Test Drive: 2021 GMC Yukon Denali
2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD
Class: Large SUV
Miles driven: 199
Fuel used: 14.1 gallons
|CG Report Card|
|Room and Comfort||A-|
|Power and Performance||A|
|Fit and Finish||A-|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Engine Specs||420-hp 6.2L|
|Drive Wheels||4-wheel drive|
Real-world fuel economy: 14.1 mpg
Driving mix: 60% city, 40% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 14/19/16 (city, highway, combined)
Fuel type: Premium gas recommended
Base price: $71,400 (not including $1295 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Denali Ultimate Package ($11,255), Midnight Blue Metallic paint ($495), power-sliding center console ($350) Denali Ultimate Package Savings (-$1000)
Price as tested: $83,795
More Yukon price and availability information
The great: Cavernous room for both people and cargo; pleasant road manners for such a large vehicle
The good: Classy interior trim; long list of standard and available features; satisfying acceleration
The not so good: Brawny V8 is thirsty for premium fuel; extra-large dimensions can make close-quarters maneuvering a challenge
The GMC Yukon large SUVs are bigger and better for 2021, what with dimensional changes that yield more passenger and cargo space and a switch to an independent rear suspension that improves ride quality. The best of them all, if luxury and features matter, is the Denali.
A 4-wheel-drive Yukon Denali like the one Consumer Guide tested has a starting price of $72,695 that includes delivery. However, an extensive—and costly—Ultimate Package option, Midnight Blue Metallic paint, and a power-sliding storage unit in the console inflated the sticker on the test truck to luxury-vehicle territory: $83,795. (Opt for rear-wheel drive and those prices come down by $3000.)
Denalis are found throughout the GMC pickup and sport-utility roster, forming something of a deluxe brand-within-a-brand. Some recent Denali-grade GMCs tested by CG haven’t been as up to snuff, interior-wise, as expected of that nameplate. However, this new Yukon doesn’t fall prey to that. While hard-plastic surfaces have not been completely banished, padded, soft-touch materials reside most everywhere a passenger might touch. That includes the sides of the center console and even a patch on the sidewalls that third-row-seat occupants can use as armrests.
In addition, the Denali has an instrument panel and console that’s distinct from what’s found in other ’21 Yukons. The visor over the big and complete gauge cluster continues out over the middle of the dashboard to throw a friendly arm over two high-level air vents. In place of the others’ stand-up-style display for the GMC Infotainment system, the Denali moves its 10.2-inch screen lower and in to the dash. Plus, there’s a more-sculpted fascia in front of the right-seat passenger.
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The Brownstone/Jet Black interior in the tester was one of four exclusive choices. All come with premium leather seating surfaces and authentic wood accents on the dash, door panels, and retractable covers for cup holders and standard wireless charger located in the console.
Beyond materials selection, the cabin also coddles passengers with roominess, quiet, and abundant and varied personal-item storage options. The new design has expanded second-row space and rear overhang. The first two rows feature soft and comfortable bucket seats. All four of these seats are heated, and the front ones are ventilated to boot. There’s standard heating for the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Middle-row passengers enjoy lots of legroom (thank the 5-inch wheelbase expansion for that), and the seat backs recline quite far. Seat backs aren’t as cushy in the third row, but there’s acceptable room for two adults or three kids on the 60/40-split seats, especially if middle-row occupants use some of the five inches of track travel built into their seats for the benefit of their fellow man. Note that roof C-pillars widen toward the bottom and diminish the view from the back row.
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There are storage bins and pockets on two levels in each door, a big glove box, and a large covered console box. With the $350 power sliding option, the console box tracks back to expose a tray large enough to hold a purse—and give access to a “hidden” drawer that is essentially locked when the console is in the full-forward position. You have to press an overhead switch to make all this happen, but to us it seems that a simple manual lever release would work even faster. The remainder of cabin storage is pouches on the backs of the front seats, four cup holders in the console to serve front- and middle-row passengers, and cup holders molded into the sidewalls for those in row three.
With 6.1 more inches of body tacked on the ’21 Yukons, there’s now 25.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind third row—a 66-percent gain, according to the manufacturer. Retract the middle and rear rows and available space expands to 122.9 cubic feet, enough to surpass some class competitors’ extra-length models. The cargo floor is large and flat, though a gap is exposed between the folded middle-row buckets. Handy power switches on the right side of the cargo hold facilitate raising and lowering the rearmost seats. A hands-free power liftgate is standard.
The new multilink rear suspension, which takes over for a good old live axle, and Magnetic Ride Control that reads the road up to 1000 times a second, a Denali standard feature, are key elements that deliver the kind of ride one hardly expects of a truck-type body-on-frame sport-ute. The big-ticket Ultimate Package on the test vehicle included both 22-inch alloy wheels (with 275/50R22 tires) and an adaptive air suspension. The latter helps deliver an absorbent but not squishy ride, even with the outsized wheels. Suspension noise over broken pavement is minor. The truck we sampled also steered and handled better than a good many other largish SUVs. Brakes have a firm and progressive pedal feel that terminates in quick and secure stops.
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GMC didn’t completely reinvent the wheel for the 2021 Yukon Denali. The standard powerteam—a 6.2-liter V8 and 10-speed automatic transmission—is carried over from the previous generation. The V8 makes the same 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, and it is easily sufficient to move the big fellow with authority and smoothness. Indeed, the Denali is relatively quick off the line, and properly equipped 4x4s can tow up to 8000 pounds (or 8200 pounds with rear drive). However, it’s also thirsty. EPA estimates of 14 mpg in the city, 19 on the highway, and 16 combined more or less matched this reviewer’s 14.7 mpg from a 101-mile stint with 58 percent city-style driving.
The transmission is operated by a row of vertical buttons next to the infotainment screen, with push for Park and Neutral and pull for Drive and Reverse. It’s odd to see, but easy to catch on to. Some other standard Denali tech features not already mentioned include a multicolor head-up display; 14-speaker Bose audio; navigation system; Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone compatibility; lane-keep assist; and blind-spot, front-collision, and rear cross-traffic alerts. That’s how it remains the best example of a Yukon that gets better overall.
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