Bigger and badder. The 2021 GMC Yukon has been redesigned from the ground up, and it’s richer than ever before. Large SUVs are turning into something of an arms race, and the Yukon launches an offensive with an extra 6 inches of length and an optional XL body style.
That’s great for trips to Home Depot, but it dents everyday usability. The Yukon is now tall enough to require a firm grip on the assist handles to climb into the cockpit. Power running boards help, but they’re only available on the top two trims.
Also new this year is the AT4 trim, which adds a modicum of ruggedness with off-road tires and skid plates. We doubt many Yukons will stray too far from the pavement, but the AT4’s macho looks don’t hurt.
For those with toys to tow around, the Yukon retains its towing capacity of up to 8,400 pounds, which is strong for the class.
Dressed for the occasion. The GMC Yukon shares its platform with the Chevrolet Tahoe, which is slightly cheaper. The biggest distinguishing factor is the Yukon’s distinctive styling.
It doesn’t try to hide its bulk. Slabby sides lead up to an oversized grille, which is framed by C-shaped LED headlights. Use of chrome is liberal, especially in upper trims. If bling is your style, the Yukon is worth considering as a relatively affordable alternative to upscale lux-mobiles like the Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade.
The top Denali trim nearly matches the price tag of those vehicles, but it justifies itself with a truly luxurious interior. Matte wood trim blends with aluminum and leather for an attractively contemporary interior, complemented by an air suspension and a 14-speaker sound system.
Room for anyone and anything. The 2021 Yukon’s extra length gives a boost to cabin space, which was already considerable. Third-row passengers enjoy nearly 35 inches of leg room, around 10 inches more than last year. That’s enough for adults to sit comfortably, although it still doesn’t quite match the Ford Expedition.
For buyers who need more than a full-size SUV, the Yukon comes in an XL body style that adds 15 inches of length. The Yukon XL is downright cavernous – with all the seats stowed, cargo capacity opens up to nearly 145 cubic feet. That’s more than most minivans.
The generous cabin benefits from another 2021 feature: a four-wheel independent suspension. The setup has been a long time coming, but it gives the Yukon a smooth and controlled ride that swallows up potholes with ease. The air suspension on the Denali is even better.
Capability at a cost. The Yukon sticks to a tried-and-true formula of V8 powertrains. The base version is perfectly competent, but the optional 6.2-liter V8 is addictively smooth.
The new kid on the block is a 3.0-liter turbodiesel, which makes 460 pound-feet of torque and should be a good choice for towing. Official estimates haven’t been released, but we’re hoping for decent fuel economy – the other two engines don’t get above the mid-teens in combined miles per gallon, according to the EPA.
The Yukon starts at just under $52,000 after destination fees, which is nearly $2,000 more than the mechanically identical Tahoe. That puts the Yukon in an odd position – shoppers looking for value may be better served at the Chevy dealership next door. The Yukon justifies itself best with styling and materials, which improve in the upper trims.
Final thoughts. The 2021 GMC Yukon feels like an old-fashioned SUV brought into the 21st century. Space and power are abundant, but the styling and ride feel contemporary. If you can live with the old-fashioned fuel economy, the Yukon should check many boxes for SUV buyers.
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