Road Test: 2021 GMC Yukon Denali

Road Test: 2021 GMC Yukon Denali

Story and photos by Benjamin Yong

GMC’s upscale Denali trim has become synonymous with bringing a touch of luxury to the truck and SUV segment. The rebuilt-from-the-ground-up fifth-gen Yukon is one of the most recent examples to receive all the latest bells and whistles that come along with the designation. Also built upon the same T1 platform as the modern Chevrolet Tahoe and the flagship Cadillac Escalade, a high level of refinement is almost a given.

“Yukon was the model in which Denali originated in 1999, and now more than 20 years later we’re introducing the quintessential Denali,” says Helen Emsley, global Buick and GMC design executive director, in a media release. “It delivers a first-class experience with an all-new, exclusive interior and a bolder and more distinctive exterior design.”

There are many similarities shared with the two SUVs above both inside and out, like the powered assist steps that swing out when a door is opened to help occupants climb into the 1,943-millimetre tall vehicle.

Perhaps the biggest show-stopping feature of all is the larger and simply stunning Galvano chrome grille, made up of over 10,000 individual reflective surfaces, complementing the Cayenne Red Tintcoat paint (+ $595) on our press loaner perfectly. On either side are LED headlamps housing “light blade” signature daytime running lamps.

Unsurprisingly, the cabin boasts next level premium materials, accessories and technologies. See the three rows of seats swathed in super soft perforated leather, dark walnut detailing, 15-inch head-up display, dual-pane panoramic sunroof, booming 14-speaker Bose stereo, and the first appearance of an available power sliding centre console providing flexible storage options.

Those sitting in the second row are treated to a pair of reclining captain’s chairs and a rear seat media system comprised of two 12.6-inch LCD touchscreens, another T1 commonality, paired to Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones. They can play content cast from a phone or tablet, or hook up to a gaming console using HDMI, and are even able to send navigation inputs to the intuitive 10.2-inch central infotainment display for the driver or passenger to approve.

The Yukon’s overall length is 145 millimetres longer than previously resulting in an unbelievable 66 percent gain of cargo space behind the back bench (221 litres) and 41 percent extra leg room in front. Everything stows neatly at the touch of a button to carry unwieldy items.

Powering the particular Yukon Trucks Plus tested was GMC’s 3.0-litre Duramax turbo-diesel inline-six generating 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The torque is really on display when being heavy on the throttle and the engine emits a nice growl to boot. When properly equipped, it is also rated to tow up to a maximum of 7,800 pounds.

The Denali handles a lot better than a 2,686-kilogram vehicle should, aided by an Active Response 4WD system, two-speed transfer case, electronic limited slip differential and multi-link independent rear suspension. The four-corner Air Ride Adaptive Suspension is capable of moving the body 50 millimetres up or down to help ingress and egress, improve high speed aerodynamics or give added ground clearance during off-roading.

The 2021 GMC Yukon Denali is built at the General Motors Arlington, Texas plant and starts at $80,348 MSRP.



Base price (MSRP): $80,348
Type: Full-size SUV
Layout: front engine, 4WD
Engine: 3.0L turbo-diesel inline six
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Power: 277 hp @ 3,750 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
Brakes: front/rear disc with ABS
Fuel Consumption (L/100km, city/hwy): 11.8/9.0