two bonus extra trailer views.

Want the biggest available infotainment touchscreen? Yep, you guessed it – it’s extra. The AT4 Preferred Package adds an 8-inch touchscreen, but that is still smaller than the Raptor’s standard 12-inch screen. GMC offers buyers connected services via the myGMC mobile app, which allows for remote access to the truck via a subscription-based plan, turning smartphones into virtual key fobs. Some of the connected capabilities include lock or unlock and remote-start.

A red 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor shows a close up of the rear tire.

Who is King of the Trail?

These two high-performance trucks both appeal to buyers with aggressive exterior lines and a long list of extra off-roading equipment, some standard and some optional, designed to attract aficionado buyers. The goal of a high-performance truck is to combine class-leading power and capability, and the Raptor does that just a little better.

Even a comparison of the available tire sizes paints a starkly different picture between these two vehicles. The Ford F-150 Raptor comes standard with 35-inch tires and has optional 37-inch tires, while the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 is limited to 32-inch tires from the factory. Even with the standard 2-inch lift, the GMC’s ground clearance doesn’t come close to the Raptor’s. And when it comes to off-roading, ground clearance is critical.

Ending up with either of these trucks in your driveway – or on the trail – means you’re pretty lucky, but true off-roading pros are going to gravitate toward the Raptor. In its present form, the Raptor outperforms on torque, horsepower, and standard equipment. In addition, the creature comforts – like technology and comfort/luxury equipment – are more diverse on the Raptor, and many of those features, like the 12-inch touchscreen, are standard.

It’s not quite a fair fight. That fact is compounded later this year when Ford releases the Raptor R, an even more souped-up Raptor trim that is rumored to deliver over 700 horsepower from a supercharged V8. Until then, if GMC wants to compete with the big boys in the performance truck arena, the company will have to adapt its AT4 with a more aggressive off-roading posture. Our vote, hands down, is for the 2021 F-150 Raptor.

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