Alcan 5000

5,000 miles into the Arctic, a full tank of diesel, it's -40F, and we're driving a GMC Sierra

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 ArcticThe 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 bisonThere 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 ArcticThe 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 ArcticWhile 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 ArcticThe 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 ArcticWildlife, 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."

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New midsize sedan

Subaru announces refreshed 2023 Legacy

The new Legacy got a facelift and new lighting elements.

Subaru

Sedans are a dying breed as SUVs and pickup trucks take over, but there are still a few compelling options out there, and Subaru has one of them. The Legacy has been a long-time part of the Subaru lineup, and the all-wheel drive family sedan got a notable update for 2023.

2023 Subaru LegacyTop trims get luxury finishes inside.Subaru

Subaru offers the sedan in five trims: Base, Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring XD. The automaker updated the Legacy with a facelift that brought a new front fascia, redesigned front bumper and new LED lighting. The car features a low dash and open cabin for great visibility in all directions, and the top Touring XT trim offers high-end accommodations, including Nappa leather and metal trim inside.

Every Legacy comes with the latest version of Subaru Starlink infotainment software. It runs on an 11.6-inch display and offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment. Higher trim levels get the same display with navigation and a new-for-2023 what3words integration.

2023 Subaru LegacyThe Legacy goes on sale this fall.Subaru

The 2023 Legacy comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. The top two trims come with a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come with a continuously variable transmission that offers an eight-speed manual shift mode.

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The Denali Ultimate trim is new for 2023.

GMC

The GMC Yukon has always been a luxurious family hauler with beefy capability, but it moved even more upmarket in recent years with added tech and upscale interior materials. GMC just announced an even cushier version of the SUV for the 2023 model year. The Yukon Ultimate Denali gets unique styling touches and upgrades that take the already plush SUV to another level.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate22-inch wheels are standard GMC

The Denali Ultimate gets exclusive upgrades over other trims that include 22-inch wheels and chrome accents outside. The full-size SUV just got a complete redesign for 2021, which brought updated boxy styling, and a sleek look, so there are no additional exterior changes for 2023.

GMC offers three engines in the standard Yukon, but only two make it into the Ultimate. The standard powertrain includes a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel is also available that makes 277 horsepower and a whopping 460 pound-feet of torque. A ten-speed automatic transmission is standard for all engines, and four-wheel drive is available.

Inside, the Ultimate comes with Alpine Umber full-grain leather upholstery with 16-way power front seats and massaging. Trim-exclusive contrast stitching and aluminum trim accent the space, and the top model gets an 18-speaker Bose audio system with stainless steel speaker grilles.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali UltimateGrained leather upholstery and upscale interior finishes are standard. GMC

A 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen comes standard, and offers Google services built in. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, along with wireless phone charging. A Wi-Fi hotspot and Amazon Alexa functionality are available. GMC also offers Super Cruise hands-free driving system in the Denali Ultimate.

GMC hasn’t detailed pricing for the new SUV yet, but we expect it to start at a premium over the standard Denali, which starts at just over $70,000.

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