The Yukon XL Denali has a significant presence everywhere it goes.
For the last few decades, the full-size sport utility vehicle and pickup truck market has been the bread and butter of General Motors. With the exception of a small dip in the late 2000s that brought North America into and out of a recession, trucks and SUVs make for high-margin cash cows for automakers. To show off their latest, GM sent over a 2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali finished in a handsome White Diamond Tricoat. Built on the GMT K2XX platform, the Yukon XL is a twin to Chevrolet’s Suburban, and also shares underpinnings with the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Silverado, and GMC Sierra.
At eighteen-and-a-half feet long, the Yukon XL Denali has a significant presence everywhere it goes. With one and a half extra feet in length over the regular Yukon, the XL’s land yacht effect is intensified with large expanses of body panels, glass, and chrome trim. This extra helping of bling, combined with slightly more aggressive styling, gives the Denali a premium feel over its Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban counterparts. While 20” aluminum alloy rims are standard equipment, our GM test car was shod with optional 22” wheels wrapped in P285/45R22 Bridgestone tires – because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!
The interior of the Denali is a comfortable place to spend time. Drivers both short and tall can get into a driving position that works for them, thanks to power adjustability of seats (with two memory settings), tilt/telescopic steering column, and pedals. Once settled into the leather buckets, the large and easy to read gauge cluster keeps you informed about extra parameters such as oil pressure, battery voltage, and in in the tow/haul transmission setting, transmission temperature. The leather-wrapped steering wheel possesses a premium feel, and the touch points and switchgear are much nicer than the ghosts of GM’s past. For rear seat passengers, middle-row leg room is moderate, but is slightly tighter than would be expected for a vehicle of this size. Both it and the third row of seating fold automatically with a button situated just inside the rear liftgate.
In addition to the cavernous interior, the Yukon XL Denali features a solid multimedia system in GMC IntelliLink. The menu system on the eight-inch touch screen is intuitive, and remains visible in bright sunlight. Phone pairing is a fairly simple operation, and the navigation, while slightly awkward to use, is par for the course in terms of most automotive navigation systems. Backing up IntelliLink is a nine-speaker Bose audio system with a subwoofer.
There are plenty of USB and 12-volt charging points scattered around the interior, and an added bonus is a wireless charging mat on the centre console. Compatible smartphones can be charged simply by tossing the phone on the mat. Climate control is fully automatic, with cooled seats for both front seat passengers. The second row features heated seats, a separate climate control array, and a 120V AC power outlet. To keep things safe, the Yukon features a glut of sensors and systems to aid the driver: these include cross traffic alerts, blind zone monitoring, forward collision alerts, and lane departure warnings. These systems function by vibrating the seat, as if to kick the driver into paying attention.
To keep younger (or younger at heart) passengers entertained, the Denali is available with rear seat entertainment, complete with a single overhead display in the second row, Blu-ray/DVD playback, a remote control, and wireless headphone support, in addition to an SD card reader and auxiliary audio/video input jacks. Unfortunately, the Yukon does not have an HDMI port, which would be the easiest method to play audio and video from an external device.
Under the hood, the Yukon features a hairy-chested, muscular 6.2L V8, known as the EcoTec3 and codenamed “L86”. Based on the new LT1 series of V8 seen in the latest Chevrolet Corvette, this pushrod, two-valve per cylinder feels right home in a large truck. With 420 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, and 460 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm, the V8 propels the Yukon to highway speeds with the utmost of ease. The exhaust note is very subdued – with only a slight hint of growl in the cabin. Much of this is due to the cylinder deactivation system, which GM dubs Active Fuel Management. With four of the eight cylinders shut off, the exhaust note becomes slightly gruff and unpleasant. Designing the exhaust system to cancel out these frequencies has the side effect of excessive noise attenuation when in V8 mode. Fortunately, with the V4 mode active, a minimum of 10% gain with instantaneous fuel economy was observed, as reported in the gauge cluster.
New for 2015, the 8L90 8-speed automatic transmission helps make the most of the Yukon’s 420 horsepower, while returning improved fuel economy due to the wide ratio spread and a greater number of gears to choose from. Shift quality is excellent, with the transition between any of the 8 gears feeling much improved over than the outgoing 6-speed automatic. Compared to the current industry benchmark – the ZF 8HP 8-speed automatic seen in many Chrysler, BMW, and Audi products – the ZF is slightly more refined, but not by much.
The 8L90 transmission seems to make more use of an unlocked torque converter around town, which helps with acceleration, but gives a little more of the traditional “slushbox” feel. A locked converter will give a direct driving feel similar to a manual or dual-clutch transmission. For the four-wheel-drive system, the Denali features a two-speed transfer case with automatic locking rear differential. Towing capacity is rated at 3,538 kg (7,800 lb).
The new 8-speed gearbox and cylinder deactivation combine to greatly improve fuel economy over prior generations of GM trucks. City fuel economy is rated at 16.4 L/100km, and highway economy is rated at 11.7 L/100km. With a considerable amount of downtown city driving, observed test economy was 15.4 L/100km. With a conservative right foot and a willingness to remain in V4 mode, some drivers may be able to handily beat the rated highway fuel economy. On backroads with 80 km/h speed limits, the Yukon’s gauge cluster was able to report back average fuel economy under 10 L/100km – but of course, individual mileage may vary based on driving habits and road conditions.
The Yukon XL Denali features a standard Magnetic Ride Control suspension: this technologically advanced setup uses sensors to read suspension motions and road conditions every millisecond, and is able to make adjustments to the shock’s damping rate within five milliseconds. This quick transition is made possible by using magneto-rheological fluid in the shock absorbers; in plain English, this basically translates to iron filings suspended in oil. When subjected to a magnetic charge as determined by the sensors, the alignment of the iron particles changes, allowing for the lightning-quick changes in the damping rate of the shock absorber.
With a base price of $77,130, the 2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali tester was outfitted with $4,795 in options. Among those included the $2,560 (after a bonus credit) Sun, Entertainment, and Destinations package, which includes a power sunroof and rear entertainment. The beautiful White Diamond Tricoat paint is a $995, and the 22” aluminum wheels added $985. This brought the total as-tested price to $83,675. This may initially appear to be a pretty penny for a GMC truck, but General Motors has created one of the best full-size SUVs in the market with the GMT K2XX platform. Those not requiring a life in the lap of luxury can skip the Denali trim level, and still have an immensely capable and comfortable vehicle. Overall, when it comes to hauling seven people and all their belongings, plus the ability to tow, it’s hard to recommend anything else.