Morgan Pritchett
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History of the GMC Yukon

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A black 1996 GMC Yukon is parked on dirt next to other vehicles
1996 GMC Yukon
Photo: RLGNZLZ via CC

For more than 30 years, the GMC Yukon has provided bold style, impressive capability, and high-end amenities in the SUV segment. The large vehicle made its debut in the early ’90s and has been a mainstay in the GMC lineup ever since.

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Early history

When the Yukon debuted, it was a two-door SUV available in just two trim levels: SL and SLE. The style was similar to that of other SUVs at the time, with an overall boxy shape with rounded edges. Just as General Motors does with many of its models, the GMC Yukon had a nearly identical sibling in the Chevy Tahoe. But the Yukon was marketed as a more high-end option. Under the hood was a 5.7-liter V8 engine capable of 210 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque.

Production for the first-gen Yukon began in 1992 in Arlington, Texas. Over the years, GM made various improvements to the SUV, including the introduction of the first-ever Yukon Denali (which also happened to be the first-ever Denali vehicle). This elevated version of the Yukon offered a more refined style, inside and out, and included heated seats as well as a redesigned center console.

A dark blue 2002 GMC Yukon Denali is parked on grass in front of trees
2022 GMC Yukon Denali
Photo: Michael via CC

Big changes

In 2000, the GMC Yukon entered its second generation alongside the Tahoe. The exterior was nearly unrecognizable as the model adjusted to more modern needs from consumers. The boxy appearance of the SUV was mostly gone, as was the two-tone paint option that was previously available. Inside, GMC offered the Yukon with front-row bucket seats or a bench with an integrated middle seat.

By the time the Yukon entered its third generation in 2007, it was based on the new GMT900 platform and surprised GM by continuing to be a sales success, even as the large SUV market started to dip. More changes arrived on the vehicle’s exterior, including a new front fascia, updated headlights, and a more angular overall design. In 2012, GMC offered the special Heritage Edition package for the Yukon, which included special badging, floor mats, headrests, 10-way memory leather seats, a power liftgate, and optional 20-inch wheels.

The fourth generation for the GMC Yukon began in 2015. Yet again, the Yukon’s exterior changed to align with customer desires. The bolder front grille immediately stood out while the interior featured a larger touch-screen display and more comfortable seats. To help improve fuel economy, the Yukon’s 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine was equipped with the new 8L90E eight-speed automatic. But by 2018, a 10-speed automatic was offered on the Yukon Denali while the standard Yukon received a facelift.

A white 2022 GMC Yukon AT4 drives on a gravel road among the mountains
2022 GMC Yukon AT4
Photo: GMC

Recent generation

The fifth-generation GMC Yukon was introduced to the world in January 2020 and started production in May of the same year as 2021 models. New for this generation was a new AT4 trim focused on four-wheel-drive capability. This performance SUV comes with exclusive leather-appointed seats, unique stitching and accents, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, 20-inch all-terrain tires, a Traction Select System with off-road mode, hill descent control, a two-speed transfer case, and skid plates.

For years, the GMC Yukon has represented a stylish yet functional SUV option. As one of the top performers in the lineup, it doesn’t seem likely that this model will go anywhere anytime soon.