The 2021 Yukon Denali officially debuted in Vail, Colorado on Tuesday.
Just before we closed the books on 2019, Chevrolet showed us its brand-new big boys, the 2021 Tahoe and Suburban SUVs. The full-size ‘utes debuted with an optional air suspension, vastly improved interiors and optional diesel power. But their premieres meant one other thing: GMC versions were on the way.
So welcome to 2020, and the debut of the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL. These stablemate siblings boast a lot of the same improvements as Chevy’s SUVs, but take things up a notch with better looks, more available tech and a fancy-pants Denali trim that differentiates itself from lesser models better than ever before.
Just like the Tahoe and Suburban, the 2021 Yukon and Yukon XL are bigger than previous versions. The standard Yukon grows 6.1 inches in length, riding on a 4.9-inch longer wheelbase, while the gargantuan XL stretches out by 0.9 inch and 4.1 inches, respectively. The SUVs’ rear legroom grows by 10.1 inches (2.2 inches for XL), and overall cargo space increases by 28.2 cubic feet (23 cubic feet for XL).
The Yukon range will be offered with the same powertrain options as the Tahoe and Suburban, too, with a 5.3-liter V8 serving as the base engine, producing 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. A 6.2-liter V8 is optional (or standard on the range-topping Yukon Denali), with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Finally, GM’s 3.0-liter Duramax I6 diesel will be available, with a stout 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. All of these engines are mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, and the gas engines feature stop-start tech as well as GM’s Dynamic Fuel Management system, which allows them to run on as little as two cylinders at a time.
The 2021 Yukon should offer superior ride quality to its predecessor, thanks to the inclusion of a multilink rear suspension — again, just like in the Tahoe and Suburban. The AT4 and Denali trims come with a more sophisticated Magnetic Ride Control setup, and these models can be optioned with a four-corner air suspension, for the ultimate in on-road comfort. The air suspension has a self-leveling feature, which helps when carrying heavy cargo or towing, and drivers can raise the ride height by 2 inches when off-roading, for better ground clearance. Other driveline tech that’ll make the 2021 Yukon a better on-road performer includes an electronic limited-slip differential, as well as a two-speed transfer case for the four-wheel-drive system.
As previously mentioned, the Yukon gets a new AT4 trim for 2021, similar to the one seen on the Sierra pickup (as well as the 2021 Canyon, which GMC also revealed alongside the updated Yukon on Tuesday). GMC plans to offer AT4 versions of all its vehicles by the end of 2020. The Yukon AT4 is set apart with unique exterior design elements, including 20-inch wheels, skid plates and red recovery hooks. The AT4 also gets an off-road mode in its Traction Select system, leather seats with special contrast stitching, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats and heated second-row seats.
The Yukon Denali can be had with 22-inch wheels — in chrome, of course.
Speaking of the interior, again, it’s a lot like the Chevy SUVs. A 10-inch central touchscreen manages infotainment duties, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. GMC confirms the Yukon can also be had with the 15-inch head-up display found in the Tahoe and Suburban, which it says is the largest in the class.
Love it or hate it, GMC is fitting the Yukon with a push-button gear-shifter, situated to the left of the infotainment screen. At least this frees up space in between the front passengers, where GMC says it now offers an optional power-sliding center console, which can move back up to 10 inches to accommodate a large purse or bag. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it ingenious, but it’s nifty nonetheless.
For the first time, the range-topping Yukon Denali actually has a slightly different interior design from the rest of the range — it’s not just some extra badging and unique leather colors. Compared with the standard Yukon, including the AT4, which has a low dash line and “floating” infotainment screen, the Denali totally encompasses the 10-inch display within the dashboard, with a pair of vents stacked on top. Have a look at the similarities and differences below.
AT4 up top, Denali below. Which do you prefer?
In addition to the specific dashboard design, Denali models get different seats with pronounced stitching and unique interior color combinations. Outside, the chrome-tastic Denali treatment is obvious, and GMC says the grille is “larger and more detailed, with a precise dimensional pattern featuring over 10,000 individual reflective surfaces.” That sounds… bright. Too bright.
Being the fanciest Yukon, the Denali comes standard with all sorts of stuff, including the aforementioned 6.2-liter V8, Magnetic Ride Control chassis (the air suspension is optional) and LED exterior lighting. Other goodies can be added on, like 22-inch wheels and a panoramic sunroof.
A number of driver assistance technologies are on offer, though many of them are add-ons. Every Yukon comes standard with forward collision assist with low-speed autobraking, pedestrian detection and hill hold assist. SLT, AT4 and Denali trims add lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and lane-change assist. A 360-degree camera is available on the SLT and AT4, but is standard on the Denali. Adaptive cruise control is only available as an option on the top-tier Denali. And finally, GMC will offer the cool “see-through” trailering camera tech it first fitted to the Sierra pickup.
The 2021 Yukon will arrive in dealerships this summer, and we’ll have final pricing information available closer to that time. Currently, a fully loaded Yukon XL Denali can run up near $80,000 with options, and we expect the 2021 model to come at a similar cost, making it the most expensive of GM’s new SUVs. Well, until the new Escalade shows up in February, anyway.
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