While GMC’s Denali line (which originally appeared as a trim level for the full-size Yukon SUV) has taken on a life of its own over the past 20 years and now enjoys status as a successful luxury sub-brand, the knock against them is that they haven’t quite delivered a premium-level interior. With that in mind, we were excited to see the 2021 GMC Yukon unveiled near Gypsum, Colorado and find out how much GMC had stepped their game up with the fourth generation Yukon—specifically inside. Going in we knew that the Yukon and Yukon Denali would have different dash configurations, but not just how different they would be. We were pleased to find both had been completely rethought from the ground up. Along with countless exterior changes, the inside now features a motorized, moveable console; premium leather; genuine wood and more color options than ever before.
To get a better understanding of how GMC delivered such dramatic improvements inside the SUVs, we spent some time speaking with Michael Stapleton, the brand’s Director of Design for Interiors.
When choosing materials for the new Yukon Denali, were you looking for anything specific or was it more about the overall package?
Both led to an overall execution. The color and trim team worked closely with the shapes and placement team during the drawing process to ensure that things ended up in the right place. This led to design choices that were a significant change from the past. For example, the wood inlays being protected so that the edge is not exposed, that’s something we haven’t done before and it was important because we’re particularly proud of the use of open-pore wood. Real wood is important because it’s relaxing and we aim for this interior to be just that.
What other features are you particularly proud of and what were some of the challenges you faced putting them in place?
The new optional motorized sliding console is the standout for sure. It was the most challenging from an engineering and design standpoint as it has a ton of moving parts and affects everything around it. We’re very proud of it because not only did we address a customer need, which was a lockable storage space for valuables, but we did so in a creative new way. Being able to reconfigure a center console is nothing new, but being able to do so at the touch of a button and have so many useful features embedded within that console—like cup-holders for kids in the rear seats that can now be brought closer to them with ease—that’s pretty great.
Can you tell us more about the various interior themes and how they connect to existing GMC buyers as well as potential customers who would be new to the brand?
We now have four interior options on the Denali instead of just two to go with 10 exterior color options, which we’re happy to deliver because our past Denali buyers asked for more choices inside. Black/brownstone/ombre is my favorite and looks especially great with the new signature Fractal stitching on the seats. The metal brightwork around the screen and ledge to rest fingers on while making selections on it are a premium touchpoint. It’s another way we are inviting customers to literally connect with the vehicle alongside the natural woods and premium leathers. All of this helps convey an overall upmarket move for Denali and that’s how we hope to retain existing customers and gain new ones.
What do you think are the most outstanding changes when compared to the outgoing generation Yukon?
Overall the fact that we’ve re-defined the interior space. There’s not a bad seat in the house anymore—so to speak. It’s now so much easier to get in and out of the third row thanks to a better fold-and-slide second row that’s operated with a single lever. At the same time there’s more cargo space behind that third row. To improve comfort and cargo capacity without making sacrifices, that’s special.
What is the overall mission—design-wise—of these 2021 models?
Denali seeks to be the best of the best, but not make a show of it.
Images by Andrew Maness