GMC Yukon Denali’s trademark chrome grille is bigger and more detailed on the all-new 2021 model. (Manufacturer photo)

GMC Yukon Denali’s trademark chrome grille is bigger and more detailed on the all-new 2021 model. (Manufacturer photo)

2021 GMC Yukon Denali full-size SUV lives up to its namesake

All-new version is larger, has a new turbo-diesel option, and a rugged AT4 model has been added.

GMC’s Yukon is entirely redesigned for 2021, representing the fifth-generation version of this premium full-size SUV. Changes include a size increase, extensive interior styling revisions, tech and mechanical upgrades, a turbo-diesel engine option, new transmission, and a new trim level.

The 2021 Yukon is available in SLE, SLT, AT4, and Denali trim levels. AT4 is the new model, supplying appearance add-ons and special features for rugged terrain capability. Rear-wheel drive is standard and four-wheel drive optional on SLE, SLT, and Denali. The AT4 comes only in 4WD configuration.

Base pricing with the destination charge included starts at $51,995 for the 2WD SLE, $59,095 for the SLT, $66,095 for the AT4, and $69,695 for the Denali. Four-wheel drive is an extra $3,000.

Yukon is GMC’s flagship, and Denali is the flagship’s flagship. It’s the model most endowed with premium components, and now for the first time, Denali has an exclusive interior with a completely new instrument panel, unique seats, and a choice among four unique color themes. (To be clear, “unique” here means not used in the other Yukon models.) Every color theme includes authentic wood trim with a natural look and feel, and hand stitched upholstery.

The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali’s exclusive interior includes authentic wood trim and hand stitched seats. (Manufacturer photo)

The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali’s exclusive interior includes authentic wood trim and hand stitched seats. (Manufacturer photo)

My test vehicle was a 2021 GMC Yukon 4WD Denali, whose base price including destination and 4WD surcharges is $75,695. Fit for a queen, it had an $11,255 Denali Ultimate Package option, bundling a rear seat media system, power retractable side steps with perimeter lighting, a panoramic sunroof, 22-inch wheels, five trailering-related features, adaptive suspension, adaptive cruise control, advanced security and braking systems, and enhanced camera functionality.

The Denali name comes from the mountain in Alaska, the highest peak in North America. Looking at the SUV’s imposing front-end, I was reminded of another natural wonder, the El Capitan vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.

Yukon Denali’s trademark Galvano chrome grille is larger and more detailed on the 2021 model. It has a precise dimensional pattern with more than 10,000 individual reflective surfaces. Another distinguishing feature is Denali’s exterior lighting. The C-shaped front lighting emits through a “light blade” delivering uniform LED illumination for the daytime running lights. Headlights, taillights, and fog lights are also LED.

My Denali tester’s engine was a capable 6.2-liter V8 producing 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. It’s a Denali exclusive. Other trims come with a 355-horsepower 5.3-liter V8. A 277-horsepower 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel is available for SLE, SLT, and Denali. It makes 460 lb-ft of torque.

Fuel economy ratings for the 6.2-liter V8 are 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, and 16 mpg combined.

Power retractable running boards and 22-inch wheels are standard on the GMC Yukon Denali. Every 2021 Yukon model comes with a new 10-speed automatic transmission. (Manufacturer photo)

Power retractable running boards and 22-inch wheels are standard on the GMC Yukon Denali. Every 2021 Yukon model comes with a new 10-speed automatic transmission. (Manufacturer photo)

Every Yukon model now comes standard with a new 10-speed automatic transmission with pull- and push-button gear changing operation. The control panel is located on the dashboard. You push a button for Park, but pull a button for the other gears. Sounds weird, but it works well.

Denali has seating for up to eight people, with loads of room all around, even in the third row. Comfort levels are high for passengers in the first two rows, but more like medium for third-row riders if they are full-sized adults.

Present-day essential connectivity and infotainment features are included, all of them as standard equipment. Denali’s system includes a 10.2-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability, navigation, wireless charging, Wi-Fi, and 14-speaker Bose audio. The system is comprehensive but easy to grasp, and its controls conform to the great GMC tradition of using buttons and knobs. Anyone too superior to appreciate that can always use the touchscreen.

A 360-degree surround view camera is practically a necessity for an SUV of this size, and Denali’s is excellent. I came to think of it as Mary’s Little Helper.

Two non-glamorous features, power folding third-row seats and power running boards, were very much appreciated during my test week. Yukon Denali is tall and massive, inside and out, so extra assistance is welcome.

The optional new adaptive suspension system graces the 2021 Yukon with a nice smooth ride, even on pavement seemingly intended to jounce passengers on purpose.


Base price, including destination charge: $75,695

Price as driven: $87,795

Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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