For 2015, the GMC Yukon Denali is both completely new, and more of the same old thing. That’s good, on both accounts.
How is it completely new? It’s been fully redesigned, with precisely zero of the previous Yukon’s body parts being interchangeable. The Denali’s front fascia is accented with modern-looking HID headlights and the massive grill is polished and surrounded by chrome.
The interior is completely new, as are its features. A new dashboard, with an 8-inch navigation screen that can raise up to reveal a cubby hole behind it with an extra USB port, is laden with toys, from OnStar’s new 4G LTE WiFi hotspot to wireless phone charging for Android users, from a heated steering wheel to a heads-up display. The front seats are heated and cooled, and safety features range from pre-collision warning and rear cross traffic alert, to one exclusive to the Yukon Denali: an industry first front center airbag. Yes, in the driver’s seat, right next to the center console, is an airbag that aims to prevent the front passengers hitting one another in the event of a serious side-impact collision. Oh, and of course there’s a rear entertainment system with wireless headphones. Obviously.
The drivetrain is also completely new. Under the hood is GM’s new all-aluminum EcoTec3 family of engines for full size trucks. The Yukon Denali gets a 6.2L V8 that produces 420hp and 460 ft-lbs of torque that makes its way through an also completely new 8L60 8-speed automatic transmission to a transfer case that can send power to either the rear wheels, or all four wheels either in automatic mode or in fully locking low and high speeds.
Switch the transfer case to Auto mode, where the front wheels engage only when the system detects a loss of traction at the rear wheels, and the big, powerful V8 will pull the nearly three-ton Yukon Denali to 60mph in an unexpectedly fast 5.4 seconds, and will continue hurtling its mass through the quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 99mph. The combination of both new and old tech in the EcoTec3 engine, with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing operating on a properly antiquated pushrod-actuated valvetrain with only two valves per cylinder, means that there’s lots of torque down low and lots of power up high. There’s no lull or dead spot in power delivery. Cylinder deactivation will also cut fuel to four cylinders in low-demand situations.
So how is the GMC Yukon Denali more of the same old thing? Rumors were spreading a couple years ago that GM was going to move to a unibody design for its full size SUVs, as weight reduction was considered imperative in increasing fuel economy to comply with the CAFE standards that have just recently began to go into effect. However, GM decided that developing the new EcoTec3 engines would be enough to bring the fuel economy up to acceptable levels to meet the standards. So GM’s full size SUVs, including the Yukon Denali, retain the traditional body-on-frame construction, and the frame now consists of 75% high strength steel. Thus, the Yukon Denali is still unmistakably a truck… a truck that can tow 8,100 lbs and carry a 1,500 lb payload as equipped like my Quicksilver Metallic test vehicle.
Though it is a truck, the Yukon Denali doesn’t drive like a truck. The electrically-assisted steering rack is geared for a wide range of motion, so maneuverability is quite good even in relatively tight spaces. Specific to the Denali is Magnetic Ride Control, which senses the road surface through the shock absorbers and can make adjustments to their dampening ability in as quick as 5 milliseconds, according to GMC. Plus, the brakes are excellent, with solid and effective brake pedal feedback. The GMC Yukon Denali is a substantial vehicle that needs its driver to be aware of its size wherever it goes. But it feels dexterous and dignified. Plus it’s extraordinarily quiet inside.
There are, however, limits to the Yukon Denali’s capabilities, and, unfortunately, some of those limits have been lowered for the new model. Of course, few, if any, Denali owners take their SUVs on any serious off-road adventures, but the 2015 Yukon Denali is less properly equipped for such an adventure than it’s ever been. Aside from my test vehicle’s optional 22-inch wheels being wrapped in mere all-season tires that were wholly unfit for anything more than a light trail, the entire truck’s height is over 2 inches shorter, and the ground clearance over an inch less, than the outgoing model. The front air dam undernearth the bumper may make the Denali more aerodynamic, but it’s one of the main culprits in the reduced ground clearance. That height shrinkage will also cause a problem if you’re trading in the previous Yukon Denali that you stuffed to the brim on your family vacation. With more that 14 cubic feet missing out of the rear cargo area, you’ll have to find a way to travel a little lighter this year.
But the GMC Yukon Denali would still be a perfect choice for taking a boat or a travel trailer on a long road trip, and the observed fuel economy of 15.7 mpg is 20% better than the previous model. That’s worth mentioning, especially since no sacrifice of towing or payload capacity had to be made to accomplish that.
The GMC Yukon Denali has plenty of modern amenities and technology that’s keeping it with the times, and it’s also observing tradition by using some tried and true methods to ensure it can meet the demands of a full size SUV owner, without feeling like it made too big of a compromise in either department.
Price as tested: $74,680
0-60mph: 5.4 sec
1/4-mile time: 13.9 seconds at 99mph
60-0 braking distance: 166ft
Torque: 460 ft-lbs
Weight: 5,533 lbs
Fuel economy: 15.7 mpg
Towing capacity: 8,100lbs
Test vehicle provided by General Motors.
Please subscribe above for future Orlando Autos Examiner articles to be emailed to you…
… and please send me an email and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.