GMC’s Sierra 1500 is a truck known for its useful configurability, classy styling, and powerful capability. While some Sierra models are better suited to use on flat, even streets, there are a few versions hanging around your local GMC Sierra dealer that are capable of leaving the pavement behind and rolling through the wilderness. If you love drooling over high-powered stats and taking a look at rugged special equipment, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s delve into all of the adventurous off-road trims of the 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 and see what they bring to the table.
The Sierra AT4 comes standard with a 3.0L Duramax turbo-diesel engine under the hood. While it doesn’t have the most horsepower of the Sierra’s available engines, delivering a maximum of 305 ponies, it does offer the best torque rating of the bunch, with 495 lb-ft. That should come in handy for drivers who are crawling over boulders or towing a bunch of gear to their campsite. Diesel also offers better fuel economy, which is one reason why some truck drivers prefer it over gasoline. On the other hand, if you do prefer gas, you have the option to upgrade to a V8 engine at an additional cost.
The AT4 rides tall with a two-inch factory lift that provides additional ground clearance compared to the standard Sierra, so it can glide right over rocks, raised roots, and other obstacles that might get in its way on an OHV trail. It’s also fitted with an off-road-tuned suspension and Rancho monotube shocks so that the driver and passengers can get a smooth ride even if the ground gets rocky. Underbody skid plates protect vital components, and an automatic locking rear differential provides traction where needed if the truck ends up in a tough situation, like getting stuck in deep mud, that might cause a normal truck to spin out and require a tow. If the AT4 ever does get into a sticky enough situation that it does require a rescue, it has bright red recovery hooks that should be easy to spot even if they’re crusted over with mud.
The Sierra AT4 is available with GMC’s CarbonPro bed, which uses a carbon fiber composite material that’s resistant to scratches, dents, and corrosion. That should certainly come in handy if you’re hauling around heavy camping gear and roughing it in all kinds of weather. The bed also increases the cargo volume so you can bring more along for the ride and shaves a few pounds off the truck’s weight compared to a steel bed.
The AT4X was introduced for the 2022 model year, building off the off-road capability of the AT4 and bringing it to the next level. It comes standard with a mighty 6.2L V8 gas engine that delivers 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. That kind of power can either be put to work for some serious jobs or brought out into the open desert for some serious thrills.
Multimatic DSSV spool-valve dampers are prepared to absorb just about any bumpy ride, with three separate spool valves controlling damping, so nowhere is off-limits. Where the AT4 has an automatic locking rear differential, the AT4X has front and rear e-locking differentials, so both axles can make their wheels spin together in the face of external resistance. This combination not only makes it unique in GMC’s lineup, it’s also a stand-out feature for the class of half-ton pickups.
The AT4X also comes with an AEV stamped-steel front bumper with front winch capability, as well as an AEV hot-stamped boron steel front approach skid plate. Uniquely tuned springs optimize both front and rear suspension for off-road driving. The AT4X also has an exclusive off-road chassis that sets it apart from other Sierra models and comes equipped with 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory mud-terrain tires that are ready to tackle any surface.
While the AT4X has plenty of significant off-roading features that set it apart from the AT4, that doesn’t fully explain the gap in sticker price between the two trims. On top of making the AT4X more capable, GMC also opted to make it more comfortable, with a cushy interior that’s decked out with full-grain leather seats, a leather-trimmed instrument panel, and microsuede sun visors, pillars, and headliner. The AT4X also comes with a twelve-speaker Bose Premium Series audio system with Centerpoint Surround Sound, so you can blast your music of choice while enjoying the beauty of nature and hear every note clearly. Outdoorsy audiophiles rejoice!
Don’t forget, roughing it out in the wilderness can be murder on your back. You wouldn’t want to have to drive home from your big camping trip in just any driver’s seat. Luckily, the AT4X comes with sixteen-way power-adjustable front seats that not only make it easy to get that position just right; they even have a massage feature to help soothe your aching joints while you drive.
The AEV Edition
New for the 2023 model year, the Sierra 1500 AEV Edition has even beefier hardware and exclusive badging that lets the world know exactly what you’re driving. GMC partnered with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) to deliver an off-road beast that’s tougher than any version of the Sierra the company has offered before. Its newly designed AEV stamped-steel front bumper not only has tough construction but also a shape that allows for an increased angle of approach, allowing drivers to tackle sharper inclines and climb over a wider range of boulders. The AEV Edition also raises the truck’s ground clearance an additional 0.4-inch, which isn’t a whole lot on its own, but taller is taller, and every millimeter could make all the difference under the right circumstances.
While all of the off-road models feature skid plates, the AEV Edition goes all out with five hot-stamped boron steel plates that are strategically placed to protect important parts like the steering gear, fuel tank, transfer case, and differential. This edition also has exclusive 18-inch racing-inspired Salta wheels with valve stems that are recessed into the design to protect them from stray rocks and the elements. The interior is also ready for the elements, with all-weather floor liners. You’ll find exclusive AEV badging inside and out, from the bumpers to the embroidered headrests.
Which Is the Toughest?
It’s clear that the new AEV Edition is the heaviest hitter in the lineup. Each new off-road model has built on the prowess of the ones that came before it, from the AT4 to the AT4X to the latest AEV Edition. While all three are worthy vehicles for tackling tough environments, GMC has gone through the trouble of ranking them for us, lining them up in order from entry-level to the extreme.
The AT4 has been around for a while now, but it is interesting to note that the AT4X only debuted for the 2022 model year, and the AEV Edition followed close behind for the 2023 Sierra. Clearly, the engineers over at GMC are putting a lot of thought into their off-road options, and the result is more power, beefier construction, and extra features. If this pattern continues, it will be interesting to see what new off-road innovations come our way in the future. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out, as the only thing more exciting than a powerful truck is a powerful truck veering off-road and tearing it up in the woods or the desert.