2021 GMC Yukon AT4

2021 GMC Yukon: First Look at an Off-Road-Capable Luxury SUV

Our Motors editor was at the 2021 GMC Yukon reveal event in Vail, Colorado, last night. He crawled around the new vehicle and spoke with GM executives to find out all the details he could about the all-new full-size luxury SUV.

In a nutshell, the 2021 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL will have a fully independent suspension at all four corners and be available with a diesel engine for the first time.

They’re packed with the latest safety and entertainment tech, have gone even more upscale with the Denali, and even more off-road and sporty with the first-ever AT4. GMC has not released a lot of specifications, like pricing and fuel efficiency, just yet. But we do know it will hit dealer lots this summer. GMC will manufacture the Yukon in Arlington, Texas.

2021 GMC AT4 Family
2021 GMC AT4 Family

“GMC Yukon is the full-size premium SUV that’s made to be used,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global Buick and GMC. “The new Yukon delivers what customers value most — premium features, purposeful technology, and all-terrain capability.”

Yukon Denali

People know the Yukon and Yukon XL as big, top-quality people- and gear-hauling machines. Law enforcement and the military use them regularly for these reasons.

For 2021, GMC will offer all-new versions of these legacy full-size SUVs. The new Yukon Denali will go even more upscale, and we’ll see an AT4 off-road version for the first time.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali
2021 GMC Yukon Denali

GMC said, “About 60% of Yukon buyers select Denali, making it a focal point for the next-generation design.” For the first time, the Denali trim-level Yukons will get their own exclusive interior that features real wood accents, unique seats, hand-stitched leather surfaces, and an all-new instrument cluster. As with all Denali vehicles, chrome is in abundance on the exterior.

More Yukon to Love

The Yukon has never been a small vehicle, and for 2021 it gets even larger. The wheelbase gains nearly 5 inches, with the overall vehicle length expanding 6.1 inches.

While that’s only a 3% increase in length, the wizards at GMC have been able to increase the max cargo room by 30%. This also translates to 41% more third-row legroom and 66% greater cargo volume behind the third row.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali
2021 GMC Yukon Denali

The Yukon XL gets a slightly longer wheelbase (by 4.1 inches), but overall length increases only a few inches. Both vehicles now have a larger, lower, and flatter cargo floor to maximize gear-hauling ease and cargo space.

Plush Suspension

(L to R) 2021 GMC Yukon AT4 and Denali
(L to R) 2021 GMC Yukon AT4 and Denali

The 2021 Yukon will get an all-new multilink independent rear suspension for the first time, replacing the rear solid axle.

It will come in three suspension configurations: base coil springs, coil-sprung with magnetic ride control, or first-in-class four-corner Air Ride Adaptive Suspension with magnetic ride control. The Air Ride Adaptive Suspension will be good for an additional 2 inches of ground clearance when you engage 4WD LO.

Gas and Diesel Engines

The 2021 Yukon will be available with three engine options, all backed by a 10-speed transmission. The base engine will be the all-new 5.3L V8. A new version of the big gas 6.3L V8 with Dynamic Fuel Management tops the range and comes standard on the Denali. The big V8 will now offer 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

For the first time, the Yukon will also be available with a diesel — in this case, the 3L Duramax inline-six turbo-diesel. This engine should be good for about 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Sadly, the diesel will not be available on the AT4 models. With this diesel engine, the “Yukon and Yukon XL are expected to be the most fuel-efficient full-size SUVs.”

More Rubber

Wheel options range from 18 to 22 inches, with 20-inch wheels standard on the AT4 and 22-inch wheels standard on the Denali. All Yukon models now get a 33-inch tire, which is an inch larger than on offer with the current Yukon lineup.

The 2021 Yukon also has a 17-inch-wheel spare tire. This tells us that the right 17-inch wheel will fit over the massive front brake calipers.

That means we can for sure run a 33-inch tire on a 17-inch wheel, which gives us more sidewall to work with for optimal off-road performance. The rumor from the engineering team at GMC is also that the Yukon was “designed to accept a larger tire,” without the need for a lift.

More Tech

The current Yukon lineup doesn’t have a reputation for having the latest technology. The new Yukon aims to change that with a feature-rich options list.

The 2021 Yukon has an available nine-camera view system that includes high-definition surround vision, rear-camera mirror, and GMC’s ProGrade trailering system. While the vehicle is large, there won’t be any blind spots with this system.

One of my favorite new features is the available 15-inch color heads-up display (HUD). This system makes sure that you keep your eyes on the road, even while monitoring the vehicle and following GPS directions. In off-road mode, the HUD even provides useful information like an inclinometer.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali
2021 GMC Yukon Denali

The new Active Response 4WD terrain-management system will provide the ultimate control off road and in adverse weather conditions. Combined with a new electronic limited-slip rear differential, the new Yukon should be quite off-road capable and perfect for snowy missions to the ski resort.

The tech features of the new Yukon are extensive. Safety features like automatic emergency braking now come standard on all models. The optional navigation package now comes with big 12-inch headrest screens that are Android-enabled. Rear passengers can pick a restaurant or new destination, and then send that navigation information to the driver.

A Comfortable Place to Travel

2021 GMC Yukon AT4
2021 GMC Yukon AT4

The inside of the spacious Yukon is a great place to be. This vehicle is for sure great for long road trips with the whole family. New sliding second-row seats make third-row access much easier.

A new available Power Sliding Center Console can move back 10 inches between the front two seats and provides unique, flexible, and more secure storage. Whether hauling people or gear, the 2021 Yukon is ready for adventure.

First-Ever Yukon AT4

GMC continues to expand its AT4 off-road package offerings. Not only will the 2021 Yukon and Yukon XL get the off-road-inspired AT4 treatment, but before the end of the year, GMC will offer every vehicle in an AT4 variant.

The AT4 Yukon offers a unique and aggressive front grille, with signature dual red tow hooks and body color and dark accents. Inside, you’ll find a unique sporty interior with AT4 badging and jet-black and Brandy accented color scheme.

Features include a two-speed transfer case, Traction Select System with off-road mode, Hill Descent Control, skid plates, and 33-inch AT tires on 20-inch wheels. You even get a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, and heated second-row seats.

2020 GMC Yukon Specs and Estimates

While GMC has not announced specifics like ground clearance or breakover and departure angles, we went the extra mile and got you pretty accurate estimates.

After crawling under the air-ride equipped AT4 Yukon with a laser measuring device, we found that, at max ride height, the lowest point of the vehicle is the burly rear sway bar. It’s 10 inches off the ground. That’s impressive, especially combined with the announced approach angle of 32 degrees.

While GMC didn’t announce the breakover angle, we estimated it to be about 21 degrees based on some in-person observations. We couldn’t accurately guess the departure angle, so we’ll have to wait until later in the year for official numbers.

2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali
2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali

The AT4, like all Yukon models, comes standard with running boards. Optional powered steps tuck up out of the way a bit better than the stock rigid units for optimal off-road clearance. I’d probably get the vehicle with the standard running boards and just take them off for a clean look and maximum clearance.

“Our mission with the next-generation Yukon was to create an off-road-capable vehicle with a premium interior, advanced technology, and class-leading space for eight people and their cargo,” said Jim Danahy, executive chief engineer of full-size trucks.

Our Take

I like the new Yukon XL styling better than the Yukon. The big difference is the kickup in the rear window on the Yukon. The Yukon XL doesn’t have this, so the upper crisp sideline of the vehicle runs the whole length of the long SUV.

I also prefer the sport color-matched look of the AT4 over the more luxury-oriented chrome look on offer with the Denali.

YukonBryonDorr-3

I absolutely love the paint on these new big SUVs. It’s super-deep and has tons of metal flake in it. It’s hard to go wrong with the white on the Yukon, especially in AT4 trim with the color-matched and dark accents.

After some discussions with engineers at GMC, it became extremely obvious that the new Yukon was built to handle aggressive driving. It needs to be in order to meet pursuit standards for law enforcement. It’s rumored that the new Yukon can do a pretty effective power turn, as the computer will drag the inside rear brakes to reduce oversteer in aggressive or limited-traction environments.

We can’t give you any driving impressions, as we didn’t get to put any miles on the new Yukon at this event. We can, however, tell you that the 2021 Yukon is even more impressive than it looks in the pictures. GMC has stepped up its game with this new vehicle, and we’re excited to get it out on some adventures soon.

Bryon Dorr
By

Bryon Dorr caught the outdoor adventure addiction through whitewater kayaking, and worldwide adventures to remote places ensued. He crafted his own professional path as a photographer, journalist and marketing consultant in the automotive and outdoor industries, while full time overland traveling for nearly 8 years. You’ll usually find him out exploring by adventure motorcycle or 4x4, while seeking out opportunities to ski, mountain bike and kayak.

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