2021 GMC Yukon: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience All New Yukon
The full-size SUV is a specialized vehicle, designed to carry large cargo, transport multiple passengers in comfort, tow a decent-size trailer and adventure off pavement. Gone are days when full-size SUVs were the norm; today the segment remains focused and competitive, so the all-new 2021 GMC Yukon will certainly make a splash. Giving that splash bigger ripples are the Yukon’s bold new styling, roomier interior, improved capability, and range of new comfort and safety features.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Made for Use
“GMC Yukon is the full-size premium SUV that’s made to be used,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president of Global Buick and GMC. “The new Yukon delivers what customers value most — premium features, purposeful technology and all-terrain capability,” noted Aldred.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Bigger Than Before
The current Yukon is a big SUV and the new 2021 model is even larger, which translates to increased passenger and cargo room. Measuring 6.1 inches longer than the 2020 Yukon, the 2021 GMC Yukon gets 10 more inches of legroom in the third row as well as an additional 10 cubic feet of cargo room behind it. Maximum cargo space has been increased by 28 cubic feet.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Bold Styling
The 2021 GMC Yukon is easy to spot compared to the previous version — the new one has a larger, squared-off grille which gets flanked by new LED headlights with a signature LED running light surround. LED fog lights are vertical, further emphasizing a bolder appearance.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Strong Silhouette
From the side, the new Yukon has character lines that stretch from the headlights to the taillights, intersecting a new GMC badge ahead of the front door. Doors are sculpted, adding interesting definition to the appearance, and larger wheels fit well with the overall design.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Rear View
The bold look of the 2021 GMC Yukon continues at the rear, where the squared-off tailgate has a rear spoiler at the top of the window, as well as larger LED taillights that continue into the tailgate. Overall the Yukon looks more chiseled, making the previous version appear a bit slab-sided.

© General Motors Model Lineup
GMC offers this Yukon in four trim levels: SLE, SLT, AT4 and Denali. Each trim is available in a standard version or extended-length XL. Yukon has rear-wheel drive standard on all trims except the AT4, which has 4-wheel drive as standard equipment. The other trims have optional 4WD for an additional $3,000. The extended-length XL version adds another $2,700.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Safety Features
All 2021 GMC Yukons have a full range of standard safety features. These include forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a rearview camera, automatic high-beam headlights and a rear seat reminder. GMC also equips the Yukon with Teen Driver — the system associates a specific key fob with limits on certain features while activating all safety features. When the teen returns, a report card can be viewed that highlights driver habits — which can be used to celebrate or educate, depending on results.

© General Motors GMC Yukon SLE
With a base price of $51,995, the 2021 GMC Yukon SLE does not feel entry level. The list of standard features is long and includes tri-zone climate control, a 10.2-inch infotainment system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, multiple USB ports and an 8-inch multicolor driver information display. The boldly styled Yukon also has the aforementioned LED headlights with signature running lights, LED fog lights, roof rails and 18-inch 6-spoke machined aluminum wheels.

© General Motors GMC Yukon SLT
Priced at $59,095, the SLT is likely to be the volume trim of the Yukon lineup. Upgrades over the SLE include perforated leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, a large front center console, wireless device charging, a hands-free power tailgate and a Bose 9-speaker audio system. From the outside, the SLT stands out with a chrome grille, chrome bodyside molding and 20-inch 6-spoke polished aluminum wheels. The SLT also gets GMC Pro Safety Plus with lane change alert, lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

© General Motors GMC Yukon AT4
Like other AT4 variants in the GMC vehicle lineup, the Yukon AT4 is designed for spending more time off the beaten path. With a starting price of $66,095, the AT4 stands out with a unique front fascia that facilitates an increased approach angle, a front skidplate, red recovery hooks, black roof rails and 20-inch 6-spoke machined aluminum wheels shod with all-terrain tires.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience GMC Yukon AT4
The AT4 gets further upgrades over the SLT including 4-wheel drive, 4-corner adaptive air suspension, magnetic ride control, a heavy-duty air filter, a 15-inch head-up display, heated second-row seats, an automatically heated steering wheel and powered folding third-row seats.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience GMC Yukon Denali
The Denali moniker denotes the top trim level of every GMC model, bringing with it a level of exclusivity and luxury. Starting at $69,695, the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali gets a unique instrument panel, exclusive interior color themes, GPS navigation, open-pore wood trim, a Bose 14-speaker surround sound audio system and a powered sliding center console. A unique grille, satin-chrome bodyside molding, a dual exhaust and 20-inch 6-spoke polished aluminum wheels further differentiate Denali from the rest of the lineup.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon XL
For those who need a bit more room, the Yukon XL adds space in the third row as well as the cargo area.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Denali
According to GMC, 25 percent of all GMCs sold are Denalis. “Yukon was the model in which Denali originated in 1999, and now more than 20 years later, we’re introducing the quintessential Denali,” said Helen Emsley, executive director of Global Buick and GMC Design. “It delivers a first-class experience with an all-new, exclusive interior and a bolder, more distinctive exterior design,” Emsley observed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Under the Hood
The 2021 GMC Yukon has two engine choices. Standard on the SLE, SLT and AT4 is a 5.3-liter V8 producing 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. Exclusive to the Yukon Denali is a 6.2-liter V8 that generates 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Both engines get teamed with a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission. Later this year GMC will offer a 3.0-liter Duramax diesel rated at 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque as an option on SLE, SLT and Denali.

© General Motors Towing
With plenty of power under the hood, this big Yukon is a capable tow vehicle. A hitch receiver and wiring harness are standard, as are an auxiliary transmission oil cooler and engine oil cooler. When equipped with the 5.3-liter V8 engine, the Yukon 2WD can pull up to 8,400 pounds. Although the Yukon Denali has the more powerful engine, it likely weighs a bit more (curb weight hasn’t been released), which puts max towing at 8,200 pounds — still enough to pull a decent-size camper or boat.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Fuel Economy
Thanks to Yukon’s versatility, customers have myriad good reasons for buying a GMC Yukon; fuel economy is not among them. According to the U.S. EPA, the 2021 GMC Yukon is rated at 16 mpg city / 20 mpg hwy / 18 mpg combined with the 5.3-liter V8 engine — numbers go down about 1 mpg with the larger 6.2-liter V8. Surprisingly, 4WD does not seem to have much effect on fuel economy. During our drive in the Denali 4WD (with the larger V8 engine) the display showed 14.8 mpg.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Inner Space
During our socially distant press preview, we spent our time driving the new top-level Denali, which possesses a comfortable, attractive and well-designed cabin. The Denali has a dashboard unique to the rest of the Yukon lineup. Although the display is the same size in all trim levels, we prefer the integrated design in the Denali. It has an easily readable screen with menu items highlighted at the bottom for easy navigation. Below the screen sit proper volume and tuning knobs as well as a “home” button.

© General Motors Alternative View
The non-Denali Yukons (SLE, SLT, AT4) get a different dashboard layout with the center display raised but less integrated.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Ingress / Egress
Often it can be difficult for kids — and sometimes adults — to climb into large SUVs. The 2021 GMC Yukon has this covered with four-corner air suspension. When the SUV gets put into Park it automatically lowers two inches to aid entry and exit. Yukon Denali is also available with retractable running boards that also ease the task.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Gear Selector
In the 2021 Yukon, GMC introduces a new gear selector location next to the display screen. The design is a bit unusual, with buttons for Drive and Reverse pulled rather than pushed while Neutral and Park are pushed to make selections. The new setup creates a lot of space for storage, but new owners will likely need some time adjusting to the operation and location.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Up Front
Front seats of the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali get covered in soft leather with attractive stitching, which adds to the top trim’s high-end appearance. Seats have multiple power adjustments as well as heating and ventilation for additional comfort. Armrests, doors, center console and dashboard are all covered in soft-touch leather — a detail one would expect in a luxury sedan. Even after spending several hours behind the wheel, our seats remained comfortable; long road trips would not be a problem for driver nor passenger.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Powered Center Console
Many big SUVs offer a spacious center console storage — the 2021 GMC Yukon adds an interesting feature. With the push of a button the console can be moved toward the rear seat, making it easier for rear-seat passengers to reach cupholders and power ports. At the same time, a drawer at the front of the console can be opened and it then functions like a safe — once the console moves forward again, items secured in the drawer remain hidden out of sight.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Large HUD
The 2021 GMC Yukon has one of the largest head-up displays available, and it can be configured to show a range of information. Initially we thought such a large display in the windshield would be distracting, but in time we found it useful without interfering with the forward view.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Second Row
Available with either a bench seat or captain’s chairs, the second row of the 2021 GMC Yukon is spacious with plenty of legroom and headroom. The chairs are big and comfortable, and passengers have access to the rear climate control as well as multiple USB charging ports. Second-row seats can also be slid forward or back to provide additional space for third-row passengers.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Entertainment System
The Yukon Denali available for our press drive had the optional rear-seat entertainment system. The dual 12.6-inch touchscreen displays do not use an onboard DVD or Blu-Ray player. Instead the system plays media from practically any device that can be plugged into a USB or HDMI port. The system also allows rear-seat passengers to view the navigation system and even program a destination for the driver.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Third Row
Even in a big SUV, sometimes the third row feels like a penalty box — this isn’t the case with the 0221 GMC Yukon. Thanks to the additional legroom and plenty of headroom, the third row is surprisingly usable. The second-row seats sit up a bit higher, so third-row passengers have room to place their feet under the seat in front of them, making the space much more comfortable. Bonus: when Yukon gets equipped with the optional second-row captain’s chairs, the middle seat in the third row gets extra legroom.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Cargo Space
The 2021 GMX Yukon’s additional length means there’s plenty of usable cargo space behind the third row. The space is almost double for those who opt for the Yukon XL. A 110-volt power plug is available for added utility, and when more space is needed both the second and third rows can be folded flat via buttons in the cargo area.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience On the Road
The Yukon is a big, heavy vehicle but it has a big V8 to match. During our time behind the wheel we found power to be more than adequate and never lacking. Overall the ride is smooth and relatively quiet — some road noise at higher speeds, but nothing annoying. The driving position provides excellent visibility all around, and the rearview mirror camera delivers a wide view out back.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Handling
For such a large vehicle, Yukon handles winding roads with aplomb — in fact, from behind the wheel the SUV feels much smaller. Steering feedback is decent and the chassis feels solid, thanks to adaptive air suspension as well as the latest version of GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, which uses sensors to continually read the road and almost instantly adjust the damping rate of the shocks to reduce body roll and vibrations.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Maneuverability
A common perception about vehicles as large as the full-size Yukon concerns its size. Large vehicle means it’s difficult to park and maneuver in tight spaces. However, this isn’t the case with the 2021 GMC Yukon. The SUV’s turning radius is surprisingly small, making precise driving in tight places — such as parking lots or reversing direction on a narrow road — an easy task. Aiding maneuverability are nine camera views as well as a digital rearview mirror that makes parking a breeze.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Off Pavement
During our press time we ventured off pavement along forested roads of the Pacific Northwest and found the Yukon sure-footed and comfortable riding. Switching into 4WD is as easy as pressing a button — Yukon shifts on the fly with no need to stop. Even on washboard surfaces the SUV remains stable and easy to control. Had conditions worsened, the air suspension raises the 2021 GMC Yukon’s ground clearance by as much as two inches.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Right for You?
GMC has clearly listened to its owner base and put that feedback to good use — the all-new 2021 Yukon is by far the best GMC has ever offered. With a more comfortable interior, improved cargo carrying, modern styling and a range of new high-tech comfort, safety and utility features, the 2021 GMC Yukon becomes one of the best options in the full-size SUV segment.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Rating: 8.5
Pros: Comfortable and spacious interior; excellent capability; easy to drive.
Cons: Odd gear selector; poor fuel economy; large V8 only on Denali.
Bottom Line: An excellent choice for the full-size SUV shopper.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Plenty of room with all rear seats folded flat.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Second and third row seats can be folded using buttons in the cargo area.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Retractable running boards make it easier to get in and out of the Yukon.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
In addition to the useful legroom, third-row passengers get cupholders, storage and a USB port.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
The second row has controls for climate and seat heaters, as well as USB-C and HDMI ports to provide input to the entertainment system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Second-row passengers can access the vehicle’s navigation on the optional entertainment system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Yukon Denali is equipped with a wireless charging pad as well as multiple USB ports.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Center console in open configuration.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Center console in closed configuration.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Digital rearview mirror provides a bright, wide view to the rear.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience 2021 GMC Yukon
Multiple camera views make maneuvering this large Yukon much easier.

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