New Yukon De­nali reaches greater heights

Changes in­side and out of­fer lux­ury, roomi­ness

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Mark Phe­lan

The new Cadillac Es­calade bet­ter be good. That was my first thought af­ter a day driv­ing the 2021 GMC Yukon De­nali large SUV, which takes GMC’s premium sub-brand to new lev­els of lux­ury. The ’21 Es­calade, GM’s ul­ti­mate lux­ury flag­ship, will have to im­prove its in­te­rior de­sign and ma­te­ri­als sig­nif­i­cantly to top Yukon De­nali.

Gen­eral Mo­tors ex­ec­u­tives hate it when auto writ­ers think like that. They re­mind us Cadillac and GMC brands have very dif­fer­ent im­ages and cus­tomers. The brands rarely com­pete for the same buyer.

Well, I hate it that GM still makes blind spot alert an ex­tra cost op­tion on most of its ve­hi­cles. We all learn to live with our dis­ap­point­ments.

We’ll dis­sect the new Es­calade when it’s avail­able later this year. It bet­ter be mostly prime cuts, be­cause the Yukon De­nali’s in­te­rior de­sign, ma­te­ri­als and com­fort are out­stand­ing – and com­pet­i­tively priced.

Don’t buy a three-row lux­ury SUV with­out sit­ting in one.

The Yukon De­nali com­petes with three-row SUVs such as the Ford Ex­pe­di­tion, Lin­coln Nav­i­ga­tor, In­finiti QX80 and Lexus LX 570.

This col­umn refers to the 2021 Yukon De­nali, not the larger Yukon De­nali XL, which also gets a new model for 2021.

Safety and driver as­sist fea­tures

h Au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing

h Front pedes­trian brak­ing

h Fol­low­ing dis­tance in­di­ca­tor

h Front col­li­sion alert

h Front and rear park­ing as­sist

h High-def sur­round vi­sion

h High-def rear vi­sion cam­era

h Au­to­matic high beams

h Lane change alert with blind spot alert

h Rear cross traf­fic alert

h Lane keep­ing warn­ing and as­sist

h Safety alert driver’s seat

h Adap­tive cruise con­trol

Driv­ing im­pres­sions

The en­tirely new 2021 model is the first time the De­nali’s in­te­rior is mark

edly dif­fer­ent from lower Yukon trim lev­els. The in­stru­ment panel is unique, with a 10.2-inch touch screen that’s set flush in the cen­ter stack, hand-fin­ished ex­posed-grain wood, “frac­tal” pat­tern stitch­ing and Bose 14-speaker Per­for­mance Au­dio sound sys­tem.

The De­nali gets dis­tinc­tive lights and a unique grille to vis­ually dis­tin­guish it on the road.

The in­te­rior is spa­cious, more than 6 feet nose-to-nose for pas­sen­gers in the front and third-row seats.

The in­te­rior of my test truck was wrapped in soft black ani­line leather. The hand-stained wood trim in the doors and dash­board shaded from rich brown at the rear or out­board ends to nearly black.

The sec­ond-row cap­tain’s chairs slide fore and aft for legroom and tip for third-row ac­cess. The power fold­ing rear seats make it easy to ex­pand cargo space.

The “frac­tal” ac­cent stitch­ing on the seats – black leather seats with gray di­a­mond-pat­tern stitches in my car – is more at­trac­tive and dis­tinc­tive than it sounds.

The con­trols con­tinue GM’s in­dus­try-lead­ing track record with a com­bi­na­tion of but­tons, voice recog­ni­tion and the large, easy to reach, touch screen. The con­tent of a 15-inch color heads-up dis­play can be tai­lored to suit the driver’s taste.

Big­ger in­side and out

The Yukon grew 6.1 inches longer for the 2021 model year, thanks to a new

plat­form that greatly in­creased the room and com­fort of what was al­ready one of the in­dus­try’s lead­ing large SUVs.

The new plat­form also adopted an in­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion, or IRS, a lay­out that al­lows for a lower rear floor, cre­at­ing more room for com­fort­able seat­ing for third-row pas­sen­gers and more room for cargo be­hind them.

The IRS also de­liv­ers a smooth, com­fort­able ride with re­spon­sive han­dling and steer­ing that makes the big SUV feel adept in traf­fic and man­age­able in park­ing lots.

My test ve­hi­cle had a 6.2L V8 that pro­duces 420 hp and 460 pound-feet of torque, four-wheel drive and a 10-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. It had plenty of power to ma­neu­ver in traf­fic, pass and cruise on the high­way. Tow­ing ca­pac­ity was 8,200 pounds.

The EPA rates the 2021 6.2L 4WD Yukon at 14 mpg in the city, 19 on the high­way and 16 in com­bined driv­ing, us­ing premium gaso­line. That trails the 2020 Ford Ex­pe­di­tion, which uses a tur­bocharged 3.5L V6 en­gine, but beats the smaller In­finiti QX80 and Lexus LX 570.

The 2021 Yukon’s fuel economy is down slightly from a 6.2L 4WD 2020 Yukon, but re­mem­ber the new SUV is con­sid­er­ably big­ger – but im­pres­sively, mine was only about 84 pounds heav­ier – than the truck it re­places.

How much?

Prices for the 2020 Yukon start at $50,700 for a base model with rear­wheel drive and a 355-hp 5.3L V8. Yukon De­nali prices start at $68,400 with the same en­gine and RWD. GMC is one of GM’s great suc­cess sto­ries, a brand with such a strong im­age that cus­tomers hap­pily paid more for its ve­hi­cles even when they were lit­tle more than gussied up Chevro­lets. For years, GM’s been up­ping GMC’s game to jus­tify that premium. The 2021 Yukon De­nali in­te­rior is the peak: the best ma­te­ri­als teamed with most cre­ative and user-friendly de­sign.

GMC ex­ecs say a quar­ter of all GMCs sold are De­nalis, a fig­ure that rises to 56% for Yukons sold to re­tail cus­tomers. That’s se­ri­ous money, y’all.

I tested a top-of-the-line 4WD Yukon with the op­tional 6.2L V8. It stick­ered at $83,425.

That bought just about ev­ery op­tion in GMC’s or­der book: Adap­tive air sus­pen­sion 22-inch bright alu­minum ma­chined wheels Dual 12.6-inch rear seat video mon­i­tors Power run­ning boards Panoramic sun­roof Elec­tronic lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial Adap­tive cruise con­trol Rear cam­era mir­ror Power slid­ing cen­ter con­sole Smokey Quartz metal­lic paint It’s a hefty price, but the Yukon De­nali’s room, lux­ury and ca­pa­bil­ity war­rant it. De­spite in­tro­duc­ing an en­tirely new, con­sid­er­ably big­ger, more ac­com­mo­dat­ing and bet­ter equipped model for 2021, Yukon prices in­creased mod­estly across the line. The base price is up just $100 vs. 2020. Yukon De­nali prices start only $700 above last year’s model.

The Yukon De­nali is also loaded with stan­dard equip­ment: Mag­netic ride con­trol

Hill de­scent con­trol Two-speed trans­fer case 14-speaker Bose Per­for­mance Au­dio Mul­ti­color 15-inch head up dis­play 10.2-inch touch screen Blue­tooth com­pat­i­ble Wire­less Ap­ple CarPlay Wire­less An­droid Auto Wire­less charg­ing Three-zone au­to­matic cli­mate con­trol Heated and ven­ti­lated front seats Mem­ory for driver’s set­tings Sec­ond row heated bucket seats Heated steer­ing wheel LED Head­lights, tail­lights and run­ning lights

LED front fog lights Hands-free power tail­gate

MARK PHE­LAN/USA TODAY NET­WORK

The 2021 GMC Yukon De­nali is roomier than the 2020 model, thanks to a new ar­chi­tec­ture and in­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion.

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