2021 GMC Yukon flaunts luxury and capability in Vail

The all-new 2021 GMC Yukon made its debut at an event in Vail, Colorado, on January 14, riding on a new chassis shared with the Chevrolet Tahoe and the as-yet-unveiled Cadillac Escalade. The platform marks the debut of independent rear suspension for the Yukon as it grows in size, adding almost five inches in wheelbase and just over six inches in total length.

Three powertrains are available in the new Yukon: the ubiquitous 5.3-liter V-8, an optional 6.2-liter V-8 that’s standard on the Denali, and the fuel-sipping 3.0-liter inline-six turbodiesel. There are no power or mileage figures just yet, but the 6.2-liter is expected to make 420 horsepower and the turbodiesel should return best-in-class fuel economy. That same turbodiesel helps the GMC Sierra return 30 mpg on the highway and up to 33 mpg in the more aerodynamic Silverado, which performed its EPA testing on less aggressive tires.

The luxurious Denali sub-brand comprises about 60 percent of Yukon sales and GMC hopes to continue that kind of success in the 2021 Yukon by giving the new Denali an exclusive interior with new instrument panels and seats not found on any other Yukon trim. Available in four interior themes, each integrating real wood trim, the Denali also brings LED lighting to the daytime running lamps, headlamps, taillamps, and fog lamps.

As expected, the 2021 Yukon is packed with technology and offers a number of driver aids. We were particularly interested in the Active Response 4WD System that combines Magnetic Ride Control with an optional Air Ride Adaptive Suspension. The system reportedly allows the vehicle to lower slightly at highway speed for improved fuel economy, lower even more for passenger and cargo loading, lift up for improved clearance, and level the vehicle when loaded or towing. The highest setting, which adds two inches of ground clearance, is available only when the transfer case is shifted to low range. The optional electronic limited-slip differential, which can automatically transfer power to the wheel with the most grip, can also act as a locker when the transfer case is shifted into low range for added off-road grip.

Helping to maneuver off-road or while parking or towing, nine exterior cameras offer multiple views on the center dash display. Views include a forward-facing camera, a wide back-up camera, a downward-looking camera focused on the trailer hitch, a split-screen showing both views from the side-mounted cameras, and a simulated overhead 360-degree view made from stitching various camera feeds together, dubbed “Surround Vision.” 

2021 GMC Yukon Denali
2021 GMC Yukon Denali GM
2021 GMC Yukon Denali
2021 GMC Yukon Denali GM

After success with the Sierra AT4, GMC has expanded the off-road trim level across the brand’s lineup. The Yukon AT4 brings an exclusive fascia that, when paired with the Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, offers an approach angle of almost 32 degrees. All AT4 models come with a two-speed transfer case, red tow hooks, underbody skid plates, hill descent control, and 20-inch wheels wearing Goodyear all-terrain tires. Inside, the AT4’s interior features a Jet Black theme with Brandy accents and heated and ventilated front seats. Outboard second-row seats are also heated but forgo the ventilation.

All new Yukons besides the Denali feature an interior that shares its basic layout with the 2021 Chevy Tahoe. AT4 and SLT buyers can opt for a roomy front-seat center console that has a large powered sliding storage bin below the arm rest. Moving it rearward via overhead console switch puts the cupholders closer to second-row occupants and also reveals a drawer where the driver or front seat passenger can stow smaller items.

Like the similarly redesigned Tahoe, the Yukon will offer second-row occupants 12.6-inch screens for road trip entertainment and third-row passengers will get 34.9 inches of legroom—10 inches more than the previous generation, thanks to the extra length and improved packaging afforded by the move to independent rear suspension. The suspension change and resulting lower floor also helped create 30-percent more cargo room compared to the outgoing Yukon. The packaging improvements also afforded the longer-wheelbase Yukon XL a 19-percent increase in max cargo volume.

All told, the Yukons styling is sharp and its ride and interior upgrades should make it one of the most appealing full-size SUVs for families and one of the most sought-after vehicles for road trippers. We’ll have a first-drive review up soon, so check back if you want to know more about GMC’s largest and most powerful SUVs.

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