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The fine art of playing in the mud with 2019 GMC Sierra AT4


The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4’s off-road performance package adds 15 horsepower and nine lb.-ft. of torque to its conventional 6.2-litre V8 engine for a total 435 horsepower and 469 lb.-ft. of torque. - Lucas Scarfone
The 2019 GMC Sierra AT4’s off-road performance package adds 15 horsepower and nine lb.-ft. of torque to its conventional 6.2-litre V8 engine for a total 435 horsepower and 469 lb.-ft. of torque. - Lucas Scarfone

Staring out the windshield directly at the heavens, I’m almost fully reclined. Behind the wheel of a 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 pickup truck, it appears I’m driving straight into the intense disc of the sun, like the proverbial white light that people claim to see when experiencing near-death.

Is this how I go out?

The truck and I have powered up a steep incline, trying to gain enough momentum to get to the top of the slick surface of the hill. Problem is, I don’t know what’s on the other side.

 The Sierra AT4 comes standard with a two-inch suspension lift for additional ground clearance. - Lucas Scarfone
The Sierra AT4 comes standard with a two-inch suspension lift for additional ground clearance. - Lucas Scarfone

There’s a delicate balance between getting enough traction to reach the top yet not so much that I shoot over the edge into the unknown. Does the rutted, boulder-strewn path turn suddenly? Become impassably narrow? Will I and the Sierra AT4 sink into a sludge hole the size of, well, a pickup truck, never to be seen again?

I don’t have any experience off-roading but, luckily, I’m not alone out here.

My chariot, the 2019 GMC Sierra AT4, a beefed-up alternative to the high-class Denali, comes standard with a two-inch suspension lift for additional ground clearance. I also know the locking rear differential will direct power equally to both rear wheels for the greatest traction on this slippery elephant-snot-like surface that used to be solid ground.

Although I can’t see over the near-vertical hood or the top of the steep incline just yet, I’m quite confident that the AT4 can handle whatever Mother Nature has in store on the descent.

I’m making full use of the segment-first multi-colour head-up display which includes an off-road inclinometer that shows the fore-and-aft tilt, front tire angle and left-and-right tilt, essentially helping me see through the hood. Touching a button on the centre stack, I activate hill descent control, a feature that allows the truck to control the descent without having to touch the brake pedal.

I love the functional surround vision feature. I can choose among a lineup of camera angles that project a bird’s-eye view of the Sierra AT4 on the infotainment screen. Is that a large jagged boulder directly beside the tires? A steep drop-off? A small ATV?

Standard on GMC’s Sierra AT4 is four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case. I had set the vehicle in low-range four-wheel-drive, figuring the days of rain prior to my off-road trek would have made a mucky mess of things in here. I was right.

McLean Creek Off-Highway Vehicle area, southwest of Calgary, Alberta is a Public Land Use Zone, a huge tract of protected land in the heart of the Rocky Mountain Foothills in the wilds of Kananaskis Country. Lodgepole pines, mountains and big sky provide a backdrop for an expansive system of hiking, biking and quad trails. Add in mud pits, big boulders and murky crevices that look like they swallow pickup trucks for breakfast and you’ve got an off-roader’s paradise.

Despite the rough ride so far, I wasn’t feeling jostled, probably due to the off-road tuned Rancho monotube shock absorbers and other innovative technologies that make the Sierra AT4 a most capable off-road machine, despite its large size, while still keeping its premium feel. I don’t think most Sierra owners would do what I’m doing with their own truck.

More likely they would be relishing the luxe leather seats in the first-class cabin. The embroidered AT4 badging on the headrests is a nice touch. The first-ever AT4 has unique trim, including dark-tinted and textured aluminum finishes on the steering wheel and centre stack. The standard rubber floor mats may feel plain compared to lush carpeting but GMC did a good job blending the rugged with the upscale.

Two 10-litre rectangular storage spaces, large enough to store tablets or tie-down cords, hide behind the rear seat backs. Under the second-row seat, there’s a 24-litre storage tray. Lots of places to stash things so when you’re bumping along off the beaten path, your stuff stays put.

A pleasurable grunt comes from the available 6.2-litre V-8 engine in the Sierra AT4 I’m working through the mud holes and around treacherous, slippery drop-offs.

The AT4 off-road performance package adds 15 horsepower and nine lb.-ft. of torque to the conventional 6.2-litre V8 engine for a total 435 horsepower and 469 lb.-ft. of pulling power. The standard engine option, GM’s 5.3L V-8 engine, makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque.

No matter what’s under the hood, this truck looks good. The black chrome finish on the fog lamp bezels, fender surround and grille insert scream ‘macho’. The machined aluminum wheels and dark-tinted appearance give the truck a Darth Vader vibe. The red vertical recovery hooks really pop.

More than just a handsome face, the 2019 Sierra AT4 features a couple of GMC exclusive, industry firsts — the carbon-fibre pickup box and multipro tailgate — along with segment-firsts rear camera mirror, performance air intake and exhaust systems.

With a steady rain falling, it’s time to get this truck out of the mayhem of mud and muck of McLean Creek. With the Sierra AT4’s Traction Select System, I can choose from preset drive modes that change the Sierra’s transmission shift points and throttle response so I can make short work of the varied terrain and deteriorating weather conditions.

Muddy and triumphant, I pull into Calgary. The valets at our hotel don’t know what to think about my mud-covered 2019 GMC Sierra AT4. Despite looking like it’s been to the bottom of a bog and back, the truck seems to fit right in downtown.

I didn’t understand the allure of off-roading but now I’m sold. A full-on adrenaline-pumping activity, it really is the most fun you can have at the slowest speed.

 The 2019 Sierra AT4 features a couple of industry firsts — the carbon-fibre pickup box and multipro tailgate — along with segment-firsts rear camera mirror, performance air intake and exhaust systems. - Lucas Scarfone
The 2019 Sierra AT4 features a couple of industry firsts — the carbon-fibre pickup box and multipro tailgate — along with segment-firsts rear camera mirror, performance air intake and exhaust systems. - Lucas Scarfone

Follow Lisa on Instagram: @FrontLady

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