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2021 GMC Yukon AT4 First Drive

King Of The Carpool Line

Jason GondermanAuthor, Photography

To say it's been an interesting year thus far would be an understatement. Our whole world has been upended, to the point where even how we review vehicles has needed to change. Instead of the typical multi-day program in an exotic land to introduce a new vehicle, GMC offered to drop off an all-new 2021 Yukon AT4 in our driveway to test however we saw fit for 24 hours. Naturally, we did what any respectable Yukon owner would: We strapped a pair of car seats in the middle row, convinced Grandpa and Grandma to shimmy into the rear seats, and headed off on a short road trip.

Now, there's one more thing we need to get out of the way early. Although the Yukon that was delivered to us was the off-road oriented AT4 package, we did not take it off-road. Trust us, it wasn't for lack of wanting to or even a time constraint. In the craziness that is the year 2020 most of California, where we're based, is on fire. Because of this our national forests are closed to use. So, no off-roading for the AT4—this time.

Because we've already covered at length what's new (hint, it's everything) for the 2021 Yukon and Yukon XL, we'll spare you the rehash and instead place the links below for your study later. With that said, let's get straight to the good stuff: How did it drive?

Just as you would expect, the large Yukon rode exceptionally well on the highway. If you've ever driven or ridden in a previous-generation Yukon, you'll know all too well how truck-like the ride could be. In all fairness, the vehicle was based on a truck chassis. For 2021, the Yukon is still a body-on-frame design; however, it loses the solid rear axle in favor of an independent suspension setup. This new suspension, combined with the AT4's standard magnetic ride control dampers and optional air ride adaptive suspension, made for a very comfortable ride experience in all seats. Our rear seat passengers offered no complaints while traversing uneven pavement and awkward road undulations, actions that in previous models would send the rear most passengers toward the ceiling. The only thing of note from the driver seat was the presence of a fair bit of body roll. It's not surprising—or alarming—by any means, and it's likely the result of the AT4 package. It's just a subtle reminder that you're driving a full-size American SUV.

Aside from the fantastic highway ride, the next big question we've been fielding is in regard to legroom. Because of the switch to an independent rear suspension, GMC has been able to improve third-row leg and headroom by a large margin. And it really showed when we stuffed two adults into the very rear. Stuffed is really the wrong word, as reports from the back indicated that there was plenty of room to get comfortable. Three adults over 6 feet tall might still stretch the envelope of comfort, but a pair at 5 1/2 feet is no big deal.

Entering the third row is easy when the middle seats can be flipped forward and gets a bit trickier when child safety seats prevent the folding function. Speaking of child seats, we found plenty of room for their use in the middle row's captain's chairs. With both a rear-facing infant carrier and full-size forward-facing child seat in place, the front seat driver and passenger had more than enough room to stretch out. Far too often we find that installing these large safety seats requires the front seat occupants to scrunch up to the dashboard. Thankfully, this was not so in the Yukon.

We thoroughly enjoyed all of the 2021 Yukon's updated technology. The 10.2-inch color touch screen worked great, and we especially loved the inclusion of wireless Apple CarPlay. In our short time, the Yukon we had zero issues with CarPlay connectivity, something that had been an issue for us in GM vehicles in the past. We're fans of a good head-up display, and the one fitted to the Yukon was top-notch, complete with loads of useful information to select from. We also really enjoyed the crisp and bright picture quality from the HD Surround Vision camera system.

Unfortunately, a lot of these features that we really loved came by way of the optional AT4 Premium Plus Package, which carried with it a $9,145 price tag. Also tucked into this package is the dual-pane panoramic sunroof, power assist steps, the GMC-exclusive electronic limited-slip rear differential, adaptive air suspension, ProGrade trailering technology suite, and the rear-seat media system with dual 12.6-inch touch screens. Although we're sure the package is worth having, we wish some of the items could be chosen separately. For example, we love the 10.2-inch infotainment screen, but we could do without the rear-seat media system. Unfortunately, under this plan, you can't have one without the other.

We found the power from the 5.3L V-8 engine to be right on par with what we would expect for a vehicle of the Yukon's size. In this instance, we're perfectly OK with the 6.2L V-8 not being an option for AT4; however, we're not thrilled with the 3.0L Duramax diesel not being available. Due to the front bumper and skid plate, AT4 models aren't offered with the oil burner, and that is unfortunate. The 2021 Yukon AT4 is rated at 16/20/18 mpg city/highway/combined by the EPA. Over the course of 126 miles, we managed an average of 15.03 mpg. It wasn't a really great sample size, but despite running mostly highway,y we came in well under the EPA estimate. The best we can figure is that's an AT4 problem (bigger tires, less aerodynamic) as the base Yukon 4x4 with a 5.3L V-8 is rated the same by the EPA.

Styling is quite subjective; however, five out of our six passengers enjoyed the Yukon's fresh new interior. The sixth member can't talk, so there's that. The power sliding center console was definitely a fun party trick and conversation piece, and we do like the hidden drawer below it. We found plenty of cup holders for everyone and loads of storage cubbies. Given enough time, we could certainly fill the Yukon with plenty of snacks and trinkets. With all three rows occupied, we had enough room in the rear to store a decent size stroller and a couple diaper bags. If you're looking to go on longer trips with six or more people, you'll definitely want to step up to the Yukon XL. That said, with the third row folded, there's more than enough room for a week's worth of luggage. Folding the second and third row opens up a cavernous space large enough for a trip to Costco for a pallet of TP and water to hoard—or maybe just some plywood from the home improvement store, whatever you're into at the moment. What's fun too, is the third-row seats are power-folding and can be actuated from either the rear or the driver's seat. The second row is also power folding from the rear.

On the outside, we're still pretty enamored by the 2021 Yukon's stunning good looks, especially the AT4 model. We could still do without the red tow hooks, but we're aware that's the trend right now (thanks Jeep for starting that one). We also wouldn't choose black; we'd lean toward Satin Steel Metallic or Cayenne Red, but that's just us. The Yukon AT4 definitely got some good lingering glances in the school pickup line and was right at home with the parade of Escalades and Navigators.

Overall, our time with the 2021 GMC Yukon AT4 was short but enjoyable. We found very little to not love and even less to complain about. GM's engineers nailed the things that matter most, such as ride comfort and passenger space. The available technology was fitting of a vehicle with Yukon's stature, and we never felt as though it were lacking. Hopefully we'll be able to get into a Yukon for more than a day in the coming months and will be able to give a much fuller review. But until then, rest assured that GMC's largest family hauler is here to stay and playing to win.

2021 GMC Yukon AT4

Base price: $64,800
Price as tested: $75,155
Engine: 5.3L V-8
Transmission: 10-speed Automatic
Horsepower: 355 @ 5,600 RPM
Torque: 383 lb-ft @ 4,100 RPM
Towing capacity: 8,100 pounds
EPA fuel economy rating: 16 city, 20 hwy, 18 comb
Actual calculated economy, 126.8-mile trip: 15.03 mpg