by Jay Traugott
Unlike its corporate cousins, the Chevrolet Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade, the GMC Yukon has lacked an identity. But that's about to change. The all-new 2021 GMC Yukon has arrived with a strong personality and a level of luxury and styling that further distinguishes it from the Tahoe, but that shouldn't interfere with Escalade sales. Basically, Yukon and Escalade buyers have different tastes and GMC has figured out that formula.
The new Yukon, like its predecessor, is offered in several trims, including the fully-loaded Denali and new off-road-focused AT4. Although it continues to share its platform, engines, and transmission with its GM cousins, the 2021 Yukon benefits from some unique exterior styling and, perhaps more importantly, an interior design that's no longer a carbon copy of the Tahoe's. Interestingly, many GMC customers never considered buying a Chevy and vice versa, and given the redesigned Yukon's newfound personality, chances are this trend will continue.
The 2021 Yukon has adopted GMC's bold new grille design and we don't think anyone is complaining. A proper full-size SUV needs to look like it means business. Although its overall silhouette is the same as the Tahoe's, the Yukon features unique LED headlight and taillight graphics, as well as fresh wheel designs.
Some aspects of the Yukon's styling differ by trim level. The SLT, AT4, and Denali trims are all distinguishable. For example, the AT4, which is part of GMC's AT4 sub-brand, features a unique front fascia, dark accents, and red recover hooks. The Denali trim, once again, offers an abundance of chrome, specifically the grille and trim window surrounds.
Regardless of trim, all new Yukons are 6.1 inches longer than the previous generation. Wheel sizes also vary by trim, ranging from 20- to 22-inches.
Like the Tahoe, interior space has also increased. Thanks to a combination of a five-inch longer wheelbase and the addition of an independent rear suspension, there's now 41 percent more third-row legroom and 66 percent more cargo volume behind the third row.
For the first time ever, the Yukon will be offered with two premium packages along with the regular trim levels. The top-of-the-line Denali trim, in particular, boasts its own unique interior separate from the rest of the lineup. There's a new instrument panel, seats, and a choice of four color themes with wood trim and hand-stitched leather. Yukon Denali models also have a surround-view camera, 15-inch head-up display, and even a panoramic roof. GMC went above and beyond here because, according to its sales data, some 60 percent of Yukon buyers bought the Denali trim. It was time to show them some love.
There's also the new Power Sliding Center Console, available on the SLT, AT4, and Denali trims. This consists of a storage console located between the driver and passenger seats. It can slide back up to 10 inches allowing easier access to, say, a purse or a bag. There's also an additional hidden drawer underneath the main storage bin.
GMC is offering the same three engines found in the Tahoe all paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission: a 5.3-liter V8 pumping out 355 horsepower, a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 hp, and a new 3.0-liter inline-six turbo diesel with 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Official performance times have not been released.
For those seeking off-roading adventures, look no further than the Yukon AT4. Some of its main features include a two-speed transfer case, 20-inch all-terrain tires, Traction Select System with off-road mode, Hill Descent Control, and Skid plates. A four-corner Air Ride Adaptive Suspension raises the vehicle up for an extra two inches of ground clearance, while Magnetic Ride Control is optional. Towing a trailer is made easier thanks to various features such as trailer profiles, a trailer tire pressure monitoring system, and Trailer Side Blind Zone Alert.
Buyers will also appreciate a number of standard safety features, including automatic emergency braking. Optional features an HD surround vision camera, rear camera mirror, and GM's new rear pedestrian alert.
Given that the 2021 Yukon Denali moves even closer to the luxurious Cadillac Escalade, the biggest competition could be internal. However, it seems GM is going to great lengths to separate the design and overall attitude of the Yukon and Escalade. Outside of GM, the new Yukon's biggest competitors will be the Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX80, and Toyota Sequoia. Depending on how it's specced, the Navigator's own corporate cousin, the popular Ford Expedition, is another rival.
The new Yukon AT4, however, is more unique and, as of now, has fewer direct competitors.
Official pricing and full trim details, aside from the top three SLT, AT4, and Denali have yet to be announced. However, 2021 GMC Yukon production is slated to get underway at GM's Arlington, Texas assembly facility in the near future, alongside the Chevy Tahoe. Sales will begin this summer.