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2021 GMC Yukon Denali Review By Larry Nutson


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2021 GMC Yukon Denali

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

I’ve had a couple previous drive experiences in GMC’s full-size Yukon utility vehicle that is extensively new for 2021. I’ve also driven its sibling Cadillac Escalade and will drive the new Chevrolet Tahoe in a couple weeks.

The Yukon is available in SLE, SLT, AT4 and Denali models, with seating for up to eight.

GM’s trio of full-size utility vehicles got bigger for 2021. The 2021 Yukon adds space with a 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 25.5 cu.ft. There’s also the even more spacious Yukon XL with a 4.1 inch increase in wheelbase. Cargo room behind the third row is 41.5 cu.ft.


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Both wheelbase Yukon utes 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 choices are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. A 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.

Seating is for eight with a three-person center row bench. With center row bucket seats seating is for seven. Many folks choose the seven-seat set-up. Parents with a family of young ones all in child safety seats go for the 3-person center bench.


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The Denali Line sub-brand within GMC gets unique design ques. The big design news in the Yukon Denali trim is it now having an exclusive interior – a completely new instrument panel, unique seats and a choice among four unique color themes. Denali has a unique Galvano chrome grille which is larger and more detailed, with a dimensional pattern featuring more than 10,000 individual reflective surfaces. The Denali comes with LED headlights, fog lights and taillights.


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My drive was in a seven-seat Yukon Denali with four-wheel drive that had a standard vehicle price of $71,400. A Denali Ultimate Trim package for $11,255 added rear seat media system, power retractable assist steps, sunroof, 22-inch wheels, differential lock, air ride suspension, adaptive cruise control, enhanced emergency braking, rear camera mirror with washers, and trailering equipment. Midnight Blue metallic exterior for $495 and power sliding center console for $350 brought the total price to $84,795, including the $1,295 destination charge.

The Yukon Denali is 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. The power sliding center console can be moved 10 inches to the rear for access to more storage. It also puts two cup holders in convenient reach of the rear seat passengers


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DSC_7873) There’s a surround view camera with nine different views. Along with the outside mirrors you can maneuver the big Yukon with confidence. There’s also a Rear Camera Mirror for when the rear seats are full of bobbing heads and GMC’s ProGrade trailering system with hitch guidance for one-person connecting of a trailer. A 15-inch head-up display projects speed, speed limit, navigation, vehicle incline and music. 

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.

More information and details on the GMC Yukon can be found at www.gmc.com.

After 2021’s complete remake of the Yukon I don't expect many changes to the 2022 model. We might see GM’s Super Cruise that allows for hands-free driving on limited access highways arrive on the Denali. And, how much longer will there be a Diesel engine choice? GM is no longer offering wireless phone charging on certain 2021 full-size SUVs including certain Yukon models due to the global semiconductor shortage affecting supply.

Happy Motoring!

© 2021 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy