2021 GMC Yukon

2021 GMC Yukon Quick Drive: Truly Stepping Into The Luxury Market

by Ian Wright

GMC is the only automaker that exclusively builds premium-level trucks and SUVs and that specialty gives it an edge. With sales continuing to grow, GMC wants to maintain that momentum by refining its vehicles and the latest model to get a new look is the 2021 GMC Yukon. Revealed in the snow resort city of Vail, Colorado, we had the chance to sample the enormous updates that GMC is bringing to the table for the latest generation Yukon.

GMC says that customer feedback played a big part in developing the new Yukon. Buyers always want more space, particularly in a large hauler like the Yukon. In that regard, GMC has delivered. Along with an increase in length, a new suspension system has increased space for third-row passengers and cargo. GMC hasn't rushed the move to the independent rear suspension, either. The company has taken the time to develop a full air-ride suspension system that also uses magnetic ride control within each damper unit on all four corners.

Is the 2021 GMC Yukon a good SUV?

  • Exterior Design 8 /10
  • Performance 8 /10
  • Fuel Economy 7 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 9 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 10 /10
  • Reliability 9 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 7 /10
8.4
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2021 GMC Yukon Models

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
SLE
5.3-liter V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$50,700
SLT
5.3-liter V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$57,800
AT4
5.3-liter V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Four-Wheel Drive
$64,800
Denali
6.2-liter V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$68,400

See all Trims and Specs

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GMC is working hard to turn Denali into a luxury sub-brand. According to the automaker, customers are actually saying they drive a Denali rather than telling people they drive a Yukon. GMC is paying attention to those prepared to spend big money with GMC on their luxury line and has taken the interior to a whole new level.

In the camouflage pre-production vehicles we experienced before the reveal, the interior was covered in a woven material to hide the trim. Still, the telltale wood trim and contrast stitching showed in places, and electrical tape covered what we suspected was a Denali badge. Another telltale sign was the massive 6.2-liter V8 under the hood that will come standard with the Denali line when it reaches dealers in the summer.

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Exterior Styling: Evolution, Not Revolution

The exterior design team has done a superb job of giving the new Yukon plenty of presence. While the new look isn't over the top, there's a lot of detail to notice such as the thin air intakes in the front bumper that make the slab-like front end more aerodynamic. The overall shape also helps the Yukon move through the air smoother than before while still keeping the box style needed for practicality and space.

The new C-shape "light-blade" headlights are what grabs the eye first, though. They are designed with a pattern that GMC claims has over 10,000 individual reflective surfaces to make full use of the LED illumination while making sure the light patterns are uniformly delivered.

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Engine, Performance, & MPG: Big Power With A Nod To Economy

The 2021 Yukon will go on sale with the 6.2-liter V8 delivering the same 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque as before. However, the new Yukon features a cylinder deactivation system that will allow it to run on between two and eight cylinders depending on demand. Both the 6.2-liter and 5.3-liter V8 engines will also feature automatic stop/start systems. How that will all change the current EPA estimates of 14/23 mpg city/highway we'll find out later. All the trims and engines come with GMC's 10-speed automatic transmission.

Our very short time with the vehicle at low speed and over a ramp designed to show off the off-road modes, limited-slip differential, and variable ride height, showed that power delivery is as plentiful as before when it comes to getting the Yukon where it needs to be.

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Interior Design: Stepping Up To Luxury

The interior of the Yukon Denali looks to be the area that GMC paid the most attention when taking feedback from its customers. The interior designer explained how granular she got into the lifestyle of Denali customers to pick up on the materials and styles they gravitated to in their homes as well as what they wear. Armed with that information, and the style GMC wanted to bring to the table, Denali models now come with an exclusive interior with unique seats, a new instrument panel, and a choice of four different color schemes.

Influenced by craftsmanship, the cabin boasts leather surfaces that are cut and stitched by hand. Opening the door of the 2021 model, the first thing we noticed was the stitching, which sets the tone for the interior before you even climb in. GMC wants the Denali line to be a "luxury brand designed to be used," and this is a huge step towards that.

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Sitting in the driver's seat and looking across, there's a flow across the dashboard in and out of the mix of crisp technology and traditional materials. Between the front seats of the show vehicle was the optional and useful sliding console, which, as promised, can fit a purse or bag and has a hidden drawer for storing valuables.

By extending the wheelbase, access to the third row has been much improved. The middle row can now slide 5.5 inches forward which makes getting in the back a breeze.

The independent rear suspension has also allowed the floor to be lowered and makes for a more comfortable seating position. Third-row passengers now get 34.9 inches of legroom compared to the outgoing model's 24.8-inches. That means longer distances shouldn't be a problem for back seat passengers, and the new suspension helps a lot with comfort when things get bumpy - as we learned going over the 18-degree grade entry and exit from a tabletop ramp.

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Cargo And Trunk Space: Even More Cavernous

The lower floor in the back afforded by the new suspension makes for a lower loading area, which is essential for Yukon customers planning to load up the rear of their SUV. The outgoing Yukon is hardly cramped, but the gain of 10.1 cubic feet in space behind the third row from a fractional gain in overall length is immediately noticeable. In terms of total cargo space, the increase is a massive 28.2 cubic feet. That brings the new Yukon to 25.5 cubic feet of storage behind the passengers and 122.9 cubic feet in total.

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Driving Impressions: Plenty Of Promise

Our time in the Yukon was limited to a short stint behind the wheel and a couple of minutes as rear-seat passengers. That was enough to get an idea of how the magnetic ride control suspension provides a pillowy smooth ride over the chopped up snow. GMC claims the electronically controlled suspension is one of the fasting reacting systems in the industry, evidenced by how well it reduced bouncing and vibrations through the snow and over the ramp.

The optional electronic limited-slip differential was also put through its paces in the Yukon, and impressed as it navigated tight corners split on each side by ice and wet tarmac, and exhibited none of the judder associated with previous mechanically controlled units.

To climb the 18-inch grade the suspension raised by two inches, and will also lower to allow for more comfortable egress and ingress. On the downslope, the Yukon was able to comfortably descend at around 1 mph without the driver having to engage the brakes. All signs point to the new Yukon being incredibly capable off the road as well as a general hauler and towing machine. When it comes to towing, the adjustable suspension will also load balance the chassis for the extra weight on the back.

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Verdict: Setting A New Bar

GMC has taken its time to move to an independent rear suspension but has made sure it ticked all the necessary boxes it needs to achieve Denali's tagline of "useable luxury."

Inside, the Yukon Denali is dripping with soft leather and good looking wood trim while also being hugely practical. Easy access to a comfortable third row is the holy grail of large SUVs, and GMC has nailed it. At the same time, it looks as rugged as ever while featuring high-end technology and a powerful drivetrain. We'll withhold overall judgment until we get a proper first drive and full test drive, but our first impression is that GMC has smacked the Yukon Denali out of the park for those that will be able to afford it.

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GMC Yukon Popular Comparisons

$50,700 - $71,400
Price Range (MSRP)
GMC Yukon
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