One Day Drive
First Drive Review: 2021 GMC Yukon is capable with impressive tech and cluttered touch points
At long last, the GMC Yukon has been completely redesigned. The 2021 GMC Yukon excels exactly where you'd expect, but it delivers in areas where it has underperformed in the past. What matters most is that the Yukon is a formidable opponent for the Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition, and Chevrolet Tahoe.
On the outside, the Yukon strikes the right balance between imposing and confident. It's a look that is a natural evolution for the model with attributes influenced by the 2019 GMC Sierra. It's quite nice looking as far as large SUVs go.
The body of the 2021 GMC Yukon is not dissimilar to the outgoing model. Photo courtesy of GMC
Under the hood of the GMC Yukon Denali trim tested is the same 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine that's available in the GMC Sierra. It's paired with a smooth shifting 10-speed automatic transmission. Under low speed testing, the engine performed as expected without showing the type of strained confidence that came from the previous generation's model.
As predicted when the vehicle was revealed, the Yukon Denali's new shifter setup is less than ideal. Park and neutral are buttons while reverse and drive are levers that must be pulled forward. While the button aspects are easy to use, the pull on the reverse and drive leaves a lot of functionality to be desired. The depth of the pull is shallow and it was harder than it should have been to get a satisfying grip on the lever. Using those levers with gloves on is likely a no go.
The steering in the Yukon makes it easy to steer around tight turns. In that respect, it's easier to drive than the GMC Acadia.
At the front, the Yukon's relationship to the Sierra is apparent. Photo courtesy of GMC
GMC's new Active Response 4WD System reacted well in testing on ice, snow, and bare pavement. It quickly allocated torque to give a driver confidence in the Yukon, but it wasn't able to keep the vehicle completely stable with there being some slip off the line in snow when the Yukon is given a good amount of gas. That's pretty typical in those conditions, though.
Over bumpy terrain, the Yukon's available adaptive air suspension kept passengers comfortably stable in their seats. The tester was a prototype model and there were some issues with the ability of the car to raise and lower the four inches GMC advertises in its product info.
However, the bigger issue is navigating the air suspension controls. Off to the left side of the steering wheel is a mess of buttons, dials, and buttons that control everything from the Yukon's ride height to drivetrain and the 15-inch head-up display to engine start-stop and headlights. Altogether there are no less than 15 buttons, three levers, two dials, and trailering controls. That's a lot for fingers to navigate, even without gloves on.
The dashboard is filled with buttons, dials, and levers. Photo courtesy of GMC
The short drive of the prototype did not allow for any evaluation of the safety technology.
Despite being just a short drive, the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali showed that it has a lot to like. It's a step far ahead of the Nissan Armada and feels closer to luxury level than the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe. The Yukon Denali's interior is nicer than the Ford Expedition's but it's not as luxe as the Lincoln Navigator's.
The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali's interior is a big step up from previous Yukon Denalis. Photo courtesy of GMC
That being said, there are a lot of positives in the Yukon. The head-up display is impressively sized and gives a good amount of information. The standard 10-inch infotainment screen is handsome and works as advertised.
The interior of the Denali trim feels and looks more premium than it ever has. Thankfully GMC has gone away from the practice of just making the Denali interior a "more chrome" option.
The price point of the Yukon and more information about other trim levels and fuel efficiency is still forthcoming, as well as the opportunity to drive the model for an extended period of testing. Stay tuned. The Yukon is just getting started.
The 2021 GMC Yukon goes on sale this summer.
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