I have a weakness: really, really big SUVs.
For the most part, I favour modest cars — I own a Toyota Prius, and when I lived in LA, I had a Saab, a Volvo, and a Honda minivan. I’m fortunate in that I get to try out the occasional Ferrari or Rolls-Royce, but when push comes to shove, I want to live with vehicles more like the Lexus CT200h.
I also get to sample big pickups and SUVs, and I mean very large versions of these suckers. I’m talking about Cadillac Escalades and Ford Super Duty pickups. The largest of the large.
As it turns out, I recently got the chance to complete a set of sorts, when I tested the 2017 GMC Yukon Denali XL. This is one of the true big boys in General Motors’ SUV lineup. And I’ve climbed behind the wheel of the others, the aforementioned Caddy and the Chevy Suburban.
My pattern is that I marvel at one of these beasts while it’s sitting in my driveway, assuming that I’d be more comfortable with a Porsche 911. And then I don’t want to give the monster truck back.
The GMC I drove recently was among the toughest to say goodbye to because while I’ve always dug the Escalade and enjoyed the Suburban and a de-luxed version of the Caddy, the GMC in the Denali near-luxury trim checks off all my big SUV boxes. In short, it’s nicer than the Suburban, not as nice as the Caddy. Which makes it the ideal middle-aged road yacht.
Our tester came in just over $80,000, with about ten grand in options. But the standard Yukon, at About $72,000, is no slouch. You get quite a lot of truck for your money. (The Denali trim, by the way, tacks on about $9,000 in extras.)
This is a powerful set of wheels, propelled by a 6.2-litre V8 that’s yoked to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This updated old-school pushrod V8 cranks out 420 horsepower with 460 pound-feet of torque, enabling the SUV to convey seven-or-eight people in large-and-in-charge style and tow over 8,000 lbs.
Design-wise, the Yukon Denali XL is an extended-wheelbase SUV, meaning that the wheelbase is stretched to provide additional interior space and cargo capacity. The looks are typical of GMC, a bit slick without taking matters too far. You do sort of feel like a Secret Service agent at times, especially if you’re driving the “Onyx Black” version I had, with a “Cocoa/Dark Atmosphere” leather interior.
Normally, I like to save my driving impressions until the end, but with the Yukon Denali, you want to be aiming for one thing: nice, long freeways excursions with a lot of people on board. I did just that for a weekend run from suburban New Jersey across the urban jungle of Manhattan island, through the mean streets of Queens and out to the East End of Long Island. I had three passengers for the outbound leg and two more for the return home. Plus a carpet, a chair, some houseplants, and everybody’s luggage.
The biggest positive is that with a seven-passenger setup — two captain’s chairs in the second row — six people can all enjoy their own private space. The Yukon Denali comes with rear seat entertainment and wireless headphones, so passengers can enjoy a movie if they like. There are also plenty of charging options for everyone’s devices, which will see use as the GMC has OnStar and 4GLTE connectivity, providing wifi for seven users.
Quiet and comfortable, the Yukon Denali give the driver a commanding view of the road and power on demand, as well as driver-assist features such as lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert, along with an excellent adaptive cruise control system. Heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel make the GMC a pleasure in Northeastern winter.
GM vehicles, in my view, have the best infotainment offering on the market. The Yukon Denali gets an eight-inch touchscreen with the easy-to-use IntelliLink system. Navigation is integrated with OnStar, so you can push the blue button and talk to a human operator about where you want to go, then guidance will download to the vehicle.
Bluetooth pairing is a cinch, the 10-speaker Bose audio system gets along well with SiriusXM satellite radio and tunes piped in via AUX or USB ports. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also in the house, and the voice-recognition is superb.
Really big SUVs are definitely not for everybody, of course. The 14 mpg city/20 highway/16 combined fuel-economy rating isn’t going to put a smile on your face if you’re worried about $4-a-gallon gas making a comeback. That said, if you spend much of our time on the freeway, you won’t feel the bite as much as you will if you’re using the Yukon Denali as a runabout.
Predictably, I didn’t want to relinquish the GMC when the time came. But I did. And then I starting thinking about the next big SUV that might come my way.
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