My Love/Hate Relationship with the 2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4

I definitely consider myself an environmentalist, support environmental groups like the Sierra Club and do all the things we’re supposed to do, including reducing my energy footprint, recycling as much as I can and making purchase decisions based on how green products are. I constantly harp on the fuel inefficiency of most modern cars and trucks when I write a review. Which is why I’m so torn with the GMC Yukon: It has horrible mileage and is a boat, tricky to keep in lane and not so easy to park. But dang, it’s so comfortable and roomy for a big family or other large group that it’s also impossible to deny just how comfortable and convenient it is. It’s plenty big enough that you could Uber Black a family of six with room for their gear if that was your job, or tote half the soccer team to the field for the next big game.

When GMC loaned me a 2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 to test drive for a week, I suspected I’d feel conflicted about the vehicle. It’s big! It’s comfy! It has room for the whole family and their friends! But it gets crummy gas mileage and is one of the least environmentally friendly vehicles I’ve ever test driven.

Well, let’s start by talking about all the positives, starting with its attractive exterior:

2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 front exterior

There’s no question, this is a big vehicle. It’s not competing with the RAV-4 and Escorts of the world, it’s most assuredly not a compact SUV. This is a big, full family Sports Ute. According to GMC, it’s powered by a 5.3L V8 engine with 10-speed automatic transmission, a 120″ wheelbase, total length of 210″ (that’s 17 1/2 feet!) and a curb weight of 5,544 pounds. My current car, a Mazda CX-5, weighs 3,500 pounds and a brand new Fiat 500c weighs in at a slim 2,400 pounds. Then again, the Yukon could easily gobble up a little Fiat and be ready for seconds 🙂

As you would expect with that beefy 5.3L V8 engine, it’s really fun to drive too. Am I guzzling gasoline when it’s slamming down the highway at 75? Sure. But the drive experience is pretty remarkable for such a big vehicle, reasonably peppy from a stop and highly maneuverable. This is the kind of vehicle that really shows off classic American auto manufacturing prowess, in my opinion. And it looks nice too, as you can see:

2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 interior dash

What’s most striking about the Yukon, though, is the width. It’s a really wide vehicle, which means that the central armrest isn’t a few inches wide like in the smaller compact cars, but wide enough that you could balance your full size laptop with room to spare. It’s also absolutely loaded with buttons and controls, as you can see above. I imagine new owners really need to sit down with the owner’s guide and go button by button through all the many controls, from the wireless CarPlay entertainment system (as shown) to the various drive modes that come with that 4WD capability.

Again, though, it’s the overall size that surprised me. You can get another sense of that from this view shooting from the rear hatch with some of the seats folded down:

2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 rear interior view

See those controls on the back right? They raise and lower the third row seats automatically. No pulling or pushing for this most modern of vehicles; push a button and the seats promptly fold down and become part of the extended floor section. More luxury, but why not? You can also see that with seats folded down, there’s a tremendous amount of cargo space, plenty for even the most demanding of moving or hauling tasks. Nice.

But let’s move to the front dashboard for another view:

2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 interior controls ac/charging

The bottom portion is a Qi wireless charger – so handy with modern smartphones! – along with a USB-3, USB-C and 12V power plug (the latter is behind that tiny door). Rather old school environmental controls but quite easy to work with and having the desired temperature right on the dial is a great piece of user interface design.

Above it are a set of music controls, which are a bit distant from the actual infotainment screen, but they are also duplicated by the controls on the steering wheel itself. That’s pretty typical of modern cars, having a dozen or two buttons and dials on the steering wheel crossbar, ostensibly so you don’t have to move your hands far for cruise control, stereo adjustments, etc.

To the left of the steering wheel are most of the actual drive controls, rather inconveniently tucked away from view while actually driving:

2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 controls left of steering wheel

I actually never used the parking brake because I didn’t realize the control was in this area (go figure!) but notice that some of these controls are related to towing as well as drive support. As the HUD button suggests, there’s also a nice heads up display, something I am glad to see becoming fairly standard on the latest generation of vehicles. In this case it shows speed and the current speed limit, but that’s exactly what I want to see when I’m driving.

Moving to the back of the vehicle, you can see it’s no surprise that the rear passengers have lots of legroom:

2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 rear legroom

Probably more notable, however, are the beautiful screens on the back headrests. What’s most impressive is that there’s an HDMI input plug in the center (rear) console, allowing rear passengers to hook up their phone, computer or gaming device and use that back screen to play games or watch whatever content they’d like. A game changer if you have kids and go on long drives, and much better than a single shared DVD screen that folds down from the roof (though that was retro and reminiscent of early airplane movies so I kind of miss it as a vehicle option).

2021 gmc yukon 4wd at4 rear exterior

And so we get back to the fuel efficiency. Not sure if you can see, but the photo above of the full front dashboard shows the harsh reality of a vehicle getting an average of 17.4 miles per gallon with a best mpg of 18.3. If you’re just driving around town then perhaps it’s not a big deal and the convenience and space offered for a bigger family – or paying passengers – justifies the lack of fuel efficiency, but on a road trip, the Yukon 4WD AT4 is going to be a beast like no other. I not infrequently head in to Kansas City from my home in Boulder, Colorado, a drive of about 650 miles. At 17.4 mpg, that’s 37 gallons of gas. By comparison, a 2010 Hummer H3 has EPA ratings of 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway which means it’d use just about the same amount of fuel for that drive. When your vehicle is about the same fuel efficiency as the paragon of fuel inefficiency, the Hummer, well, what can you say?

So while there’s so much to like about the GMC Yukon in terms of drive experience, room, comfort and features, it ultimately comes down to that oh-so-modern American car tradeoff of whether you want to be focused on features and “damn the efficiency” or focused on the green side of the equation and “to heck with space and comfort”. My compromise is this: If you have a big family and really need the space and capacity of the Yukon, if you find yourself often towing heavy cargo – it’s rated up to 8,200 pounds for towing – then the Yukon might just be a solid option for your family. If you live in the suburbs with one child and a dog, however, get a smaller vehicle. You don’t really need what the Yukon is offering.

SPECS: 2021 GMC Yukon 4WD AT4 in Midnight Blue Metallic with Jet Black interior. 5.3L Ecotec3 V8 with 10 speed transmission. Options: AT4 Premium Plus Package, Midnight Blue Metallic, Second Row Heated Seats and Floor Console. MSRP: $64,800.00. AS DRIVEN: $75,485.00

Disclaimer: GMC loaned me the Yukon to drive for a week so I could write up this experiential review. Thanks, GMC!

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