Tried and True, Performance and Might – What the 2021 GMC Yukon is All About.

Tried and True, Performance and Might is What the 2021 GMC Yukon is all about.

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GMC invited us to try out the 2021 Yukon Denali for a few days at the end of January 2021. Providing us with time to experience the vehicle and combine it with a quarantine getaway to Harford County, Maryland. A rural part of the mid-Atlantic with backcountry roads that are no stranger to a full-size truck-based SUV. We saw plenty of hard-working General Motors pickups and SUV’s of varying ages and conditions throughout our drive. Driving home to us that this vehicle has a long history of dependability.

GMC Yukon Trim Levels

GMC is a premium truck and SUV brand – which is different than a luxury SUV brand. GMC owners tend to be hard-working hands-on professionals who have worked their way up through the ranks to be business owners or managers in a world they themselves built.

  • SLE – A base trim level starting at $51,995 with a 5.3- liter V8
  • SLT – The midline trim starting at $59, 095 with a 5.3-liter V8
  • AT4 – An off-road trim that is only available with the 5.3-liter V8, $66,095

Denali is the Yukon’s luxury trim level, starting at $68,195 with a Duramax diesel engine. The 6.2- liter V8 powerplant begins at $69,695. Available on AT4 and Denali – Active Response 4WD System – Optimal torque to each wheel when needed

GMC Yukon Denali Gear Switch
GMC Yukon Denali Gear Switch is pull-buttons instead of a dial or stalk.

All of them have a 10-speed automatic transmission. The engine choices change between trim levels, with the 6.2 ECOTEC3 6.2 V8 only available on the Denali. The rest come with the smaller 5.3 V8, and the 3.0 liter Duramax engine is not available on the AT4, which is designed as a more rugged off-road model. Yes, you can upsize the Yukon to the XL, which provides an additional 15.2 inches in the vehicle’s length. Note that the 2021 Yukon is longer than the 2020 version by 6.1-inches giving it 10.2-cubic feet more cargo space, which is up a whopping 28.2 from the 2020 model.


Denali features an exclusive interior, as the most upscale of the trim levels in GMC’s lineup. Introduced in 1999, Denali has become what 60 percent of GMC buyers select when ordering any GMC product. Features like power Center sliding console, 9-camera view system, a class-leading available 15-inch-diagonal multicolor Head-Up Display that projects speed, navigation, safety features, and other driver-centric information. And most importantly, the 6.2 V8 420 horsepower ECOTECH3 gasoline engine. 

The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali has some excellent upscale features, from opening the door to reveal the heated and ventilated perforated leather seats, front and back, to the heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with a simple on the wheel activation button to the touch and feel of the dash trim. Just the interior’s overall look and feel of being well designed and a step up. Denali’s unique seats come with a choice among four unique color themes. Each includes authentic wood trim with a  natural look and texture. Leather surfaces are cut and stitched by hand in a unique Denali pattern. Denali has the center screen embedded into the center of the dash – while AT4 is a tablet mounted on the center dash. 14-speaker Bose® Performance Series Audio System

Seating in the Yukon is where it counts. Significantly in the second and third-row seats, which are often an afterthought in most vehicles.  The third row has easier access due to the sliding second-row seats, which were large comfortable Captain’s chairs in our model. I was a bit surprised to fold the 2nd-row seats forward and to see the tangle of exposed tracks and bars on the floor. That made me think about how to clean in and around all of that after a road trip with kids in the back.

That second-row benefits from to 12.6- inch diagonal color touch LCD screens mounted on the backs of the front seats. You find individual screens in very few upscale vehicles these days and valuable on a long road trip to keep those passengers informed and entertained.

Separating the two large and very comfortable front seats is an optional power sliding center console. While we never really did anything with it, overall thoughts were it would be nice to have the extra space; as we collected a lot of papers in the forward center console tray, moving the storage console rearward would have opened up an area to store them. Would they have slipped under seats and disappeared as things often do?


2021 GMC Yukon Denali with old tractors

This Denali features four-corner Air Ride Adaptive Susemention, and we would agree it provided an exceptional comfort level.  Not too cushy and not too stiff.  Only a few times did we hear the pumps activate, and that was only outside the vehicle. Having this feature will be a help when encountering obstacles off-road or driving over snowbanks.

Using the standard high-def surround-visioncameras comes in handy when parking a vehicle of this size, especially backing in and out of parking spaces, as did the rear cross-traffic alert, complete with the haptic feedback in the driver’s seat, vibrating to let you know that something is there. And knowing that it has Rear Pedestrian Alert, which today is a help as people are paying less attention to anything when they are walking.

The Yukon Denali’s 22-inch bright machined aluminum wheels and matching rubber and C-shaped front lighting with LED’s give the exterior a clean and powerful image to the vehicle. LEDs are used in the headlamps, taillamps, fog lamps, and other exterior illumination, including the under step lighting. 

Power Plant

Let’s face it, full-size SUVs like the Yukon are not exactly thought of as a fuel-efficient commuter vehicle. It is highly regarded for towing, be it a camper, horse trailer, and often in this northern Chesapeake Bay region, Boat trailers. However, January was not a time when the boat launches and campsites were actively in use. 

The Yukon has three engine options, a 5.3-liter V-8 gasoline powerplant that most of the models come as standard. Our Yukon, outfitted with the Denali specific V8 with Dynamic Fuel Management, producing an estimated 420 horsepower. There is the option 3.0 liter Duramax diesel engine; all motors are paired with a standard ten-speed transmission. And no SUV would be worth its weight without the 4WD system that puts all the wheels to work through an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

Functional Luxury

2021 Yukon Denali Right Side in front of stone barn

GMC is first and foremost a truck brand and a brand whose luxuries are nice to have but are not hard to manage or take care of. In this vehicle, you will find the upscale touches that are useful but not ones that are troublesome to care for.  Materials are classic and clean, and easy to maintain. The interior has a touch and feel that is solid, not frilly or trendy.  Switches, screens, and buttons are large. Storage areas are large and easy to access.

This vehicle is for that person who made their way up working with their hands and has not forgotten it— this is not a truck designed or intended to be flashy.  The Yukon’s design is to go from work to play on a Friday afternoon without changing its boots.

Functional touches like the lighted retractable side steps that extended when you entered or exited the vehicle at the opening of the doors, and the fact that a light underneath that helped you find your way. I wish that it was more customizable when it came on and for how long. I would have liked it to have activated the exterior lighting upon my approach but could not find that setting on the control panel. However, the interior lights illuminated, which helped see what was happening inside the vehicle at night.  Case in point, upon opening the passenger door to help someone into the truck, and by the time I got around to the driver’s door, the exterior lights had turned off, and opening the driver’s door did not reignite them

Tech on Board

GMC Yukon Denali Dash Display

Technology is no longer a luxury. It is an essential aspect of any vehicle in today’s distracted world. The haptic feedback in the driver’s seat, the seat thigh area, vibrates when you need to tell you something like there is cross-traffic behind you as you back out of a parking space. Or that you may be getting too close to something as you back in. The safety tech list is long, as is the passenger comfort tech, from being able to watch two different shows on each of the rear screens from any one of several sources.

Yukon features critical advanced technologies, including:

  • Broader availability of active safety features, including Automatic Emergency Braking1 standard on all models. Additional available features include HD Surround Vision Camera1, Rear Camera Mirror1, new Rear Pedestrian Alert, and more.
  • New trailering features are designed to improve the hitching experience and drive confidence when towing a trailer, including trailer profiles, trailer tire pressure/temperature monitoring, and Trailer Side Blind Zone Alert1.
  • New secure digital vehicle platform with five times the processing power to support the vehicles’ new and enhanced technologies.

Size Does Matter

GMC Yukon Denali Left Side
2021 GMC Yukon Denali

The GMC Yukon and its brethren, the Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade, are downright big vehicles, and for a good reason. It is not just for passengers and cargo room, which there is plenty of. Their truck-based platform combines the best of both a full-size truck and what we knew at one time as a station wagon.  Combined with four-wheel drive will haul just about anything out there, be it a horse, boat, or travel trailer.

 2020 Yukon2021 YukonChange
Wheelbase (inches)116120.9+4.9
Overall Length (inches)203.9210.0+6.1
Legroom – Third Row24.834.9+10.1
Cargo Room Behind Third Row (cubic feet)15.325.5+10.2
Maximum Cargo Room
(cubic feet)
 2020 Yukon XL2021 Yukon XLChange
Wheelbase (inches)130134.1+4.1
Overall Length (inches)224.3225.2+0.9
Legroom – Third Row (inches)34.536.7+2.2
Cargo Room Behind Third Row
(cubic feet)
Maximum Cargo Room
(cubic feet)

Who is GMC?

The GMC Logo on the Grill of the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali
The GMC Logo on the Grill of the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali

GMC offers purpose-built vehicles that provide a combination of intuitive technologies and premium execution. GMC has been manufacturing trucks since 1902 and sold around the world. The Denali, GMC’s sub-brand, represents the pinnacle of design, performance, and amenities. The Yukon is built in the USA, with production taking place at General Motors’ Arlington, Texas assembly facility.

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Overall Impressions

2019 GMC Yukon Denali Front Grill
2019 GMC Yukon Denali

With all the news of GMC’s recent all-electric Hummer coming out, I was excited to be able to take a look at the tried-and-true GMC Yukon with this 2021 Yukon Denali trim and get to drive it here on the East Coast around Harford County, Maryland. Especially in today’s world of 1.3 4-cylinder turbocharged hybrid engined 3-row SUV’s. It is interesting to know that 6.2 Litre V8 powered ones are still with us. And there are a lot of reasons for sure. Maybe you want to pull a full-sized trailer or have a large family, or you need enough space to carry cargo. 

Our tester came with seating for seven. Two comfortable adult-sized bucket seats in the first row, two captains’ chairs with fold-down arms in the second, and a fold-down 60/40 split-bench seat for the third row, which makes this vehicle perfect for hauling the family along with the family camper or other activity trailer.

The Yukon’s current generation has been around for many years, sharing a slot with its brothers, the Chevrolet Suburban and the Cadillac Escalade. All of which have strong reputations for longevity and share some similarities in size and power.  The Yukon stands out as a more upscale vehicle without flaunting luxury and just as hard-working as it is good looking. At $84K, the 2021 Yukon Denali is not an inexpensive proposition, though deals can be had if you shop around. Remember to utilize your association memberships, credit union buying services, and alike. If you need full-size hauling and towing capacity, the Yukon is well worth consideration.

Word and Images by William West Hopper

William West Hopper 2019 Georgetown, Washington DC. Photo by: Bonnie Moret Photography
William West Hopper 2019 Georgetown, Washington DC. Photo by: Bonnie Moret Photography

Mr. Hopper has been crafting automotive stories for most of his adult life. GMC trucks were rare in the hard scrabble rural farmland communities of Pennsylvania where he grew up. While he has been a GM truck owner, he had not had the opportunity to experience the GMC brand until this review. The GMC Yukon was provided by General Motors Corporation with a full tank of fuel for a day and half to review. The 2-night hotel stay in Harford County was provided by Visit Harford County MD. All other expenses to get to the vehicle, meals and incidentals were covered by Mr. Hopper. Queer4Cars thanks them for their generosity as well as North American Vehicle Services, the fleet company for this opportunity.


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