My husband called it a land yacht. I called it a big sucker. But however you want to look at it, the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali is quite large. Which, obviously, is kind of the point. The people who buy a Yukon are looking for that gargantuan size.
And now, for the 2021 model year, Yukon Denali adds more usable interior volume, plush interior accents and a lot of cool features.
For the most part, I really liked this next-gen Yukon – especially the tech features – but there are a few things I didn’t love as much as I wanted to.
Land yacht status
Let’s get this out of the way straight off: I’m about 5-feet tall, and I had a hard time getting a good driving position. The dash has a bumped-up bit that takes about 2 inches off of my over-the-wheel visibility, and no matter how high I pumped up the seat, my eye level was just slightly higher than the dash. I don’t remember having that problem in the previous-gen Yukon – and I haven’t started shrinking yet.
Because of my diminished visibility, I often found myself moving around in my seat – leaning forward, backward and sideways – to see over the dash and around the chunky A-Pillar whenever I was entering a 4-way stop or turning a corner.
I was also very tentative driving on the narrow Chicago streets in my neighborhood, worrying that I might clip a parked car. Part of that is definitely familiarity with the vehicle. As I only had about 20 hours behind the wheel, I didn’t quite manage to become comfortable with the sheer size of the Yukon Denali. The other part: The Yukon is 210 inches long and 81 inches wide.
The good news, however: Large as it is, it did fit in my petite city garage. So, someone in a city could own this and not have to worry about trying to find street parking night after night.
Plus, on the upside of the land-yacht status, the ride of the Yukon Denali was very smooth without feeling floaty.
As a Denali model, the test vehicle was equipped with the 6.2-liter V-8 engine that delivers 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. This is an excellent powertrain that provided smooth and seamless power exactly when I needed it. From quick off-the-line starts as the traffic light turns green to passing maneuvers on the highway, I never once felt like the Yukon Denali lacked power.
While the Yukon Denali was certainly easier to drive on the highway, I definitely felt its size here as well. While I didn’t feel like I had to make constant lane adjustments, I was all too aware that I was the lane.
I stop short of saying the Yukon Denali was fun to drive because it is so damn large, but it is definitely comfortable and effortless.
The base engine appearing in the SLE, SLT and AT4 trims is the 5.3-liter V-8 that delivers 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque.
One of the huge selling points for Yukon Denali – and a primary reason this vehicle works in a city environment – is the amount of interesting technology that makes it easier to drive as well as more functional.
Let’s start with the cameras. The high-definition surround-vision camera has up to nine different camera angles on the front, rear and side – and it even provides visibility and round a trailer or boat you might be towing. When your visibility might be hindered, this is absolutely the key not to hit something. In fact, I will credit these camera angles for helping me shove the land yacht into my city garage with nary a scrape on an alley garbage can.
Next, the 15-inch head up display shows a lot of helpful information, including the speed limit, actual speed and lane keep assist. My favorite feature, here, though is it measures how far away you are in seconds from the vehicle in front of you. No more counting (1-one thousand, 2-one thousand) to verify if you’re at least 2 seconds away; the Yukon Denali removes the guesswork.
Another tech-forward feature I appreciate is the completely wireless environment. It has become a pet peeve of mine when an automaker has wireless charging but makes you wire in for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. But GMC – at least in the Denali trims – makes charging and CarPlay/Auto wireless, so it’s easy to drop your phone in the charging slot and forget about it.
Finally, I’m a huge fan of the power-sliding console, which answers the age-old question of: Where in the heck to I put my purse (or briefcase or take-out bag)? You no longer have to shove your bag on the floor or passenger seat because the console moves back about 12 inches, creating ample space for your precious cargo.
Oh, and speaking of cargo, GMC has added about 66% more cargo volume behind the third row, which gives the Yukon Denali potential to be a road-trip vehicle without adding a cargo carrier on top of or behind the vehicle. Plus, as an added bonus on the cool feature side of things, the test vehicle made it possible to drop both second and third rows to a fold-flat position from the rear of the vehicle. The third row also has a power up option, though the second row requires manual labor to put it back in place.
The exterior of the 2021 Yukon can best be described as handsome. With large horizontal lines and bold, blocky headlights, taillights and grille elements, this next-gen Yukon makes a statement from a distance.
It’s not a drastic departure from the previous model, but everything is sharper, larger, better.
For 2021 the interior across the Yukon lineup is also all new, and Denali models get exclusive interior accents. For the most part they are attractive and work really well with this vehicle. Most notably, the Denalis get a unique cross-stitch pattern on the seats, center console and doors – and I really liked it. I was also a fan of the wood inserts on the dash and the general look of the overall interior.
I even liked the design of the gearshift. The vertical placement on the dash is a bit disconcerting at first, but I got used to it during my brief test – even though (or maybe because) it reminded me of a set of brass knuckles. I liked the alternating push-pull of the buttons, which leaves little room for confusion on if you are putting it in drive versus park – park is a push, drive is a pull. Though my fingers are tiny, I think there is plenty of room for larger fingers – or even fingers with gloves – to execute the pull part of the operation.
Another nice design feature to note involves the power-sliding console. In addition to space for a bag, the console itself has a hidden drawer, which is large enough for a phone, notepad, wallet or spare change.
A final detail of note centers around charge ports – and the fact there are USB-C ports all the way back in the third row. So, in addition to generous legroom, you can actually charge your devices while lounging back there.
A few annoying things
Of course, there are pitfalls to every vehicle. The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali is no exception. I could start with the obvious and say the fuel economy is abysmal. Even though the EPA says you should get 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, I was averaging 13.2 mpg in mostly highway driving.
But my bigger – and less obvious – problem was with some of the touch points. More specifically, the topper for the cup holders and the drawer inside the console feel kind of flimsy and cheap. The test vehicle was $83K, and this was definitely not something I expected at that price point.
Then, we get back to my driving position – which may not be a problem for big dudes (or dudettes) who might buy this truck. But for any petite drivers, say those under about 5 feet 2 inches, this is going to create some visibility problems – not only because of the high dash but also because of the chunky A-Pillar and overlarge side mirrors.
Trims & pricing
One of the interesting notes on pricing is GMC held the line, adding content but not significantly increasing the base price. The SLE only increases $100, the SLT stays the same and the Denali only increases by $700. That’s pretty awesome. Below are the base prices for non-XL, 2WD models.
SLE ($51,995): Incudes the independent rear suspsension, 10-speed automatic transmission, 10.2-inch infotainment screen, wireless AppleCarPlay/Android Auto.
SLT ($59,095): Adds 20-inch 6-spoke wheels, wireless charging, Bose 9-speaker audio system, heated-and-vented front seats, perforated leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control.
AT4 ($66,095): This is a 4WD-only model and adds increased front approach angle of 32 degrees, red horizontal recovery hoods, front skit plate, 2-speed AutoTrac transfer case, hill descent control, 20-inch Goodyear all-terrain tires.
Denali ($69,695): Includes all SLT equipment and adds exclusive grille, exclusive instrument panel design, exclusive interior color things, high-definition surround vision, dual exhaust system with dual twin polished stainless-steel tips, Bose 14-speaker surround system
As a side note, XL adds $2,700, and 4WD will add $3,000.
The bottom line on the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali
In a general sense, GMC has done a great job with the 2021 Yukon Denali. It looks great, it drives comfortably, it has a ton of cool features, and (most importantly) the price increase is minimal.
With increased cargo and passenger volume plus clever features (like that power-sliding console), this next-gen 3-row SUV is going to be a clear winner in the full-size SUV segment.