2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (2023)

From the blue-collar Chevy Tahoe to the stately Cadillac Escalade to the GMC Yukon in between, General Motors' family of large, truck-based SUVs has been a huge seller over the years. Despite their popularity, these vehicles have not necessarily been the most premium, versatile or passenger friendly, though these shortcomings -- and others -- have been addressed for 2021. Thanks to a much-needed redesign, the GMC Yukon Denali has been transformed from a luxury pretender into a legitimate contender.

Independence day

Arguably, the single most important change made to these full-size family-haulers is the addition of an independent rear suspension, something rivals like the Ford Expedition have had for decades. Ditching the old live axle allowed engineers to add significant amounts of passenger and cargo space, but that's not the only reason why it's more capacious. For 2021, the Yukon has grown. Its wheelbase is up by nearly five inches and the body has been extended by more than six.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali: New and much improved

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Altogether, these changes get you a whopping 66% more room behind the third-row seat. Indeed, it is usefully spacious back there, roomy enough to house a couple pieces of rollaboard luggage or a whole mess of grocery bags. With everything folded flat, there's now just shy of 123 cubic feet of junk-hauling capacity, a cavernous amount of room that actually makes the standard Yukon more capacious and an Expedition Max, the extended-length model that competes with the even bigger Yukon XL.

Augmenting that independent rear, this GMC offers several different suspension setups. Coil springs with passive dampers support lower-tier models, but magnetic-ride shocks are also offered with coil springs. The top-shelf arrangement, however, features four-corner air bladders and those fancy magnetic dampers, which is what my Denali tester has.

Unfortunately, ride quality isn't as good as you might expect. Even with fancy shocks and air bags this vehicle feels unnecessarily stiff and plodding, likely due to the massive 22-inch wheels. Going over bumps, you still get some body-on-frame jiggles, but live-axle shimmies have been exorcised. The Yukon's ass-end remains as planted as a fully grown oak tree, even when driven over nasty washboard surfaces. Body roll in corners is minimal and the steering is serviceable.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (4)

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2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (5)
(Video) 2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review From luxury pretender to legitimate contender

As they should be, this vehicle's front chairs are hospitable for hours at a stretch, plus they're heated and ventilated. But at long last, the Yukon's rear seats offer plenty of comfort, too.

With their lower cushions roughly chair-height above the floor, the second-row buckets are backside friendly and plenty adjustable. But thanks to that independent rear suspension, even the third-row is downright coddling, something you could never say about the outgoing Yukon's rear-most bench, which was a no-grown-man's land. Adults relegated to steerage in the 2021 model will have little to complain about as there's plenty of support and loads of headroom and legroom.

Interior improvements

Setting the Denali apart from lesser Yukons and the Chevrolet Tahoeis a special interior and I'm not just talking about color and trim. The dashboard design is actually different, with unique air vents and a neatly integrated 10.2-inch multimedia display instead of a more freestanding screen of the same size.

(Video) 2021 GMC Yukon Denali REVIEW: IT'S SO MUCH BETTER!

2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (6)

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2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (7)

GM infotainment systems have been killing it lately and this one is superb. It boots up almost instantly when you start the engine and it responds with immediacy. There's no lag or stutters while swiping through menus or zooming in or out on the map. Aside from outstanding performance, this multimedia array is clearly laid out and exceptionally easy to use.

Integrated navigation is standard in Denali models but optional on lower-end Yukons. Across the range, support for wirelessApple CarPlayandAndroid Autois included, though SLT, AT4 and Denali models also come with a wireless charging pad at no extra charge (no pun intended).

Justifying its premium pricing, this GMC's cabin is attractive and loaded with quality materials. Two kinds of leather are used, one with a fine grain and another that's much rougher looking. At first, I thought the coarse cow hide seemed a bit crude, like elephant skin or something, but I've grown to like it because it's used sparingly and provides a nice bit of contrast.

Matching that leather, this Yukon's various switches and dials look nice and feel high in quality. Even the dashboard-mounted electronic shifter is an unexpected winner. Comprised of buttons and toggles, it looks fiddly, but it's easy to reach and intuitive. About the only thing that's cheap feeling in the new Yukon is the windshield-wiper/turn-signal stalk, which, in typical GM fashion, is as rubbery as overcooked chicken.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (8)
(Video) 2021 Yukon Denali

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2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (9)

A pair of 12.6-inch second-row entertainment displays are included in the pricey $11,180 Yukon Denali Ultimate Package, which also bundles features like those 22-inch wheels, power-retractable running boards, four-corner air suspension and adaptive cruise control. Crisp and responsive, these touchscreens make it easy for passengers to consume their favorite media, plus they even have access to the vehicle's navigation system so they can put a destination in for the driver.

In case you needed yet another screen in your life, Yukon Denalis also feature a 15-inch multicolor head-up display. It's super legible, even in sunlight, and it's easy to adjust the positioning and brightness via a few dedicated buttons on the dashboard.

A mostly pleasant drive

Three engines will be available in the new Yukon. A 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8 serves base duty while a 6.2-liter unit is optional, though standard on Denalis. Smooth running and quiet, that big-ish-block V8 packs a punch, 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque to be exact.

Both gasoline engines are available right now, but before the end of the year, GM's excellent 3.0-liter Duramax inline-six diesel found in the Silverado and Sierra half-ton trucks will also be offered in the Yukon, which could be a gamechanger. No matter the engine, a 10-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment.

Underway, this new Yukon's performance is excellent. My tester's 6.2-liter V8 is silken and plenty potent, though I do wish it had a bit of exhaust rumble, because it sounds like, well, pretty much nothing. As for the transmission, it's just as delightful, shifting smartly and seamlessly. But it's kind of funny, with so many gears it sometimes feels like a continuously variable transmission because the RPM drop following each upshift is miniscule.

According to the EPA, this Yukon Denali should deliver 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 on the highway. Combined, it's rated at a scowl-inducing 16 mpg. Fortunately, in real-world, mixed driving I've managed to beat that figure, averaging around 18, which isn'tquiteas frightening.

Being the size of a Navy destroyer and weighing more than 5,800 pounds in four-wheel-drive Denali trim, you can't expect this SUV to have cat-like reflexes. It's undeniably big and heavy, but it doesn't feel quite as enormous as it actually is. Making my tester a touch easier to manage is a host of adjustable camera angles, which give you a 360-degree view of the vehicle, plus parking sensors and a rear-view camera mirror.

As you might expect, the new Yukon offers plenty of driver aids. Things like automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and automatic high beams are all standard. Denali models are also graced with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, but curiously, things like that camera mirror and adaptive cruise control are optional. Really, they should be standard at the price GMC is charging.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (12)

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2021 GMC Yukon Denali first drive review: From luxury pretender to legitimate contender (13)
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A luxury price tag

So, how much do they want for a 2021 Yukon? Well, a base, rear-wheel-drive SLE model starts around $52,000, which is a totally reasonable figure. In fact, depending on trim, prices have either remained the same as last year or crept up slightly, by not more than $700. But in comparison, my tester rolled off the assembly line in Arlington, Texas with a window sticker of $83,420, including $1,295 in destination charges. That'sa lotof scratch, very similar to a lower-endMercedes-Benz GLSorLincoln Navigator, vehicles this GMC actually has some chance of competing with now.

With additional interior room, greater refinement and more tech, the new Yukon Denali is better than ever. If you've got deep pockets and like what you see, check your local GMC dealership, because they're available right now.

FAQs

How reliable is 2021 Yukon Denali? ›

Is the GMC Yukon Reliable ? The 2021 GMC Yukon has a predicted reliability score of 73 out of 100. A J.D. Power predicted reliability score of 91-100 is considered the Best, 81-90 is Great, 70-80 is Average, and 0-69 is Fair and considered below average.

Is Yukon Denali considered luxury? ›

Step inside the 2023 Yukon Denali Ultimate full size luxury SUV and it's quickly apparent why its considered the pinnacle of GMC Denali styling.

What is the luxury package on a Yukon? ›

SLT Luxury Package - Includes (UV2) HD Surround Vision, (UKK) Rear Pedestrian Alert, (A45) memory settings, (DXR) outside heated power-adjustable, power-folding, body-color mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming and integrated turn signal indicators, (N38) power tilt and telescopic steering column, (KI3) automatic ...

Is Yukon AT4 better than Denali? ›

The main features separating the 2022 GMC Yukon Denali from the Yukon AT4 include price, performance capabilities, and features. While the AT4 costs less than the Denali, the Denali offers better horsepower and technology. Either way, you can't go wrong with a Yukon.

Are there any recalls on the 2021 Yukon Denali? ›

General Motors, LLC (GM) is recalling certain 2021 GMC Yukon, Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade, Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Suburban, and Chevrolet Tahoe vehicles. The rear wheel driveshaft assemblies may have internal components that were not heat-treated properly, possibly resulting in driveshaft failure.

Does a Denali hold its value? ›

The interior is certainly a nicer place to spend time in, which helps its used market desirability. The even more luxury tilted Denali trim will likely hold its value the longest, and it won't hurt to have either the 6.2-liter or 5.3-liter V8 option box ticked as well.

Which is better Denali or Silverado? ›

2022 GMC Sierra Denali Keeps the Crown

The 2022 GMC Sierra Denali, in particular, is just on a completely different level. The base Denali offers higher quality interior features, infotainment, and stylings over the Silverado 1500's highest-end trim, the High Country.

Is GMC more luxury than Chevy? ›

Generally speaking, GMC trucks are more for luxury users, while Chevrolet trucks are more for the average truck buyer. By aiming for two different markets, General Motors can reach more people without having their trucks compete against one another.

What is better a Sierra or a Denali? ›

Ultimately, since both trucks are very similar, it all comes down to where they are different. The Denali is more powerful and more luxurious, but also more expensive.

Is the Yukon Denali worth it? ›

While none of the features offered are necessary, they're all nice to have and can really enhance your driving experience in the long term. The Denali package is more worth it for people who want an advanced safety system in their car.

Is Denali the highest trim package? ›

The Denali is the range-topping trim level and the flagship Sierra HD model. The Denali cabin adds premium leather seating, an enhanced driver information display, a power-sliding rear window, a wireless charging pad, a navigation system and premium Bose sound system.

How much does a fully loaded Yukon Denali cost? ›

Extra packages make the Yukon even more expensive

There's also an available interior protection package, a rear-seat entertainment package. If you add on all of these things, the 2022 GMC Yukon Denali can climb all the way up to $85,235.

Is GMC better quality than Chevy? ›

GMC trucks and SUVs are priced relatively higher than their Chevy counterparts, but they offer better quality materials and come with more standard equipment and premium features. Most of GMC's truck and SUV sales come from its luxurious off-road AT4 and high-end Denali trim levels.

Is Denali better than SLT? ›

The Yukon Denali delivers more power with its 6.2L, 420hp V8 EcoTec3 engine. The SLT comes with a six-speed automatic transmission while the Yukon Denali comes with an eight-speed auto transmission. The 18-inch aluminum wheels are a standard for the SLT while 20-inch aluminum wheels are standard for the Denali.

Which is better Yukon or expedition? ›

The Yukon has a towing capacity of 8,400 pounds, while the Expedition can tow up to 9300 pounds. All the 2022 Expedition models possess an independent rear suspension which provides better handling and riding experience than the live-axle setups on the 2022 GMC Yukon.

How many miles will a Yukon Denali last? ›

Industry experts agree that owners can expect their GMC Yukon to last for at least 200,000 miles with regular maintenance, and the Yukon made Forbes' top 15 list of vehicles that run up to 300,000 miles or more.

Is GMC Yukon affected by chip shortage? ›

Affected models include the GMC Acadia, GMC Canyon, GMC Sierra 1500, GMC Sierra HD, GMC Terrain, and the GMC Yukon. The features under constraint for these models include the Heated Steering Wheel feature, Heated Front Seats, Heated Outboard Rear Seats, Rear Park Assist, and Front and Rear Park Assist.

How long will a Denali last? ›

The GMC Yukons can last as long as 250,000- 300,000 miles with regular maintenance. A few owners on vehicle discussion forums have reported hitting 400k with minimal issues and repairs over the years. Basically, you can get 20 years and more from the Yukon if it is properly maintained.

Which luxury brand holds its value best? ›

Luxury Brands with the Best Resale Value
RankBrand5 Year Resale Value
1Tesla68.72%
2Lexus66.53%
3Acura65.74%
4Porsche62.65%
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How well do yukons hold their value? ›

However, vehicles that receive one of its Resale Value awards, like the GMC Yukon, typically retain around 56 percent or more of their original price on the used market.

Is High Country or Denali nicer? ›

Is High Country or Denali better? Although the two have a lot in common, the 2022 GMC Sierra Denali is more luxurious overall. However, the most important thing about every vehicle is the price.

What does Denali stand for? ›

Denali is a word from the Koyukon Athabaskan language of the Native peoples of Alaska that means “the great one.” It was used for centuries to describe the highest mountain in the state, which was renamed Mount McKinley during the 19th-century gold rush.

Which is better Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon? ›

If you put a high value on towing and/or a lower purchase price, the Chevrolet Tahoe is the better choice; but if thrifty fuel economy and a long list of standard tech and safety features are important to you, that makes the Yukon the wiser option overall.

Does GMC last longer than Chevy? ›

Although no General Motors vehicle topped its segment in the study, Chevrolet and GMC were both found to be among the longest-lasting car brands. GMC ranked third in the study, with 1.4% of all GMC vehicles reaching 200k miles or more, according to iSeeCars.

What is the luxury version of GMC? ›

Redefine your vision of luxury with a GMC Denali truck or SUV. GMC Denali is the name reserved for the finest vehicles in the GMC lineup, each one crafted to elevate your driving experience to the highest levels of excellence. Explore some of the ways GMC Denali upgrades interior, exterior, and technology features.

What is the highest rated GM vehicle? ›

In addition, the 2022 Corvette was named the highest initial quality model overall, while the Chevy Malibu, Buick Encore GX, Chevy Equinox, Cadillac XT6, Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Silverado, and Chevy Silverado HD all ranked as the top models of their segment.

Is GMC better than Silverado? ›

Both the 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 and 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 produce identical horsepower and performance specs with help from their ten-speed automatic transmissions. Where they differ is in towing capacity. The Silverado 1500 has a higher towing capacity, when properly equipped, than the Sierra 1500.

What is the difference between a Denali and Denali Ultimate? ›

The Denali comes standard with a Bose premium sound system that has seven speakers throughout the cab and a Richbass woofer to really let the sound quality come through. However, passionate audiophiles will have to upgrade to the Ultimate to unlock an additional five speakers, bringing the total up to twelve.

What is the Ford version of the Denali? ›

The 2022 Ford F-250 Platinum and GMC Sierra 2500 Denali are two heavy-duty trucks with big personalities.

What is so special about a Denali? ›

Since 1999, Denali has been the top-tier package for GMC vehicles, and these models are considered the finest among all GMC automobiles. According to GMC, “Denali is the pinnacle of what it means to be professional grade.” Only the finest materials are used to build this level of car.

What is best engine for Yukon? ›

2023 Yukon Photos

"The 5.3-liter V8 provides perfectly adequate acceleration. The 6.2-liter livens things up a bit, though we still wouldn't call it fast. Ultimately, we think the Duramax diesel is the best choice.

Are GMC Yukons good in snow? ›

Even rear-wheel drive GMC Yukons will be decent in the slippery stuff if they're fitted with the right tires. They're much heavier in the back compared to a similarly sized RWD pickup, so they have inherently better rear-wheel traction and will be less prone to fishtailing.

What cost more AT4 or Denali? ›

2022 GMC Acadia AT4 (starting at $42,795)

In AT4 guise, the Acadia is quite a bit less expensive than the Denali. It's outfitted more like the base AWD SLE (which costs $38,295 but comes only with the 4-cylinder engine).

What is the Denali Premium Package? ›

Denali Premium Package - Includes (CWN) Advanced Technology Package content, (C3U) Panoramic power sunroof, (B3L) power-retractable assist steps with perimeter lighting, (RPU) 22" bright machined aluminum wheels with premium paint and (SFE) wheel locks, LPO. $7,000.

Is Denali just a trim package? ›

The Denali is GMC's finest trim package for the, Yukon, Sierra,Terrain, Acadia, and soon for the Canyon. SLT is the trim package between Denali and the base SLE. GMC crafts the Denali with a modern design, a unique grille, the finest materials and the latest safety technologies.

Is the Denali AWD or 4wd? ›

The SLT, SLE, and Denali trim levels are available with four-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. In the AT4 trim level, the Yukon is only available with the four-wheel-drive system.

What is difference between Denali and Yukon? ›

Yukon offers the Mount Logan and Kluane National Park and Reserve as its main attractions, while Denali is a mountain attraction all on its own.

What is the most expensive Denali? ›

If you're willing to spend the money, the most expensive GMC is the GMC Yukon Denali. With a starting price of $70,600, the Yukon Denali is at the high end of most budgets, but it comes with plenty of extras: Power-sliding center console. Hand-stitched leather interior.

Are GMC engines reliable? ›

The GMC Reliability Rating is 3.0 out of 5.0, which ranks it 22nd out of 32 for all car brands. This rating is based on an average across 345 unique models.

Is the GMC Denali a good truck? ›

The 2022 GMC Sierra Denali is an excellent workhorse and everyday truck. The GMC Sierra Denali is now available for sale at a base MSRP of $67,340 and comes with a whole lot of changes from the outgoing 2021 model.

Are Chevy and GMC trucks built in the same factory? ›

Being brands under the same General Motors umbrella, most Chevy and GMC trucks and SUVs come from the same factory.

What is the SLT luxury package? ›

SLT Luxury Package - Includes (UV2) HD Surround Vision, (UKK) Rear Pedestrian Alert, (A45) memory settings, (DXR) outside heated power-adjustable, power-folding, body-color mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming and integrated turn signal indicators, (N38) power tilt and telescopic steering column, (KI3) automatic ...

Does Denali have different suspension? ›

The Denali has adaptive suspension control of the independent coil-over-shock with twin-tube shock-absorber setup in the front and the solid axle with semi-eliptic variable-rate, two-stage multi-leaf springs, splayed twin-tube shocks in the rear.

Is Yukon worth buying? ›

In conclusion, it isn't worth waiting for the 2023 GMC Yukon. Almost nothing about the large SUV is changing for the new model year. Unfortunately, the Denali Ultimate trims contain features already available but for a much higher price. We're still getting the same design and features as the 2022 model.

Is Yukon a good buy? ›

While not the least expensive SUV in its class, the 2021 Yukon represents good value for your money. It comes in at a lower price than some of its stiffest competition. It's filled with just enough perks while still being a practical vehicle to own.

Is Yukon bigger than Ford Explorer? ›

Bigger Really Is Better.

If you're looking for the best thre-row SUV for sale near Kansas City, the 2021 GMC Yukon simply outclasses the smaller Ford Explorer by virtually every measure. The Yukon beats the Explorer by a wide margin in passenger room, the number of passengers, and cargo volume.

Are the new Yukons reliable? ›

We expect the 2023 Yukon will be less reliable than the average new car. This prediction is based on data from 2021 and 2022 models.

How long will Yukon Denali last? ›

The GMC Yukons can last as long as 250,000- 300,000 miles with regular maintenance. A few owners on vehicle discussion forums have reported hitting 400k with minimal issues and repairs over the years. Basically, you can get 20 years and more from the Yukon if it is properly maintained.

How long do Yukon Denali engines last? ›

Industry experts agree that owners can expect their GMC Yukon to last for at least 200,000 miles with regular maintenance, and the Yukon made Forbes' top 15 list of vehicles that run up to 300,000 miles or more.

Does the Yukon have a Corvette engine? ›

Engine, Transmission, and Performance

Denali models come with a 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 that shares much of its innards with the Corvette's standard engine.

Does GMC Yukon have transmission problems? ›

Anyone in the market for a GMC Yukon should be aware that some models have experienced recurring problems with 8-speed transmissions, and that those problems have prompted significant class action lawsuits.

Is the Denali better than Sierra? ›

The Denali is more powerful and more luxurious, but also more expensive.

What is high mileage for a Yukon Denali? ›

The GMC Yukons can last as long as 250,000-300,000 miles with regular maintenance. A few owners on vehicle discussion forums have reported hitting 400k with minimal issues and repairs over the years. Basically, you can get 20 years and more from the Yukon if it is properly maintained.

How much does it cost to maintain a Yukon Denali? ›

2020 Yukon SUV Denali 4dr SUV 4WD (6.2L 8cyl 10A)
Year 1Year 5
Maintenance$502$1,244
Repairs$145$688
Taxes & Fees$5,782$315
Financing$2,333$301
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Is Denali top of the line? ›

GMC Denali — GMC automaking's highest standard. The ultimate in advanced design; pinnacle of professional grade. The Denali nameplate is the distinctive top trim available for the GMC Sierra and Canyon trucks, as well as Terrain, Acadia, and Yukon SUVs.

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