If you’re looking for a true SUV, there really is no other option worth considering.
I’ve written a lot about the rise of the crossover recently. It’s a segment that shows no signs of slowing, and seems to be the category that every shopper is talking about. Right or wrong, crossovers are where the volume is, and with that manufacturers have focused their efforts on building the most appealing and versatile offerings. GM has its share of the crossover market, but they’re not out making big waves in that category. Where they have been focused lately is on the truck market, and as a spinoff of that, their line of full-size SUVs.
GM is the only brand out there offering a relevant, fresh and modern full-frame SUV, and their efforts have not gone un-awarded. It’s a broad line, with the short wheel base Tahoe (reviewed here) and Yukon, plus the long wheel base Suburban and Yukon XL. Don’t forget both versions of the Cadillac Escalade, either. All of these ride on the same underpinnings and target unique niches in the market. Redundant maybe, but it seems to be working, as it’s difficult to drive more than a block in Toronto without seeing one of these.
While the majority of the market has been focused on crossovers, GM has carved out a very successful niche. Given the SUVs’ close relationship to the Silverado and Sierra pickups (reviewed here), they’ve happily dominated this market over the last few years. These full-frame true trucks offer the capabilities of a full-sized pickup truck (minus the open box), with the comfort and refinement of a top of the line sedan or crossover.
Getting yourself into a base model Yukon will cost over $56,000, and a well optioned top of the line Denali trim level Yukon like our test vehicle rings in over $83,000. Who’s buying all these pricey SUVs? My guess is that it’s people that simply need, or more likely want, more than a typical crossover can deliver. These boast more capability, more space, more luxury and frankly, more style. Most buyers don’t know or care, that these SUVs are prettied-up pickup trucks; they just want the biggest and most imposing SUV on the road.
Let’s move onto my test truck; I spent the two weeks during the Christmas holidays this year with a brand new 2017 GMC Yukon Denali. Given the recent winter weather and a fair bit of holiday travel ahead of us, I was more than happy to have it. The truck even looked pretty festive, finished in Crimson Red and rolling on the standard 20” machined alloy wheels (various 22” styles are available). I am a big fan of the traditional boxy body-styling that GM has maintained. The styling does nothing to hide that fact that the Yukon is a beast of an SUV, but the LED lighting all around and rounded fascia give the time-tested design a very current look.
I actually prefer the Chevrolet lights, both front and rear, to the GMC as they are a little more subtle, but that’s strictly a personal preference. I traditionally have not been impressed with GM’s recent exterior finish, particularly paint work, but I did notice that this Yukon, as well as the Chevrolet Volt (reviewed here) I had a few months ago, came with exceptionally finished paint. The same goes for overall panel fitment on the Yukon, which appears vastly improved over the previous generation.
The interior is exactly what you would except to find in an $83,000 SUV. There are miles of neatly stitched leather, real wood inlays and aluminum trim. Storage is seemingly endless with a massive centre console that easily kept my laptop and camera hidden away. The door panels and a hidden compartment behind the 8” touchscreen on the dash provide even more secure storage up front. The third row seats offer plenty of space for children, or even an adult or two in a pinch, with legroom being the only real limitation.
They fold flat at the push of a button, and the second row captain’s chairs (a split bench is available for those needing the extra seating) fold and flip forward as well, making way for a nice flat loading area capable handling just about anything you might ask of it. The rear tailgate is fully power operated, and this is one of the few vehicles that still boast a rear window that can open separately from the rest of the hatch for quick access or loading/unloading smaller items.
From a comfort perspective, the 2017 GMC Yukon Denali has all passengers well covered with triple-zone climate control, heated first and second row seats, cooled seats up front and a heated steering wheel. There is even a rear DVD/BluRay player with USB inputs, WiFi hotspot and wireless headsets to keep rear passengers occupied. The driver isn’t left out either, with one of the best executed heads-up displays in the industry, an 8” digital information centre built into the gauge cluster, wireless charging mat for your devices built into the centre console.
A whole suite of driving aids is also on board, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision avoidance, park assist, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert and more. Combined, these systems make driving the Yukon a very relaxing experience. My only real complaint from an interior perspective is that I found the seats a little hard, but I had no problem spending hours in the driver’s seat on a family road trip. More than that, I just missed the extremely soft cushioned seats in my wife’s decade-old Escalade.
Being a top trim Denali, my tester is powered by the larger 6.2L as opposed to the smaller 5.3L in the base Yukon. The 6.2L pushes 420 horsepower, an impressive 460 lb-ft of torque, and is mated to an eight-speed automatic. Both V8s are built on GM’s “LS” series, which has been a proven powerhouse and beacon of reliability for nearly two decades now. The Yukon passes with authority, and active cylinder deactivation, which operates truly seamlessly, contributes to keeping fuel mileage in-line.
The Yukon is by no means efficient, but it can be as good as many smaller crossovers on the market, provided that you can keep your right foot off the throttle enough to see the gains. Commuting in heavy traffic I averaged 13.1L/100km, and on an extended five-hour highway trip I enjoyed an average of 11.5L/100km. Suffice to say, this is simply amazing for a 400+ horsepower truck loaded with people and facing challenging winter conditions.
For all its brutish trickiness, the Yukon actually feels quite nimble and easy to drive, even in the city, thanks to a rear-view camera and the park assist system. It’s also a truck that drives smaller than it really is, in the sense that it’s very easy to forget it sheer size. Steering is well weighted and direct, with great on-centre feel for an SUV this large. It handles better than expected as well, with minimal body lean and great composure through corners.
Ride quality is aided by GM’s Magnetic Ride Control that’s constantly adjusting to conditions, providing the best possible ride and control at any given time. This is all coupled to a rear air leveling system to prevent sag when loaded or towing. That said, I did find the ride a little harsher than our older Escalade, but the obvious trade-off is greater composure in the Yukon. Personally, my preference would be towards the softer end, but trucks like this Yukon can go on to lead very demanding lives, so a well-rounded suspension is undoubtedly important.
Efforts have been made to keep the interior as quiet as possible, including acoustic glass, active noise cancelation, inlaid doors and a specialized valve on the exhaust system to keep the rumble of the 6.2L out of the cabin. Those efforts have paid off with a space that’s library quiet at any speed. Enthusiasts may crave some extra sound, and it does deliver on wide-open throttle, but in most situations, it’s nice and quiet.
The Yukon made itself extremely useful during the holiday season this year. Come Boxing Day though, I really got a chance to put the Denali through some of the demanding conditions that many buyers are going to expect their truck to perform in. We had a family trip planned to visit an acquaintance that was selling off some of his project cars, a few hours away. Four of us piled comfortably into the Yukon and left the city under light rain and temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, but forecasted to rise. As we got north of the city the temperature dropped dramatically, and the rain intensified into heavy freezing rain.
The Yukon’s defroster working overtime kept the windshield reasonably clear, but I couldn’t help but notice that this pricey SUV didn’t come with a heated windshield; this would have been an ideal time to have one. I kept the 4×4 system in ‘Auto’ and could occasionally feel the system transfer power to maximize our grip, keeping the Yukon safely rolling through the now treacherous back roads. All passengers, were warm, comfortable and with the 4G/LTE WiFi hotspot inside the Yukon, fully entertained.
Arriving at the farm we faced a mile-long snow and ice covered driveway with a steep grade. I shifted the 4×4 into 4-LO and despite still wearing its Continental all-season tires, the Denali effortlessly plowed up the driveway. The return trip was more of the same, until we got back into the city and warmer temperatures. A trip that could’ve been a real struggle in a lesser vehicle was made much easier and comfortable in the Denali. While driving around in an SUV of this stature is usually overkill, it proved to be the perfect vehicle for the job this week.
If you’re looking for a true SUV, there really is no other option worth considering. There is simply nothing else that boasts the towing capacity (8,100 lbs.), capability, efficiency and proven reliability of the GM full-sizers. What’s most surprising is the popularity these have gained with suburban (pun intended) and urban families. Buyers simply looking for a luxurious family hauler would be well served by the likes of this 2017 GMC Yukon Denali.