Off-road pickup truck

The GMC Sierra AT4 is beefy but useful where it matters

No, it didn't snow in June.

GMC

Testing trucks is always fun. Well, to be honest, testing any vehicle is fun and is absolutely a privilege, but I absolutely love putting trucks through their paces. My most recent tester was the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4, a factory off-road model with style and substance. Let's take a look at what makes it tick.

Off-Road-Ready Truck With a Stout Powertrain

Key upgrades here include a two-inch factory lift kit with Rancho Monotube Shocks, Goodyear Mud-Terrain tires mounted on 20-inch wheels, a two-speed automatic transfer case, and a traction select system with off-road and towing settings.

The net effect of all that gear is impressive. The AT4 rides as smoothly as many crossovers and maneuvers with relative ease for a truck its size. In town, there's little distinction in driving manners between this beefy off-road pickup truck and most family haulers, as long as being taller than nearly everyone else in traffic is ok with you. The truck handles well, and exhibits little instability over bumps at speed, which is a common challenge with pickup trucks and off-road vehicles.

My test truck was equipped with the optional 3.0-liter Duramax turbodiesel and a ten-speed automatic gearbox. With 277 horsepower and a stout 460 pound-feet of torque, it's the perfect companion for a truck meant to climb over and out of gnarly obstacles on the trails. In daily driving scenarios, the engine is quiet and refined, and shows little of the rattly, noisy diesel sound many people expect from the engines. With plenty of torque on tap, the AT4 feels somewhat lively, and is able to navigate traffic with ease. Reaching highway speeds and passing once there is also a breeze, and the truck remains surprisingly peaceful on the interstate.

Comfy Interior and Useful Bed Features

Inside, my test truck came equipped with leather upholstery and optional heated/cooled front seats. We had a rare heat wave in Maine during my week with the truck, and its powerful air conditioning combined with the cooled seats to create a much-needed oasis for this rare brutal week in northern New England. The front seats are wide and well-padded, but I found myself shuffling around, wanting more in the way of hip and thigh support. There's a tendency to slide to one side of the seat and stay there, which could easily be solved with a bit more bolstering on both the seat back and bottom.


2021 GMC Sierra AT4 The Sierra's cabin is comfortable and well-made.GMC


As all of my vehicle testing adventures do, the week with the AT4 involved plenty of kid transport. The full-size pickup's back seat is wide and flat, which makes it ideal for installing car seats, but I can't imagine that it'd be extremely supportive for an adult over a long-haul trip. The truck's lift means it's hard for kids to climb in, but they had a fun time trying. The novelty may wear thin over time, but it lasted for the week we had the AT4. Once inside, the kids (and anyone else in the back seat) had their own air conditioning vents and plenty of room to stretch out in their booster seats.

Normally, a truck bed would be an afterthought in a review, but GMC has gone to lengths to make its bed a standout. The Carbon Pro composite bed material is tough, as in there's no need to worry about throwing whatever you want into the bed tough. I hauled over 100 30-pound patio paver blocks over the course of a few trips, and never felt the need to add extra protection to the bed after the first trip. I tossed an old rug and some flat cardboard to protect the bed at first, but it proved to be as stout as GMC claims. Adding functionality is the MultiPro tailgate, which offers several options for steps and different cargo hauling situations. It makes an excellent step, and when the center section is folded down, it opens up much more access to the bed when standing on the ground. My tester also had an optional Bluetooth speaker system built right into the step system, which would make for an awesome camping or beach party.

Tech-Heavy Cabin

In terms of tech, the Sierra AT4 is up to speed but nothing to write home about. Its optional 8.0-inch touchscreen runs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with an option for wired connections. There's also Bluetooth, SiriusXM Radio, and more. It's a cohesive system that is easy to use and intuitive, made even easier by clever behind-the-steering-wheel-mounted controls that allow volume and track adjustments. My truck also had an optional head-up display, which unsurprisingly is extremely difficult to see with polarized sunglasses. This is a common issue not unique to GMC, and could be solved by switching to non-polarized glasses.


2021 GMC Sierra AT4 The MultiPro tailgate adds ultimate functionality.GMC


Most advanced safety equipment is optional, and when I say most, I mean all. The Sierra AT4, and all Sierras for that matter, is available with automatic emergency braking, a bed-view camera system, forward collision alerts, front pedestrian braking, a front/rear parking assist system, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, lane departure warnings, and more. While I get the need to differentiate models with various features, the lack of some of these safety items is hard to swallow at nearly $60,000.

Bottom Line

I tend to become infatuated with full-size pickup trucks while I have them in for testing, but that feeling typically fades after a while. The Sierra AT4 was a little different. The diesel engine and comfortable interior make for a supremely daily-drivable pickup truck, and the Carbon Pro bed with multi-function tailgate makes a strong case for the GMC. Ultimately, it's too much truck for me, but it's a solid choice for those that can put it to work.

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General Motors and Lockheed Martin will design a prototype of a vehicle that's capable of traversing Mars.

Photo courtesy of General Motors

Toyota and Hyundai aren't the only automakers getting into the extra terrestrial mobility game. A new partnership between Lockheed Martin and General Motors will develop the next generation of lunar vehicles to transport astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

NASA's Artemis program has plans to send Americans back to the moon. Like the military did when they asked for an off-road-worthy transport vehicle for combat support use in the early 1940s, NASA is asking the automotive and aeronautics industry to develop a Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) to enable astronauts to explore the lunar surface father than ever before. The Apollo rovers only ventured 4.7 miles.

Lockheed Martin brings a 50-year history of working with NASA on a variety of deep-space human and robotic spacecraft, such as NASA's Orion exploration-class spaceship for Artemis, to the table. The company's crafts and systems have been to every planet in the solar system.

Lockheed Martin General Motors Partner to Develop Next-Generation Lunar Rover www.youtube.com

"This alliance brings together powerhouse innovation from both companies to make a transformative class of vehicles," said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Space. "Surface mobility is critical to enable and sustain long-term exploration of the lunar surface. These next-generation rovers will dramatically extend the range of astronauts as they perform high-priority science investigation on the Moon that will ultimately impact humanity's understanding of our place in the solar system."

General Motors, which first worked with NASA during the Apollo missions and helped develop the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), that was used on Apollo 15-17 missions, is bringing its electric battery and autonomous vehicle technology know-how to the partnership.

"General Motors made history by applying advanced technologies and engineering to support the Lunar Rover Vehicle that the Apollo 15 astronauts drove on the Moon," said Alan Wexler, senior vice president of Innovation and Growth at General Motors. "Working together with Lockheed Martin and their deep-space exploration expertise, we plan to support American astronauts on the Moon once again."

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General Motors is hoping to recycling as leftovers from the battery making process. This is the battery in the 2023 GMC Hummer EV Edition 1.

Photo courtesy of General Motors

General Motors and LG Energy Solution have formed Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture centered around the production of batteries for future GM vehicles. That company has entered into an agreement with Li-Cycle to recycle up to 100 percent of the material scrap from battery cell manufacturing.

The partnership will allow Ultium Cells to recycle battery materials (cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, copper, manganese, and aluminum). A press release from the company says that it expects 95 percent of those recycled materials to be used in future battery products or in adjacent industries.

"Our combined efforts with Ultium Cells will be instrumental in redirecting battery manufacturing scrap from landfills and returning a substantial amount of valuable battery-grade materials back into the battery supply chain," said Ajay Kochhar, Li-Cycle's president and CEO and co-founder. "This partnership is a critical step forward in advancing our proven lithium-ion resource recovery technology as a more sustainable alternative to mining."

GM approach to battery materials Photo courtesy of General Motors

This effort plays into the common concerns surrounding battery manufacturing from mining of raw materials to end-of-life disposal. It's also on par for the sustainability efforts that GM has put forward in recent years, extending across numerous aspects of its business including the recycling of clay used in the modeling process.

GM says that the "hydrometallurgical process through which these battery materials will be recycled emits 30 percent less greenhouse gas than traditional processes". This will lessen the overall environmental impact of battery production.

"GM's zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90 percent of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025," said Ken Morris, GM vice president of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles. "Now, we're going to work closely with Ultium Cells and Li-Cycle to help the industry get even better use out of the materials."

Since 2013, GM has recycled or reused 100 percent of the battery packs received from customers, including any packs that have been replaced as the result of warranty service. The company says that most current GM EVs are repaired with refurbished packs.

Ultium Cells LLC and Li-Cycle will begin the new scrap recycling process later this year.

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