General Motors unveils new 2021 GMC Yukon, Yukon XL SUVs

Key Points
  • General Motors unveiled redesigned versions of its GMC Yukon and Yukon XL SUVs Tuesday night in Colorado.
  • The Detroit automaker particularly showcased a new AT4 off-road version as well as its top-end Denali models.
  • The addition of AT4 to the Yukon models is part of a two-pronged approach with Denali to increase profitability for GM's GMC truck and SUV brand.
2021 GMC Yukon AT4
Source: GM

VAIL, Colo. — General Motors unveiled redesigned versions of its GMC Yukon and Yukon XL SUVs Tuesday night, including new off-road AT4 models and more premium versions of its top-end Denali vehicles.

The upscale Denali models include a new exterior design and, for the first time, an exclusive interior with open pore woods, hand-stitched leather and other features. The AT4 vehicles feature darker exterior accents as well as 20-inch all-terrain tires and a two-speed transfer case. Both are available with a new power sliding center console for flexible storage.

2021 GMC Yukon AT4 rear view
Source: GM

The addition of AT4 to the Yukon models is part of a two-pronged approach with Denali to increase profitability for GM's GMC truck and SUV brand. Denali is a highly profitable sub-brand for GMC that debuted on the Yukon in 1999 and has since expanded across its lineup. GM plans to do the same for AT4 this year.

"The real key thing is we've really pushed Denali even more up market. As much as I think the AT4 is outstanding, I think we've taken Denali to a level it's never been to before," Duncan Aldred, global head of GMC, told CNBC.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali
Source: GM

Denali is particularly important for Yukon and GM as Denali represents 60% of Yukon sales — the highest among any vehicle in GMC's lineup. Across GMC's lineup, Denali represented 30% of all sales in 2019 — a record for the brand. By increasing the uniqueness of the vehicle, GMC aims to increase those very profitable sales even further, according to Aldred.

"We've tiptoed over 60% at certain times, and to be honest I expect to do that with this one," he said. "I still think there may be upside in there as well as strengthening AT4."

The vehicles are expected to begin arriving in U.S. dealerships this summer. Pricing was not announced. Starting prices of current 2020 Yukon models range from about $50,000 to $70,000. Prices for the 2020 Yukon XL, a larger version of the standard model, start between about $53,000 and $72,000. Both vehicles can sell for more than $80,000.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali interior

GMC design

The 2021 Yukon and Yukon XL models share design cues from the recently redesigned GMC Sierra pickups, including a more aggressive exterior design, C-shaped LED signature lights and large prominent grilles. The SUVs share engines, underpinnings and many other parts with the new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban SUVs, which were unveiled last month.

The new SUVs will be offered in three engine options: A 5.3-liter V-8 with 355 horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 hp and new 3.0-liter diesel engine, which debuted in the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, with 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. All engines will be matched with a 10-speed transmission.

The interior of the vehicles include standard 10-inch diagonal center infotainment screens and optional 15-inch head-up, or windshield, display for drivers and 12.6-inch-diagonal touchscreens for the rear seats.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali and AT4
Source: GM

The Denali-exclusive interior for GMC includes its own instrument panel, infotainment screen, unique seats and a choice of four color themes in addition to more premium materials. Many optional safety and convenience technologies on other models are standard on Denali.

The SUVs also are available with a new air suspension and four-wheel-drive system with an electronic "Limited Slip Differential" that continuously monitor road conditions and react to improve traction, handling and overall control.

An "all-new digital vehicle platform" for the SUVs have data-processing power five times greater than the current models. GM officials previously told CNBC that the platform of the new SUVs is capable of handling GM's Super Cruise highway driver-assist system; however, the technology will not initially be offered on the SUVs.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali
Source: GM

In 2018, GM announced plans to begin expanding Super Cruise, which operates similar to Tesla's Autopilot system on highways, outside of Cadillac beginning in 2020.

Cadillac Escalade next

GM has dominated the highly profitable full-size SUV segment with the Yukon and Yukon XL as well as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV.

The Tahoe and Suburban accounted for 45% of the U.S. sales of non-luxury full-size SUVs through October, according to Cox Automotive. GM during that same time period, including Chevy and GMC SUVs, accounted for 65%, or 188,520 units, of full-size non-luxury SUV sales in the U.S. The next closest competitor was Ford Motor at 23% with its redesigned Expedition.

Redesigned versions of the Escalade that feature a curved 38-inch OLED diagonal display are expected to be unveiled next month. GM's full-size SUVs are manufactured at GM's Arlington Assembly in Texas, which has received more than $1.4 billion in investments since 2015.

"The big SUVs are the big moneymakers for any brand that offers them," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Cox Automotive.

2021 GMC Yukon XL Denali interior
Source: GM