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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.

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The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is an off-road ready family hauler.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Nissan Pathfinder is the company's three-row crossover, sitting below the Armada and above the Rogue in the company's lineup. It's a rival to the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot. Check out the Nissan's most compelling features by scrolling down.

Every Pathfinder comes loaded with safety technology.

The Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of safety and driver assist technology comes standard on the Rogue. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, land departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

Additionally, the company's Intelligent Driver Alertness and Rear Door Alert technologies are standard.

ProPilot Assist takes the wheel.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan's ProPilot Assist technology doesn't allow for hands-free driving and it's not self-driving, but it does fuse together many functionalities that make daily drive functions easier, especially when your children are doing their best to distract you.

ProPILOT Assist combines steering assist and Intelligent Cruise Control to help control acceleration. It can be used in heavy traffic and on open highways.

For 2021, ProPilot Assist has been enhanced. It has next-generation radar and camera technology that is designed to allow for smoother braking, better steering assist, and improved detection performance when vehicles cut into the lane.

There's a removable second-row center console.

Between the second-row captain's chairs in the seven-passenger Pathfinder, there's a thin center console (enough storage space for two cupholders and some small items) that is removable without using any tools. Removing this console allows for easier access in/out of the third-row for small children and adults. With the console in place, the seats can still be tipped and moved forward for quick ingress/egress to/from the third row.

The second row is spacious.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Sitting in the second-row captain's chairs is very much like sitting in those that you'd find in a full-size SUV. Adults will find that hip-room is plenty big enough while children will relish the opportunity to feel like they're being treated to upscale accommodations.

Three people fit across the back seat.

Second-row captain's chairs are being offered for the first time on Pathfinder with this new model. Nissan has added rear seating flexibility with the ability to fit three across the back seat. While three adults are a tight fit in the third row, children, tweens, and some teens that don't have long legs won't likely have a problem with it.

Pathfinder's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan has made the Rogue available with all-wheel drive. Those models also get five drive modes: Off-road, Snow, Standard, Eco, and Sport. The modes are engaged using the drive-mode selector mounted on the center console. The all-wheel drive system uses new technology that is designed to respond quicker when slippage is detected.

It has a 6,000-pound towing capability.

Nissan boasts that the 2022 Pathfinder has best-in-lass available 6,000-pound maximum towing capacity. That's enough to allow boats, ATVs, camp tents, or trailers to be connected out back. Trailer Sway Control is standard on the Pathfinder and allows for more towing confidence, especially when winds pick up.

Moving the second-row seat is as easy as the push of one button.

Nissan has equipped the second-row bench seat in the Pathfinder with EZ-Flex one-touch mechanics. It takes just one press of a button to activate fold and slide functionalities for the second-row seats. The button can be reached from both the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle for ease.

The cargo area is plenty spacious.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America


Behind the SUV's third-row seats Pathfinder can fit a 120-quart cooler or four golf bags - all with the third row full of occupants. The interior can also accommodate 4x8-foot plywood sheets.

The ride is sublimely quiet.

Nissan has equipped the Pathfinder with acoustic laminated front glass, thicker second-row glass, increased door and floor isolation, and a 60-percent increase in engine noise absorption materials. The result is a vehicle that provides a quieter ride, meaning less likelihood parents will have to should to be heard by third-row passengers.

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The Kia Sorento Hybrid offers a lot to like for families looking to save on fuel.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The redesigned Kia Sorento looks good. Kia has given the three-row SUV new life, not as a substitute for the Telluride SUV but instead as its own crossover, with plenty of differences to give them their own identity.

The 2021 Sorento comes in two variants, the Sorento and Sorento Hybrid. Each is offered in its own set of trim levels. The Sorento base model is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder internal combustion engine that delivers 191 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. Higher grades get a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is rated at 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque.

Sorento Hybrid comes in two trim leaves, S and EX. Both are powered by the company's turbocharged 1.6-liter hybrid powertrain that offers up 177 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV prioritizes fuel efficiency over performance, an important distinction that sets the Sorento Hybrid apart from other hybrid variants, including the Toyota RAV4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid that delivers an energetic boost to the RAV4 lineup.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid The Sorento Hybrid is the type of vehicle that can get you to a trailhead, but isn't built to go beyond that.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The power output is fine if you plan on sticking to in-town driving and aren't looking to load up the Sorento Hybrid for a long road trip. In the default Eco drive mode, the car responds to the throttle the most comfortably. Under traditional and harder acceleration, the Sorento Hyrbid's powertrain is noisy and ill-mannered. It's almost like the SUV is telling you, "I'm built for efficiency, not speed". Message received.

Kia's done a good job making the Sorento agile and it drives nicely and makes for a pleasant daily runaround. Unlike what Toyota has done with the Highlander, all-wheel drive is not available on the Sorento Hybrid.

The 2021 Sorento Hybrid comes standard as a six-seater with captain's chairs in the second row. The seats, leatherette in the upmarket trim level, are comfortable enough. There's a decent amount of cargo space with the third row erect or stowed.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid The cabin of the Sorento Hybrid is plush enough for its price point.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The well-thought out cabin design delvers exactly what customers need and in the EX trim level, the car's appointments are near-premium. The SUV has the usual list of standard and available features, but nothing is too fancy: Bluetooth, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice recognition, satellite radio, push button start, keyless entry, a rearview camera, wireless smartphone charger. Nothing looks, feels, or operates like it's cutting edge, but it doesn't have to - this isn't a luxury vehicle.

There is one very nice design touch in the cabin. On either side of the infotainment touch screen are vents that service the front row of the auto. Their output is divided into two each with the bottom vent able to serve the midsection of front passengers' bodies while the upper part goes higher. More automakers should design vents this way.

The Hybrid EX model that was delivered for testing had its lane keeping and centering system not as honed in on lane lines as is optimal, which resulted in crossing over the lines without any alert going off or corrective action being taken by the vehicle's computer.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid Cargo space is always tight in three-row SUVs, but Kia has given the Sorento a good balance between cargo space and third-row legroom.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid starts at $33,590. That's a thousand-and-a-half over the starting price of the Telluride and $4,000 more than the traditional 2021 Sorento.

There are currently only two other three-row hybrid SUVs on the market, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and the Ford Expedition Hybrid. The three models and their varied price tags and third-row layouts service very different customers but they generally all get lumped together. The Sorento Hybrid is, by far, the lowest priced model of the three, and it feels like it when you're inside. There's nothing wrong with that. Dodge sold a lot of Journeys despite the fact that it wasn't the best or most expensive SUV out there.

Think of the Kia Sorento Hybrid as the Dodge Journey of three-row hybrid crossovers and you won't be disappointed.

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