Behind the Wheel

2021 GMC Yukon Denali Review: This 3-row SUV is a mature and stately bargain

GMC has a winner with its new Yukon Denali.

Photo courtesy of GMC

The 2021 GMC Yukon isn't just a new SUV. It's a maturation of the brand, continuing the growth ushered in by the Sierra truck redesign two years ago.

GMC, a division of General Motors, didn't just make the SUV more luxe than the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, or a more rugged choice than the Cadillac Escalade. The Yukon is its own beast. And make no mistake, it is a beast in proportions though on the road it proves impressively maneuverable.

2021 GMC Yukon DenaliEach Yukon Denali comes with the Denali trim level's new grl Photo courtesy of GMC

The three-row full-size SUV is solid and capable. It's also the most elegant model in the GMC lineup, especially as tested in the Denali trim level. From the unique grille with satin chrome surround to the dual exhaust system with dual steel tips, the Yukon Denali stands out.

Riding on 20-inch wheels and powered by GM's 6.2-liter V8 engine, the Yukon Denali makes a proficient 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The engine is connected to a GM's 10-speed automatic transmission, which cannot be smoother in its operation.

The four-corner air suspension ensures that the ride is stable whether on smooth pavement or dirt, rounding corners at speed, or turning into a parking lot. It also raises and lowers the vehicle to an optimal height depending on the vehicle's current driving or resting function.

Pulling into that parking lot and getting properly into the space is easy thanks to accurate steering and the Yukon Denali's class-leading nine camera views.

2021 GMC Yukon DenaliThe rear of the Yukon Denali is a new look for the model. Photo courtesy of GMC

Shifting of the Yukon Denali is done via a new lever and button configuration that is placed on the dashboard near the steering wheel. In a world of stick, column, push-button, and rotary shifters, this new take is easy to use and intuitive. It's certainly head and shoulders ahead of the push-button shifter featured in the current generation Traverse's center stack when it debuted a few years ago.

GMC has equipped the Yukon Denali with a four-wheel drive system that allows proper traction in a variety of weather conditions. Only sunshine graced the SUV during its 36-hour test drive so there was no opportunity to truly put the system through its paces.

The Yukon Denali's cabin is more premium than ever before. It truly feels luxurious, even despite its parts bin center console controls, which are shared with the Sierra. Leather and soft-touch surfaces abound. The cabin is appointed in authentic materials in the areas where your eyes traditionally rest while being a passenger.

2021 GMC Yukon DenaliFine materials are on display throughout the cabin. Photo courtesy of GMC

It has a unique moving center console that allows front row passengers to have more space while making the center console more accessible to second-row occupants.

Speaking of the second row, its captains chairs are made for comfort. In front of the passengers are twin 12.6-inch entertainment screens. The screen system no longer supports DVDs. The shift is in favor of USB- and Bluetooth-connected devices as well as streaming content. It can now accommodate Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Playstation, Apple TV, Roku, and Sling devices.

Access to the third row is easy through the center of the second row and adults can more comfortably sit back there thanks to the Yukon's elongated body style for the 2021 model year.

In front of the driver is a 15-inch head-up display that offers music information from the 14-speaker Bose sound system, navigation, and speedometer in an unobtrusive way.

2021 GMC Yukon DenaliA new push button and lever shifting system is employed in the model. Photo courtesy of GMC

At the center of the dashboard is a sizable 10.2-inch infotainment screen that utilizes GM's standard operating system and graphics. Unlike what's in Genesis and Lincoln models, GMC's parent company hasn't refined the system with different styling for the premium model line. The Yukon Denali has up to eight USB ports, wireless charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

GMC has equipped the Yukon Denali with a host of standard safety features - most everything you'd expect. GM's Super Cruise hands-free driving technology hasn't yet made it over to the model, which is a shame.

2021 GMC Yukon DenaliThe Yukon Denali utilizes switchgear from the Sierra. Photo courtesy of GMC

Despite the complete redesign and impressive enhancements to the Yukon Denali for 2021, GMC has upped the price just $600 from the cost of the 2020 model. Including the destination charge the SUV comes in at just over $75,000. While $75,000 might sound steep to many buyers out there, compared to what you get from luxury automakers and truck sellers for that price, the Yukon Denali's cost is impressively low. That includes three rows of seating, high-end appointments, comfort, style, and a towing capacity of up to 7,900 pounds. The Yukon Denali could be priced at $90,000 and it would hardly elicit a second thought.

2021 GMC Yukon DenaliDual entertainment screens are available in the Yukon Denali. Photo courtesy of GMC

From the interior to the exterior it's easy to see that GMC has gotten this one right. Twenty-five percent of GMCs sold are Denali badged and it wouldn't be surprising to see that number creeping up with the freshly enhanced model.

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The Denali Ultimate trim is new for 2023.

GMC

The GMC Yukon has always been a luxurious family hauler with beefy capability, but it moved even more upmarket in recent years with added tech and upscale interior materials. GMC just announced an even cushier version of the SUV for the 2023 model year. The Yukon Ultimate Denali gets unique styling touches and upgrades that take the already plush SUV to another level.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate22-inch wheels are standard GMC

The Denali Ultimate gets exclusive upgrades over other trims that include 22-inch wheels and chrome accents outside. The full-size SUV just got a complete redesign for 2021, which brought updated boxy styling, and a sleek look, so there are no additional exterior changes for 2023.

GMC offers three engines in the standard Yukon, but only two make it into the Ultimate. The standard powertrain includes a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel is also available that makes 277 horsepower and a whopping 460 pound-feet of torque. A ten-speed automatic transmission is standard for all engines, and four-wheel drive is available.

Inside, the Ultimate comes with Alpine Umber full-grain leather upholstery with 16-way power front seats and massaging. Trim-exclusive contrast stitching and aluminum trim accent the space, and the top model gets an 18-speaker Bose audio system with stainless steel speaker grilles.

2023 GMC Yukon Denali UltimateGrained leather upholstery and upscale interior finishes are standard. GMC

A 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen comes standard, and offers Google services built in. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, along with wireless phone charging. A Wi-Fi hotspot and Amazon Alexa functionality are available. GMC also offers Super Cruise hands-free driving system in the Denali Ultimate.

GMC hasn’t detailed pricing for the new SUV yet, but we expect it to start at a premium over the standard Denali, which starts at just over $70,000.

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Electric vehicle production

GM outlines huge investment in new EV production

The $7 billion number is GM's largest single investment to date.

General Motors

Automakers are not shy about their plans to electrify their vehicle lineups. In fact, it's just the opposite, as most can't wait to release a media kit that sings the virtues of moving toward electrification and outlines their commitments to investing billions to make the move a reality. General Motors has been more active than most, building new facilities and revamping existing factories to handle new-age EV manufacturing. Today, the auto giant announced a further investment to build a new plant and overhaul the Orion Township facility in Michigan. The move creates thousands of jobs and positions GM as an early powerhouse in the EV race.

GM EV investment.GM says its new and existing facilities will create and retain thousands of jobs.General Motors

The $7 billion investment is slated for four Michigan manufacturing facilities. GM says the move will create 4,000 new jobs and retain 1,000 existing positions, and notes that the amount represents the single largest investment in company history. A new Ultium Cells battery plant in Lansing is part of the deal, along with the conversion of the GM assembly planting Orion Township. Orion will eventually house production of the upcoming Chevrolet Silverado EV and the electric GMC Sierra, making it the second of GM's facilities dedicated to building electric pickup trucks.

The Orion and Ultium Cells Lansing facilities will help GM boost its total full-size electric truck production to 600,000 units per year when both Factory Zero and Orion are in full swing. Though Ford sells more full-size trucks than Chevy or GMC individually, GM notes that the two combined move more trucks per year than The Blue Oval. The two plants join General Motors' existing EV-ready facilities that include Factory Zero in Detroit-Hamtramck, Spring Hill Assemble in Tennessee, CAMI in Ontario, and the Ramos Arizpe Assembly facility in Mexico.

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