The 2021 GMC Yukon improves on third row comfort and balanced ride and handling.
The third row in the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Suburban used to be a farce, cramped beyond belief and forcing your knees up around your ears. That may not be the only significant improvement in the new 2021 Yukon, but it will certainly be appreciated by anyone relegated to third row status.
The Yukon and its twin sister from Chevrolet shared their underpinnings with the Sierra/Silverado pickup twins. The tough ladder-frame, rear-wheel-drive platform provides truck-like hauling capacity and an exceptionally long life. But that same truck-base pretty much guarantees truck-like ride and handling.
For the 2021 Yukon, the truck-base remains, but with one significant upgrade! The century-old solid rear axle has been binned, replaced by an independent setup.
The bulky centre differential is gone. The floor of the third row no longer has to be perched way up high to clear that giant bulbous centre. It can now be lowered, and third row occupants can put their feet on the floor with their knees bent in a conventional sitting arrangement. The big ute is now a true three-row vehicle.
That change from solid axle to independent rear suspension also provides a new level of agility.
Instead of trying to allow for the vertical motion common across the rear wheels, engineers can tune the suspension to cope with individual wheel motion at each side. Instead of the rear end changing lanes if you encounter a severe bump mid-corner, the new setup is able to absorb the shock on either side.
Don’t get the impression the Yukon is now a big sports car.
No siree. It is still a large, three-ton hunk sitting high off the ground on a suspension designed more for carrying or towing heavy loads. But – it is a serious improvement over the outgoing model.
The Yukon is a full-size utility vehicle available in short and long wheelbase sizes and a quartet of trim levels.
Prices range from $50,700 to $68,400 (base prices). The tester was the short – relatively – wheelbase version. The Yukon XL is 15-cm longer with all of that extra length allocated to the cargo area.
The tester was all dolled up in AT4 trim. The base price of $64,800 swelled to more than $88,000 with options and delivery included – before HST. Among those options was an Illuminated GMC emblem on the grill for $165, and $1,195 for tri-coat white frost paint.
For that, you get a spacious three row ute with a choice of 5.3-litre or 6.2-litre V8 engines, or a 3.0 litre turbocharged diesel.
All are mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel-drive. The upside of the pickup undercarriage and drivetrain is that the Yukon plays in the big leagues when it comes to towing. You can carry almost 2,000 pounds of cargo or tow more than 8,200 pounds.
The Yukon has undergone a major makeover for the 2021 model year, inside, out and underneath.
It shares the new platform with the Suburban and Chevy Tahoe but the Yukon gets unique exterior styling. The gasoline V8s are carried over, but the inline six-cylinder turbo diesel is a newcomer, obviously meant for those who want to take advantage of the Yukon’s towing capacity.
To aid in that use, the AT4 comes with a 360-degree view parking camera system. The tester had the Max Trailering package which included trailer brake control, hitch view and guidance, an onboard trailering app and blind-spot monitoring that includes the trailer.
In all cases, the transmission is controlled by a unique set of buttons you pull. The tester had the base V8 and it provided ample motivation. But you are often reminded this is a 6,000-pound vehicle, before factoring in people or cargo, especially when it comes time to fill-er-up.
2021 GMC Yukon AT4 boasts luxury plus the ability to go off-road
The interior boasted load of luxury touches like leather-wrapped heated and cooled 12-way power seats, power liftgate, three-zone climate control and wireless charging.
The 26-cm touchscreen for the infotainment system contained the latest version of GM’s easy-to-use IntelliLink system as well as wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.
As mentioned above, the tester was the off-road oriented AT4 version, a new addition to the Yukon line for 2021. AT4 means a raft of off-road goodies, including skid plates, tow hooks, two-speed transfer case, 20-inch wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires.
Special mention here for the suspension.
To compliment the added abilities of the independent rear, the tester had magnetic ride control shocks for exceptional ability to deal with various road surfaces. It also had the optional air suspension which brings added ground clearance when headed off road or the ability to automatically lower the entire vehicle when stopped for easier entry and exit.
The 2021 GMC Yukon is a huge improvement over the outgoing model, especially in terms of third row comfort, and the balance between ride and handling.
FACTS & FIGURES – 2021 Yukon 4WD AT4
As tested: $88,283 including freight
Wireless charging, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 4G LTE wi-fi, satellite radio
Forward collision warning, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, front and rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, following distance indicator, safety alert seat
Magnetic ride control, hill descent control, two-speed transfer case, front skid plate, trailering equipment. Nine-speaker Bose audio system, remote keyless opening, push button start, remote vehicle start, three-zone automatic climate control, power operated heated and cooled perforated leather seats, memory settings for driver seat, outside mirrors, steering column and pedals, heated steering wheel, power-fold split third row seat, LED headlights, hands-free power liftgate
Premium package (technology package, dual-pane panoramic sunroof, retractable power assist steps, rear media and nav package, heads up display, max trailering package, ProGrade Trailering system, integrated trailer brake controller, in-vehicle trailering app, hitch guidance with hitch view, trailer side blind zone alert, enhanced cooling radiator, HD surround vision) $9,795; white frost tri-coat paint, $1,195; power release second row seats, $430; illuminated GM emblem, $165
5.3-litre V8, 355-horsepower, 383 lb.ft. of torque – regular fuel; 10 speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 14.8 /11.8
Length, 5,334-mm; wheelbase, 3,071-mm; width, 2,057 w/o mirrors; weight, 2,664-kg
Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia