What Is It?
The GMC Yukon Denali boldly stakes its claim as the top trim level of the Yukon, GMC’s full-size truck-based sport-utility vehicle that shares a platform with the Chevrolet Tahoe. The 2021 Yukon is all new, and the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali adds refinement and luxury as the pinnacle of the GMC brand with an exclusive interior including a new instrument panel, unique seats and exclusive color choices.
GMC provided us with a 2021 Yukon 4WD Denali with an exterior finished in Hunter Metallic, combined with an Ash Gray interior with Dark Walnut trim. Starting MSRP for Yukon 4WD Denali is $71,600, and the test vehicle was also equipped with the comprehensive Denali Ultimate Package at a cost of $11,255, as well as the metallic paint and a powered sliding center console for a final MSRP of $83,795 including a $1,295 destination charge.
Denali Ultimate Package
The Denali Ultimate Package includes a wide array of equipment that raises the SUV’s level of luxury significantly, including a rear-seat media system with dual 12.6-inch color touch LCD HD screens; a powered dual-pane panoramic sunroof; adaptive cruise control; enhanced automatic emergency braking; an advanced security package and a rear camera mirror.
Denali Ultimate Package
The Denali Ultimate Package also includes 22-inch bright machined aluminum wheels, power-retractable steps with perimeter lighting, Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, an electronic limited-slip differential, and a Prograde Trailering System with trailer side-blind-zone alert, hitch guidance with hitch view, an in-vehicle trailering app and a trailer brake controller.
The bold, new exterior design of the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali centers around its signature Galvano chrome grille, which is larger and more detailed than previous versions with thousands of reflective surfaces. GMC’s C-shaped headlights add to the SUV’s striking presence along with light-blade LED daytime running lights. Headlights, taillights and fog lights all feature LED lighting.
The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali receives an interior exclusive of other Yukon trim levels with a distinct instrument panel incorporating an integrated infotainment screen and air vents above, compared to the tablet-style screen with air vents below on other Yukon trim levels. Yukon Denali features hand-stitched leather seats with a unique Denali pattern, and wood trim with a natural look and texture. Standard equipment includes a 14-speaker Bose audio system, a 15-inch multi-color head-up display, tri-zone automatic climate control and a heated steering wheel.
Seats and Legroom
The 2021 Yukon Denali features standard heated and ventilated front seats with perforated leather seating surfaces. The heated second-row individual seats easily fold forward, allowing access to the power-folding 60/40 split-bench seat in the third row. The longer wheelbase of the 2021 model adds both 41 percent more third-row legroom and 66 percent greater cargo volume behind the third-row seat.
Powered Sliding Center Console
Our test vehicle included an optional powered sliding center console that offers additional storage options. The console between the driver and front-seat passenger can slide back 10 inches to create an open space to place a bag; it also allows access to an additional hidden drawer beneath the console’s main compartment that provides secure, secret storage when the console moves back into position. Clever.
A Suspension First
The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali gets built on a new chassis with a longer wheelbase, and for the first time ever the SUV has an independent rear suspension that improves both ride comfort and performance. Magnetic Ride Control is standard on the Yukon Denali, and our test vehicle was equipped with Air Ride Adaptive Suspension that improves ride quality on the road; the system also allows the driver to raise the body up to 2 inches for additional ground clearance off-road when 4WD LO is engaged.
Under the Hood
The 2021 Yukon Denali draws power from a new 6.2-liter V8 engine with Dynamic Fuel Management, producing 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The new 6.2-liter V8 gets paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission; the test vehicle was also equipped with GMC’s Active Response 4WD System that includes an electronic limited-slip differential.
On the Road
Luxurious and comfortable yet also surprisingly nimble and responsive, the Yukon Denali has a commanding presence as a large, truck-based SUV, as it has existed for more than 20 years. However, the latest iteration with its powerful V8 engine and sophisticated air suspension almost make a driver forget that this actually is a truck. The programmed throttle response makes Yukon Denali actually feel quick — a feat of engineering, considering the vehicle’s size.
Smooth and Responsive
The steering of the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali also is responsive, and when combined with the Magnetic Ride Control and optional Air Ride suspension, the Yukon Denali feels almost nimble, belying its size. The ride telegraphs smooth comfort yet the Denali feels taut and agile, unlike the floaty ride in luxury SUVs of yore.
The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali possesses a luxurious interior; owners will appreciate the dashboard design with its integrated infotainment screen, as well as the natural look and texture of the wood trim. The individual seats and rear-seat media system extend the luxury to second-row occupants as well, while those in the third rows enjoy more legroom than in the previous model.
As driver preferences continue to gravitate toward crossovers and sport-utility vehicles, the American luxury car of choice has become a luxury SUV. The Yukon Denali was one of the first luxury SUVs when it debuted in 1999, and the latest iteration is one of the best on the market. Granted the Yukon Denali remains a large vehicle, but its powerful engine, responsive steering, available air suspension and high-tech assistance systems mean it no longer feels like a massive truck. At close to $84,000 with the optional Denali Ultimate Package, the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali is a heady purchase. But in the world of luxury SUVs, it offers a bold design with a compelling combination of luxury and performance.