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2021 GMC Yukon First Drive Review by Larry Nutson +VIDEO


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By Larry Nutson
Executive Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

                  GMC YUKON CONTENT LIBRARY (1995-Present)


GMC’s full-size SUV, the Yukon, is extensively new for 2021. As part of the Yukon’s market roll-out the GMC team dropped a Yukon Denali at my doorstep for a 24-hour whirlwind evaluation.

Actually, 24-hours is plenty of time to do my job, drive a bunch of miles in different road conditions and get done what needs to be done. The GMC-provided video product walkaround and overview as well as the audio guided tour filled in all the details.


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The Yukon is all about space and capability…lots of space for moving people and things, or for towing a trailer with something for work or play. The 2021 Yukon adds space with its nearly 5-inch-longer wheelbase and 6.1 inch increase in overall length over the 2020 model. Yukon now offers 41 percent more third-row legroom and 66 percent greater cargo volume behind the third row, now at 25.5cuft.

There’s also the even more spacious Yukon XL with a 4.1 inch increase in wheelbase. Cargo room behind the third row is 41.5cuft.


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Both wheelbase vehicles now have a lower, flatter cargo-loading floor allowing easier access to cargo space. This comes from a new chassis with new 4-link independent rear suspension instead of the former solid rear axle. Ride comfort is improved as is overall handling. The new rear suspension brings a lot of refinement to the Yukon.

Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, available on Denali and the new AT4 trim, offers even better ride, load leveling and adjustable ride height. For off-road and maximum ground clearance the Yukon can be raised 2 inches. For ease of entry and exit it can be lowered 2 inches. Magnetic ride control is standard on Denali and AT4.

Up front a 355hp 5.3L V8 is standard. Denali gets a 420hp 6.2L V8 and there’s also a newly available 277hp 3.0L inline-six turbo diesel. Both V8s are all-new and feature cylinder deactivation for reduced fuel consumption as well as idle stop/start with a driver override switch. 

All three engines are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The push-button gear selector is located high in the instrument panel for convenient gear switching and to free up space in the center console. 

Both the Yukon and Yukon XL are offered in SLE, SLT and Denali trims in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive configurations. The AT4 comes in four-wheel drive only. An all-new Active Response 4WD System on AT4 and Denali uses an AutoTrac two-speed transfer case, Traction Select drive mode control, chassis controls and a new electronic Limited Slip Differential to send optimal torque to each wheel.


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The big design news is in the Denali trim now having an exclusive interior – a completely new instrument panel, unique seats and a choice among four unique color themes. Two instrument panel designs within one vehicle model is not the norm.

Climbing up into my Yukon Denali “car for a day” with aid of the helpful deployable running boards the cavernousness of the interior is realized immediately. The top of the IP sits high. I like to sit low. I easily found a happy medium for my 5ft 10 in body with good outward sight lines. An NFL lineman should be very comfortable.


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The push-button gear selector was a momentary surprise. It turns out it’s quite easy to use and is well placed. Right hand movement distance and time from the steering wheel to change a gear is reduced, compared to a center console location.

There’s a surround view camera with nine different views. I easily maneuvered the big Yukon confidently using the camera and outside mirrors. There’s also a Rear Camera Mirror for when the rear seats are full of bobbing heads and GMC’s ProGrade trailering system for one-man connection of your boat trailer. A 15-inch head-up display projects speed, speed limit, navigation, vehicle incline and music.  


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The center console has an available power feature to slide it 10 inches to the rear for access to more storage. It also puts two cup holders in convenient reach of the rear seat passengers. There’s a hidden lower cubby that can be locked. Leg room in the third row is plentiful. Access is made easy with the sliding second-row seats. And, those third-row seats have a power fold and raise feature.


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Briefly to touch on the new AT4 for you off-road adventurers, it features a unique front fascia with red tow hooks, greater 32-degree approach angle, 20-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires, active response 4WD system, a two-speed transfer case, hill decent control, a skid plate and unique black and brandy leather interior trim.




Starting prices for the 2021 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL in its various trims range from $51,995 to $75,395. Seating is for 7 to 9 depending on trim choice. EPA fuel economy ratings for the gasoline engines are 14-16 city mpg and 19-20 highway mpg, depending on the engine and drivetrain. More information and details can be found at www.gmc.com.


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To wrap things up, yes, the 2021 Yukon is big, as it should be. It is intended to fill a need. It’s also sophisticated. It’s quiet on the highway. GMC has done a good job with NVH. The big V8 has plenty of punch and the 10-speed automatic always found the right gear. There’s loads of comfort and convenience on the inside that will make any road trip a delight. 

Presently I’m not in the need for a large SUV. But there was a time I moved my four-person family, two Labrador retrievers and pulled a 20ft boat. Of recent I get to help my daughter with her two preschoolers unload and load her Chevy Tahoe. Should I again need to live with a large roomy vehicle, the Yukon might just be the right choice.

Thanks again to GMC for my day in the Yukon. Actually, I’ve driven in Canada’s Yukon too.

© 2020 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy


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