It has been a quite some time since we have had the opportunity to drive what most would consider the granddaddy of all SUVs, the GMC Yukon. Wait ... back up, maybe it should be classified as an extremely close relative to the Yukon XL, which really came through the Chevrolet Suburban genetic line.
Quick history lesson, the first Suburban made an appearance way back in 1935 as a family-hauling version of the ever popular Chevy Silverado Truck. In fact, the Suburban currently holds the designation of the longest continuous nameplate use in the industry, having been part of Americana since its introduction.
The Tahoe and Yukon both came on the scene in 1992 as replacements for the ever-popular Chevrolet full-sized Blazer when it moved onto the S-10 version. The GMC Yukon was mostly the same vehicle as the Tahoe until 1998, when it received the addition of a top-of-the-line Denali nameplate, which is the SUV that we were blessed to have for a week in late February.
The Yukon is one of the largest full-sized SUVs on the market today and it drives just like it looks, large and in charge. Stepping up to the Denali version of the GM product also comes with an upgraded power plant, a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower and 460 ft.-lbs of torque. A normal Yukon only gets a 5.3-liter power plant with 355 horsepower and 385 ft.-lbs. of torque.
The Denali also moves from 0 to 60 in an impressive 5.6 seconds, which is not bad for a vehicle that weighs in at over three tons. Compare that to the Dodge Grand Cherokee SRT8 which gets there in 4.9 seconds and weighs significantly less, this is big motor in a very big vehicle. We had to keep reminding ourselves during the week that we had over 17 feet in length with us where ever we went.
This fact, in and of itself, would be one of the things that would really take some getting used to owning a Yukon. It made getting in and out of the grocery store parking lot a different kind of chore that involved more brain power, leading us to really think through our choice of parking spots wherever we went. At the end of the day, it was pretty much just like driving a very comfortable truck.
With the new 10-speed transmission and the included trailer-hauling package, our tester would haul up to 8,400 pounds, enough to pull most any of the weekend adventure toys that most families would have. Craig took the chance to put on one of his trailers that weighs around 6,500 pounds and pull it up to Salt Lake City to This is the Place Park for a dance with no problems at all. He also noted that when the extra weight was put on the Denali, the suspension system kicked in and automatically leveled the vehicle to haul the newly added weight.
For those who want the larger, more powerful motor to pull with, or just need more power, it seems that GM has left them with only one choice. The Denali is the only way to get to the 6.2-liter-sized engine, unless a Cadillac Escalade is more appealing, they come standard with the 6.2-liter motor with prices starting pretty much where the Denali leaves off.
This third generation redesigned Yukon comes with what we would consider a boxier look, although the engineers say that the new design is even more aerodynamic, with mpg estimates up 1 mpg in the city and up 3 mpg on the highway. We averaged 17.6 mpg for the week that included a pretty even mix of highway and city driving, with the longest trip being a jaunt by Craig, and Rhett Long, publisher of The Daily Herald, and Jordan Carroll, its editor, to the Utah State Capitol for a morning of lobbying some of our legislative representatives.
We did find that the Denali performed very well during one of the large late winter storms that we encountered over the weekend of our test drive. The four-wheel drive works to perfection in this very well grounded SUV. Having owned a brand new Tahoe in 2006, we might be a little biased, but the Denali did everything we asked it to, including making a snow day a normal day in Utah!
GMC is quick to point out that almost half of all customers that come looking for a Yukon actually opt for the Denali trim level showing the need for a loaded, full-sized SUV for families. On the inside, the rear seats automatically folded forward and the rear seats would do the same automatically folding forward and backward.
It should be noted that even though the new Denali is slightly longer and wider than the previous generation, luggage capacity is down nearly 10 percent because of the shelf that was added to make the floor flat when the seats are folded down. Although to this point, hauling things on Saturday from the hardware store will be much easier with a flat rear cargo space, unlike our old Tahoe where we had to physically remove the rear seats!
Up front in the driver’s and front passenger’s world is where the new Denali really made itself relevant, with premium materials everywhere on a dashboard that seemed to go on forever, designed with comfort and perfection in mind. This design was easy to understand with the huge 8-inch touch screen as the center focus, and yes, just as in other GM models, it is completely customizable to the driver’s whim.
The instrument cluster is unique to the Denali. It turned out to be extremely intuitive and was also customizable for the driver. Of course, there was the keyless entry and push-button start, as we are finally seeing this characteristic definitively find its way into full-sized trucks, and the button is now commonplace in all SUVs.
Our driving time with the Denali proved what the engineer had claimed, that this new design is the quietest ride in an SUV available on the road today. They have included acoustically laminated front and side door windows, tripled sealed doors that are inset to catch less wind and more aerodynamic mirrors to lessen wind noise. The 10-speaker Bose stereo system also has active noise cancellation, resulting in an incredibly hushed cabin during highway driving.
One of Craig’s favorite additions was the full color heads-up display that puts speed, tachometer, navigation, blind spot monitoring and other critical items right onto the front window. He never had to look down into the beautiful instrument cluster, unless he felt the need.
Loaded is one way to describe a Denali. It comes with heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, collision avoidance, navigation and Wi-Fi, just to name a few of the comforts and safety features that were added to our test ride. In fact, towards the end of the week, Craig had just started the Denali when our son Landon sent a request to FaceTime over the iPhones, he decided to give it a try over the new Wi-Fi that GM has equipped most new vehicles with. It worked flawlessly throughout the Denali’s 4G LTE system; it was just like we were home connected to our wireless router.
The Denali is the ultimate family SUV, making getting the kids around a comfortable as possible, see them today at Harmons GMC in Provo at 470 W. 100 North, (801) 841-3109 or AutoFarm GMC in American Fork at 629 E. 1000 South, 888-887-5041.
Base Price: $69,165
Price as Driven: $77,785