2021 GMC Yukon Denali Review

If I were to star in a Super Bowl TV commercial for the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali, I’d first load my smiling, all-American kids into the all-new three-row SUV, plus my dog ​​with his shiny coat and playful paws, before turning towards the camera. Seriously, and perhaps after folding my arms to lend gravitas and telegraph how sincere I felt, I would say that, like a modern truck, families grow up and so do their needs.

Now, I don’t have a cohort of burly sons, or a dog for that matter, but I do have a pointless attraction to big luxury SUVs that my lifestyle really doesn’t call for. Still, my attention has skipped the Yukon before, sandwiched as it is between Chevrolet’s serious Tahoe and Cadillac’s glitzy Escalade.

My reasoning has been simple. The previous trio of trucks were based on a fairly old-fashioned body-on-frame construction, and my feeling was that you either go cheap and prioritize maximum vehicles per dollar, or you load it up with technology and leather. For the fifth-generation Yukon and its ilk, however, General Motors switched to a new hybrid unibody-on-frame platform with independent rear suspension.

Additionally, GMC effectively turned the Denali into a sub-brand version of the Yukon. Yes, you get a higher level of standard kit inside, but there are sheet metal changes outside and a different dashboard inside than its SLE, SLT and AT4 siblings.

The result is a more distinctive, more memorable SUV and a bigger one. Over 6 inches longer than the outgoing Yukon, nearly 5 inches of that increase goes to the wheelbase and, in particular, room for third-row passengers and the trunk. Both my big sons and their beloved pup would be pleased, especially with the increase in legroom for the last row.

It’s easy to snip the Yukon over its cheaper Tahoe sibling, but in Denali form, it’s the Cadillac Escalade that makes the more exciting comparison. Like Caddy’s new truck, the 2021 Yukon Denali gets a 6.2-liter V8 and a 10-speed automatic, along with optional 4WD and a 2-speed transmission, plus standard Magnetic Ride Control. The $11,255 Denali Ultimate Package throws in air suspension and huge 22-inch wheels, among a host of other niceties, closing the gap even further with the Escalade.

With 420 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm to potluck, the V8 has some power. It’ll tow up to 8,000 pounds with the right options, too; The Denali Ultimate package also includes the Prograde Trailing System, traction control, an in-vehicle trailer app, trailer brake control, and expands the standard blind spot warnings to suit whatever you’re towing. That’s in addition to the standard lane assist, automatic emergency braking with front pedestrian braking and collision warning, cross traffic and pedestrian warnings and front and rear parking assist.

As powertrains go, this V8 and 10-speed combo is syrupy in all the best ways. The power is only there when you ask for it, with barely a whine from the well-tuned dual exhausts; the transmission may have odd little gears to shift between its modes, but it imperceptibly sloshes through its gears. Really dirty asphalt can pass some jolts to the cabin, but the new platform avoids turning into that familiar old body-on-frame shimmy, while MagneRide helps keep the Yukon from rocking like a boat.

In short, it rides like an Escalade, only the 2021 Yukon Denali starts at $71,400 (plus $1,295 destination) in 4WD form, and even my “Ultimate” version still landed at $83,495 all-in. That doesn’t even get you into a 2021 Escalade Premium Luxury 4WD, meaning you’ll have to settle for the base-spec Luxury trim and its oddly spartan feature list. I refuse to let my cheeky-but-lovable offspring be shamed like that at the school gate.

GM’s 3.0-liter Duramax Turbo Diesel with its identical but earlier-arriving torque is not only an option but also slightly cheaper. After driving it in the 2021 Escalade, I can say it’s a nice alternative to the V8, although the improvements in economy are tempered by the fact that neither engine will win any awards among environmentalists.

The EPA says you can get 14 mpg in the city from the V8, 19 mpg on the highway, or 16 mpg combined. They are both unimpressive but achievable.

There are many buttons and screens in the Yukon Denali’s cabin. A 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen in the center console; a 15-inch head-up color display; another 8-inch screen embedded in the driver’s instrumentation; and the Ultimate package also includes dual 12.6-inch touchscreens for entertainment. However, they lack the wow factor of the Escalade’s curved OLED. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and there’s a wireless charging pad for your phone.

GMC’s latest infotainment system—shared with other GM vehicles—has been greatly improved, and this latest iteration is clearly laid out, easy to navigate, and quick to use. Still, you’ll be pressing physical switches and turning actual dials for a lot of things. The HVAC system isn’t short on buttons, though GMC gets credit for making it super easy to switch to rear-end adjustment settings, while the panel to the left of the steering wheel is positively intimidating with what feels like an overflow of controls.

Denali trim surrounds it with nice leather and genuine open-pore wood, though the Jet Black interior in my test car felt dark. GMC offers much lighter options which – while they may require a little extra care from my sports scholarship winning children as they pull in their muddy boots and uniforms – are much more welcoming. It’s a shame you get the same buttons on the steering wheel as you would in a Tahoe, although it’s not like the Escalade really does any better there either.

For all I like the Yukon Denali, there are still some odd decisions. Unlike in the new Escalade, you can’t have the superb Enhanced Super Cruise with its hands-free lane keeping and automatic lane change. In fact, even just standard adaptive cruise control is optional on the GMC, which seems bizarre given the price tag. GM’s camera-based rearview mirror is also optional.

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