Last month I spent some time with GMC Marketing Manager, Stu Pierce, talking about the brand’s purposeful upscale approach to building the new Yukon, Yukon Denali and the longer wheelbase XL versions. Pierce explained that the concept of building capable work vehicles that offered a high level of comfort and luxury drove the design and execution of the entire 2015 GMC line-up. My week with the all-new 2015 Yukon Denali 2WD convinced me that GMC succeeded, even exceeded, expectations.
First glance at the new exterior gave the impression of a muscle-bound brute wearing a tuxedo. Although it is apparent that the Yukon has spent some time in etiquette school, the proportions and dimensions of the full-size SUV left little to the imagination. The giant chrome grill, wide hulky stance, boxy lines, and massive optional 22-inch wheels, declare that GMC’s new Yukon means business.
The interior of the new Yukon, especially in the Denali trim, offers an elevated level of functional luxury. The leather upholstery, complemented by real wood and aluminum trim, creates a pampered level of comfort that belies the exterior’s aggressive styling. Once you step up into the Denali’s cavernous interior and close the doors, you immediately forget that you are sitting inside a body-on-frame bruiser that is capable of towing 8,400 lbs.
GMC has gone to great lengths to provide a quiet cabin. The Denali’s standard active noise cancellation, combined with exterior tweaks designed to reduce wind buffeting, keep the outside noise out. Even having a conversation with my daughter in the third row is a real possibility, of course the iPhone earbuds present another obstacle, but you can hardly blame that on the SUV.
The driver and front passenger have plenty of room; the heated and ventilated seats are comfortable and forgiving, even on longer road trips. The center console is gigantic, I was able to fit my entire camera bag inside and close the lid. Considering that I couldn’t fit the same bag in the trunk of the Jaguar F-Type convertible, the irony here made me smile.
Second row passengers will enjoy the 2015’s increased legroom and better access due to the increased door opening size. Unfortunately, the third row is more of a plus three than an actual usable third row for adults. The shallow rise of the seat is the biggest problem; legroom is minimal at best. The longer wheelbase XL model remedies this issue to an extent and if you have a large family, I would encourage the bigger vehicle. Considering the additional rear cargo space when all seating is in use – 38.9 versus 15.3 cubic feet – the XL would make an excellent road trip vehicle for seven to nine, with optional first row bench seat, adults.
Powering the 2015 Yukon and Yukon Denali are a duo of powerful and efficient V8 EcoTec3 engines. The Yukon and Yukon XL come standard with GM’s new 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque 5.3-liter V-8. Gas mileage, thanks in part to direct injection and cylinder deactivation, comes in at an inspiring 16-mpg city and 23-mpg highway. Yukon Denali models, like the vehicle I reviewed, are equipped with a beefy 6.2-liter V-8 that creates a segment-leading 420-horsepower and 460-pound-feet of torque. Gas mileage, thanks again to GM’s technology, remains high, at a respectable 15-mpg city and 22 on the highway. Although my review vehicle was an early 2015 model equipped with a 6-speed, all Yukon Denali models built after October 5, 2014, thanks to a midyear cycle refresh, receive an 8-speed automatic. All Yukon’s are available in either rear or four-wheel drive configurations.
Handling in the Yukon is excellent. The new electric power steering is precise and confidence building. The Yukon continues with a rear live-axle leaf spring design, but the 2015 enhancements include a wider rear track and now standard fully automatic locking rear differential.
The Denali models come equipped with GM’s magnetic ride control system. The next generation of the manufacturer’s lauded system, magnetic ride control constantly adjusts the Yukon’s suspension in an effort to provide precise control and a consistently smooth ride over uneven terrain. The difference is tangible; the “truck” quality that previous Yukon owners had complained about is all but absent.
The Yukon Denali comes standard with a bevy of active safety control features including forward collision alert and blind spot monitoring. GMC has a fun way of letting you know when you are wandering around the roadway, the safety alert seat wiggles your bottom when you cross a painted lane marker or you are about to side-swipe an unsuspecting driver in a sub-compact.
The 10-speaker Bose surround sound infotainment system fills the cabin with crystal-clear audio and enough bass to make neighboring vehicles take notice. The 8-inch touch screen and navigation are easy to use and intuitive, never requiring me to dig out the owner’s manual during my weeklong review. I have grown fond of GM’s center console and dash clusters; to me they just make sense. Everything is where I expect it to be and controls are immediately responsive. While it may not be the flashiest system out there, it is one of the most powerful and friendliest.
In many ways, GMC’s all-new Denali is an absolute home run. For GM to be able to build a vehicle that is equal parts luxurious beauty and performance beast, yet is capable of up to 23 miles per gallon on regular gas is incredible.
The standard 2015 Yukon SLE starts at a reasonable $46,990. However, GMC’s new Yukon Denali, and all of its luxury, begins at a pricier $63,770 and my loaded-up early 2015 review vehicle tips the scales at a hefty $71,720.