Test drive: The 2021 GMC Yukon Diesel is built for the long haul, but may be short-lived

SUV combines power of a V8 truck with the fuel efficiency of a crossover

GMC’s newest SUV may also be the last of its kind.

The 2021 Yukon is now available with a diesel engine. It’s the same 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six-cylinder offered in the Sierra pickup and an alternative to the 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V8s that are also available in both trucks.

(GMC)

The thing is, General Motors recently announced plans to become an all-electric automaker by 2035, so it’s unlikely it will be adding any new internal combustion engines to the lineup before that happens, let alone diesels. How long the current ones will be on sale hasn’t been clarified, but the first of the battery-powered truck brigade arrives late this year in the form of the GMC HUMMER EV.

So why even bother with a Yukon diesel now? Well, the market has made it pretty clear that not everyone is ready for the switch to electric, especially long-haulers, for which this type of engine is particularly well-suited. According to the Diesel Technology Forum, diesel SUV and pickup sales were up 28 percent in 2020.

(GMC)

The 277 hp engine has the same 460 lb-ft of torque rating as the Yukon Denali’s 6.2-liter V8 and delivers an EPA combined fuel economy of 23 mpg in two-wheel-drive trucks and 22 mpg with four-wheel-drive, thanks in no small part to the Yukon’s 10-speed automatic transmission.

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That’s over 30 percent better than both V8s and the highway ratings are 27 mpg and 26 mpg, respectively, which puts the Yukon into three-row crossover country and allows the it to cover 648 miles between fill-ups. The extended-length Yukon XL can make it 756 miles, courtesy of its larger fuel tank.

(GMC)

Just as vital to its intended customers, the Yukon Diesel can tow up to 8100 pounds with two-wheel-drive and 7800 pounds with four-wheel-drive, which is 200 to 300 pounds more than the V8s are capable of in their standard configurations. However, the gas trucks can be equipped with an optional max towing package that gives them a 200 to 400-pound advantage.

The Yukon Diesel starts at $52,990, which represents a $1,000 premium over one with the 5.3-liter V8. In the top-of-the-line $68,195 Yukon Denali the diesel is $500 less than the trim’s 6.2-liter V8. Even with the higher price of diesel, annual fuel savings range from $200 to $850.

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The diesel definitely sounds like one with the hood open, but is mostly unobtrusive. It’s a little chuga-chuggy in stop and go traffic, but quiets down on the open road until you slam the diesel pedal. It may not have spark plugs, but its responsiveness and willingness to rev are electrifying when you do.

As with the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and Cadillac Escalade, which are also available with the diesel, the 2021 Yukon is all-new and features a fully independent suspension. Its ride quality is several levels of refinement higher than the previous model and that’s before you add the optional computer controlled shocks and adjustable air suspension system.

(GMC)

The Yukon also gets an interior with a dashboard design completely unique from the Tahoe’s that helps further set it apart to justify its $1,700 higher price. Beyond that, the two mostly share a rich feature set that includes a powered center console that slides rearward to create extra storage space and reveal a secret compartment; a full suite of electronic driver aids with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist; head-up display; and high definition 360-degree camera.

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An off-road focused Yukon AT4 model is also available with a special 4x4 system, skid plates, tow hooks and all-terrain tires, but it only comes with the 5.3-liter V8, so you’ll have to plan on shorter overlanding trips than the diesel could potentially provide.

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2021 GMC Yukon Diesel

Base price: $52,990

As tested: $82,245

Type: 7-passenger, 4-door, four-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6-cylinder diesel

Power: 277 hp, 460 lb-ft

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 20 city/26 hwy