It’s cold in Chicago in February, and if it’s the Chicago Auto Show, it’s almost certainly snowing, as well. This year’s show was no different: still cold, still snowy, still full of gleaming sheet metal under the lights in toasty warm McCormick Place on the shores of Lake Michigan. With the move of the traditionally season-leading North American International Auto Show in Detroit from January to June in 2020, Chicago is now the first big auto show of the year, resulting in a visible bump in new-product debuts as a result. We wouldn’t call it a windfall for the Windy City, but that’s OK because the vehicles that are here still impressed — and our decision on Best in Show for the 2020 Chicago Auto Show was a tough one between two very worthy contenders.
Related: More 2020 Chicago Auto Show Coverage
Neither of our two top finalists technically debuted at this show (they both had private unveilings earlier this year), but this is the first major U.S. auto show where we could get a good look at them. The one that came close was the new 2021 Genesis GV80, the first SUV from the South Korean luxury brand owned by Hyundai. It impressed us with its style, interior amenities and advanced technology. But the ultimate winner of our Best in Show award went a little further, finally delivering on the promise that its brand has been claiming for years.
Our 2020 Chicago Auto Show Best in Show award goes to the 2021 GMC Yukon. Cars.com reviewers Aaron Bragman, Mike Hanley and Brian Normile explain why below.
Bragman: I wasn’t prepared for how nice the new GMC Yukon Denali’s interior was going to be. I’d seen the pictures that it was different from lesser Yukons like the SLT or off-road AT4 with its unique dashboard design, but to sit in it and experience the premium leather, the beautiful stitching, the leather-covered surfaces that are accented with wood and brushed metal trim, I was immediately reminded of the latest Land Rover interiors in form and function.
The switches and knobs feel premium, the displays look classy, and the whole thing is finally GMC delivering on the promise of what it’s always said the Denali sub-brand was: special, unique and luxurious. Until now, it hasn’t been. But now, I truly wonder why you’d need to spend more money on the new Cadillac Escalade when the Yukon Denali is this nice.
Hanley: I was also impressed by the level of luxury in the Yukon Denali, but even if you choose one of the more mainstream trim levels, there are some significant improvements. For one, the second-row captain’s chairs now slide forward and backward, letting rear passengers divvy legroom in the second and third rows as needed. And where the third row in the prior generation was cramped and uncomfortable, the one in the 2021 Yukon is comfortable for adults with a much better seating position.
For a long time, GM’s full-size SUVs haven’t delivered the level of interior space and comfort their substantial exterior dimensions would lead you to believe they offered. On the outside, the 2021 Yukon is a bit bigger than its predecessor, but inside it feels a lot bigger.
Normile: The interior quality in both the Yukon AT4 and Yukon Denali are much improved, though the Denali truly shines. It’s the first Denali I’ve been inside in a long, long time that feels not just premium but actually luxurious. The materials are mostly first-rate (it wouldn’t be a GM product without some cheap stuff from the parts bin here and there), and it actually feels like it justifies the added cost over a non-Denali model.
But most important to me is that a giant SUV like the Yukon finally, finally has enough room in its third row for adults. The space in the third row of the previous generation was absolutely laughable, but now I can fit comfortably — and I’m not exactly small. GMC finally has full-size SUVs worth their prices, and a true luxury SUV, as well. It’s a remarkable turnaround.
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