By on January 14, 2020

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]

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34 Comments on “GMC Unveils 2021 Yukon and Yukon XL; AT4 Joins Denali Atop the Trim Ladder...”

  • avatar

    What an embarrassment, no ones going to look at the rear of this vehicle and think “off-road capable” it’s just going to remind people this is made by the same people that brought you the Aztec. I can’t believe they didn’t make an effort to hide that pss-poor suspension design.

    Also take a look at the tumble home on this design, it’s collapsing at an alarming rate – they’re turning the truck based SUVs into unibody Acadia replacements. This folks, is the best GM has to offer. Sad times. This thing is awful, anyone that believes a new Hummer will be anything but an ill-conceived hack job is only kidding themselves.

    • 0 avatar

      Heck even the designers/engineers of the AT4 package are well aware that these vehicles will rarely be taken off road ; it is the tough look that people want. Those that want class and off road prowess combined know to head over to the Land Rover dealer or Toyota/Lexus dealer for the Land Cruiser/LX 570.

  • avatar

    Professional grade Chevrolet rolls out the cheese grater. And since Chevrolet has patented ugly front end design, the rear on this thing just doesn’t work unless it is a Kia or a Honduh. The interior is a surprise. GM has been phoning in interiors for years with tacky concepts, putrid outward visibility and cheapness even at the levels of a cahdiahck Seedy Series. This thing just looks like it was squished from something larger. A rectangular guppy.

  • avatar

    The Grumps About Cars have taken over.

    This is considerably better-looking than the Chevy version, and the improved interior and larger cargo/3rd row space will make the intended audience happy.

    I’m sure my sister-in-law will own one by the time I visit next holiday season.

  • avatar

    Looks as soft as a bar of room temperature Philadelphia cheese and is probably as capable off-road as that same dairy product.

    /grumps about cars.

  • avatar

    It’s actually not bad looking, much better than the weird Chevy Silverado grill. The interior looks pretty nice, again, even better than the Tahoe and Suburban like it should be.

    The rear end looks very Hondaish, I prefer the rear of the Tahoe. The problem with these tall boxy SUV’s is that there’s only so much a stylist can do to make the rear of these things looks good.

    I’ve always liked GMC branded vehicles. They always tend to look better than there Chevy counterparts. The Kia Telluride still looks more boss and upscale than this thing, but can’t compare to the smooth powerful drivetrain of a RWD V8.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Grille Motors. They must have an entire department working overtime on grilles and front fascia.
    Successfully? Not always. I would hate to have to clean the bugs and road filth off of one of these, or a f350 for that matter.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Probably 90% of those commenting/or will comment can’t afford one……………

    • 0 avatar

      So true. I’m sure they are perfectly happy with their 10 y/o Hyundai Accent though. They call it thrifty!

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        “Probably 90% of those commenting/or will comment can’t afford one……………”

        Sure but they feel so much better about themselves after coming on a website like this and making a derogatory/ridiculous comment.

        WOW what a great life they must have…..LOL

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve easily spent over $400k at GM dealerships just on new vehicles over the last 20 years. You couldn’t pay me to take this garbage.

    • 0 avatar

      Even if they had the money they would not want one. There is a reason GM has gone from the worlds top automaker to fifth place in just a decade.

      • 0 avatar

        They’ve gone from first to fifth primarily because they sold off the pieces of their business they had been losing money on for decades. Which I’m sure you complained about them wasting money on for those same decades.

        Some of you people just hate GM and always will. I assume it’s the hate of the front-runner complex, which you know, they aren’t any more. Can’t you hate Toyota or VW or someone now?

        This is a good looking truck. Too big and too expensive for me, but I’m not their target demo. If GM had put this much effort into their trucks they wouldn’t be looking up at Dodge right now.

        • 0 avatar

          I love the new silverado but its interior is just arrogance on GM’s behalf. It looks the same as the old 04 silverados interior I use to drive ( a sea of cheap grey plastic), just updated, mostly with things they were forced to add and not a single iota more. No wonder Dodge is steamrolling them.

          That said I love the new Yukon and Tahoe, with a hat tip to the tahoe. Just incredibly expensive.

    • 0 avatar

      I can afford one, but I’m not sure that I want to. GM limits some features I want to higher trims only (adaptive cruise, BLSM, etc), then dealers slap on all kinds of “LPO” options. I drove a 2020 Yukon that I really liked, but there was an LPO – 22 Inch Chrome Wheels on the sticker… And the cost was $3000.00. Most GM dealers do this on their large SUVs, and its pure markup. 22″ wheels make a Tahoe/Yukon ride roughly compared to the standard 20″. Id be at a $75k sticker for what I want, and that would depreciate $30k in the first year…

  • avatar
    el scotto

    OK, so like the three guys who masturbate with Brillo pads will complain bitterly that it can’t haul fresh-hewn trees down a forest trail. Others will complain bitterly well, to mostly complain. This is a body on frame SUV. As an American, this is one of the things we do really,really well. Ignoring jibes from the Brillo pad blokes; it could go to Moab or wherever the Jeep guys go to get their jollies. Instead it will do exactly what it was designed to do. Haul any number of well-heeled families to the mall/strip mall. Perhaps haul a horse trailer or a boat on the weekend. Desirable women will be involved in these activities. The Brillo pads and grumps don’t get that. Coming to a country/yacht/riding club near you.

    • 0 avatar

      YEAH! It’s too bad this isn’t a FORD for gosh sakes! Those AMC inspired chrome trimmed gauges would look just AWFUL in a FORD! *RABBLERABBLERABBLE*

  • avatar

    Commence money printing.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Us midwesterners in MN love these things. Soon to be towing the new MasterCraft or Malibu surf boat to one of our fabulous 10,000+ lakes or when the snow flies, multiple long track mountain sleds tucked inside an enclosed V-nose trailer out west to Montana.

    As noted above, let the money printing commence. GM hit it out of the park on a number of levels with these new FS BOF SUV’s.

    • 0 avatar

      “GM hit it out of the park on a number of levels with these new FS BOF SUV’s”
      And there it is, the obligatory regurgitated played out “hit it out of the park/homerun/license to print money/sell everyone they can make” comment we get everytime GM rolls out something new. Sigh. Yawn. ZZZZZZZ….

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        .”………to print money/sell everyone they can make” comment we get everytime GM rolls out something new. Sigh. Yawn. ZZZZZZZ….”

        If you can’t recognize the work/effort GM put in these to make them substantially better over the current gen you’re either not looking very hard or you just a hater who’s gonna bitch no matter what they do. As someone already stated, too bad they didn’t put the same effort into the current Silverado/Sierra.

    • 0 avatar

      GM has done such a fantastic job on BoF SUVs over the past 15 years that their sales on the Tahoe have dropped from what 250k to 80k? Brilliant job guys, destroying the world class suspension will definitely get you back there!

      • 0 avatar

        Sales are down but profit is up. These things use to be $40,000-$50,000 loaded, now they are $80,000+

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        “GM has done such a fantastic job on BoF SUVs over the past 15 years that their sales on the Tahoe have dropped from what 250k to 80k? Brilliant job guys, destroying the world class suspension will definitely get you back there!”

        You’d have a point if the lost sales were due to conquest sales to other manufacturers. But they aren’t, the market has changed/shifted. Everything has a PLC, marketing 101.

        ….and you clearly don’t understand the wants/needs/desires of the customers laying out the big bucks for these things. A solid rear axle for off-road capability is so far off their radar it isn’t worth even talking about. GM gets it, you obviously don’t.

  • avatar

    I’d like some truck with my grille, please.

  • avatar

    I see more GM badged large SUV’s than Chevy’s i.e. Tahoe/Suburban. That is partially because of trim and the 6.2 engine.

  • avatar

    I’ll take a white AT4 with the 6.2L please.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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