2021 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL Grow in Size and Features

Jeff S. Bartlett

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The all-new GMC Yukon and Yukon XL are larger, roomier, more powerful, and promise to be more refined than the full-sized SUVs they replace. 

The new Yukon announcement comes just after the unveiling of Chevrolet's all-new 2021 Tahoe and Suburban, and it will be followed by the introduction of the closely related Cadillac Escalade.

Full-sized SUVs from those three brands are renowned for providing generous passenger space, large cargo capacity, and impressive towing capability. Key mechanical changes include a move to an independent rear suspension to improve ride quality and the addition of a diesel engine. But the newer Ford Expedition has taken the lead in this segment based on Consumer Reports tests.

Based on the initial details released by GM, the crosstown rivalry appears to be very much alive. Here is what we know so far about the Yukon and Yukon XL.

CR’s Take

The Yukon and Yukon XL sound promising, with dramatic changes to the suspension, towing-friendly features, and interior quality upgrades that make the cabin commensurate with the price tag.

Fuel economy is a challenge for this segment of heavy, powerful vehicles. The added size may limit the efficiency gained by the 10-speed automatic. Ultimately, these models promise to be more capable and more enjoyable to drive than their predecessors. But time, and testing, will tell. 

Outside

The GMC Yukon and Yukon XL look nearly identical to the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban from the side, as they always have. To their credit, the Chevrolet full-sized SUVs look tasteful and upscale, with a clear design connection to other models in the lineup. The GMCs look like Tahoe/Suburbans with a new grille, wheels, and on Denali versions, an added fender trim piece near the sideview mirrors, as we have seen on Ford trucks and Land Rover SUVs.

The grilles distinguish some trims, with the off-road focused AT4 having a tough-looking grille that would look at home on a Sierra pickup truck. The upscale Denali trim has a much busier grille that looks similar to an electric shaver and the trim on other GMC models.

These SUVs are bigger than ever, with the Yukon riding on a 5-inch-longer wheelbase and measuring 6 inches longer from bumper to bumper. The Yukon XL uses a 4-inch-longer wheelbase and gains an inch in overall length.  

Inside

Larger exteriors open up more passenger and cargo space. GMC says the Yukon’s space behind the third row has grown from 15.3 cubic feet to 25.5 cubic feet, thanks in part to the independent rear suspension that allows for a well that the third row folds into. As a result, maximum cargo space has increased a claimed 28.2 cubic feet. The improvements are less dramatic on the Yukon XL, but there is more legroom and it will hold a bit more stuff. Available on Denali, AT4, and SLT trims, the top of the center console between the seats can slide back to make room to stow larger items.

The interiors have a clean, modern design with straightforward controls, as is common for recent GM vehicles. It looks more refined, like a midsized SUV, than something more rugged and simplistic, as has been the norm with full-sized vehicles.

The Denali trim versions have a unique interior for the first time, with their own instrument panel, seats, materials, and color themes. The Denali has a different dash top design, with vents above the integrated infotainment screen, whereas other Yukons have an infotainment screen that stands up from the dash like a tablet, with the vents positioned beneath.

Large screens are available for second-row passengers. These are affixed to the rear of the front headrests.  

What Drives It

Three engines will be offered for the Yukon and Yukon XL: two gasoline and one diesel. All three are teamed with a 10-speed automatic transmission, operated with a push-button gear selector.

The base engine is a 355-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8. For drivers who need more power, the 6.2-liter V8 brings 420 hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. These two gasoline engines will both have GM’s latest cylinder deactivation technology, allowing them to operate on fewer than eight cylinders when cruising to save fuel.

Both Yukon lengths will be available later with a 277-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-six turbodiesel, designed with an emphasis on efficiency and tow capacity.

Drawing from the Sierra AT4 and Sierra HD AT4, the Yukon gains a new trim level packaged for off-road adventure. The Yukon AT4 rides on all-terrain tires wrapped around 20-inch wheels, and it has driver-selectable off-road modes, hill descent control, and protective skid plates underneath. It also has niceties such as AT4-specific leather seats, heated front and second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel.

An available adaptive air suspension can change the ride height up to 4 inches. It lowers the height slightly at highway speeds to aid fuel economy, and the driver can raise the SUV by 2 inches for off-roading. The magnetic ride control responds to road conditions and makes rapid adjustments to balance control and comfort.  

Safety & Driver Assist Systems

Automatic emergency braking is standard on all versions. There are numerous driver assist features available, such as a surround-view camera, rearview mirror camera, and rear pedestrian alert.

There are available features to help with towing, including the ability to save profiles for different trailers, with trailer tire pressure monitoring and blind spot warning for trailers.

Details on other safety systems have not been released.  



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