The Yukon is truly is the closest thing to an Escalade without a Cadillac badge.
Let’s face it, we all thought the era of ginormous SUVs had come to an end when gas prices started soaring a few years ago. We started seeing less and less of them on the road, even with generous discounts being offered on showroom floors. Ford and GM essentially phased out the large SUVs from their adverts, in favour of the more compact crossovers. The future of these behemoths looked rather grim, until things slowly started turning around. Gas prices started to fall and the market for these trucks started to pick up again.
Manufacturers started dumping money into research and development to get these now-dated vehicles relevant again, amongst the rest of the crowd. Ford for instance, hadn’t updated the Expedition/Navigator for quite a while until the 2018 model year; that’s an 11-year product life cycle. GM didn’t wait that long, with the introduction of the fourth-generation trucks in 2014 as 2015 models. With the Escalade (reviewed here) taking centre stage, the entry-level option, the Yukon promised a solid middle ground between the two. Opt for the Denali trim and Cadillac-like luxuries are added for a fraction of the total cost.
This 2018 GMC Yukon Denali has a special place in my heart. Three separate trucks spanned across two model generations have hauled my family and I to countless destinations, let it be hockey practice, prom, or long-haul family road trips up north. It’s the truck I learned to drive in, and the one that got me my licence. To this day, nothing beats tackling the open road in a truck like this. It’s incomparably comfortable, simple to drive, and all-around good looking.
Sitting well above the rest of traffic made it easy to see what lied ahead, and the 6.2L V8 in the latest example made for quick passing when need be. Not to mention that large displacement bark from the dual exhausts; it’s exhilarating. Of course, the older Yukons had their flaws. Materials started degrading, and some bits felt a little cheap for the price point; however these little setbacks are part of what made the Yukon great – it’s practical luxury. While a Range Rover (reviewed here) is lush and stately, you sometimes feel as though a tuxedo is part of the dress code, whereas the captain’s chairs in the Denali invite you to take your shoes off and relax.
It’s the American way of making things generally big, and the 2018 version of the Yukon Denali follows suit. Out of the four SUVs in the GM family of full body-on-frame trucks, the Yukon is arguably the best looking, especially in Denali trim. Yes, they all look relatively the same, though it’s the signature bits that make the difference. The honeycomb grill of the previous generation has been updated to a modern subway tile style, with slightly offset rectangular holes replacing the old circles.
The biggest improvements on the exterior are the new headlights. Those of the previous generation with a single halogen bulb for low and high beam functions were simply atrocious. This new setup featuring low beam HID xenon projector bulbs and high beam halogen bulbs greatly increase visibility at night when compared to the old setup. Signature C-shaped LEDs help identify the Yukon at long distances, and while they add a touch of refinement, I can’t say the C-shape is doing the truck any major favours. As expected, chrome accents adorn the exterior like the crown on Her Majesty.
The interior of this Yukon feels tighter than that of the last model, though not so much to the point of feeling even remotely cramped. This short wheelbase version does hold the ability to carry seven people though it does require some sacrifice. Loading up the truck to full capacity drastically limits cargo room. On top of that, those sitting in the third row will feel cramped, as legroom is reminiscent of an overbooked flight. That said, the third row does automatically fold down in a 60/40 configuration if cargo space is needed. Realistically, the third row will seldom be used, making it a very comfortable four-passenger carrier with ample cargo space. Those looking for an even more room can opt for the larger Yukon XL (reviewed here).
Added luxury appointments are included with the Denali trim, including Denali insignias stitched into the headrest and a Denali badge on the steering wheel. Dark grey plastic trim, evocative of stainless steel, purposed for the Denali accents the cabin fixtures very nicely. Our tester, with the Cocoa/Shale perforated leather offered more a diverse interior as opposed to a monotone pick.
Of course, all this would be rendered moot if it were not for the 6.2L Ecotec V8 under the hood. Pushing out 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft. of torque, the Denali has no problems getting up to speed. Need to pull something? It shouldn’t be an issue with a 3,682kg. towing capacity; perfect for bringing the boat up north for a solid fishing trip. Don’t be surprised when it comes time to pay the fuel bills, as the V8 is thirsty and 98L tank requires premium. Although fuel economy has improved over the years, and with the help of the eight-speed automatic transmission, I managed a test average of 12.3L/100km. Not bad for a truck that weighs 5,745 pounds.
GMC rates the Yukon Denali at 16.0L/100km city and 11.7L/100km highway, so our test average falls right in line with expected numbers. The Yukon includes four different drive modes, and the ability to leave it in 2WD (rear-drive) to reduce fuel consumption. Cylinder deactivation also helps by cutting the amount of running cylinders in half when power isn’t necessary, turning this big V8 into a four-banger when cruising at steady speed on the highway.
Once all is said and done, this truly is the closest thing to an Escalade without a Cadillac badge. It’s the same engine, same platform, and almost identical materials. It has the premium Bose sound system, quality leather with heated and ventilated seats, a powerful V8, and countless other bits of tech. At a starting price of $78,840, there’s no going wrong with the Denali if you’re in the market for a large SUV. Upon adding a few packages, this price does climb a little bit.
The 5SA Preferred Equipment Group including a power sunroof and rear entertainment adds $3,595 to the mix. Opting for the larger 22” seven-spoke aluminum wheels will set you back another $3,545, while the power retractable side steps bring on another $1,920. While the wheels are worth the style points, the side steps are a bit of a novelty. To finish it all off, the White Frost Tricoat paint tacks on another $1,195. Bottom line, this 2018 GMC Yukon Denali comes to a grand total of $90,510. Pricey? Yes, though it’s still less than an Escalade and you get nearly identical amenities. The Denali really is a pure winner in my books, with unmatched size and superior comfort to nearly all rivals.