One Day Drive

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.

General Motors is bringing back the Hummer, this time though, it's an electric truck.

Photo courtesy of GMC

General Motors is bringing back the Hummer as an electric-powered truck. Ahead of its planned debut in May, here's a full run down of all we know.

This Hummer is a GMC.

General Motors has brought the Hummer name back, but not as a stand-alone brand. This time it's under the GMC umbrella. Electric vehicles are usually pricier than a traditionally powertrained vehicle, so it's logical that the Hummer EV fits better under the GMC brand than the Chevrolet marque.

The GMC Hummer EV is an electric truck and SUV.

You won't catch anyone rolling coal in the Hummer truck anytime soon. It's going to be a full-sized model that runs purely on battery power. Word on the street is that GMC will release the Hummer in truck and SUV form, similar to what Rivian is offering in the R1T and the R1S.

It will have a targa top.

Yes, like a Porsche, but more like a Wrangler. Owners will be able to remove the roof of the models and store them within the vehicle according to reports.

The Hummer EV comes with three front windshield wipers.

Yes, three. The reasons for this are unclear at the moment, but the vehicle's reveal will likely yield a clearcut answer.

Indications are that the design is boxy and very Hummer-like.

The modern iterations of GM's trucks are easily the biggest and boxiest to date. This fits easily into the Hummer model and reports indicate that the Hummer EV follows suite and will hold true to many of the design characteristics that Hummer has been known for in the past.

Under the Hummer is EV is GM's third-gen architecture and new battery pack.

In early March, General Motors debuted their new vehicle and battery architecture. We covered it here.

Its range will top what you can get from a Tesla.

There are indications that the GMC Hummer EV will have a 400-mile range. It's likely that GM will sell various grades of the model with different ranges and that the 400-mile model will the the top level offering.

In terms of power, there's a lot to be excited about.

The Hummer EV has more than 1,000 horsepower and a reported 11,500 pound-feet of axle torque. With that output, the truck could conceivably get to 60 mph from a standstill in about 3.0 seconds, similar to what you'll find from a Tesla Model 3.

There may be a rugged off-road version and a top-tier Denali model.

With GMC's intent to push the rugged AT4 grade on its entire lineup, it's conceivable that there would be a Hummer EV AT4 down the road. The same with a Denali model.

General Motors will make the Hummer EV in Detroit.

The company will produce the model at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, alongside the Cruise Origin.

It's going to be a 2022 model year vehicle but you'll probably see it at dealerships in late 2021.

General Motors typically releases vehicles in the late summer to early winter of the year prior to that vehicle's model year. For example, the 2019 Chevrolet Suburban would have come out in late 2018. If the GMC Hummer EV holds true to that platform, it will begin arriving on dealership lots in mid to late 2021.

How much will it cost?

Looking at the playing field, there's a lot of experts out there saying that the price will be about $70,000. That's without any incentives or tax breaks.

A team of three piled into this 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 and headed up to the Arctic Circle during the Alcan 5000.

Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

There are many events that could lay claim to the title of most extreme driving challenge in the world, but only one takes competitors to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the dead of winter.

"It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
I
t's the stillness that fills me with peace."
- From "The Spell of the Yukon" by Robert W. Service

The Alcan 5000 Winter Rally runs once every four years, and has developed a devoted following among adventure-seekers from all over the world. This year, 40 teams made the long drive north from Seattle, Washington to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The GMC Sierra AT4 came equipped with all the latest features, including a valuable camera system that helped with views where traditional mirrors could not, helping to get the team out of more than one tricky situation.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

The Alcan rally first dares teams to make it to the far north. Tuktoyaktuk lies about 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. In the short summers, residents fish the Arctic Ocean. The rest of the time they survive winter temperatures that hover around 40 degrees below zero.

The second part of the competition is a daily Time-Speed-Distance test that challenges teams to drive a challenging road at a precise average speed. It's not a race, but rather a demonstration of the ability to arrive exactly on time.

Teams may enter virtually any kind of vehicle they choose. This year's entrants ranged from a 1973 Ford Capri to a Japanese-market right-hand-drive Mitsubishi Pajero and a brand new 2020 GMC Sierra AT4. (The GMC was this writer's ride on the rally.) Subaru cars and SUVs are a popular choice, as are 4WD pickup trucks. Entries are divided into classes based on the type of vehicle - 2WD and Historic vehicles get their own classes.

The rally sets off from Seattle and crosses the Canadian border on the first day. Most people don't realize that British Columbia is about the same size as California. B.C. is known for wildlife, and this is where travelers will usually see American Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Moose, and Caribou. In winter, it takes nearly three days to climb through B.C. and reach the Yukon Territory, where the adventure really begins.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic bison There were numerous bison spotting throughout the trip.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Adventuring in the Arctic

As we arrived in Whitehorse, temperatures fell below zero. The fat snowflakes of a picturesque winter give way to hard ice and the trees get smaller as teams drive north through Canada's gold country. The last night before the hard push to the Arctic is spent in Dawson. This town dates from the Yukon gold rush, and the frontier spirit lingers there in saloons and rustic hotels.

From Dawson, the rally turns off on the Dempster Highway. This is the only road to Inuvik and the Northwest Territories. The next settlement is Eagle Plains, about 250 miles from Dawson and just 20 miles from the Arctic Circle. Teams stop at the circle monument for photos and bit of clowning around.

Driving becomes serious business on the Dempster. It's a gravel road in summertime, but in the winter it's packed snow and ice, with snow drifts along the shoulders that are easily capable of swallowing a car. About 50 miles in, several teams opted to turn back and wait in Whitehorse for the rally to return.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The Arctic is cold and desolate, especially early in the morning in the heart of winter.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

The teams that elected to go on traveled in groups and kept in touch by radio to ensure that no one was left stranded, and several vehicles had to be pulled out of trouble. Temperatures on this year's rally plunged to -20F as we crossed the Richardson mountain range and entered the Northwest Territories. At this point teams are not competitors. They're partners in getting everyone over the top safely.

Modern Tech to the Rescue

As we went along, our GMC showed the value of modern technology. The AT4 package includes a raised suspension, skid plates to protect the underside of the truck, and an Automatic mode in the four-wheel-drive system. Many 4X4 vehicles turn off the traction and stability control systems when 4WD is engaged. The GMC's automatic mode allows the truck to function like an all-wheel-drive SUV, sending power to any wheel that has grip while maintaining traction and stability. The effect was exactly what we needed to stay on the road.

We chose Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT3 studded winter tires for the journey. The triangular studs in the Nokian tires bite into the ice, while the advanced tread design molds around snow and frost to grab traction. As wise Arctic travelers recommend, we carried two spares. However, the Nokians survived everything we threw their way and we never used the emergency tires.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic While much of the route is traditional roadway, there's thousands of miles of off-road driving in treacherous conditions.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

It's worth mentioning GMC's extensive camera system. The Sierra has forward and rear-facing cameras, and can deliver a birds-eye view around the truck for tight maneuvering. Best of all, the rear-view mirror is also camera based, with an eye mounted on the back of the cab. In the Arctic, the rear window of any vehicle tends to collect a thick coat of frost and ice. The GMC camera offers clear wide-angle view to the rear that also includes most of the blind spots.

FInally, our GMC was equipped with the new 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engine. With 477 pound-feet of torque, this smaller six-cylinder pulls like a V8. It's paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission to maximize fuel economy. We saw up to 30 MPG in warmer climates to the south. In the Arctic, the extreme cold hits everyone's fuel economy, but where gas engines were averaging under 15 MPG, the Duramax returned about 18 MPG.

The Spell of the Arctic

After a long day of hard driving the rally reaches Inuvik, NWT. At about 3,250 people, Inuvik is the largest town north of the Arctic Circle in North America. Here temperatures plunged to 40 below zero, but at this point no one is going to give up on the great goal. In the morning, teams rise before dawn and continue about 100 miles farther north to Tuktoyaktuk, celebrating the sunrise on the beach of the Arctic Ocean. Or rather, we take the locals' word for it, because there's nothing but ice as far as can be seen.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic The team made it to the Arctic Ocean, just 1,500 miles from the North Pole.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Tuk is the end of all roads. From here it's just 1,500 miles to the North Pole, all ice. Only Barrow, Alaska is a bit farther north and still reachable by car. After some photos and a little celebration, the Alcan teams turn away from the rising sun and start heading home. The adventure's not over yet, however. There are still five more days of competition before the rally ends in Anchorage, Alaska.

On the way back down, there's more time to pause and appreciate the scenery. The Arctic is wild and very much untamed. Teams observed foxes, wolves, and even a very quick Arctic hare. We were forced to make an unplanned overnight stop in the tiny village of Fort McPherson when the pass over the Richardson mountains was closed due to a blizzard. Teams pooled their food and made a potluck dinner as the local church opened its doors and broke out the supply of cots they keep on hand for these occasions.

GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Alcan 5000 rally Alaska Canada Arctic Wildlife, like these mountain goats, was spotted throughout the journey.Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

At the end of the event in Anchorage, the team of Garth Ankeny and Russ Kraushaar in the vintage Capri won the competitive portion of the rally. By that point, everyone's ready to cheer because after driving 5,000 miles to the top of the world, just being there feels like a victory. That's why people return to the Alcan Rally again and again.

"There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There's a land— oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back— and I will."