GMC Unveils 2021 Yukon and Yukon XL; AT4 Joins Denali Atop the Trim Ladder

Chad Kirchner
by Chad Kirchner

It should surprise absolutely no one that after the recent reveal of the new Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, there wasn’t long to wait before we glimpsed an updated version of the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL.

The actual surprises come in how General Motors’ truck brand intends to differentiate itself from Chevrolet while addressing criticism from journalists and the public alike on how to make a better full-size SUV.

(Full Disclosure: GMC flew me to Vail, Colorado to show off the new GMC Yukon and let me drive a pre-production prototype. They fed me and provided me a warm bed to sleep in. Because it’s cold in Colorado in the winter.)

While the lineup receives a slew of new updates, foremost among them an independent rear suspension shared with its Chevy twin, the off-road-centric AT4 trim makes an appearance on the redesigned 2021 Yukon. AT4 is a popular option, with up to 20 percent of GMC Sierra buyers opting for the trim. The Denali also is significantly improved, with more care and emphasis placed on the interior than in Denalis past.

Before diving into the specifics of the trims, let’s start with the basics. All Yukons come standard with GM’s 5.3-liter V-8 making 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission sends power to an available new four-wheel drive system that GMC calls “Active Response.”

Upgraded engine options include a 6.2-liter V-8 making 420 hp and 480 lb-ft. If gasoline isn’t your jam, GM’s new 3.0-liter diesel inline-six is also available, good for 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Considering how impressive it is in the half-ton pickup, the new diesel might be a compelling option in this big family hauler.

Camera tech also makes its way over from the pickups, with an available 9 total camera views that should help make towing easier. For those who do plan to venture off-road, the class-exclusive Air Ride Adaptive Suspension available on the AT4 and Denali can lift the Yukon two inches to clear obstacles. There’s even an available power sliding center console.

Interior space is significantly improved thanks to a 5-inch longer wheelbase and 6.1-inch increase in overall length (for the standard Yukon). Cargo volume in the stock Yukon is up 66 percent behind the third row, while rear seat legroom expands 41 percent.

The AT4 carries on the tradition of other GMC models by improving the Yukon’s off-road prowess. The division’s new sub-brand brings a 2-speed transfer case, 20-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires, an off-road mode for the traction control system, hill descent control, skid plates, special branding on its heated and ventilated seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Denali models receive a special interior treatment that takes advantage of some of the nicest cabin materials I’ve seen in a Denali to date. GMC calls it the “quintessential Denali,” which hopefully means this treatment finds its way into other models (whose interiors are a bit lacking).

There are four different color themes for Denali, and each pairs the palate with authentic wood trims and hand-stitched and cut leather surfaces. The infotainment touch screen — measuring 10 inches in all Yukon trims — doesn’t feel like an afterthought, but rather the center of all the Denali’s tech features.

Denali gets the highest definition 360-degree camera system of the bunch, which comes standard with a 15-inch multicolor head-up display. The loftiest Yukon also carries Magnetic Ride Control as standard equipment.

If buyers want more Denali goodies, they can option up 22-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, the aforementioned adaptive air suspension, and Active Response 4WD.

In addition to showing off the new Yukon, the folks at GMC let us get behind the wheel of a pre-production prototype and take it for a spin.

GMC set up a short drive route to show off the new technology offered in the Yukon Denali. During the course, we were able to demo the electronic limited-slip rear differential, adjust the ride height via the air suspension setup, and explore some of the capability of the new Active Response 4WD.

While it’s difficult to gather a ton of impressions from a short loop, a few things definitely stood out. The locking of the rear differential is relatively seamless. In some vehicles, there can be a bit of a jolt when it locks up. The Yukon’s engagement is smoother.

The adjustable ride height makes it easier to climb and descend grades that wouldn’t normally be possible with existing approach, break-over and departure angles, while the addition of an entry and exit mode does make it easier for some folks to climb in and out of this massive SUV.

One other nifty addition is the ability to select your speed on the hill descent control. While it defaults to 1 mph, speed can be increased by using the plus and minus options on the cruise control pad.

While only a taste of what’s to come, and taking place within the controlled confines of GMC’s own designed course, there is some cool stuff happening on the Yukon that the competition isn’t doing. I look forward to the opportunity to really spend some time with it in a few months.

The 2021 Yukon should hit dealer lots this summer with pricing that’s yet to be determined. As before, GMC builds its largest SUVs in Arlington, Texas.

[Photos: General Motors, Chad Kirchner/TTAC]

Chad Kirchner
Chad Kirchner

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2 of 34 comments
  • Mm21 Mm21 on Jan 15, 2020

    I'm waiting on Escalade for full judgement but they better seriously upgrade the interior to match the Navigator. We've owned the past Escalade and now have the Navi, the main reason was the Navi seats and the ride destroyed the prior one. This interior is a huge letdown.

  • Chi-One Chi-One on Jan 15, 2020

    I bought a CPO '18 Yukon Denali last June. It was a corporate lease and did not have a mark on it. It was only 15 mo old when I bought it. We love it and the mag ride is wonderful. I made sure I got one with the 20" tire option.

  • Lorenzo All the efforts made over decades to reduce/eliminate NVH in ICE cars, and now they're putting noise and vibration into electric cars. It reminds me of efforts to make veggie burgers taste like meat. Vegetarians don't want the taste of meat, and meat eaters will want meat, not veggie burgers.
  • Jalop1991 A true golf cart.Sure, it's a penalty box inside. But you're not in it for more than a few minutes at a time during commutes and in between charging stops.Ergo, it's the cart.
  • Zipper69 I'm sure it will sell just fine at all trim levels.I'd only note that IMHO the dashboard is a bit of a busy mess.
  • MaintenanceCosts Why do you have to accept two fewer cylinders in your gas engine to get an electric motor? (This question also applies to the CX-90.)
  • Zipper69 Do they have unique technology that might interest another manufacturer?