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First Drive Review: 2021 GMC Yukon is capable with impressive tech and cluttered touch points

GMC debuted the Yukon and allowed AutomotiveMap to test drive one of the prototypes.

Photo courtesy of GMC

At long last, the GMC Yukon has been completely redesigned. The 2021 GMC Yukon excels exactly where you'd expect, but it delivers in areas where it has underperformed in the past. What matters most is that the Yukon is a formidable opponent for the Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition, and Chevrolet Tahoe.

On the outside, the Yukon strikes the right balance between imposing and confident. It's a look that is a natural evolution for the model with attributes influenced by the 2019 GMC Sierra. It's quite nice looking as far as large SUVs go.

2021 GMC Yukon The body of the 2021 GMC Yukon is not dissimilar to the outgoing model. Photo courtesy of GMC

Under the hood of the GMC Yukon Denali trim tested is the same 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine that's available in the GMC Sierra. It's paired with a smooth shifting 10-speed automatic transmission. Under low speed testing, the engine performed as expected without showing the type of strained confidence that came from the previous generation's model.

As predicted when the vehicle was revealed, the Yukon Denali's new shifter setup is less than ideal. Park and neutral are buttons while reverse and drive are levers that must be pulled forward. While the button aspects are easy to use, the pull on the reverse and drive leaves a lot of functionality to be desired. The depth of the pull is shallow and it was harder than it should have been to get a satisfying grip on the lever. Using those levers with gloves on is likely a no go.

The steering in the Yukon makes it easy to steer around tight turns. In that respect, it's easier to drive than the GMC Acadia.

2021 GMC Yukon At the front, the Yukon's relationship to the Sierra is apparent. Photo courtesy of GMC

GMC's new Active Response 4WD System reacted well in testing on ice, snow, and bare pavement. It quickly allocated torque to give a driver confidence in the Yukon, but it wasn't able to keep the vehicle completely stable with there being some slip off the line in snow when the Yukon is given a good amount of gas. That's pretty typical in those conditions, though.

Over bumpy terrain, the Yukon's available adaptive air suspension kept passengers comfortably stable in their seats. The tester was a prototype model and there were some issues with the ability of the car to raise and lower the four inches GMC advertises in its product info.

However, the bigger issue is navigating the air suspension controls. Off to the left side of the steering wheel is a mess of buttons, dials, and buttons that control everything from the Yukon's ride height to drivetrain and the 15-inch head-up display to engine start-stop and headlights. Altogether there are no less than 15 buttons, three levers, two dials, and trailering controls. That's a lot for fingers to navigate, even without gloves on.

2021 GMC Yukon The dashboard is filled with buttons, dials, and levers. Photo courtesy of GMC

The short drive of the prototype did not allow for any evaluation of the safety technology.

Despite being just a short drive, the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali showed that it has a lot to like. It's a step far ahead of the Nissan Armada and feels closer to luxury level than the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe. The Yukon Denali's interior is nicer than the Ford Expedition's but it's not as luxe as the Lincoln Navigator's.

2021 GMC Yukon The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali's interior is a big step up from previous Yukon Denalis. Photo courtesy of GMC

That being said, there are a lot of positives in the Yukon. The head-up display is impressively sized and gives a good amount of information. The standard 10-inch infotainment screen is handsome and works as advertised.

The interior of the Denali trim feels and looks more premium than it ever has. Thankfully GMC has gone away from the practice of just making the Denali interior a "more chrome" option.

The price point of the Yukon and more information about other trim levels and fuel efficiency is still forthcoming, as well as the opportunity to drive the model for an extended period of testing. Stay tuned. The Yukon is just getting started.

The 2021 GMC Yukon goes on sale this summer.

GMC has revealed the AT4 and Denali versions of their popular three-row SUV.

Photo courtesy of GMC

The GMC Yukon has undergone a complete redesign. For the 2021 model year, GMC has re-engineered nearly every component on the SUV resulting in a more refined take on the premium SUV than the 2020 offered. Here's a quick look at everything you need to know.

The 2021 GMC Yukon will be sold in four variants.

So far, GMC has revealed that there will be SLT, SLE, AT4, and Denali models. The Yukon SLT and SLE are likely to follow similar packaging standard that the GMC Sierra has while the AT4 is getting blacked out elements and different underpinnings. Similarly, the Yukon Denali is the most refined model. All models will have three rows of seating.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali The Yukon Denali is set apart from the rest of the lineup by its large chrome grille. Photo courtesy of GMC

It's bigger than before.

The Yukon has grown 6.1 inches in length and seen its wheelbase extended by 4.9 inches. This was done to give third row occupants more legroom and add cargo room without compromising passenger space in the first and second rows. Despite the added size, GMC has ensured that the 2021 model has a lower, flatter cargo-loading floor that allows for easier access to cargo space.

Yes, it will still come in two lengths.

Like the 2020 Yukon, Cadillac Escalade, and Ford Expedition, the largest GMC SUV will come in two lengths, labeled the Yukon and Yukon XL. The "XL" denotes the extended version, which adds 15.2 inches on the traditional Yukon body. That 225.1-inch design in the 2021 Yukon XL is up 0.9 inches over the 2020 Yukon XL.

The Yukon Denali's exterior has high-tech enhancements and is bolder than before.

The 2021 Yukon Denali sits tall. It has GMC's C-shaped front lighting signature up front that is delivered through LED illumination. Daytime running lights, headlamps, taillamp, and fog lamps are all LEDs. The Yukon Denali has a Galvano chrome grille that features a dimensional pattern with over 10,000 individual reflective surfaces.

There's an available adaptive air suspension.

GMC will offer the 2021 Yukon with an available four-corner adaptive suspension. When it's in 4WD LO, drivers can opt to raise the body up to an additional two inches for more ground clearance.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali XL Significant length has been added to the Yukon to make the Yukon XL model. Photo courtesy of GMC

It will have the most powerful engine in its segment.

The new 6.2-liter V8 engine achieves 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The Yukon comes standard with a 5.3-liter V8 and there's an available 3.0L inline-six turbo-diesel engine option. All the engines are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

GMC is debuting a new four-wheel drive system in the Yukon.

The available Active Response 4WD System combines technologies including an electronic limited slip differential, to continuously monitor road conditions and react to improve traction, handling and overall control.

Yukon AT4 makes its debut.

Like in the Sierra and Sierra HD trucks, the Yukon AT4 adds more off-road prowess to the model with equipment enabling a nearly 32-degree approach angle, two-speed transfer case, 20-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires, a drive mode system with off-road mode, hill descent control, and skid plates. The model comes standard with GMC's adaptive suspension. It also has leather appointed seats, a Jet Black interior color theme with Brandy accents, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated second-row outboard seats.

2021 GMC Yukon AT4 The Yukon AT4 joins other AT4 models in the GMC lineup, most notably the Sierra and Sierra HD. Photo courtesy of GMC

GMC has significantly upgraded the interior of the Yukon Denali.

Yukon Denali models aren't just getting an upgraded on the outside. When buyers choose the 2021 Yukon Denali they will have the opportunity to choose from four color themes that feature wood trim, and hand-stitched leather upholstery. The model also have its own, unique instrument panel and center stack design.

It gets a large number of cameras for maneuvering and trailering ease.

GMC will offer the 2021 Yukon with up to nine camera views, the most in its segment. These views include a surround view, rear camera mirror, and GMC's ProGrade trailering system.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali GMC has designed the interior of the Yukon Denali to be more elegant than the other trim levels in the Yukon lineup. Photo courtesy of GMC

Advanced technology isn't just for the infotainment system.

Buyers will be able to opt for the available 15-inch head-up display that showcases speed, navigation, safety features, and other information.

The 2021 GMC Yukon goes on sale this summer.

As is traditional, pricing will be announced closer to the vehicle's on-sale date. Buyers should expect a price increase for the model, especially in the Denali trim.

2021 GMC Yukon AT4 The center stack of the Yukon AT4 has a unique design and Jet Black interior. Photo courtesy of GMC

GMC builds the Yukon in the U.S.A.

Each GMC Yukon is assembled at General Motors' Arlington, Texas assembly facility.

GMC recently announced that the Hummer is coming back to life as an electrified truck.

Photo courtesy of GMC

A survey of 20,264 Americans 18 years old and older nationwide has revealed that the country is less enthusiastic about the return of the Hummer than General Motors is. A lot less enthusiastic.

Piplsay conducted the survey following the brand announcement and corresponding Super Bowl commercial. Only 51 percent of those surveyed said that they had seen the commercial during the Big Game. That means that nearly half of those respondents either didn't see the ad or don't remember seeing it.

Tesla Cybertruck The Tesla Cybertruck is viewed as the Hummer EV's competition.Photo courtesy of Tesla

Of those that say they saw the commercial, 17 percent said it was "good" and another 17 percent described it as "awesome". Fourteen percent thought it "okay" and three percent said it was "not great".

While 49 percent of those that responded said that they were excited to see the new Hummer, 15 percent said that they weren't. A whopping 36 percent answered saying that they "don't care" about the vehicle.

The excitement is higher among millennials than baby boomers. Sixty-two percent of the younger set are excited about the Hummer while just 54 percent of boomers are.

Reactions to the next question were quite mixed. Pollsters asked, "GM has brought back the 'Hummer' name for its EV. Does that excited you?" Forty percent answered in the affirmative. Twenty-three percent said "no" and that they still "identify it as a gas guzzler". Thirty-seven percent answered "I don't care."

The split between respondents is about the same when asked if the Hummer EV will be a threat to the Tesla Cybertruck. Respondents answered: 40 percent "not sure", 35 percent "yes", and 25 percent "no".