2021 GMC Yukon Denali: A Masterpiece in Its Own Right

Strong points
  • Successful redesign
  • Supreme comfort
  • Excellent powertrain
  • Space everywhere
Weak points
  • High price
  • Low fuel economy
  • Not enough state-of-the-art technology
Full report

Large SUVs are not made for everybody. They take up a lot of place and they can be extremely tough to park. And yet they are very popular at the moment despite environmental and economic pressures.

At General Motors, these highly profitable modern-day mastodons are called Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade. Thanks to all the professional athletes, companies and suburban families shelling out big bucks to buy one, the automaker is able to develop cars like the Bolt EV.

In Canada, the GMC Yukon is the best-selling member of the group. After all, it is named after one of the territories of our great country. Completely redesigned for 2021, the Yukon is facing fierce competition, but as we found out during our first drive, it’s more than up to the task.

Photo: Marc-André Gauthier

Revised Looks Anyone Can Appreciate

The 2021 GMC Yukon is available in several trim levels. The new AT4 is particularly desirable as a rugged machine that seemingly can tackle any obstacle. We tested a luxurious Denali model, mind you, which is not as cool as the AT4 but super-classy. With a large, chrome-plated grille, this one definitely has an elegant presence.

Styling is more aggressive and more assertive than in years past. The Yukon no longer looks like just a big box on wheels.

Inside, the evolution is even more striking. Unlike the previous generation, the new one clearly has a premium feel. The design is gorgeous, yet not over-the-top, with rich materials in Denali trim including various types of wood and leather tastefully arranged throughout the cockpit.

Photo: Marc-André Gauthier

More Room FTW

Truth be told, I’ve never been impressed with the amount of space inside GM’s large SUVs, at least beyond the first row. The middle seats were decent at best and the rear seats proved uncomfortable, even in the long-wheelbase Yukon XL.

With the new platform, however, designers were able to fix that. Just sit in the second row of the 2021 GMC Yukon and you’ll quickly realize that there’s way more legroom and headroom. Similarly, the third row is huge in comparison with the previous model. It no longer feels like a prison for turbulent kids.

The interior is more versatile and practical than ever, too. Cargo capacity is very generous and the seats fold completely flat. Vanlife enthusiast? You should consider turning the new Yukon into a personal RV.

Photo: Marc-André Gauthier

Proven Powerplant

Under the hood of the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali is the familiar 6.2-litre V8 engine delivering 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. No turbo, no electric assist, nothing fancy. Meanwhile, the 10-speed automatic transmission does such an excellent job that Mercedes-Benz product planners ought to get rid of theirs and use GM’s unit instead.

The result is a surprisingly smooth driving experience. Throttle response is perfect and the vehicle never hesitates. If only all powertrains could behave like that…

The 6.2-litre V8 performs admirably on the highway considering the size of the Yukon. In fact, you need to keep an eye on the speedometer because it’s easy to go over the limit and not realize it. By the way, maximum towing capacity is 8,000 pounds.

Photo: Marc-André Gauthier

Impressive Ride and Handling

You’d think a big SUV like the Yukon suffers from poor handling due to all that weight coming down on the suspension, but in this case you’d be wrong.

The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali is blessed with an adaptive air suspension backed by GM’s magnetic dampers. Ride quality is just sublime. Bumps, cracks and other road imperfections are easily neutralized by the Yukon.

Handling is really impressive, too. The only complaint is a lack of feedback from the steering. Then again, no one buys a Yukon to feel connected to the road. It’s pretty much the opposite, actually.

Bottom Line

When it comes to full-size SUVs, GM’s next-generation models are a real masterpiece. If you’re shopping for a vehicle like that, it will be hard to make a case for any competitor.

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