2021 GMC Yukon AT4

PHOENIX — The GMC Yukon is the middle child of General Motors full-sized sport-utility vehicles. A premium alternative to its Chevrolet Tahoe sibling but not quite a Cadillac Escalade either. All three share the mechanical underpinnings of GM’s pickup trucks and have been thoroughly redone for 2021 with its fifth generation offering.


There’s a new platform but still one of the few vehicles with body-on-frame construction unlike other large SUVS like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride, Toyota Highlander and others in its competitive class.

With the new platform, GM has finally added an independent rear suspension replacing the old live-axle setup. That change makes for leaps and bounds improvements in ride and handling and allows for a lower step-in height, increased third-row space and cargo capacity.

This week we tested GMC’s new Yukon off-road oriented AT4 trim that joins the other trim level lineup including base SLE, mid-grade SLT and premium luxury Denali offerings. For perspective, the AT4 is to the trees and trails that the Denali is to Galleria shopping and the country club set. The AT4 is another GMC sub-brand that first appeared a few years ago on the Sierra 1500 pickup and quickly spread to the mid-size Acadia SUV, then the mid-sized Canyon pickup and the smaller Terrain SUV debuting for the 2022 model year. To say the AT4 has been a success is an understatement and GMC products continue to be red hot sellers flying off dealer lots.

While the Denali brand sits atop as the GMC flagship, adventure vehicles like the AT4 are in huge demand showing up in vehicles ranging from Toyota RAV4s, Subaru Forester Wilderness, Ford Bronco, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Nissan Pathfinder and others.

Exterior visual cues that differentiate the AT4 from other Yukon trim levels include standard 4-wheel drive, a unique front end that provides better angles to support off-road capability, Traction Select System with off-road mode, hill descent control, a front skid plate, magnetic shocks and suspension for a smoother on-road ride and more durable off-road experience that offers up to four inches in ride-height adjustability and two more inches of ground clearance, 20-inch Goodyear off-road tires, a two-speed transfer case and red tow hooks up front.

Our test AT4 came with the $9,145 optional AT4 Premium Plus Package that adds a dual-pane panoramic power sunroof, power retractable running boards, electronic limited slip differential, adaptive air suspension system, higher cooling capacity radiator, GM’s Prograde trailering system with side blind zone alerts, in-vehicle trailering app, trailer brake controller, hitch guide, HD surround vision and head-up display. It also includes rear pedestrian alert, 10.2-inch infotainment system, rear seat media system with dual rear seat-mounted 12.6-inch LCD screens, and voice recognition navigation.

Our AT4 was powered by a 355-horsepower 5.3-liter V-8 with 383 lb-ft of torque delivered through a 10-speed automatic transmission that operates with buttons rather than a gear shift or twist knob on the center console.  A 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 engine with 460 lb-ft torque is optional. A 3.0-liter inline-6 turbodiesel that produces 277-horsepower and 460-lb-ft torque is offered in other Yukon trim levels but not the AT4. The difference between the new 5.3-liter in our AT4 is GM adding a more advanced cylinder deactivation system that can operate between two to eight cylinders for fuel efficiency maximization. Still, during our testing we only averaged 17.4 mpg on mostly highway driving for the week.

Inside the Yukon comes standard with three-rows of seats and room for up to eight people in its standard arrangement, seven with the optional second-row bucket seats. All three rows of seats have decent head and legroom for adults although the third-row is best with just two adult occupants. Our AT4 came with leather upholstery and a very attractive black with tobacco colored seating trim inserts, seat piping and French stitching. While not the fancy interior of the Denali, the AT4 interior feels and looks just right. We loved it and with a window sticker price of over $75,000 it better be nice.

There’s plenty of cubby holes, cupholders and places to store everything that families need. We liked the power sliding center console that slides fore and aft with a hidden drawer. It’s a perfect place to store a purse or package rather than leaving it on the floor or seat of the vehicle.  

All Yukon trim levels include a large infotainment display with GMC’s latest IntelliLink interface that’s intuitive and easy to use with an iPad-like display that stands tall on the center of the dashboard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, and 4G LTE WiFi hotspots are standard equipment.

On the road the big Yukon’s ride is composed, quiet and comfortable, perfect for our trip to Grand Canyon National Park. Our standard 5.3-liter V8 was well suited to the AT4 with excellent acceleration and passing power. Depending on equipment and engine choice the AT4 tows anywhere from 7,500 to 8,400 pounds. Unless you need the towing capacity there’s little reason to opt for the larger 6.2-liter V-8.

We didn’t care for the optional power retracting running boards since the step-in height has been lowered for the new Yukon. And since running boards catch everything from the road like snow, slush, and mud from off-roading, our pant legs always brushed against them when exiting the vehicle getting dirty.

Also know that all exterior colors other than white will cost you extra, even black. We did like that engineers have hidden the rear liftgate window wiper under the overhang for a nice clean look from the rear.

Select driver assistance features include standard automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, front and rear park assist, following distance indicator, front pedestrian braking and intellibeam, lane change alert with side blind zone alert, lane keep assist with lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.

Overall, the newest Yukon is a significant improvement over the previous generation. The visual appearance of the AT4 is decidedly more rugged-looking and certainly looks the part for those who like exploring the wilderness. Owners will appreciate the new independent suspension and the much nicer interior materials and attention to detail with added room for passengers and gear.  We were absolutely delighted with, well, everything about the Yukon AT4. If you’re shopping for a large three-row SUV that’s luxurious but isn’t opulent or ostentatious as the Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator, the Yukon AT4 is well worth a look.  

Vital Stats
Base Price: $64,800
Price as Tested: $75,155
Engine/Transmission: 355-horsepower 5.3-liter V-8 and 10-speed automatic transmission with standard all-wheel drive.
EPA Fuel Economy: 16/20/18 – mpg – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: up to eight

Crash Test Safety Ratings: Overall four out of a possible five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Where Built: Arlington, Texas

Competes With:
Chevrolet Tahoe
Ford Expedition
Nissan Armada
Toyota Sequoia

Fab Features:
Enormous, upscale new cabin
AT4 outdoorsy look and off-road capability
Wonderful to drive

— Jim Prueter