Road Test: GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate

Road Test: GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate

Story and photos by Gerry Frechette

When you really think about it, what type of vehicle other than a large, premium truck-based SUV combines so many desirable attributes in one place? The GMC Yukon, based as it is on a full-size truck chassis, and equipped like our Denali Ultimate test unit, comes awfully close to doing everything you’d want very well – except for fuel economy, of course.

First, the subjective attributes. It looks classy and understated, especially in the black and chrome of our tester. The 22-inch wheels are shiny and bright as they should be, and the trim is tasteful. The Denali is for those who want to make the kind of toned-down statement that its more flamboyant sister the Cadillac Escalade can’t do. Having said that, the Denali brand itself has become a prestige name in its own right, something that GMC does a good job of exploiting.

The interior continues the classy look, as the Ultimate model boasts real wood trim, hand-stitched leather all over, massaging seats, dual 12.6-inch rear seat screens, and numerous luxury touches in design and execution that will dispel any notions that riding in a truck is somehow a notch down from a luxury sedan.

It’s certainly not a notch down if you are ensconced in one of those comfy second-row captain’s chairs. Besides the aforementioned touchscreens with a USB (HDMI only, we believe) port for each, there are  ambient and seat heater controls, making the trip a nice one for all.

Other than comfort and attractiveness, the interior’s claim to fame is space, and lots of it, in every direction. This is a three-row vehicle, and that third row is actually somewhere an adult would have  some room, although the seat itself is not as comfortable as the seats in the first two rows. And behind that third row is a cargo area that offers some 25 cubic feet of space. Fold down the second and third rows and you get 130 cubic feet. Picture a GMC Sierra pickup’s long box, and you get the idea, in all but vertical space of course.

A truck-based vehicle had better have some capability, no matter how much luxury it has, and that the Denali has. Under the hood of our tester was the optional 6.2-litre V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque at a higher-than-you-might-have-thought 4,100 rpm. No turbocharger here to boost the low-end power. Having said that, it is more than adequate to propel the Denali to zero-to-100 km/h times in the six-second range, or to tow 8,000 pounds of trailer.

The drivetrain continues with a 10-speed automatic transmission, and out through a two-speed transfer case to, naturally, all four wheels, which are shod with 275/50-22 mud and snow tires. We didn’t drive this Denali anywhere but on tarmac, but if you were to conclude that, with those tires, this Denali would not get too far beyond gravel and snow surfaces, we suspect you would probably be correct. We can attest that they do give a nice, quiet ride on the highway, assisted by the Air Ride suspension, Magnetic Ride Control dampers, and independent multi-link rear suspension. For a big truck, the Denali sure is a smooth ride.

Driving the Denali is as easy as a large SUV can be, thanks to the suspension mainly. The steering and brakes are as you’d expect – not the most communicative to the driver – but this isn’t a performance vehicle. There are really no concessions to economical driving, beyond the stop-start feature and the engine’s Dynamic Fuel Management that shuts down various cylinders when they aren’t needed, which one has to think is most times. In fact, the available driving modes include Normal, Sport, Off-Road, and Tow/Haul, but not “Eco.” We saw a best of 19.3 litres per 100 km in normal urban use.

A couple of quirks to mention. Despite the third row seat, we noticed the slots and indentations in the cargo area walls for a cargo cover, but there was not one installed. We would want one of those on our Denali. Strangest of all, the windshield wiper system (not the blades, but the motor assembly) is the loudest we have ever heard on a new vehicle. With every sweep of the blades, there is an audible low groan from the mechanism. You had to crank the audio system to avoid it. We don’t know if it was just our unit that had that, or if all Denalis do. Also, some drivers might consider the push-button gear selector (PRNDL) on the dashboard to be a little different, but I suppose that eliminating the usual gear lever opens up some console space, and it is no worse than the rotary knob we now see on so many other vehicles.

So, the Yukon Denali will liberate $110,000 from your account, but if that and the fuel consumption are not issues, it will comfortably haul your family and most of their luggage, tow a large trailer, and go as far off-road as the tires will permit, all with quiet refinement and high-tech safety. Add in a lot of road presence and envious looks from all but Escalade drivers, and you’ve got a big, classy SUV that does a lot of things well.