2021 GMC Yukon

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
March 3, 2021

Buying tip

The value will be in the GMC Yukon SLT, but the Denali edition offers Cadillac-grade luxury, down to its big V-8.

features & specs

2WD 4-Door Denali
2WD 4-Door SLE
2WD 4-Door SLT
15 city / 20 hwy
16 city / 20 hwy
16 city / 20 hwy

Coming to an upper-middle-class neighborhood near you: The 2021 GMC Yukon is richer and bigger, with details and a price tag to match.

What kind of car is the 2021 GMC Yukon? What does it compare to?

The 2021 GMC Yukon is a full-size SUV from the truckmaker and its biggest to date. Available in Yukon and long-body Yukon XL form, it’s a rival for the related Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, and the Cadillac Escalade.

What's new for the 2021 GMC Yukon?

Review continues below

It’s new for the 2021 model year and its changes represent the largest shift for the brute ‘ute in more than a decade. It’s larger, has a more sophisticated suspension in pricey versions, gets an optional turbodiesel engine, and sports more cameras and forward gears than ever. With the Yukon, GMC has another high-dollar hauler to add to its arsenal and one with more trims than before. 

Is the 2021 GMC Yukon a good car?

It’s blessed with excellent powertrains, copious interior room for people and their baggage, a long roster of standard safety and luxury features, and a face we prefer to the one on the Tahoe/Suburban, by a slight margin. We give the 2021 Yukon a TCC Rating of 6.7 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

How do we get there? We start with the snapped chalk lines that frame the Yukon body. It’s big and bluff, with a massive grille that sits chest-high to 6-footers. Its C-shaped lighting corners the body like photos in an album, and the slight forward kick of its C-pillar gives the Yukon some visual motion when it’s parked. Inside it’s low-key lavish in Denali trim, with wood layered between metallic trim and leather; all versions get a big 10.2-inch touchscreen dovetailed neatly into the dash.

GMC taps a 355-horsepower V-8 for the most popular Yukons; Denali makes an inline-6 turbodiesel with 460 lb-ft of torque standard, while the larger 420-hp V-8 is optional. All team with a 10-speed automatic for mostly invisible power transfers to the rear or all four wheels. GMC’s traction systems get assists from available electronic limited-slip differentials, wheels sized from 18 to 22 inches, and newly available adaptive dampers and air springs. In its most mechanically complex form, the GMC Yukon knits it all together for seamless power, a remarkable ride, firmly controlled steering, and sad-face fuel economy.

The Yukon’s fitted with up to eight seats and cargo room for multiple roll-on bags or a full Welsh dresser, depending on which seats are folded. The seat comfort’s high in the front and second rows, but even row three can fit 6-foot-tall adults for crosstown treks. In Denali trim, the Yukon wears the low sheen of modern luxury like low-heel boots. 

Crash-test scores aren’t in yet, but the 2021 Yukon gets standard automatic emergency braking; adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and towing and surround-view camera systems can be ordered. The Yukon’s gorgeous 10.2-inch touchscreen wields wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as in-car wi-fi; Denalis upgrade the basics with a power sunroof, power-folding third-row seats, leather upholstery, and wireless smartphone charging.

How much does the 2021 GMC Yukon cost? How much is a fully loaded 2021 GMC Yukon?

Prices start at $53,290 for the Yukon SLE and rise to $71,290 for the Denali. Four-wheel drive costs $4,000 as an option, while the XL body costs $2,700.

Where is the GMC Yukon made?

In Arlington, Texas.


2021 GMC Yukon


The Yukon wears angles like snapped chalk lines.

The Yukon has visual snap that’s more muted on its Tahoe cousin; the interior’s welcoming where it’s not palatial, in the Denali. We give it an 8 here, with two points above average for its exterior, one for its interior.

Is the 2021 GMC Yukon a good-looking SUV?

The 2021 Yukon draws heavily from the Sierra 1500 from which it's based and stubs a bigger grille into the truck’s snout—depending on trim level. 

So far, GMC has only shown us the luxury Denali and off-road-adjacent AT4 trim levels, each with their respective looks. The Denali goes all-in on chrome up front with a big, honeycomb chrome grille up front, surrounded by chrome above and below. C-shaped LED lights frame the badge, which floats toward the top in the ocean of chrome.

More chrome? Sure. The fog lights have chrome surrounds, and the body sides have chrome too. 

The AT4 version subs in black and matte black in place of the Denali’s chrome and adds accents such as red tow hooks and visible skid plating to boost its macho resume. 

Inside, the Yukons have a low dash with a 10.2-inch touchscreen planted on top of the dash. A push- and pull-button gear selector—similar to the GMC Terrain, except vertically oriented—sits on the driver’s side, next to touchscreen and climate controls perched low in the center stack. 

Yukon Denalis get their own dashboard that’s more upright and covered in real wood trim. The touchscreen is integrated into the dash for a better look, although the center console and storage are the same throughout. 

Review continues below

2021 GMC Yukon


The Yukon’s V-8 hits a boil quickly; the air springs give it a slick ride.

How fast is the GMC Yukon?

It’s fast enough to forget at times that it’s a GMC relies on one of two V-8s or a 3.0-liter turbodiesel to power the Yukon. Lower-end models get a 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 with 383 pound-feet of torque. A 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 is optional. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-6 is standard on the Denali, but wasn’t available for a test drive.

We drove the effortlessly smooth and quick Denali edition. GM’s powertrain skills show up in full force here; the big V-8 sounds unbothered as it hustles up to speed, estimated here for scoring at about seven seconds to 60 mph. In Lincoln’s Navigator, the brute force comes with a more grainy soundtrack; the Yukon’s as muted as a sewing-machine-smooth V-12. In the Tahoe, the smaller V-8 doesn’t fall behind by much in acceleration, so we’ve scored it similarly here. 

All engines pair to a standard 10-speed automatic. It’s mostly unruffled here, though it sometimes riffles through gears before it settles on one. It’s difficult to tell as it hunts, though.

Is the GMC Yukon 4WD?

Rear-wheel drive is standard on most trims and automatic four-wheel drive is available on every trim except AT4, where it’s standard. An electronic limited-slip differential is available on most models to find better grip—should any Yukons dare to leave the road. 

Tow ratings hit 7,900 pounds in rear-drive versions with a standard set of towing accessories (the XL’s 7,800 pounds); with an uprated tow package, the rear-drive 5.3-liter V-8 Yukon can pull up to 8,400 pounds.

The Yukon’s elevated ride and handling mark major progress, and bring GM’s big SUVs on par with the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. For the first time, the Yukon rides on a four-wheel independent suspension that can be upgraded with adaptive dampers and an air suspension that can raise or lower the Yukon by 4 inches for better ground clearance or cruising. 

We pressed our Denali test vehicle into post-hurricane escape mode, through floods and sand, and over concrete berms and fallen branches. The Yukon’s full-time four-wheel-drive system never wanted for traction; it gripped a grassy median and led a turnaround caravan when the water grew too deep to ford, its suspension raised two inches to clear anything that couldn’t be seen through murky water. It scrabbled through wind-whipped sand and easily found a foothold; the steering’s weight pulled off the neat effect that makes the Yukon feel smaller and better controlled despite its enormous height and width. 

When it finally merged into interstate traffic, it settled into a very welcome, serene lope that masked new potholes and soothed frazzled nerves, even on big 22-inch wheels standard on the Denali.

Review continues below

2021 GMC Yukon

Comfort & Quality

The Yukon suits five or more people, and vast quantities of...anything.

Based on the SLE and SLT versions, we give the 2021 Yukon a 9 for comfort and utility. The Denali would be a 10, thanks to its handsome wood and leather trim.

First, the basics. The 2021 Yukon is longer than its predecessor by nearly six inches (210 inches from bumper to bumper) with a wheelbase that stretches 120.9 inches, almost five inches longer than before. The Yukon XL measures 225.2 inches from end to end (up about one inch from last year) and rides a wheelbase that’s 134.1 inches long. 

On a practical level, it means the Yukon’s biggest seating challenge is climbing into it. Power running boards help on some versions, but the Yukon’s very tall now; the grille’s at shoulder height for someone 6 feet tall. Climbing in requires a hook around the steering wheel and a grip on the assist handle. Once inside the front power-adjustable seats and tilt/telescope wheel yield a good driving position, an epic view of the road ahead, and compromised views over the shoulders where headrests and roof pillars get in the way. Some trims wear a great grade of leather upholstery, and get heated and cooled seats—and don’t suffer the usual hard seat bottoms that can come with the cooling mechanism.

The second-row captain’s chairs fit nearly the same, with an excess of head and leg room—38.9 and 42.0 inches, respectively. Adults can sit in back and cross a leg over a knee while they watch available rear-seat entertainment; heated second-row seats are available, and we expect a bench seat to become available with less expensive versions, too.

The biggest change inside is for wayback riders in the third row, which gets nearly 35 inches of leg room, up more than 10 inches on the 2020 version. It’s suitable for tall people for short trips, with enough head room and leg support for 6-footers. Their knees will rub against the second-row seat backs, but they’ll get there.

The Yukon’s cargo capacity has grown too. With all three rows of seats in place the Yukon holds 25.5 cubic feet of gear or 122.9 cubic feet with the second and third rows stowed. With rows two and three in place, the Yukon XL holds 41.1 cubic feet of cargo, or 144.7 cubes with the rows out of the way. The cargo floor’s still high, since the Yukon’s a tall-riding vehicle, but better third-row packaging yields more useful space, accessed by a power tailgate.

The Yukon’s fit and finish rises to top tier in the Denali we drove. Matte wood trim melds with leather and metallic trim to frame out the cabin in a low-key but expensive look. We’ve yet to sit in low-end versions, though.

Review continues below

2021 GMC Yukon


Mark the Yukon incomplete, for now.

How safe is the GMC Yukon?

The NHTSA gives the Yukon a four-star overall rating, and rollover resistance comes in at three stars. Each of those costs it a point here; it makes up one with standard automatic emergency braking, another for its array of safety-aid cameras. The IIHS still hasn't rated it; that could bring it above average, but for now, it's a 5.

A surround-view camera system is available, as well as blind-spot monitors. The Yukon offers up to nine cameras for better outward vision and towing assistance and the Yukon can be fitted with adaptive cruise control and active lane control, as well as a rear camera mirror.

Review continues below

2021 GMC Yukon


The Yukon’s richly appointed, especially in Denali trim.

The Yukon racks up points for lots of standard features, plenty of options, and a big, beautiful touchscreen with great infotainment. It misses points for value and warranty coverage, so it’s an 8.

Which GMC Yukon should I buy?

We recommend the most expensive one, but even the $53,290 Yukon SLE will have great feature content. It comes with power features, cruise control, a 10.2-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and 18-inch wheels. Four-wheel drive is a $4,000 option (but only $3,000 on the similar Chevy Tahoe); the XL body is $2,700.

The $60,390 Yukon SLT adds 20-inch wheels, nine-speaker Bose audio, wireless smartphone charging, leather upholstery, and heated and cooled front seats. It’s our recommended pick, with a catch.

How much is a fully loaded 2021 GMC Yukon?

The $67,390 Yukon AT4 could be great because it comes with hill descent control, 20-inch off-road tires, skid plates, and recovery hooks. 

If cost is no object, we’d spend up into the $71,290 Yukon Denali, which gets the adaptive suspension, four-wheel drive, the bigger V-8, 14-speaker sound, wood trim, heated second-row seats, a power-fold third-row seat, blind-spot monitors, and a surround-view camera system. Options include a rear-seat entertainment system, a power sunroof, 22-inch wheels, an electronic limited-slip differential, an air suspension, active cruise control, a rear camera mirror, and a trailering package with hitch-view camera and trailer blind-spot monitors.

The Yukon has a 3-year/36,000-mile warranty.

Review continues below

2021 GMC Yukon

Fuel Economy

Is the GMC Yukon good on gas? No.

Is the GMC Yukon good on gas?

The Yukon isn’t very efficient. It’s equipped with a turbodiesel and one of two V-8 engines which post EPA combined ratings in the high teens. We give it a 3 for fuel economy.

The Yukon’s gas mileage is up from last year by 1 mpg. For 2021, it checks in at 16 mpg city, 20 highway, 18 combined when equipped with the base V-8 in rear- or four-wheel-drive form. The Yukon XL gets the same rating with rear-wheel drive, but  four-wheel drive it’s rated at 15/19/17 mpg.

Denali editions with the bigger engine are rated at 15/20/17 mpg in rear-wheel drive, but four-wheel drive drops the numbers to 14/19/16 mpg. 

The 3.0-liter inline-6 turbodiesel is the most efficient Yukon at 21/27/23 mpg in rear-wheel drive; four-wheel drive costs it 1 mpg to 20/26/22 mpg. 

Review continues below
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MSRP based on 2WD 4-Door SLE
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Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 5
Features 8
Fuel Economy 3
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