Let there be little doubt – a loaded full-size SUV is a very nice way to cover long distances. Laden with luxury and propelled by a powerful V-8 engine, the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali is just such a beast.
I drove it 1,500 km through three provinces with nothing but a startling fuel bill to worry about. The 2727-kg (6,000-lb) beast gobbled premium fuel at a prodigious rate – averaging slightly more than 13 litres/100 km on the open road. That drive took place before the precipitous drop in prices, however, which would have cut more than 30% from the cost of filling the 98-litre tank.
The Denali is the flagship of the GMC-badged General Motors full-size body-on-frame SUV family that also includes the Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Tahoe. It rolls off its Texas assembly line in normal and long wheelbase versions with either rear- or four-wheel-drive.
Facelifted for 2015
The Yukon got a facelift for the 2015 model year resulting in a more chiseled appearance with more sharply defined character lines. The Denali version gets a distinctive chrome grille and a somewhat menacing look.
Getting into the beast requires a serious climb but the power extended step on my tester made doing so a breeze. It also had power adjustable pedals and a tilt-telescope steering wheel making it adaptable to a wide variety of driver sizes.
In the driver's perch one sits well above mere cars with a commanding view of the road. Visibility is excellent in all directions except close to the rear – and that area is covered by a rear-view camera.
Heavily revised interior
A new instrument panel includes a big 20-cm diagonal display that can be customized and mated with a heads-up display. The centre stack is topped by a 20-cm touch-screen and there are big round knobs for the HVAC and major audio controls – kudos GMC!
The whole thing reeks of quality with excellent fit/finish, high-grade materials and tight panel gaps. Most surfaces are covered in soft-touch material.
A lot of effort has gone into the heavily revised interior with easier entry-exit from the third row, fold-flat second- and third-row seats, a new cargo management system, and a power rear tailgate with multiple presets for opening height
If anyone wants or needs more space (hard as that may be to imagine!), the Denali XL has a 36-cm longer wheelbase and is about 51-cm longer overall length with the most of that extra room going to third-row legroom and a doubling of cargo area.
Tried and true powertrain
The “base” Yukon comes with a 355-horsepower, 5.3-litre aluminum V-8 – the latest iteration of GM's venerable overhead-valve small-block – mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Denali versions get the bigger 6.2-litre version that produces 420-horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, transmitted through a new eight-speed automatic. So-equipped, my test rig was rated to tow up to 3680 kg (8,100 lb), which allows for some pretty serious toys!
On the road
This big rig rides with limo-like smoothness and silence – much more so than one might expect from the truck-platform beneath. Additional chassis stiffness has allowed the engineers to tighten up the suspension and its magnetic ride control suspension absorbs both major and minor road blemishes with aplomb, while keeping the tall vehicle on an even keel during cornering.
Despite its size the Yukon Denali slices through the air with minimal, fuss. Very little wind noise makes it into the cabin and road noise is similarly absent. Improved aerodynamics and an active noise cancellation system play a role here as does a hefty dose of insulation and sealant.
The big, V-8 does an admirable job of hustling three tons of Yukon about. Shifts are barely perceptible and downshifts readily available should more grunt be needed.
This big beauty might not appeal to many, but for those shopping in this price and size range it will be hard to find something better!
Model: 2015 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD
Price: $73,540 base, $84,695 as tested including freight
Engine: 6.2-litre OHV V-8, 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Drivetrain: 4WD with two-speed transfer case
Fuel Consumption (city/highway): 16.2 / 11.4 L/100 km
Competition: Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, Dodge Durango