Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 11, 2021
The GMC Yukon is brand new for 2021, revamped from head to toe and revitalized with modern touches. The fifth-generation of this family-hauling, three-row SUV is still available in XL long wheelbase form, and shares a platform with the Chevrolet Tahoe, meaning it receives an independent rear suspension that should improve road manners and interior cargo space, but the Yukon wears its own sheetmetal with distinctive C-shaped headlights. The wheelbase has been stretched by 127 mm, and now offers 41% more third-row legroom and 66% greater cargo volume behind it. More interior space, more tech, and a choice of three powertrains that includes a diesel, seal its newest chapter in the books.
While most customers will prefer the chrome-intensive Denali trim with its larger V8 engine and leather drippings, GMC now offers an off-road focused, blacked-out, and more youthful trim dubbed AT4. First debuted in the Sierra and Acadia, think of GMC’s AT4 lineup like Toyota’s TRD Pro or Jeep’s Trailhawk. The Yukon AT4 features a two-speed transfer case, 20-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear all-terrain rubber, underbody skid plates, a selectable off-road driving mode, and an optional four-corner adaptive air suspension that raises the Yukon up by 50 mm (two inches) for better ground clearance and easier cargo loading. Better yet, it’s manually selectable to aid passenger entry and exit.
There are aesthetic additions for the AT4 as well such as black chrome accents around the exterior and red tow hooks, clearly borrowed from the Jeep Trailhawk models. They even offer an illuminated GMC emblem ($550), similar to the BMW X6 and Mercedes star badges. The interior also receives some AT4-specific visual flair in the form of a jet black leather design with brandy-coloured accents on the seats.
I wouldn’t call the Yukon any more upscale than it was before but GMC seems to have chosen better materials for a less drabby plastic affair. The panels are well constructed, switchgear is not too shabby, and gaps are minimal. The overall cabin is clean and spacious, though lacks any drama or pizzazz, focusing more on storage options and ergonomics than visual flair. Unsurprisingly, the Yukon has been equipped with actual hard buttons and dials instead of an overabundance of touchscreens, which should make owners happy. And instead of a center-mounted gear shifter like in the Ford F-150 or the column stalks like in the Tahoe, GMC reverts to its signature push-button selectors mounted along the dashboard, freeing up precious real estate for larger center bins.
The 10.2-inch touchscreen is a breeze to use and while we understand its angled slightly downwards to minimize sun glare, our nail always ends up hitting the screen instead of our actual finger, but it recognizes the response nevertheless. All the accoutrements expected from a modern SUV have been included, like 4G LTE, wireless phone charging, tri-zone automatic climate control, a panoramic sunroof, rear camera mirror, and power third row seats. There is also a 15-inch head up display that’s as large as the ones on offer from BMW, auto-deploying step boards for easier cabin ingress, and the air suspension will automatically lower when parked or when the trunk is opened. Still, the amount of parts sharing with the Chevrolet stablemate is inescapable, and only justifies the familial criticisms. Most of the switchgear, from the window buttons to the seat buttons are all the same, and while not a case of economy Dodge to luxury Maserati, it’s not a welcome sight for those making the upgrade.
The carried-over 5.3-litre EcoTec V8 produces 355 and 383 lb-ft of torque, while the larger 420-hp, 460 lb-ft, 6.2-litre V8 can only be found in the Denali. The 5.3L should be enough for most drivers, unless heavy towing is required. Straight line acceleration isn’t lacking and it’s far from sluggish in the low-end, but it does require a deep prod of the throttle to really get it going. A 3.0-litre diesel should be coming soon, underpinning both the Yukon as well as the new Cadillac Escalade, giving these American SUVs a class-unique appeal seeing as no other automakers aside from Land Rover are offering diesels in Canada anymore.
Those fearing the significant fuel consumption that comes with piloting these large V8 SUVs shouldn’t fear too much. This 5.3L utilizes as much fuel-saving tech as it can, from direct injection to shutting off half its cylinders when power loads are light. The Yukon also receives a new 10-speed automatic transmission, four more gears than the one it replaces. We averaged a quite impressive 13.9 L/100km with a mix of both city and highway driving. It only requires regular 87-octane fuel as well.
We found the adaptive air suspension to be the star of the show, not only offering better ingress and egress, but it minimizes unwieldy characteristics when negotiating turns. Coupled with the new multi-link independent rear suspension, and the Yukon has truly elevated its road manners and road-levelling capabilities. The ride quality is absolutely sublime given its wide stance, and you don’t get that lofty feeling or heavy suspension shake as it traverses over pockmarked roads, clearly assisted by the smaller 20-inch wheels (the Denali gets optional 22s) and fat tire sidewalls. It rides better than the Ford Expedition, and the more expensive Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX 570, and last-generation Cadillac Escalade. It’s that good.
There’s an electronic limited slip differential as well that further prevents wheelslip and keeps optimal traction. The steering is light and progressive, and while trucks like this typically err on the numb side of the steering feel spectrum, there’s enough feedback and rotational weight to confidently place this substantial SUV where you want.
The Yukon is larger, more tech-focused, and more capable than ever before. The revamp for 2021 is more than skin-deep, and thoroughly revitalizes this massive load-hauler into the modern era. The AT4 is a welcome addition to the lineup, offering a sportier and more youthful aesthetic over the luxury-oriented Denali model. Those looking for capability mixed with value will find a similar experience with the more affordable Chevrolet Tahoe, but there’s much to love with the Yukon, from its tech-heavy cabin to its supple ride qualities offered by the new adaptive air suspension.
Model: 2021 GMC Yukon AT4
Paint Type: White Frost Tricoat
Base Price: $74,698
Price as Tested: $86,833
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,334 / 2,057 / 1,943
Engine: 5.3-litre V8
Horsepower: 355 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 383 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 14.8 / 11.8
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.9