Lexus GX460 VS. GMC Yukon Denali
Traditional body-on-frame SUVs are becoming something of a rare breed these days with unibody crossovers picking up the sales slack. Folks seem to be more worried about fuel economy than towing numbers or off-road abilities. Still, the market for the old-school, ladder-frame SUV exists and models are still moving off dealer lots.
Two of the more luxurious examples are the Lexus GX460 and the GMC Yukon Denali. Both of these beasts come packing some serious hardware, including V-8 engines, standard/available 4WD and trailer hitch, roof racks, tall ground clearance, and enough attitude to make a snotty high school girl seem angelic.
But how do these two compare when pitted against each other? Both go for the luxury segment, both are slathered in chrome, both offer three rows of seating, and both cost over $60,000. That’s what we’ll find out.
To preface this comparison, both the GMC and Lexus have spent a week in my driveway and were driven on the same roads, in the same conditions, and even photographed in the same place – all within a two-month window. So let’s get to it.
Continue reading for the full comparison
The GMC and Lexus might be cut from the same cloth, but they take different directions in design styling. Let’s look at the GMC first. All new for 2015, the Yukon sports a new look from bumper to bumper. Its lines are more sharp and crisp, with the curves placed ever so carefully as to not disturb the rectangular theme. Fitted in the range-topping Denali trip, my GMC tester had the distinctive cheese grader chrome grille with its red GMC lettering adding a splash of color. Down low, fog lights brighten the area just ahead of the bumper on dark, misty nights and a lower front air dam directs airflow around the front tires for better fuel economy. The GMC’s HID headlights feature LED halo rings that act as daytime running lights.
Around the side, the Yukon has a long beltline that runs front the headlights rearward, undercutting the side windows and ending just below the rear glass on the liftgate. Chrome molding on the doors, door handles, and optional power-folding running boards brighten up the sides.
Around back, the clear-lens taillights feature chrome-like rings that match the center GMC-labeled chrome bit above the license plate. A body-colored hitch cover dresses up the back bumper and is easily removed with a quarter-turn from a flathead screwdriver for towing. My tester also came with the optional – and massive – 22-inch wheels. They featured matte grey spokes offset by chrome inserts.
Looks are of course subjective, but the GMC Yukon Denali just exudes an air of sophistication and luxury. It’s like the Denali is always wearing a tailored three-piece suit with an earpiece in place, communicating to another Secret Service agent about when to move the convoy into position.
The Lexus GX460, on the other hand, looks sometime more like an NFL athlete in a tailored three-piece suit on draft day. All the angles are cut to perfection, but the overall look is just more athletic, less serious, yet more menacing.
The GX460’s architecture is much older than the Yukon, having been around since 2003. The Lexus’ face, however, is only one year older than the GMC’s, as its last major refresh came in 2014. That refresh brought the GX up to speed with Lexus’ Spindle grille design. Love it or hate it, the hourglass design is unlike anything else on the market.
Chrome accents on the three-bar grille add flashy flair to the front as it bright work glimmers in the sun. Like the GMC, LED daytime running lights give the vehicle a swanky presence during the day. The GX’s LEDs match the corporate “swish” found on just about every other Lexus vehicle. Around the sides, tall mirrors help with blind spots and hard-mounted side steps give passengers an easy leg up. Though they help passengers, the running boards seem vulnerable to off-road obstacles.
Around back, the Lexus continues with the small chrome accents. Clear lens taillights are also present, with almost no visible color until the brakes, turn signals, or reverse lights come on. And though my tester didn’t come so-equipped, a two-inch receiver hitch is optional for towing.
So, as far as looks go, both SUVs are wearing their finest digs. Its just comes down to personal preference as to which wins out for you.
Both the GMC and Lexus come well equipped with leather seating, wood trim, infotainment systems, and enough power equipment to make the most discerning customer happy. However, both SUVs go about things much differently.
I’ll just say this up front: it is very obvious the GMC is a newer vehicle. The Denali’s fit and finish is far and above the GX’s. Everything from the plastic trim and the wood accents to the infotainment system and overall design shows the GMC to be far more refined. Nevertheless, the Lexus is still a luxury offering with plenty of equipment.
The number of buttons is perhaps the first thing you’ll notice about the GX460 when you climb inside. The infotainment screen is flanked on either side with buttons, the HVAC system has individual buttons for each function, and the center console has buttons for its 4WD system. For someone like me who dreams of knowing every switch in a Boeing 747 cockpit, the buttons don’t represent a problem. For others, they’re take after the clean, more minimalistic design of the GMC.
Beyond the dash, the GX460 offers leather-covered seating for seven. The second-row bench splits 60/40 style, tumbling forward for access to the two seats in the third row. A folding center armrest for the second row, along with reclining seat backs, brings an added level of comfort. Air vents in the roof keep everyone cool. The third row offers a surprising about of room, despite the GX’s shorter wheelbase. Still, you might want to keep the third row relegated for kids and teens.
Like all good SUVs, the second and third row seats fold flat. The GX460’s Luxury Package makes the power-folding as well. Once down, there’s plenty of room for cargo.
Thankfully the GMC’s 2015 redesign added fold-flat seating as well. Before that, the third row seat had to be completely removed in order to haul lots of cargo. The GMC also takes a different approach to its rear seat setup. The third row offers seating for three while the second row passengers enjoy the optional twin captain’s chairs. The captain’s chairs feature folding armrests and reclining seat backs for added comfort. The center aisle between the chairs keeps passenger from having to tumble the second row in order to gain access to the third. That’s an added bonus if you’re constantly hauling smaller kids.
Up front, the GMC’s dashboard is a well laid-out, smartly integrated piece of design. The center stack houses the IntelliLink infotainment system and its eight-inch screen, radio controls, HVAC controls, and rear HVAC controls all grouped together in order. The four-spoke steering wheel features redundant radio controls behind the upper two spokes, along with cruise controls and buttons fro the driver information center.
Speaking of which, the GMC boasts a beautiful TFT display between the two analog gauges. The screen offers a configurable layout with digital gauges, vehicle information, mechanical information, and even redundant navigation information. It’s all there and easy to use. To the left of the steering wheel are controls for the headlights and optional trailer brake controls. If 4WD was ordered, that’s where the controls would be located.
While both the GMC and Lexus’ interiors are useful and highly functional, the GMC wins out on user friendliness, design, fit and finish, and rear seat comfort.
It’s under the hood of these two beasts that things become desperately uneven. Matching its age is Lexus’ venerable 4.6-liter V-8. This is the same engine that comes standard in the Toyota Tundra. Sadly, the Tundra’s optional 5.7-liter V-8 isn’t available here. The Lexus makes do with 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque. What’s more, the GX460 weights in at 5,179 pounds – giving that underwhelming V-8 a lot of mass to lug around.
The GMC, on the other hand, has an impressive powerplant pulled right from the 2014-2016 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Yep, order the Denali trim on a Yukon, and the standard 5.3-liter V-8 gets swapped for the mighty 6.2-liter V-8. The LS small-block features direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and active fuel management for both increased power and fuel economy. The LT1-derrived engine is only missing the Corvette’s intake manifold, exhaust manifold, and aggressive ECU tune. That translates into the mill still kicking out 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque – only 35 ponies less than the Vette. Granted, the GMC isn’t a lightweight by any means, tipping the scales at nearly 400 pounds more than the Lexus. Regardless, the power advantage is negates the difference in price and mass.
Behind the LS engine is GM’s 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission. The Denali is getting an upgraded eight-speed auto for 2016, but for this review, we’ll stick with the 6L80. The unit shifts nice and smooth when under light throttle yet kicks into gear with an added firmness under more aggressive driving. The transmission also includes Tow/Haul mode and manual shifting capabilities.
If 4WD were ordered, power would be directed to the front wheels via a two-speed, electronically controlled transfer case. Unlike the similar 2015 Cadillac Escalade, the Yukon utilizes the less-complex part-time 4WD system rather than the Caddy’s full-time AWD system. Bringing up the rear is the standard G-80 locking rear differential. It automatically locks both rear tires together should one start slipping. It’s a decent alternative to 4WD for maybe 70 percent of the terrain a Denali owner would dare try.
On the Lexus side, the 4.6-liter is also mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting function. The GX460, however, comes with a full-time AWD system with a low range. A Torsen center differential directs power in a 40/60 split with a bias to the rear. In more aggressive driving, the unit will send up to 70 percent of torque rearward. When the going gets tough, the Torsen center diff locks both front and rear axles together, giving equal parts traction to each axle.
While both the GMC and Lexus offer 4WD/AWD, the Lexus comes out on top when the road ends. Its low-range gears, locking center differential, and hill decent control make it a more capable machine.
Towing, on the other hand, is best done with the GMC. The 420-horse beast offers up 8,400-pounds of towing capacity and can be had with a built-in trailer brake controller. The Lexus is only rated to tow 6,500 pounds.
Both SUVs have their own driving characteristics and attributes. The Lexus offers an air ride suspension with variable adjustments for Sport and Comfort. I found Comfort mode to be a bit too soft as it allowed excessive body roll and pitching. Conversely, Sport seemed to dial the suspension in just right.
Body roll is better managed and normal driving isn’t impacted. Sport mode still rides better than some “luxury” sedans. I did find a great use for Comfort mode – rutted dirt roads. The extra give in the shocks nearly erases any imperfections in the road surface. It was magical.
Steering in the GX460 is moderately tight, though it does have some dead space on-center. Acceleration is obviously pokey with its 301 horsepower. Braking feel is nice and linear, but brake dive is present when hard on the pedal. The GX is a full-size SUV and its driving characteristics reaffirm that point.
The GMC is much tighter in nearly every situation. Its steering is spot-on with nearly no dead space anywhere in its range. The suspension is firmer than even the Sport setting in the Lexus, and the Denali’s big 22-inch wheels further firm up the ride. The Denali’s down side is its handling of rough roads. It’s not terrible in the slightest, but compared to Comfort mode in the Lexus, it’s a harsh ride on the washboards.
Still, the GMC pulls a win in this category as well. Its Magnetic Ride Control monitors road conditions and adjusts itself several times a second to ensure the ride is butter smooth yet supportive. Acceleration and braking are superb thanks to the powerful 6.2-liter V-8 and large vented discs at all four comers.
Alright, so the Lexus might not match the GMC Yukon Denali in refinement, horsepower, towing, or interior usefulness, but it does under cut the Denali in price.
As my range-topping GX460 sat, its as-tested price was $62,770. That included the $910 destination charge and the $1,145 optional Mark Levinson audio system. The GMC, however, rang the bell at $71,720 – nearly $10,000 more. Granted, my tester came with nearly $9,000 worth of options, including the $4,110-Touring Package, but the difference is still there.
The vast difference in as-tested prices reflects on down to each vehicle’s base MSRP. The GX460 starts at around $50,000 while the GMC Denali carries a base price of $62,680.
Both the GMC and Lexus offer a vast array of quality features in similar packages. The differences between the two help each appeal to a different crowd – though that crowd happens to be on the same financial playing field. Ironically, the Lexus appeals for to the more rough and tumble crowd – those who might actually venture off-road or head up the mountain for some wintertime skiing. The GMC goes after the wine and cheese crowd – those who are more likely to venture to the yacht club, five-star restaurant, or theater performance.
It wouldn’t be unfair to call the Yukon Denali a frugal man’s Escalade. It’s been done ever since the pair first rolled off the assembly line in the late 1990s. The Denali offers just about every feature as the Escalade – including the 6.2-liter V-8 – but at a rather substantial discount of $10,000.
It doesn’t take much to figure out why the GX460 is the more adventurous one. Under all that Lexus badging and chrome lies a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado – one of the world’s most formidable and respected off-roaders. The Land Cruiser and the Escalade – now there’s an interesting mash-up. Still, the Yukon Denali and GX460 meet in the middle and do battle for customer sales.
Both are good SUVs and represent good values in their respective corners. While the GMC is more expensive, its refinements, extra power, and relation to the Escalade demand the price point. The GX might be a bit down-market when comparing its interior and engine with the Denali’s, but the added off-road capability and $10,000-plus difference in price might be all some folks need as a reason to choose it over the other.
I say, to each his own. Go forth and choose wisely. Let me know which one you’d choose in the comments below.