2015 GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

TheGMC Yukon traces its roots back to 1992 when GMC took the Jimmy nameplate from its full-size SUVs and gave it to its midsize, Chevy Blazer counterpart. Since then, the GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe twins have been topping sales charts year after year. In 1999, GMC launched the Denali trim line as an answer to the Lincoln Navigator. Over the years, the Yukon Denali has continued with good success as a stepping-stone between the regular Yukon and the all-out luxury Cadillac Escalade.

I got to spend a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2015 GMC Yukon Denali, and boy is it a sweet ride. Chrome accents, 22-inch chrome wheels, metallic white paint, and HID and LED lighting make this Yukon a standout. With the Denali trim comes a bevy of standard upgrades, including the powerful 6.2-liter, EcoTec3 V-8, Magnetic Ride Control, and power-everything inside the leather-lined cabin.

Though it’s on the pricy side, the Yukon proved to be a capable rig with room for seven and plenty of posh to go around. Head past the jump for the video review, photo gallery, and full review.

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali.

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Exterior

GMC Yukon Denali - Driven
GMC Yukon Denali - Driven
GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

Here is where the Yukon begins to separate itself from the previous generation. Crisp angles, sharp lines, and rounded edges all play into a completely new look. With the Denali trim comes that big chrome, cheese-grater/electric shaver grille with large headlight fixtures flanking either side. HID low beams and LED daytime running lights make for an upscale look. Chrome rings around the lower fog lights continue the trend.

The massive 22-inch wheels look perfectly sized for the Yukon

The chrome continues around the Yukon’s side, running along the folding running boards, door trim, and Denali lettering. The massive 22-inch chrome and satin chrome wheels look fantastic, though they add an extra $495 to the Denali’s bottom line. A strong shoulder line now runs from the headlights to taillights, giving the side windows some extra definition.

Speaking of those side windows, the roof has a slight rearward slope to it, making the rear side glass shapelier than other GM SUVs of the past. And though some folks complain about the chrome window accent ring stopping at the C-Pillar, I found it to look rather handsome.

Around back, new clear lens taillights offer some 3D accenting and the GMC logo is finally back in the center of the tailgate, unlike the last generation. A short overhang above the rear glass provides a home or the rear windshield wiper and the third brake light. Lastly, a body-colored hitch cover keeps the clean looks flowing while still hinting at the Yukon’s towing abilities.

Interior

GMC Yukon Denali - Driven
GMC Yukon Denali - Driven
GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

Like any luxury vehicle, the Yukon Denali is packed to the gills with swanky features and proper leather seats. The newly redesigned dashboard is different than the one found in the GMC Sierra pickup, though it does share several switchgear components and the steering wheel, shifter, and column. Unlike the Sierra, push-button starting is present. Design cues like the toggle switches carry over, though these control the rear HVAC system.

Heated and cooled seats and dual-zone climate controls ensure the front passengers are kept comfortable. Heated seats are also found in the second row captains chairs. The second row passengers have independent control of their HVAC settings with separate controls located in the back of the center console.

GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

By the way, this HVAC system is perhaps one of the most intuitive ones I’ve seen in a while. The driver is able to control the rear passengers’ air, say for kids too young to do it, while the second row seats have access to control the system themselves, say for more mature passengers. No clicking through menus or hitting extra buttons to control the system for the driver; just a separate, easy to read control panel.

Second row comfort is fantastic with plenty of leg and headroom. The third row isn’t quite as fortunate. Legroom is very limited and knees meet chins on taller passengers. Kids should be the primary users of the back three seats. If more passenger room is needed, just opt for the longer Yukon XL.

The Yukon also offers loads of storage space.

Driver comfort is very good. Controls are easy to reach and the adjustable steering wheel and pedals make keeping the infotainment screen within reach a simple task. The center gauge cluster is informative and easy to read. The large TFT display is customizable with various information and display settings. What’s more, engaging tow/haul mode swaps out the voltage meter for the transmission temperature gauge. Clever.

The Yukon also offers loads of storage space. The center console is equipped to handle standard hanging file folders, while small plastic bins are a clever place for odds and ends. Two cup holders and a small storage cubby hide behind folding covers in the main section of the console. Two USB ports and a 12-volt charging port are present.

Drivetrain

GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

Powering the GMC Yukon Denali down the road is GM’s most powerful truck engine, the 6.2-liter, EcoTec3 V-8. Save for the air intake system, oil delivery system, and its computer’s programming, the V-8 is essentially the same LT1 found in the Corvette Stingray. In the truck application, the small block makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It comes mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that drives the rear tires. My tester didn’t come with the optional four-wheel-drive.

And on that four-wheel-drive, it’s basically the same system found in the GM pickups rather than the all-wheel-drive system employed in previous Yukon Denalis and Cadillac Escalades. Even in the standard two-wheel-drive configuration, my tester came fitted with the Eaton G-80 automatic locking rear differential for an extra push in low-traction situations.

Save for a few parts, it's the same V-8 that powers the Corvette Stingray

Like the other EcoTec3 engines in GM’s lineup, the 6.2-liter features three fuel-sipping tricks to save money at the pump. It’s got variable valve timing, active fuel management, and direct fuel injection. Like in years past, active fuel management automatically and seamlessly shuts off four of the V-8’s cylinders when their power isn’t needed. Step on the gas and it’s firing on all eight. With only 1,200 miles on the clock and things not fully broken in, and I was still able to shoot off a 0-to-60 mph run of 6.5 seconds.

Around town, the Yukon has a very calm demeanor about it. The throttle is makes it easy to drive conservatively, helping the EcoTec3’s fuel-saving technologies work even better. Once past a quarter throttle, the power pours on. The exhaust note is a kick in the pants. On the highway, the Yukon settles in nicely and provides a great long-distance cruiser. Set the Adaptive Cruise Control and the Yukon nearly drives itself.

During my time with the Yukon, I averaged just under 16 mpg. I drove fairly leisurely on the nearly even city/highway mix my usual week consists of. On the open road, my average would generally break the 20 mpg mark, so I don’t doubt the EPA’s 21 mpg highway rating.

Towing

GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

I had the chance to drop a trailer onto the Yukon’s standard-equipment receiver hitch during my week. I could barely feel the trailer behind the Yukon, even though it was a lightweight rental trailer with maybe 400 pounds of cargo. The 6.2-liter V-8, the six-speed transmission, and the 3.42 rear axle ratio made light work of towing. The standard trailer sway control kept things from swinging out of hand. The transmission’s tow/haul mode really made a difference, especially while braking. The tranny would automatically downshift early, letting the engine help slow the roll, while the large disc brakes did the rest of the work. My tester came prepped to tow 8,400 pounds and I wouldn’t hesitate to pull it. What’s more, even with roughly 1,300 pounds of trailer and cargo hitch up, I still averaged over 14 mpg on the highway.

Pricing

GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

Pricing for the 2015 GMC Yukon runs a wide gambit depending upon which model you get. Looking at a base Yukon, the sticker price starts at $46,335. Opt for the Denali trim and the price jumps to $62,680. My tester came with several options that bumped its price even further north. The Touring package costs $4,110 and includes the sunroof, theft deterrent system, 20-inch wheels, and rear seat entertainment system. The stand-alone options were the Heads Up Display and power running boards ($1,745), the Adaptive Cruise Control ($1,695), and optional 22-inch wheels ($495) made the options total $8,045.

That, plus a $995 destination charge brought the total cost to $71,720.

Competition

2015 Lincoln Navigator

Lincoln Navigator

Also brand new for 2015 is the Lincoln Navigator. With a new look and new interior digs, the Navigator is an accommodating place with three available rows. Ford Ford has dropped the V-8 offerings this year in favor of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. Rated at 370 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, the EcoBoost V-6 does an excellent job of motivating the large SUV.

Available in two- or four-wheel-drive, the Navigator offers the same body-on-frame capabilities as the Yukon. It’s luxurious interior is nicely appointed and comparable to the Denali’s.

Pricing for the Navigator starts at $62,475 and grows to over $72,000 with four-wheel drive and the Reserve package.

2014 Toyota Sequoia

Toyota Sequoia

The Sequoia is another body-on-frame SUV that has survived the unibody crossover onslaught, though it is the oldest here. It has three rows with optional second row captain’s chairs like the other two, but the Sequoia only comes in one length. It does, however, provide adequate room behind the third row for cargo, though not as much as either the Yukon XL or extended Navigator.

Power comes from Toyota’s 5.7-liter V-8 making 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. Interior accoutrements are well-suited for family duty or hitting the mountains for the weekend. Four-wheel-drive is an option, of course.

Prices for the Sequoia start at $44,095 and rise upwards of $65,000 when selecting the limited trim. I imagine the Sequoia is due for a refresh soon, with the Tundra having just undergone one itself. If you’re in the market and want the latest thing from Japan, you’d better wait a year for any news coming from Toyota.

Conclusion

GMC Yukon Denali - Driven

Overall, the Yukon Denali is a sweet SUV to both drive and live with. It drove much smaller than it appears and is rather easy to maneuver around town. Blind spots are very small and the large windshield, high seating position, and sloping hood keep forward visibility at a maximum. With plenty of room for four people and available room for seven, the Yukon Denali proves to be a competent family hauler.

I did experience trouble getting the voice controls to take commands. A passenger and myself found ourselves battling the system to take an address for a destination. Luckily it was a short trip and we knew where we were going. We arrived before the navigation figured out where we wanted to go.

We also made a quick call to OnStar for help figuring out how to play audio from the rear DVD system over the Yukon’s Bose stereo. After 35 minutes and at least four transfers later, we hung up and dug out the manual. OnStar shortly called back to find us having the solution in hand.

Other than those two snags with the infotainment system, I found the Yukon Denali to be well sorted and exciting to drive. The combination of good people- and cargo-hauling capacity, high marks in trailer towing, and decent fuel economy for a large SUV makes it a solid choice for those looking for high-end luxury mixed with a heaping helping of utility.

LOVE IT
  • Classy looks inside and out
  • Powerful V-8 engine
  • Smooth ride with Magnetic Ride Control
  • Strong towing abilities
  • Loads of storage space
LEAVE IT
  • Thirsty for premium fuel
  • Third row is for the kids only
  • Pricy with all the options

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