The Extraordinarily Versatile, Upscale GMC Yukon

The Yukon and Yukon XL are all-new for 2021.

2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali grille
A honeycomb grille dresses the Yukon Denali.

The new breed of crossover utility vehicles on the market today supply customers with what they want in an SUV. But they still cannot match full-size traditional models in payload, towing, passenger room, and cargo space. At the top of the pecking order is the GMC Yukon, a full-size SUV with an extended wheelbase version known as the Yukon XL. This dynamic duo is all-new for 2021, coming in larger and more luxurious than ever.

GMC offers the 2021 Yukon in four trims: SLE ($51,000), SLT ($58,000), AT4 ($65,100), and Denali ($68,800). Add $1,695 for the required destination charge. Opt for four-wheel drive and that adds $3,000 to each trim, except to the AT4 where it comes standard. Lastly, choose the extended wheelbase XL and each trim starts out $2,700 higher.

Our test Yukon XL Denali with four-wheel drive and all the upgrades, including the Premium Package, brought this model’s final price to an eye-watering $83,400.

2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali profile

GMC Yukon: What’s New for 2021

Two years after GM’s truck line was overhauled, the similar SUVs have received their turn. This time, though, the Yukon is five inches longer between the wheels, while the XL gained four inches. The gasoline engines carry forward, but a turbo-diesel is now available. For the first time, the big GMC has an independent rear suspension, which results in more space for the third-row passengers and a lower cargo floor.

Exterior Highlights

GMC divides the Yukon line into sections. The SLE and SLT are the standard trims, while the AT4 is built around off-road enthusiasts and comes with red tow hooks, beefy skid plates, and a macho demeanor. As for the Denali, it truly lives up to the peak of the model line with its chrome embellishments and high-class interior. The Yukons are similar to the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban as well as to the Cadillac Escalade. GMC represents a bridge between the two, although the top-trim Denali models nearly match Cadillac in premium appointments.

All Yukon models, though, are defined by an oversized grille, a broad hood, and a lengthy profile, especially with the XL models that measure 15 inches longer. LED lighting, available deployable side-assist rails, alloy wheels, and an optional panoramic sunroof are features of note.

2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali front seats
2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali second-row seats

Interior Highlights

Inside, the Yukon seats as many as nine. However, eight is the standard unless you swap out the very comfortable and wide front bucket seats for a bench seat.

The best option may be the seven-seat layout with the middle row bench seat replaced by a pair of captain’s chairs. Consider this layout the perfect arrangement for a family of tall people – with some individuals pushing 80 inches tall and needing a comfortable environment.

Notably, no crossover can match the Yukon in passenger headroom, shoulder, hip, and legroom in the first two rows. The third row, though, is still relatively tight, although it has improved substantially this year.

Our Denali model traded the outside bling for interior refinement. Two different dashboards are available, with the Denali receiving the more lavish look. This one is wrapped in leather and trimmed with real wood. Features such as heated and ventilated front seats, three-zone climate control, and a hands-free power liftgate don most trims. Cloth seats are standard, but leather is the popular choice.

Tech & Safety

All trims come with the latest tech equipment, including a touch-screen display, multiple USB ports, and your choice of audio systems. Moreover, connected services, Bluetooth, and smartphone compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard.

We’ve also seen improvements in driver-assist safety gear with more features available to keep everyone safe. Specifically, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and parking sonars are welcome features of note.

2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali dashboard

Yukon Performance

The two gasoline engines from recent years return and both get the job done. The standard 5.3-liter V8 makes 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. On the other hand, a 6.2-liter V8, included with the Denali, develops 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Both can handle heavy loads with maximum towing capabilities of about four tons or slightly more with the towing package.

New this year is a 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-six-cylinder engine. This engine makes 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, the latter matching the power output of the larger V8 although it is half its size. All three engines send power to the wheels utilizing a 10-speed automatic transmission.

GMC charges just $995 to upgrade to the diesel. In the case of the Denali, it is a $1,500 discount. We’ve driven the Chevrolet Silverado with this engine and found it strong, capable, and efficient. What we’re not sure about is its payload and towing capabilities as GM didn’t have that information available for this late-arriving engine.

Nevertheless, we think the new Yukon rides better. With the available limited-slip rear differential offered with four-wheel-drive, handling benefits as well. A quiet interior and firm brakes are other attributes of note. As for parking this beast or navigating tight areas, both take much practice to accomplish.

2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali rear

Our Recommendation

As pricey as the Yukon is at the top, a well-equipped model can be had for about $65,000, including discounts.

As for the Denali, it is the design that keeps customers eyeing the Escalade in the GMC fold. In particular, it is also an ideal alternative to shoppers who think paying more than $100,000 for their Cadillac is an excessive proposition. Indeed, it certainly is!

See AlsoThe Highly Efficient Chevrolet Silverado Turbodiesel

Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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