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This fall, if all goes according to plan, the officers, TAWA Board and members of the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) will hold that organization’s 30th annual Truck Rodeo. Your correspondent was there at the first, in November of 1993, as a newly minted automotive writer reporting for the Today Newspaper group, centered in and around DeSoto, Texas. The Rodeo, then held in San Antonio, was populated by a bunch of pickups, slightly fewer SUVs, and wrangled by writers from the Houston and San Antonio dailies. All the pickup players were there, including GM’s champagne division, GMC, and its Sierra 1500.

In the fall of ’93 I’m not sure anyone – even those connected with GMC (or those having had champagne) – would have envisioned a light duty Sierra with an $80K window sticker, but that truck, in the form of the company’s Sierra 1500 AT4X, is sitting on my driveway. Finished in a Cayenne (like the Porsche!) Red Tintcoat, the AT4X is an extension of GMC’s AT4 platform, with even more offroad capability, and the gravitas (from the Latin: gravitas) that comes with a price point only 1% of our truck-loving population can finance. 

To its credit, even in Cayenne Red Tintcoat the AT4X poses on the drive with a subdued sense of authority. With its off-road suspension and two inches of lift sitting atop reasonably aggressive mud-terrain rubber, it could look like the Tonka truck that is Ford’s Raptor or RAM’s T-Rex. But the GMC almost looks like a responsible citizen, ostensibly comfortable abutting the Cadillac showrooms in Des Moines or Omaha. Our Crew Cab/Short Box gives what most prospects will need – especially when equipped with GM’s Multipro tailgate – in the way of utility; these are, after all, used by UFU’s (Upscale Family Units) and not landscaping companies. 

Outside, if there’s a visual disconnect it’s with the blackness of the big*ss grille. Looking more than a little like a climbing wall, it’s all-black visage (interrupted only by GMC and trim logos) appears fully ready to take on the Batmobile, and once that’s done, all of Gotham. I know in the end it’s all about getting the truck dirty, but I’d hope any iterations of a GMC might include more shiny bits. And from the outside looking in, there are damn few.

Using the optional rocker protection ($1,195) and A-pillar-mounted hand hold to access the cockpit, once the climb is completed there’s a lot to like, not the least of which is the intuitive layout of the HVAC and audio controls. Obviously, there’s an infotainment screen, but it’s well integrated – and serves as a nice complement to the almost-traditional gauge package. Another plus is a engine start/stop button not hidden by the steering wheel or column; it’s just to the right of the wheel or left of the HVAC controls – hell, I could find it even without the readers!

The GMC’s full grain leather seats (perforated, heated and ventilated) provide both adequate comfort and support. They’re separated by a console with ample storage, although its length intrudes slightly into the rear legroom for the middle passenger – or the stuff you might put (like a bike) into that space between the front seats and rear bench. And as you’d hope or guess, the rear bench folds, and has a storage package beneath it.

Under the GMC’s hood is where a lot of the money goes, as there you’ll find 6.2 liters of GM Ecotec V8. Delivering 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, this isn’t the overachiever delivered in the Raptor, nor is it the over-overachiever supplied by Ram’s TRX, but don’t deny the goodness of a normally aspirated V8 as engineered by the General. There’s a nice burble at idle, and as you’d guess, the AT4X pulls away from a stop sign with real authority. Down the road – or off-road – there’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of a non-boosted V8 relative to turbos attached to either a smaller V6 or similarly sized V8.

Of course, with the alphanumeric scrum of ‘AT4X’, you know this truck is intended to get dirty, and for that an extensive menu, including Multimatic DSSV Spool-Valve dampers, front and rear E-locking differentials, an AEV stamped-steel front bumper with winch capability and an AEV-sourced front skid plate are included. And not to be overlooked is GMC’s take on Terrain Mode, which – as the press info notes – is ideal for low-speed off-roading. 

Of course, as I’ve written before and will write again, I find the concept of boulder-hopping in a full-size pickup more than a little daft. (From, you know, the Latin…) There are school buses with smaller footprints than the AT4X; it stretches over 19 feet, is almost 7 feet wide and sits on a wheelbase of just over 12 feet. The good news: It can tow up to 8,900 pounds, which means you can buy a trailer or boat longer than the truck. Better, I think, to take this to the trailhead or campground, and hike or bike from there.

As Middle America knows all too well, $80 Large is a lot to pay for anything. But with run-of-the-mill transport approaching $50K, this sort of capability is no longer that much of a leap. But leaping, of course, doesn’t mean you should jump it.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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