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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 Acura TLX offers buyers a good time behind the wheel and true premium appointments.

Photo courtesy of Acura

The Honda Accord is a really decent car. It's perennially one of the top sellers in the U.S., and for good reason. But, sometimes the Accord isn't enough. That's where the Acura TLX comes in.

Acura has completely redesigned the TLX for the 2021 model year. It's made the car into a sharp-looking and better handling machine that is designed to remind buyers what Acura was all about in its 1990s and 2000s heyday. One quick trip around the neighborhood will show you that it achieves that, in spades. A longer trip will make you realize that it's okay to say "no" buying an SUV.

2021 Acura TLX Advance Diving the TLX is a pleasure. It's both comfortable to be in and engaging to toss around on the road.Photo courtesy of Acura

2021 Acura TLX Advance

The exterior of the car looks good. It has LEDs in the right places for its premium price point and styling that makes it stand out (for all the right reasons) more than it blends in. The car is athletic in its state and a bit moody and aggressive while fitting in with the rest of the Acura family, which includes the redesigned 2022 MDX. Every bit of that is a positive.

The TLX is longer, wider, and taller than the Accord by a few inches in each direction.

The suggestion of performance extends from the outside to the inside though the cabin does not set aside the comfort and convenience features one typically wants from a sedan for the weight-saving suede substitute upholstery or unique and different-just-to-be-different knobs, dials, and buttons that make operation more complicated than it needs to be. The TLX is more than properly trimmed out for its price point.

One of the best features of the TLX is its space. The waterfall dashboard design gives the front passenger the illusion of having more space to occupy in front of them. There is more passenger volume in the 2021 TLX versus the 2020 - slightly more room - and all other -room metrics are nearly the same from the old generation to the next. The Accord has more headroom, three cubic feet more cargo space, and nearly 10 cubic feet more passenger space.

The TLX is longer, wider, and taller than the Accord.Photo courtesy of Acura

The center console's side bolsters, with their interiors accented in real wood add to the premium look and feel of the vehicle in an unexpected way. Between those bolsters are the Acura's climate controls. They are button-operated and match what is in the RDX and MDX. They're not as fancy as what you'll find in a luxury car, but for the premium segment, they're attractive enough and extremely easy to use, which makes them winners.

Putting the Dynamic Mode drive mode selector front and center in the TLX, RDX, and MDX makes it easy to use and puts it front of mind. The shifter being directly under it frees up center console space, a logical layout that is an equal part practical.

Speaking of dynamic, the TLX is a dynamic dream, for a non-sports car. While the tester was not the TLX Type S (that super sporty variant is coming later this year), it does have quite a bit of dynamic difference form the Accord. The TLX with all-wheel drive grips the road, even when you're pushing the limits of what it can handle.

Steering is accurate and properly weighted, and allows the car to easily go where you want it. The TLX takes corners with ease and little body lean. There's no need for super bolstered seats as the TLX doesn't toss you around unless you make it.

The car's waterfall dashboard gives the interior a spacious feeling.Photo courtesy of Acura

Acceleration from its 2.0--liter turbo-four is plenty for daily drivability, and even when you want to go have a riot behind the wheel on the weekend. The engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that delivers the 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque smoothly and relatively efficiently. Changing to the Sport drive model gives the TLX noticeably shorter shifts and changes up the throttle response and damping capability, and tightens up the steering. It's a proper Sport mode.

While you're at speed, or idling, there's a lot to take in on the driver's information display. Smartly, Acura has put the necessary information front and center. If you're looking for your trip meter, fuel efficiency, or odometer information, you're doing to need to look to the smaller area of the screen. While you might strain your eyes to see it, you don't really need the info displayed there on-the-go.

There are folks out there that complain about the Acura touch interface for the infotainment system controls. Spend some time with them and sincerely get to know them and they suddenly become incredibly easy to use. Just remember, unlike a mouse, there's no swiping to move the selector. It's a touch-for-touch system like on an iPad.

The touch pad interface and wireless device charging are well placed.Photo courtesy of Acura

The space where Acura has elected to fit the wireless device charger is also its own type of genius. It's below the center console bump out wrist rest for the touch interface, which holds it in place when carving corners, and keeps it close enough to the driver that you can look down and see what alert has popped up if you're not using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto at the time.

Acura's long list of standard and available safety and driver assist features help keep you going down the road without nagging. The car also has Acura's new airbag technology for the front seat passenger.

Pricing for the TLX starts at $37,500. As tested, the car was nearly $50,000. The TLX blows away its closest premium competition by a mile. Maybe more. It's also a lot better at $48,000 than what you'll find in many other luxury cars for the same price.

Most importantly though, Acura has put significant daylight between its Honda brother, not just in price, but also in materials, drivability, maneuverability, and design. That's a big step in the right direction for the brand.

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The Nissan Ariya has wind glide over it in the testing tunnel.

Photo courtesy of Nisan Motor Company

Nissan is targeting a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.297 for the Ariya all-electric crossover. If it can make that number, it will be the company's most aerodynamic crossover to date. What does that mean? Let's take a closer look.

What is drag?

Simply put, drag is an aerodynamic force. It's mechanical in nature, so it is the result of the interaction of a solid body and a liquid. In the case of a car, this liquid is air. (Yes, air is a liquid.) It only occurs when one part of the equation (the solid body or the liquid) is in motion. If there is no motion, there is no drag.

Drag only occurs in the opposite direction of the object's movement. Think of a car cutting through the air as it drives down a north-south road. As the car heads north, the air it passes through is pushed south. The car is in motion; there is drag.

2022 Nissan Ariya

Photo courtesy of Nisan Motor Company

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What is coefficient of drag?

The coefficient of drag, also called a drag coefficient, is a number that aerodynamics professions (aerodynamicists) use to determine the shape, inclination, and flow conditions on a vehicle's drag. The shape of an object (bullet vs. square vs prism, etc.) has a large impact on the amount of drag created by airflow surrounding a vehicle. Objects with narrower front ends tend to have a lower coefficient.

Scientists and vehicle designers want to keep air moving around the car for maximum efficiency. The inclination of the airflow to either move in a smooth, connected pattern, or to be broken up with air sitting, stalling in one particular part of the vehicle, lessening airflow and making the vehicle less aerodynamic.

A vehicle's Cd is determined by plugging various measurements into an equation. Cd is equal to drag (D) divided by the quantity of density (r) multiplied by half the velocity (V) squared multiple by the reference area (A). As an equation, it looks like this: Cd = D / (A * .5 * r * V^2).

The smaller the Cd, the more aerodynamic a vehicle is.

2022 Nissan Ariya

The Nissan Ariya employs aerodynamic wheel design, made to help it cut though the air with greater ease.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

What is the coefficient of drag of the Nissan Ariya?

"With the growing shift towards electric mobility, aerodynamic testing is becoming increasingly important. The aerodynamics of electric vehicles are directly linked to how efficiently the vehicle moves – less drag and better stability allows the customer to drive longer distances before having to recharge," said Sarwar Ahmed, Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics Engineer at Nissan Technical Centre Europe.

Nissan is targeting a 0.297 coefficient of drag for the Ariya. How will it achieve that number? By utilizing precisely shaped body lines and strategically placed air ducts, among other components. There's a bonus to better aerodynamics when it comes to EVs.

"Following official homologation of the Nissan Ariya later this year, we anticipate the range to improve compared to the 310 mile figure shared in 2020 during the World Premiere. This will give drivers more efficiency and confidence to go even further on a single charge," said Marco Fioravanti, VP Product Planning, Nissan Europe.

How does the Ariya's coefficient of drag compare to other Nissans?

The newest Nissans, the Kicks, Pathfinder, and Frontier, don't have their Cd publicly available yet, but other models have their results. The targeted 0.297 Cd in the Ariya is less than that in the 2021 Armada, Murano, and Rogue. But, it's higher than the Nissan Leaf.

The fact that it's higher than the Leaf is not surprising. Shorter cars tend to be more aerodynamic because they sit lower to the ground and have a smaller profile. That also explains why Nissan's largest and boxiest SUV, the Armada, has the highest number on the list.

How does the Ariya's coefficient of drag compare to numbers from other EVs?

The Nissan Ariya's coefficient of drag is higher than that of most other electric cars, crossovers, and SUVs sold in the U.S. Here's where the others measure up:

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