2021 GMC Yukon Denali
GM has always been the leader in full size SUV sales. With the introduction of the Suburban in 1935, they have more experience in the game that any other brand. For 2021 GM completely redesigned their full-size SUV lineup, including the Yukon Denali.
Full disclosure: GMC sent us a 2021 GMC Yukon Denali with a full tank of gas for us to review.
The first thing noticed on the exterior of the Denali is the massive mesh grill with bold GMC lettering. It’s bold and aggressive. The LED headlights bracketed with the daytime running lights and LED fog lights low in the bumper complete the aggressive look.
Moving down the side, the Yukon Denali remains simple yet refined. The chrome trim and roof rails are just enough to accent the vehicle without showing too much bling. The 22-inch wheels still allow for about 5-inches of sidewall. Power folding steps tuck away nicely for a clean look.
On to the rear, again there is the right amount of chrome trim. This chrome includes the rear applique and the quad exhaust tips. The taillights are housed on the body and not the liftgate, per regulations. However, there are red wings that flow onto the liftgate.
For such a large vehicle there isn’t a single angle where it appears that there is too much body work. The curves, trim, lighting, and features all work together to create an appealing design.
Inside the Yukon Denali
Trying to separate further and further from Chevrolet each year, GMC has made the Yukon Denali more upscale than ever before.
Inside the Denali is luxurious and comfortable. Heated and ventilated leather front seats are soft and comfortable, and the heated steering wheel provides additional comfort. The center dash is laid out in an easy to use and simplified manner. There are physical buttons for the climate control and audio, which means fast and accurate changes and no searching through a touch screen.
The push button transmission is a little different to use at first but ultimate is simple and effective. We had no accidental gear changes or confusion on how the system works. However, the range select is done by pushing buttons on the dash as well. For those who are shifting often to use engine braking to slow down may find this a little cumbersome.
On the left of the steering wheel things get a little cluttered. There are too many buttons and dials all pushed into one spot. The 4wd system, ride height, head lights, interior dimmer, trailer brake controller, HUD, parking sensors, downhill assist, lane keep assist, traction control, auto stop start, parking brake, and inverter buttons are all piled into that space. Unless one is very familiar with the layout it is difficult to find the right button while keeping eyes on the road.
On the other hand, the steering wheel controls are clear and easy to use, keeping most functions at the driver’s fingertips.
Moving into the back rows, the captain’s chairs are heated and very spacious. There is plenty of room for adults to fit comfortably in all three rows. Between the five rear seats there are four USB charge ports.
The cargo area is a little more spacious than in previous years. With the seats folded there is a large flat load floor. Even though the cargo area is 49-inches wide it comes up about 6-inches short of 8-feet in length. This means normal sheets of material wont fit in the back of the Yukon Denali.
Driving the Yukon Denali
As part of the complete rework of the Yukon, GM has gone away from a solid rear axle to independent suspension. Most importantly, this has improved the on-road ride and handling significantly. From our seat of the pants feel the 2021 Yukon is the smoothest riding Yukon yet.
The monster 6.2-liter V8 with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque hides in the engine bay. Interestingly, there are no badges or exterior markings indicating that there is a beast inside. Getting up to speed is quick and easy. The torque comes on early making accelerating from a stop and maintaining highway speeds effortless.
The cabin remains quiet and peaceful when cruising at 70 mph. Steering is direct and predictable and the suspension keeps the Yukon composed.
The Yukon Denali is equipped with the Magneride magnetic shocks and air springs. GM has been using Magneride for nearly two decades now and that experience shows in the Yukon. Small to medium bumps and holes are hardly noticeable and nothing encountered during normal street driving seems to upset the Yukon.
The air suspension has 4-inches of travel with 4 user selectable heights: Entry/Exit, Normal, Increased, and Maximum. Additionally, there is an aero height that automatically engages above 65 mph to improve fuel economy.
We were unable to perform our normal off-road test regimen. However, we did spend a little time on the dirt to get a feel for how the Denali manages rougher terrain.
Once again, the Magneride and air suspension performed very well. Driving maintained dirt and gravel roads was much smoother than expected. Likewise, the adjustable air suspension has 4-inches of ride height variation in the Yukon Denali, which lifts the vehicle improving driving performance in the rough. However, the limited suspension travel from the independent suspension made large bumps and dips a little more difficult.
The Yukon Denali is equipped with a 2-speed transfer case that also has an auto mode. This is something we were happy to find in a new luxury SUV. The low range is great for slow speed and precise off-road maneuvers. It also helps when recovering a boat from a slick boat ramp or backing a heavy trailer uphill.
Two other off-road features in the Yukon Denali are the hill descent control and eLSD rear differential. The eLSD works both reactively and proactively depending on the vehicle settings to limit wheel spin on the rear axle. The hill descent control uses the abs system to automatically limit downhill speed for better control and safety.
Yukon Denali Pricing
With a base price of $71,400, the Yukon Denali comes very well equipped. However, 3 additional options were included in our tester.
Denali Ultimate Package ($11,255):
This includes, rear seat media system, power assist steps, sunroof, 22” wheels, eLSD, rear camera mirror, enhanced cooling radiator, trailer brake controller, adaptive cruise control, wheel locks, advanced security package, and air ride adaptive suspension.
Floor Console Power Sliding ($350)
ONYX paint ($195)
With the $1,295 destination charge and the $1,000 Denali ultimate package savings the total MSPR was $83,495
Overall GMC has done extremely well with updated the Yukon. The ride and handling are best in class, with top notch comfort to boot. While the price is high for many, the return for what you get is comparable with much of the rest of the market. The Yukon Denali sits nicely between the Tahoe High Country and the Escalade Premium Luxury and competes with the Infiniti QX80 Sensory and Lincoln Navigator Standard.
Matthew Barnes is an experienced towing expert. He works as a mechanical engineer and his day job involves testing a variety of vehicles while towing trailers of all types and sizes. Matt shares his knowledge by writing for automotive news outlets in the evenings. When he’s not working he can be found spending time in the great outdoors with his family. He enjoys camping, hiking, canyoneering, and backpacking. Whenever possible he spends time riding in or on any power sports vehicle he can find and claims he can drive anything with a motor, which probably isn’t true.