Words: Stephen Spyropoulos
Photography: Stephen Spyropoulos
Published: February 16, 2016
Back in 1999, I remember my childhood friend bragging about how his mom had just brought home a cherry red GMC Yukon XL Denali. The Denali was in its very first model year at that time, and I had made it a point to see their new truck in person. Upon first glimpse I was in awe. The XL was huge, mean looking, and loud, searing a love-at-first-sight impression into my adolescent brain.
Fast forward to 2016, and I am once again face-to-face with the GMC Yukon Denali, this time in a short wheelbase version and with the exact same Crimson Red that adorned my friend’s truck. But since 1999, the Yukon has grown in size, dwarfing its first generation brethren, and now looks more luxurious than any of its GMC truck siblings.
What sets the Yukon Denali apart from other SUVs is that it has three rows, can carry up to seven, eight, or even nine people, yet it can still give some of the best in-class cargo space. Tack on a luxurious and quiet interior, four-wheel drive, and a very respectable towing capacity, and you have yourself a uniquely capable land yacht.
Based on the frame of the full-sized GMC Sierra pickup, the Yukon Denali and its Chevrolet Tahoe twin defy the forces of evolution. They’re huge old-school SUVs that are still relying on their body-on-frame structure in a world where nearly every other SUV has adopted carlike uni-bodies. Standing more than 6 feet (180cm) tall, and weighing in at 2,605 kg, there is no question these are the vehicles green enthusiasts see in their nightmares. But there is no denying the Yukon’s iconic combination of talents.
For General Motors, they have found plenty of takers for their iteration of this formula, with their products claiming three-quarters of the lucrative full-sized SUV market. GM’s domination has given them little incentive to try anything risqué, and they haven’t. The Yukon has been modernized without becoming too modern, minimizing the risk of competition and overlap with its Escalade cousin.
Inside, the interior is beautifully finished and has all of the latest technologies that are found on the more expensive Escalade. The multi-adjustable front seats are large and passengers in the 2nd row can stretch out to limousine-like amount of legroom. Abundant cabin storage includes an endless amount of large and small bins, as well as cupholders—I counted eight in total and I still think I’ve missed a few.
This Yukon should come with a real estate agent upon your purchase, because you could practically move into this mobile home. The Denali comes with six USB ports, and five 12-volt power ports, as well as a 110-volt outlet. There is also a wireless mobile phone charging pad for phones with NFC charging capabilities.
The Denali retains the power-folding third-row option to move the seats down when they’re not in use. However, due to the solid rear-axle suspension, the rear seats don’t fold completely flat, leaving an awkward angle for loading stuff into the trunk. Stuff tends to slide towards and up against the hatch leaving for a surprise of tumbling items for the person opening the rear door.
A gimlet eye may discover a few signs of penny pinching in the interior. I wish the 70’s style column shifter was tossed, as well as the foot-operated parking brake. Aside from the comfortable leather seating and soft touch materials, there are still a few hard plastics left behind that make some cringing squeaky noises that have no place in a vehicle that starts at $75,910.
Exterior styling on the GMC Yukon is exceptional. I prefer it over the Escalade and the Tahoe. The main focal points are the massive chrome grille that adorns the front end, perimeter lighting that shines bright at night, and a set of 20-inch or optional 22-inch wheels that solidify the Denali’s overwhelming presence on the road.
The first thing you notice when driving the Yukon is that they are exceptionally quiet. Thanks to the dual paned glass and sound deadening materials, the Yukon is as quiet as a luxury sedan. Road, wind and tire noise are all but eliminated. Only the slight rumble of the V8 engine come and go, and it is easy to have a comfortable conversation with the person next to you, even if you’re travelling through a hurricane.
Handling is sound and responsive enough with an adequate level of body roll, but it is impossible to ignore the sheer bulk of the Yukon. When braking, just be sure to leave enough room in front of you. This ain’t no featherweight Civic.
Standard Yukons come equipped with the 5.3-litre V8 engine, while top-trim Denalis enjoy a 420-hp, 6.2-litre EcoTec3 motor codenamed “L86”. This mill is based off the LT1 motor found in the Corvette and the new Camaro SS. Paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Denali only managed to grasp 15.4 L/100km of 40/60 highway/city driving. A bit too far off from it’s 13.8 L/100km combined rating for my liking. The Denali is recommended to have premium fuel fill its belly, but it is not required.
If you are a buyer looking for Escalade-like levels of comfort, style, and capability but can’t cough up enough dough to have the Cadillac name plastered on the front grille, then you might find solace in the GMC Yukon Denali. If you can live with the GMC nameplate, the Denali provides exceptional value. This fourth-generation Yukon is leaps and bounds ahead of that first generation ’99 model I laid eyes on so many years ago, and while GM has brought everything it needed to the table, it hasn’t brought much more. Why change a formula when it has been working flawlessly all these years?
Model: 2016 GMC Yukon Denali
Paint Type: Crimson Red
Base Price: $75,910
Price as Tested: $83,515
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,179 / 2,045 / 1,890
Curb weight (kg): 2,605
Engine: EcoTec3 6.2-litre V8 (L86)
Horsepower: 420 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: Hydra-Matic 8L90 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Suspension-Front: Independent coil over shock; Magnetic Ride Control
Suspension-Rear: Solid axle with five-link location and coil springs; Magnetic Ride Control
Brakes-Front: 330 mm vented disc
Brakes-Rear: 345 mm vented disc
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 15.9 / 11.1 / 13.8
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.4