Review: 2021 GMC Yukon presents huge abilities and a diesel to match
For the 2021 model year, GMC has redesigned the big Yukon SUV. Now entering its fifth generation as a truck-based sport utility, the Yukon modernizes interior comfort and roominess while maintaining a prodigious towing and hauling capacity. A diesel powertrain is now available as well.
At a Glance
- Well-balanced in both price and capability for the large SUV segment
- Much more daily-drive comfortable than before
- Diesel engine offers good fuel economy and competent towing
The GMC Yukon shares a platform with the lower-priced Chevrolet Suburban and the higher-priced Cadillac Escalade (which we reviewed earlier). Sharing those components and underpinnings of design means that the Yukon gains the independent rear suspension, longer length and wheelbase, and three adult-friendly rows of seating like its half-siblings. Yet design-wise, the new Yukon is still a GMC in terms of its fit and trim and price point. Where the Chevrolet starts at about US$52,300 and the Cadillac quickly tops $100,000 in pricing, the Yukon rides in the middle at around $67,000 in its topmost Denali package.
Among the changes made to the Yukon, the most beneficial for daily driving is the move from a solid rear axle to an independent rear setup. This greatly improves ride quality and feel, aids turning, and improves interior roominess in the rear quarters – especially for the third row. At well over six feet (1.8 meters) in height, I had no issues getting into and sitting in the third row of the Yukon. The added six inches (15.2 cm) of length aid legroom in the second and third rows as well.
The Yukon has three engine choices this year. The standard engine is a well-vetted 5.3-liter V8 that outputs 355 horsepower (264.7 kW) and 383 pound-feet (519 Nm) of torque. That’s respectable and returns 20 mpg (11.8 l/100km) on the highway and a maximum tow rating of 7,900 lb (3,583 kg). Those are good numbers for a full-sized, base-model SUV.
The Yukon’s Denali package adds a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 HP and 460 lb-ft (313 kW and 623.7 Nm). Fuel economy remains at 20 mpg on the highway, though city and combined numbers are reduced by one. Towing is boosted to a maximum 8,200 lb (3,719.5 kg).
Nearly all Yukon models for the 2021 model year have the option of a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engine that churns out 277 HP (206.6 kW) and 460 lb-ft (623.7 Nm) of torque. Fuel economy with the diesel jumps to 27 mpg (8.7 l/100km) on the highway. Towing returns to a maximum 7,900 lb with this engine.
Our test model was the diesel-powered version in the Denali package. For our money, that diesel seems the best option for the new Yukon. It’s a smooth-running, purring powerplant that gets excellent fuel economy for the segment, and does everything nicely. The 300-lb towing gain for the big V8 isn’t much of a payoff, considering the costs associated with that big of a gas guzzler. Plus, nothing beats a diesel for steady, cultured trailer pulling. Which, if you’re buying a large SUV like this, is half the reason for purchase ... the other half being people-hauling, which the Yukon also excels at.
The interior of the new Yukon, especially in its Denali package, is posh without being decadent. The Yukon comes standard with a 10.2-inch touchscreen, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and advanced collision warning and braking. Basic seating arrangements are for eight (three in the third row, three in the middle, and two up front). A nine-passenger (front row bench) option is also available. The Max Trailering package adds a trailer brake controller, transmission cooling system, and tire pressure monitoring for the trailer. Highly recommended.
The Yukon has an AT4 off-road-oriented trim as well, improving its approach angle, dirt-ready looks, and air filtration (among other things). The Denali package, however, is the most posh of the four trim levels, adding most of the options available for the previous trims as standard, with a few exceptions. While the technology is upgraded in the Denali, to get adaptive cruise control and digital rearview mirror that’s available, another Technology Package must be added on. That’s a disappointment given the price point being paid for the 2021 Yukon in this top-end trim.
Other options include larger wheels (from 20 to 22-inch), a panoramic sunroof, power-retractable side steps, a rear seat entertainment system, and the aforementioned Max Trailering package. Most of these upgrades are found in various upgrade packages, with several that bundle features together and that often overlap. Some, like the Max Trailering, are stand-alone as well.
The chief complaint for the 2021 Yukon is its sheer size. But that size is the point of this SUV. Huge SUVs like this one are meant to be big, bold, and very capable. Towing without the bulk to control the trailer is not a fun experience, and with capabilities getting close to those of most full-sized pickup trucks, an SUV like the Yukon becomes appealing when its cavernous cargo space (almost 123 cubic feet / 3,483 liters at maximum) and seating for seven to nine people are combined.
Where the Yukon falls short is when only the seating capacity and cargo space are needed. For that, far more maneuverable, affordable, and efficient crossover-SUV models are available.
We like the GMC Yukon for its middle-ground appeal, though, and maximized capabilities. It sits in the premium area where it’s not quite a luxury ride like the Escalade, but isn’t as basic as the Chevrolet Suburban. General Motors has found a sweet spot for the GMC brand here.
Product Page: 2021 GMC Yukon