A Higher Standard of Motoring, Literally
The theme song from the 70’s sitcom The Jefferson’s started playing in my head the moment I parked my small little four cylinder car next to the 2016 Yukon XL Denali. Staring up at the four-wheeled giant from inside my car I felt like I was “movin’ on up” in the world, with a sense that I was about to embark on an adventure into the finer things in life.
The Denali nameplate always takes me back to a younger time in my life. A time when Pimp My Ride was a hit, DUB edition cars were popular, and everyone wanted spinners on their H2 Hummer. Back when SUV’s were kings of the road, before gas prices almost made them extinct. I always wanted to drive a Denali and now I had my chance. It was time to find out if it lived up to the hype the 13 year old me had imagined.
The Road Trip
How else do you properly road-test a 7 passenger luxury SUV than by taking a road trip? Perfecting timing with Father’s Day weekend meant I treated the family to a luxury road cruise up to Canyon Lake near San Marcos, Texas.
On highway, the Yukon XL Denali was quiet and effortless as it glided over the miles. The air conditioned seats were a delightful luxury to beat the 90 degree weather outside. The Denali’s V8 can run on only four if you have a light foot which can stretch the MPG’s out of its 31 gallon tank. The narrow two-lane roads leading up the Canyon Lake were not a problem for this stretch SUV, and we had a lovely time enjoying the scenic route in style.
Sitting at nearly 19 feet long, the Yukon XL Denali can look intimidating to anyone who has never driven anything bigger than a sedan. However, the Yukon XL Denali is well aware of its size and tries to ease your stress by vibrating the driver seat if you get too close to anything. Like a friendly tap on the shoulder to give you a heads up that you are about to swap paint with the car next to you. Long as it is, the Yukon XL Denali doesn’t look as wide shouldered or bulky as other full-size SUV’s. The XL Denali’s design makes it look long but also lean and thin. This means you won’t have anxiety on narrow roads or when you have to squeeze in-between cars in parking lots. The Yukon has been in production for decades now and this is the first design that tries to look more than just a full panel Sierra. The profile of the SUV is sharp and crisp, like it belongs in the 21st century.
The Yukon XL Denali is a luxury vehicle, so the interior is what you expect. Comfortable leather seats that almost feel like you’re sitting in a recliner at someone’s house. You sit up high in the driver seat, enough to be able to see a truck driver’s face when driving next to an 18-wheeler on the highway. Big cars and trucks are often referred to as “land yachts”, but the Yukon XL Denali feels more like a Navy battleship. The interior is full of buttons, knobs, and switches, most of which are there to provide a function to make you’re traveling more comfortable. Yet, you don’t feel overwhelmed. Sure, you may have to take a moment to study the dashboard to get familiar with what everything does, but after that it’s like you been driving it for years.
When I say the Yukon XL Denali is a gentle giant I mean that all it wants to do is keep you safe in its bear hug chassis. Safety features are enough airbags to build a pillow fort, alerts to warn you if you’re too close to an object in front, blind spot alerts, lane assist, and rear-view camera, all there to keep you in-between the ditches. And in the case that you do find yourself in a ditch, the Denali’s 4-wheel drive is there to get you out of it. I especially liked the rear-view camera displayed on the 8’’ inch color screen on the dash. It shows you an orange rectangle that bends and twists depending on which direction the rear bumper is going when you turn the wheel. That means you can really maneuver this yacht into the tightest of spaces. Syncing up my phone to use hands-free Bluetooth was very simple. I would stay away from using the voice command because like in most vehicles with similar technology, if you have any form of accent you are going to find yourself repeating the command until you get fed up.
This particular Yukon XL Denali was equipped with GMC’s rear seat entertainment system, which means both the second and third row had a Blue-Ray player to watch videos and had enough USB ports to run an Apple store. Combine that with 4G LTE Wifi and the Denali XL turns into a 7 passenger road trip hauler. There is so much tech in the Yukon Denali that I would find a new button, or feature, every day I drove it.
The gentle giant is a heavyweight, weighing at nearly 6,000 pounds. To move all this weight, its heart is a 6.2 liter V8 that cranks out 420 hp, which is enough to pull the XL Denali from 0-60 in under 6 seconds!
Impressive numbers for a vehicle this large, but the Denali XL does not feel as fast as it reads on paper. Put your foot down and there is a slight delay in throttle response as the Denali listens to your command and then tries to maintain its composure by smoothly accelerating instead of snapping your neck back into the headrest. The 8-speed transmission makes sure that you don’t feel anything but a continuous flow of torque-pull as it climbs to 80 mph. It can tow up to 8,000lb and carry more than 1,500lb in the back for those extended road trip adventures. It seems that the Yukon XL Denali is extra-large in just about every aspect, including the price which on this model was $81,000 and change.
If I had to say anything bad about my experience with the Yukon XL Denali is that it drives like a car. Comfortable it may be, but you can find yourself underestimating stopping distance and turning speed until you remember that your moving 6,000 pounds of SUV and have to get a little firmer with the brakes. Nothing too serious, but something to warn those who have never driven a large vehicle before. One thing that bothered me at the beginning was why someone would choose a GMC Denali over a Cadillac Escalade if the price gap is only a few thousand dollars more, or less if you go easy on the options. GMC’s are marketed as vehicles for blue collar workers who’s hard work as earned them a white collar career. Tough vehicles with luxury features. A Cadillac owner may run a bank, but a GMC Denali owner runs a construction business he or she built from scratch. And good for him or her.