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The GMC Yukon Denali: The Luxury Tank

I have never been a big fan of SUVs. To me, they’ve always been something you bought out of need instead of want. They’re devices to lug around the maximum amount of humanity and their crap. “Looks like the little lady is pregnant again, guess I should trade in the sports sedan for something a little more practical.” And as God is my witness that will never ever be a Minivan. Which means when I finally trick a woman into marrying me and having my children, I will inevitably have to consider an SUV.

SUVs come in all manner of shapes, sizes, and luxuries. It seems, though, that luxury SUVs are everywhere. From Audi to BMW, Mercedes-Benz to Land Rover and Lexus, all have a dignified and quiet class about them as they transport their owners and their kids to whatever afterschool activity is planned for that day. Here in the good old U S of A, we do things a little different. We like to start with a truck, add some leather and chrome, throw in an old school American V8 and job done. Which brings me to our latest test vehicle, the venerable Yukon Denali.

Denali 4

The Yukon Denali starts at $65,715 and if you’re the type to go crazy with the options list you can top out around $80,000. That’s a lot of coin to part with especially when you consider the competition. So let’s take a look and see if it’s a viable option in the marketplace or if it’s another example of GM shoehorning a vehicle between Chevrolet and Cadillac. Much like we discovered with the Buick’s Regal GS.



The Interior

Inside, the Denali is cavernous, which is hardly surprising given it’s dimensions. The leather and plastics all have a quality feel to them. The seats, in particular, are very comfortable. There is plenty of room for passengers and their stuff. The 3rd row even has enough room to fit a medium-ish adult, as we shoved someone back there and they fit with ease. Best of all, you can fold the seats with a push of a button. And don’t you worry, if you run out of space inside you can tow another 8100 pounds worth of whatever.

The Infotainment system is logical and easy to use. The Bose audio system is more than capable of blasting your favorite tunes or whatever “music” your wife wants to hear. The optional DVD player and rear screen is a great way of distracting the children on long or short trips. Letting them live in their own world is better for everyone. Whom over the age of 10 wants to listen to the wiggles for 4 minutes let alone 4 hours? No one! And if someone tells you otherwise they’re either lying or they’re someone you should no longer speak to for any reason.

There are some issues. The cup holders for the 2nd row are way too shallow and have an odd square shape. Almost as if the designers assumed your children would be drinking mini bottles of Fuji water. The all red analog speedometer is difficult to read. There is a digital option, but it quickly disappears when you check any of the 9.76 million features available on the instrument display. GM loves throwing HUD’s on cars, and they should think long and hard about fitting the Denali with one. It begs for it.

The Exterior

The first thing you notice when you look at the Yukon Denali is that it’s handsome vehicle. It pulls off tough and modern and has a presence due to its sheer size. The designers did a good job enhancing this effect without going overboard. For the most part. Our tester had the optional 22-inch chrome wheels. Well, when I say chrome, I mean plastic wheel inserts that look like chrome. In GMC’s defense, they do a good job hiding it as they look quite authentic until you touch them. You have to get right up on the wheel and run your hand over the back side to figure it out. I know a lot of car companies are employing this bit of automotive trickery, but on a vehicle that starts at $65,000 you’d expect to get some real chrome. On the whole, though the Yukon Denali is good looking, maybe even the best looking of the ginormous SUVs.

Denali Rear 1

The Drive

If you haven’t gathered it by now, the Yukon Denali is a big hoss of a thing. Coming in at just over 2 & 3/4 tons, it’s massive, and we’re not even talking about the aptly named XL model. You’re going to need a large amount of motivation to get the big girl down the road. Enter the Chevy small block. At 6.2 liters the old school V8 produces 420 horsepower and 460 ft/lbs of torque. Which when mated to the 8-speed automatic transmission, provides ample amount of thrust should you need to overtake an idiot on the highway or when you want to make a Prius owner cry. She is a thirsty animal though as the Denali is rated at 17 city/22 highway. Under mixed conditions, I only managed to get 18 mpg and this week of testing did not see me driving like a jackass. I actually tried to get over 20. Couldn’t. The V8 does utilize cylinder deactivation, but as far as I can tell this only kicks in when you are off the throttle on the highway. Which doesn’t make much sense, but then again this vehicle was never intended to be the official Green Peace party wagon.


What do you expect here, exactly? It’s a massive truck with the same center of gravity as Shaquille O’Neal on stilts. Words like “nimble” and “agile” will never be used to describe a Denali, nor will it ever “attack” a corner. Considering what it is though, the Denali does negotiate corners well. Body roll is minimal and responds relatively quick vehicle of this size. The steering is unimaginably light and impossibly uncommunicative. I know these are things that aren’t really necessary on a vehicle of this type, but a little feel in the wheel wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. The 4-wheel steering does take some getting used to, especially if you are coming from the aforementioned sports sedan. This is an excellent feature mind you as the turning circle is fantastic. Far tighter than Greg’s beloved WRX. Combined with the array of sensors and the backup camera, the Denali is shockingly easy to park.

Denail 2

The Ride, to be kind, is surprising. I was expecting it to flow over bumps or flatten them with ease. However, you do feel a lot of the road. I won’t go as far as to call the ride jarring, but it is much firmer than you’d expect. Part of this is due to the suspension set up and part of it is down to those unnecessary 22-inch wheels. The general lack of side wall considering the size of the car harshens the ride quality. Overall though the ride is livable, but it could be better.




SUV’s are far from my favorite thing and the Yukon Denali is far from perfect. Yes, it has flaws, and sure, some of it doesn’t make sense. But here’s the surprising thing, I like it. I like that it’s huge and that you have road presence. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing people leap out of my way like frightened kittens. I liked being up high with a commanding view of everything and everyone. I liked that GMC has made a vehicle that thumbs its nose at the luxury SUV elite. “Oh, is that you’re new X5? That’s cute. Pardon me while I go chase Rommel across North Africa in style, comfort and luxury.”

The question remains, would I buy the Yukon Denali? There will come a day where I have kids and I have to haul them and their friends and all their various craps around. The short answer is no. They’re just not for me. I’d prefer a wagon version of a full-size sports sedan. HOWEVER, I would absolutely recommend it to someone who was looking for this type of vehicle. Ya know, someone with a family and isn’t as bat-shit crazy about cars as I am. AKA, a normal person. And to be honest, if the future mother of my children demands a large family car I’d absolutely buy it. I’d take just about anything to make certain my family doesn’t end up with a God forsaken minivan.

Written by Chad Kennedy

Chad burst from the womb wearing a racing suit and a helmet. Chad's passion for cars is in his very DNA. His father was a gear head and passed on the tradition through owning such classics as a '66 Mustang and a '59 Corvette all while taking him to various race tracks in the area. Chad likes to wrench on his rides whenever possible, forgoing the stealership. Chad is an avid motorsports fan with particular interest in endurance/sports car racing. When not online writing for Shifting Lanes, you can find him working at the local golf course teaching people how to swing or hooning a golf cart at impossible speeds.


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