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  5. 2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4x4 Test Drive Review

 
GMC's popular Denali sub-brand was first introduced in 1999, and today GMC offers six vehicles decked out in this premium branding with the original model, the Yukon Denali, still sitting at the top. The new Yukon Denali couldn't come soon enough, as the market for full-size luxury SUVs continues to grow. So I was able to spend a week with the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali to see how this premium SUV looks, feels and rides compared to rivals like the Infiniti QX80, Lincoln Navigator and the all-new 2022 Jeep Wagoneer.


2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4x4 Exterior

 
If nothing else, the 2021 GMC Yukon proves that GM's days of badge engineering its full-size SUVs are a thing of the past , as the new Yukon looks significantly different than its Tahoe and Escalade siblings. And on top of that, the Denali trim level has a more distinctive look, which separates it from the lower Yukon trim levels (SLE, SLT and AT4). As always, the Denali's style is defined by its signature grille design, and other unique touches include brushed metal trim (instead of bright chrome) and quad exhaust outlets. This tester was equipped with the $11,255 Denali Ultimate Package adding power-retractable side steps and 22-inch aluminum wheels that perfectly fill out the wheel wells. The new Yukon Denali only comes in a single no-charge paint color (Summit White), and the color shown here is the Dark Sky Metallic, a $495 premium.


2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4x4 Interior

 
The entire 2021 GMC Yukon is brand new, but for the first time ever, the Denali trim level finally gets a distinct interior design worthy of the added cost. While the non-Denali Yukon models have the same interior design as the closely related Chevy Tahoe, the Yukon Denali gets a unique instrument panel with a more integrated 10.2-inch touchscreen navigation system, added stitched leather and soft-touch appointments and a stylish wood inlay on the passenger side. Even the door panels look and feel more premium with added wood inlays and leather stitching. The gauge cluster and most of the buttons and controls are all parts bin components, but there's enough of a difference inside the Yukon Denali that it's worth the extra money compared to the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe RST and 2021 GMC Sierra 2500HD AT4 I drove earlier in the year.

More than just a different design, GMC pulled out all the stops to give the Yukon Denali more comfort and premium content than ever before. To give this Denali a dark interior motif, it was finished in Ash Gray perforated leather with Dark Walnut accent trim, but the real payoff for this cabin was the added content from the pricey Denali Ultimate Package including the power-sliding center console, panoramic sunroof, and rear seat media system. This media system features a pair of 12.6-inch rear displays, and while there's no DVD player, there are USB and HDMI inputs available to go along with the standard 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot that is able to run an Amazon Fire Stick for streaming content.

The Yukon has always been a spacious and accommodating SUV, but the 2021 GMC Yukon brings even more space for passengers and cargo thanks to almost five extra inches of wheelbase, 6.1 extra inches of overall length, and an all-new rear suspension setup. The front row and second-row captain's chairs are business as usual when it comes to maximizing passenger space, while third-row occupants benefit the most from the new Yukon's added size with an extra 10 inches of legroom! Even better, the larger dimensions and redesigned suspension allow for more cargo space with an additional 10 cubic feet (25.5 cu. ft. total) behind the third row and 30 more cubic feet (a maximum of 122.9 cu. ft.) with the second and third rows folded flat. 


2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4x4 Powertrain

 
The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali comes standard with the 3.0-liter Duramax diesel engine, but this tester was equipped with the optional 6.2-liter V8. This engine is rated at 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque and it's mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission with a push-button gear selector. In 4x4 configuration like this one, the Yukon Denali has EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, and I averaged 16.3 mpg in mixed driving that included some light towing. 

Despite being an old-school, body-on-frame SUV (riding on 22-inch wheels, no less), the 2021 Yukon is a smooth cruiser thanks in large part to the new multi-link independent rear suspension setup, instead of the live axle found on previous Yukons. On long highway cruises, the standard Magnetic Ride Control system soaks up the road without a problem, and the overall suspension tuning makes easy work of obstacles around town such as speed bumps and potholes. The Yukon Denali is one of the largest vehicles you can buy, but the steering system is so responsive that this big SUV is surprisingly maneuverable in tight spaces such as parking lots and parallel parking.

While the Yukon is edged out slightly in the towing battle by the Ford Expedition and Nissan Armada, the 2021 Yukon is no slouch. It boasts a maximum towing capacity of up to 8,400 pounds in its 5.3L/two-wheel-drive configuration. But this 6.2L Denali 4x4 tester with the Max Trailering Package (included in the Denali Ultimate Package) topped out at 8,200 pounds. I was able to do some light towing with a small utility trailer, and while it was nowhere close to the Yukon's maximum towing capacity, it did give me the opportunity to check out the in-vehicle trailering app. With a safety checklist and even an automatic light test, this makes towing a trailer super easy, but the coolest part is that you can set the Yukon to sound the theft alarm when the trailer is disconnected before the vehicle is unlocked.


2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4x4 Safety

 
The redesigned 2021 GMC Yukon received a four-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration including a five-star side impact rating. Standard safety features on the Yukon Denali include Automatic Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Alert and Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Change Alert, Blind Zone Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Rear Pedestrian Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Front and Rear Park Assist and OnStar.

Checking the box for the Ultimate Package adds Adaptive Cruise Control, Enhanced Automatic Emergency Braking and a Rear Camera Mirror as well as theft deterrents such as an Interior Motion Sensor, Inclination Sensor and Glass Breakage Sensor. Finally, the Max Trailering Package adds a trailer-side Blind Zone Alert to make it safer to change lanes with a trailer.


2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4x4 Overall

 
The automotive landscape might be trending toward smaller SUVs and a growing number of hybrid and electric vehicles. But for buyers looking for a vehicle that can haul up to eight passengers and tow just about anything, there is still a place for full-size family haulers like the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali. 

After a week behind the wheel, it's easy to see that the Yukon Denali is bigger, better and bolder than ever before, and it hits all the right chords for a perfect family vehicle with lots of luxury, tech and capability. While the standard 2021 Yukon has a base price of $51,000, stepping up to the added style and luxury of the Denali increases the MSRP up to $68,600. Tack on all of the added content from the Denali Ultimate Package, and you're looking at an as-tested price of $84,220.


Jeffrey N. Ross
| Sep 29

2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4x4 Specs

Layout

4-door, 7-passenger, 4x4

Engine/Transmission

6.2L V8
420 hp, 460 lb-ft
ten-speed auto

Mileage

14/20
(city/hwy)

NHTSA Safety Rating

★ ★ ★ ★


AutoNation Drive Test Drive Review: ★ ★ ★ ★


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**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.