Denali is a mountain peak in Alaska that reaches over six kilometres above sea level and is the highest mountain peak in North America. It symbolizes the ultimate achievement and certainly is not a nameplate to be taken lightly. Hence, when GMC decided to apply this name to their vehicles in 1999, they reserved it for their top trim models that are of the highest quality in luxury. In case that’s not enough, GMC designers came together to create the pinnacle version of their luxury SUV, the 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate, and handed the keys to prove to us how it will handle the tough Canadian winter.
If there can only be one thing that GMC does particularly well with its Denali lineup, it’s definitely the styling. Most Denalis have looked and aged well, and we have no reason to believe this 2023 Yukon Denali Ultimate will be any exception. Unique to the Denali Ultimate trim is an exclusive Vader chrome except instead of the usual bling and a dedicated set of 22-inch wheels – while these dress ups are relatively minor, they give the Yukon Denali Ultimate a more sophisticated look that should appeal to more professionals.
Powered by General Motors’ tried-and-true 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine, the Yukon Denali Ultimate not only manages to accelerate effortlessly but also sounds good while doing it. Though its 420 horsepower and maximum 460 lb-ft. of torque ratings may not seem like much to power this 5,544-pound behemoth, the Yukon does feel lively thanks to the responsive V8 engine and the ten-speed transmission. It is by no means a sports truck, we’ll leave that to the new Cadillac Escalade V, but the Yukon Denali can surprise a lot of similar sized trucks with its reflexes and remains one of our favourite full-size SUVs to drive.
The impressive performance does come with a price and you will be paying dearly every time the Yukon Denali Ultimate makes a fuel stop. The 6.2-litre is rated to consume 16.6L/100km of premium fuel in the city and a relatively lighter 13.1L/100km on the highway for an overall average of 15.0L/100km. The frigid cold temperature was particularly damaging to our wallet during our week of city-heavy commute as we observed a thirsty 18L/100km, and though the 91-litre tank helped us space out the gas station visits, it also meant bigger sticker shocks at the pumps. It is worth noting that we have observed better figures from this powertrain before so this is likely an anomaly and we expect the number to normalize over time.
With standard magnetic ride control adjustable suspension setup, the Yukon Denali responds well no the streets. There is good feel from the steering wheel, and you never feel like you are out of control despite its size – given that you are not testing its limits of course. We had put the Yukon Denali through its pace in some deep snowy tracks and its all-wheel-drive system ate them up like the best of them. Those who are towing with the Yukon can do so up to 8,000 pounds.
By calling this the Ultimate trim, GMC saved its best work inside as it embellishes the cabin with premium material such as full-grain embossed leather seats and authentic wood accents, and loaded it with gadgets such as the 15-inch heads-up display, 18-speaker Bose sound system, rear seat media system, and massaging front seats. The Yukon Denali Ultimate edges closer and closer to the Cadillac Escalade in terms of its features and comfort, but the Escalade impresses more thanks to its state-of-the-art 38-inch curved OLED display.
The Yukon Denali offers a generous amount of space inside, so much so that my five-year-old child can stand up and freely roam around. Its third row is one of the most accommodating for adults as the second-row captain’s seat layout makes getting in and out a breeze, and there is good head- and leg-room to boot. Cargo space is excellent as well – it measures up to 722 litres behind the third row, 2,056 litres behind the second, and up to 3,480 litres with the second row folded flat. The Yukon Denali’s suspension is well tuned for comfort as harsh bumps and secondary movements are well controlled, but we would have liked to see better wind noise isolation especially at highway speeds.
To protect its prized SUV and its occupants, GMC had equipped the Yukon Denali Ultimate with a long list of drivers assistance features such as Enhanced Automatic Emergency Braking, Reverse Automatic Braking, Rear Camera Mirror, Front and Rear Park Assist, and HD Surround Vision camera, just to name a few. Those who spend a lot of time on the highway especially in the United States can consider opting in for the Super Cruise driver assistance technology that allows hands-free driving on compatible roads. We liked that the Yukon Denali Ultimate comes with additional security features such as various sensors to detect inclination, interior movement, and glass breakage to deter potential car thieves.
The 2023 GMC Yukon starts at a reasonable $66,103 for the the two-wheel-drive SLE model with the 5.3-litre V8, but nearly doubles to $112,698 for our as-tested Yukon Denali Ultimate. In terms of competition, it finds itself slotted between mainstream opponents such as the Ford Expedition and Jeep Wagoneer and luxury counterparts like the Lincoln Navigator and the Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
With commanding looks, excellent interior appointment, and above-average driving dynamics, the 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate presents solid value to those looking to get into a premium people hauler without paying for a luxury price tag. While there are better options for urban crawlers who may prioritize fuel consumption over many other aspects, the Yukon is a great road trip companion for the family and this Denali Ultimate model is definitely GMC’s best achievement yet.