GMC Yukon — Bigger and better

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(March 14, 2021) There aren't many truck-based SUVs left on the market because the unibody (crossover) models are generally more refined, more versatile, more feature-laden and more fuel efficient than the traditional body-on-frame entrants. The all-new truck-based 2021 GMC Yukon is one of several truck-based new SUVs that changes things with more refinement and sophistication, but without sacrificing its massive towing and load-carrying capabilities.

Such things as an independent rear suspension replacing the traditional solid-axle and GM's new optional Air Ride adaptive suspension that combines electromagnetic dampers with air springs to rapidly adjust to various road and drive conditions with the air suspension's variable ride height and load-leveling capability. They take the Yukon to new levels of SUV sophistication.

Our AT4 test truck's adaptive air suspension glided over all but the roughest road imperfections, with none of the rear jitters we've come to expect from body-on-frame SUVs. And it gave the Yukon rewarding handling characteristics.

The air ride suspension also provides four inches of ride-height adjustment allowing the driver to switch the Yukon from a low, easier passenger-access mode to a higher off-road mode.

Not only is the fifth-generation Yukon more advanced than the vehicle it replaces, it's larger both inside and out growing by 6.1 inches in overall length and 4.9 inches in wheelbase. The size increase has created greater cargo volume, from 94.7 cubic feet to 122.9 cubic feet. And rear-seat legroom has grown from 39 inches to 42 inches. Third-row passengers also get more room making the way-back seats useable for adults — at least for short trips.

While changes and upgrades are many, GMC saw fit to continue with its two engines from the previous generation, the 5.3-liter V-8 making 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque and the 6.2-liter V-8 making 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Both are excellent engines, and the long-running 5.3-liter is up to the task of expeditiously moving the big nearly three-ton AT4 truck in all situations. Both are now mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission operated through a pushbutton gear selector. We think it is the best 10-speed we've driven so far in any application.

For comparison purposes the 3.5-liter V-8 has been measured from 0-to-60 in around 7 seconds with a quarter mile time of 15.5 seconds @ 90 mph. Although towing wasn't included in our days behind the wheel, we could have pulled up to 8,200 pounds with 4WD and we think the engine/transmission combination would have worked just fine.

If you want more performance, it's available from the 6.2-liter engine, it has been clocked at 6 seconds from 0-to-60 with a quarter mile time of 14.5 seconds @ 97 mph. Towing capacity for the bigger engine drops off two hundred pounds from the 5.3-liter.

GMC will introduce a Duramax 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder turbo-diesel engine later this year rated at 21/27/23 on diesel fuel. It makes 277 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. The price wasn't announced, but figure on a couple grand more than the 5.3-liter V-8.

The interior is spacious with a conservatively handsome look, outstanding fit and finish, and first-class materials. We absolutely love the look of the dashboard. Not only is it useable with big knobs and clearly marked controls, the infotainment system is one of the best on the market from a user's perspective. There are large knobs for audio volume and tuning — still the best way to operate an audio system.

All climate controls including heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, air direction settings temperature, and fan speed are easily assessable without having to go deep into the infotainment screen — all physical knobs or easy to read and access buttons are easy to use.

Some might call the Yukon system unsophisticated — we call it meeting the needs of the distracted driver, an
d we applaud.

On the safety front, we were impressed with GMC's use of cameras. We say the more cameras the better when driving a big truck especially in parking lots and tight street conditions — and our Yukon tester was loaded with multi views. Included were a top-down bird's-eye view of the Yukon's surroundings; a front camera view (nice to see ahead to clear a curb); a front view of the vehicle's hood, bumper and front tires, a front side view that shows the position of the tires when maneuvering in tight place, and a hitch view providing guidance when hooking up a trailer.
Another neat feature we appreciated during out test was a 15-inch diagonal multicolor head-up display that can be configured in numerous ways to impart needed information onto the windshield.

The Yukon comes in four trim levels — SLE, SLT, off-road-ready AT4, and Denali — starting at $54,995 including destination charge. The Yukon tops out at $72,695 with the Denali. Our well-equipped AT4 trim level with more than $10,000 in options carried a bottom line of $75,455.

2021 GMC Yukon AT3


Base price: $54,995; as driven, $75,455
Engine: 5.3-liter V-8
Horsepower: 355 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 383 pound-feet @ 519 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Drive: 4-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 120.9 inches
Length: 210 inches
Curb weight: 5,356 pounds
Turning circle: 39.7 feet
Towing capacity: 8,200 pounds
Luggage capacity: 25.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 122.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 24 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 16 city, 20 highway, 18 combined
0-60: 7.0 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe, Kia Telluride

The Good
• Independent rear suspension
• More spacious interior
• Large towing capacity

The Bad
• Parking lot maneuverability lacking

The Ugly
• No improvement in gas mileage