A black 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 is shown from the front at an angle.

GMC Sierra 1500: Two Ways to Leave Civilization Behind

A full-size truck can be many different things to many different people: a way to get around town, a reliable workhorse counted on to get the job done, the perfect solution for taking a boat out on the weekend, or an escape route for leaving the comforts of civilization behind while exploring the great outdoors. One of the most popular full-size trucks on the market can be found at your local GMC dealer: the 2023 Sierra 1500. This is a light-duty option with a lot to offer. GMC is well known for making luxurious trucks, but the brand can also deliver fantastic off-road performance.

For years now, the GMC Sierra 1500 has been a great choice for hitting the trail, thanks in large part to its available AT4 trim level. Now, however, there are two trims available if you are looking to go off-road: the standard AT4 and the upgraded AT4X, which takes trail performance and off-road hardware to the next level. I know more than a few truck enthusiasts who are excited about the AT4X trim and everything it has to offer, though the AT4 is sure to remain a favorite amongst many off-roaders. Let’s take a look at what each of these two trims has to offer and see how they compare for hitting the trail.

The GMC Sierra 1500 AT4

First of all, let’s talk about the AT4 because it’s the tried and true off-road version of the GMC Sierra 1500. As you’d expect, it comes with four-wheel drive standard rather than the two-wheel drive that most other trims have. There are two engines available for the 2023 Sierra 1500 AT4: a 3.0L Duramax Turbo-Diesel with 305 hp and 495 lb-ft of torque and a 6.2L EcoTec3 V8 engine with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Both of these engines are very solid, with excellent performance and plenty of muscle for hitting the trail, so the decision mostly comes down to whether you prefer gas or diesel. You’ll also find a 10-speed automatic transmission with both engines, so you don’t have to worry about one offering a much smoother driving experience.

In terms of off-road features, because that’s why we’re here, the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 has a heavy-duty air filter to help with dust and dirt from the trail, a dual-outlet exhaust for improved performance, and underbody skid plates to protect the oil pan, differential case, and transfer case from potential damage due to debris or rocks. There’s a pair of frame-mounted red vertical recovery hooks on the front, which is great to have just in case, while the two-speed Autotrac transfer provides extra traction. The 4WD HI setting is perfect for slippery conditions, while 4WD LO is ideal for low-speed traction and dealing with steep grades. You can even engage 4WD Auto to adjust torque automatically when wheel slip is detected.

Hill Descent Control on the AT4 helps ensure a controlled descent while navigating downhill, which is perfect for letting you focus on navigating or maneuvering through rough conditions. The AT4 also comes with an off-road suspension featuring Monotube Rancho shocks and a two-inch factory lift for boosted ground clearance and improved angles. To illustrate the impact this makes, the standard Pro trim for the GMC Sierra 1500 has just over eight inches of ground clearance, while the AT4 has more than 11 inches of clearance. We also find 18-inch wheels on the Sierra 1500 AT4 that are wrapped in Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac mud-terrain tires for improved overall grip and performance.

Inside, the AT4 lives up to GMC’s reputation for sophistication and impressive technology with a 13.4-inch premium infotainment display that features Google built-in and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support for excellent functionality. It comes with a Bose seven-speaker sound system, perforated leather seating with 10-way power front seats, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. The Sierra 1500 AT4 also has a 12.3-inch Driver Information Center display, a wireless charging pad, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

A red 2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4x is shown from the front at an angle after leaving a GMC dealer.

The GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X

For a lot of people, the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 is the perfect option for an off-road truck, but for those drivers looking for something even more impressive, there’s the AT4X. This is a new trim for the model, and it essentially builds on the AT4 with some significant capability upgrades and even greater luxury. There are some key differences between these two trims starting with the fact that the AT4X is only available with the 6.2L V8 engine; the diesel option isn’t offered here.

The AT4X has a lot of the same off-road features as the AT4 but with some important distinctions between them. For example, the Sierra 1500 AT4X features an off-road suspension with Multimatic DSSV dampers, which you won’t find on the AT4. Perhaps the most notable difference is the available AT4X AEV Edition package that’s also nowhere to be found on the standard AT4. This features some unique American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) badging inside and out, including all-weather floor liners with AEV markings, laser-etched AEV wheels, and details on the headrests and tailgate.

Functional features of the AEV Edition package include AEV hot-stamped Boron steel skid plates for the fuel tank, front underbody, rear differential, and transfer case. This version also includes an AEV stamped-steel rear bumper with a heavy-duty design that makes it stand out and helps it last longer, even considering frequent abuse on the trail. That’s combined with a standard AEV stamped-steel high-approach front bumper for the AT4X for a great overall look. There is even a power sunroof to let you enjoy the outdoors while making an escape from the city.

Inside, the AT4X takes everything great about the AT4 and makes things—somehow—even better. For example, it has full-grain leather seating, 16-way power front seats including power lumbar and a massage function, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats. The AT4X comes with a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a multi-color 15-inch head-up display, and adaptive cruise control rather than the AT4’s standard cruise control. This kind of luxury and technology can seem unnecessary for an off-road vehicle, but few things are quite as welcoming as heated seats after hiking in cold, wintry weather for an hour or two (or after a weekend of camping).

A grey 2023 GMC Sierra AT4x AEV is shown from the front at an angle.

A Truck Built to Work Hard and Play Hard

One of the things I really love about the GMC Sierra 1500 is that it’s a true multitasker of a pickup, with the ability to handle a wide range of tasks and functions. For someone looking for a workhorse that can get them through the week and handle lugging a bunch of tools and building materials around, they can get that. For someone else who wants an off-road beast that can haul their boat to the lake one weekend and then play in the mud the next, they can get a Sierra 1500 that perfectly meets their needs. A multi-purpose truck is a beautiful thing for anyone who leads a more adventurous life. For a great pickup that’s ready to get you through the workweek and then enjoy getting out and having some fun on the weekend, the 2023 Sierra 1500 is hard to beat.