While there are some words in our automotive lexicon that are unnecessarily ambiguous, when it comes to GMC, we all know what Denali means. It says that you’re getting the best that GMC has to offer. So, let’s see how that applies to GMC’s all new Yukon full-size utility.
GM’s trio of big SUVs is all-new for 2021; and since we’ve already tested the everyman Chevrolet Tahoe and the over-the-top Cadillac Escalade, time to narrow our focus even further on the tweener of the two with this 2021 GMC Yukon Denali.
Like the rest, it rides on GM’s recently updated Silverado/Sierra truck frame, and benefits greatly from a new independent rear suspension design.
This not only allows for better packaging inside, but combined with Air Ride adaptive suspension and GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, it makes for the smoothest running Yukon ever. That air suspension also allows you to pump it up 2-inches for additional off-road ground clearance. And to take full advantage of that, is a first ever off-road ready Yukon AT4.
But our focus here is in the swank Denali, and as with every other member of this family, any type of aggressive maneuver you can make with the steering wheel triggers some aggressive braking from the stability system, no matter how slow and smooth you make your inputs.
Probably a wise maneuver on their part, as this rig has some serious muscle coming from a 6.2-liter V8; 420-horsepower and 460 lb-ft. of torque. Denali buyers can also opt for a 277-horsepower 3.0-liter I6 Duramax diesel, while the standard engine in lesser Yukons is a 355-horsepower 5.3-liter V8.
At Mason Dixon Dragway, the 6.2-liter pulled this Denali to 60 in just 6.1-seconds. That’s the fastest of the trio, coming in a tenth quicker than the Escalade. It felt great off the line, and even better as speed builds; seamless shifts from the 10-speed automatic, and great V8 rumble completed the ¼-mile experience, which for us lasted 14.7-seconds at 96 miles-per-hour.
Strong brakes, mean stops from 60 in just 110-feet.
The GMC Yukon debuted for 1992, as a replacement for the Jimmy. We found it as brawny as it was beautiful; and GM’s GMT 400 platform has become legendary for its toughness and durability, with many examples still being daily driven to this day. And impractical or not, how cool was this 2-door?
Now, practicality is where the current Yukon really shines. Room is up everywhere throughout the cabin, but most notably in the standard 3rd row, and in the cargo area behind it, jumping from 15.3 to 25.5 cubic-ft., expanding to 72.6 and 122.9, as seats are folded. Of course a Suburban-sized Yukon XL is also available if you need even more cargo space. Denali’s come with 2nd row captain’s chairs for a 7-passenger capacity.
The Denali is without a doubt a special experience unto itself, more than ever before, actually; as instead of just some added leather and woodwork, Denali's now get a unique interior from other Yukons. The dash, with integrated touchscreen and rising control center, are totally different; there’s special seats, a huge 15-inch multi-color head up display, and of course upscale materials.
Plus, exclusive features found nowhere else in GM’s lineup like this power sliding console; and up to 9 cameras give you no excuse for curb scrapes.
When it comes to the exterior, professional grade or not, there’s no denying it has a very commanding presence. Denali details include an even larger chrome grille, signature lighting, and up to 22-inch wheels.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 14-City, 19-Highway, and 16-Combined; our highway heavy loop netted an 18.2 miles-per-gallon average on Premium.
Still it rates a well below average Energy Impact Score, with use of 20.6-barrels of oil annually, and 9.2-tons of CO2 emissions.
Yukon Denali pricing starts at $73,295, with 4-wheel-drive a $3,000 option; but you can pick up a Yukon for as little $52,695 for the base SLE trim.
Whether or not you buy into GMC’s whole “professional grade” marketing mantra, the Yukon offers buyers a lot of options; bridging the gap between Tahoe and Escalade, while offering a few unique features, and what is perhaps our favorite exterior look of the trio. So, is the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali a bargain Escalade or a better Tahoe? The answer to that, is yes.
Engine: 6.2L V8
Torque: 460 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 6.1 seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.7 seconds @ 96 mph
EPA: 14 City / 19 Highway / 16 Combined