Mountain Wheels: Big box bounty in GMC’s loaded Yukon XL Denali
June 15, 2018
I cannot say that the Yukon XL Denali represents a truly affordable alternative to the fullest of full-size American luxury SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade ESV, but that logic seems to have put a lot of this fancified GMC version of the Suburban on the streets in Colorado.
Broad, audacious, chromed to the max and unapologetically domestic in its grandeur, the most-loaded version of this 224.4-inch-long people hauler retails for more than $81,000, about $10,000 less than the equivalent Cadillac model. By comparison, the most austere, shorter-cabin and 2WD rendition of the Yukon starts at about $50,000. To me, $81,000 seems like a hell of a lot of cash.
As I've mentioned in my near-annual reviews of the behemoth, the Yukon Denali (and the Escalade, really) are very much Suburban, old-school, truck-derived, body-on-frame SUVs squarely aimed at buyers who want the largesse of the big GM vehicle with a whole lot of extra bling attached.
This stretched and up-market Yukon lives on a number of attributes, not the least of which is its imposing size and the almost feral roar of its 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8. That Secret Service-worthy V-8 has become a major selling point for the vehicle as the equally audacious new Lincoln Navigator is now powered by a 3.5-liter twin-turbo engine — which coincidentally produces more horsepower.
My monstrous V-8 made gigantic noises and helped propel the 5,846-pound 4×4 version of the Yukon like a rocket, but also got a solid 17 MPG in the process (the EPA ratings are 14 city, 21 highway). For buyers in this category, that's just fine, until gas prices creep near $4 a gallon, when you'll hear no end of complaining. In the meantime, roar away.
You'll find yourself doing that a lot in this bountiful box of Texas-made goodness. Power is resolute and can be quite surprising when summoned. If you've opted for the 22-inch wheels, handling is expectedly lunky despite the magnetic ride control but the stance is just so huge that you feel more like a public transit vehicle than a private automobile. So it goes with the Yukon.
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All that power means the XL-sized platform can tow up to 7,900 pounds of trailer, another of the vehicle's positives for buyers, with a new 10-speed automatic transmission to smooth out the overall power band and some 460 lb.-ft. of torque to handle the hills.
I think the SUV's main appeal, however, is its brash urgency, with an imposing design that's no accident. New for 2018 is a sculpted and corrugated chrome grille that's as big as two snowboards, set between a set of boxy tubs of headlamps that spill over onto the hood.
Giant, sport, cubic-shaped chrome wheels (chrome and cubic are the recurring themes here), chrome body and window and even running board trim — electrically deployable running boards, naturally — all make this one shiny machine.
That flash factor is curious as the Yukon Denali's interior finishes, while certainly pleasant, do a less comprehensive job of upselling this high-end Suburban.
In the far back of the vehicle, it's very much the same carpeted and plastic interior, with an awkwardly waist-high platform height that offers almost 40 cubic feet of storage with the third row seats up, 76.7 behind the second row and a whopping 121.7 behind the front seats.
Touches such as ceiling-mounted screens, second-row captains chairs, rear audio-visual and climate controls are all pleasant, but the main swankiness here is a single strip of faux wood trim on the doors.
Things are a bit sexier in the front of the cabin, with more of that wood-ish and some brushed aluminum-esque trim, highlight stitching and comfortable, perforated heated-and-cooled leather seats — plus leather on the doors, armrests and console box. There's a wireless charging bay on top of that giant box; temperature displays on the AC controls, the reconfigurable instrument display and the pop-up infotainment touchscreen are contemporary but not overwhelming. I did get recurring Wi-Fi hotspot connection warnings every time I started the vehicle, which I assume would be resolved for regular users.
Other details give away the GM family parts-swapping, including the less-attractive 4×4 control knob, the tiny cluster of safety, lane-keep and distance controls, or the old-fashioned, steering column-mounted shift lever — which itself makes gear position sometimes hard to see.