2016 Yukon Denali: Big, badass, defies logic

James Raia

The 2016 Yukon Denali has seating for seven.

The 2016 Yukon Denali includes a host of new technology, safety and convenience upgrades, further embellishing the already massive and plush sport utility vehicle.

The GMC Denali lineup debuted in 1999 as full-sized SUVs to compete against the Lincoln Navigator unveiled one year earlier. The addition of the top-line Yukon badge began in 2001.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

Where do you start with a 6.2-liter, 420-horsepower V8 with 20-inch wheels, an onyx-colored exterior, an equally dark interior and dark-tinted side windows? The 2016 GMC Yukon (XL) resembles a hearse on steroids.

The 2016 Yukon Denali offers increased technology.
The 2016 Yukon Denali offers increased technology. Images © James Raia/2016

More importantly, the Denali not only looks menacing, it’s intimidating to drive — at least at first. Its length (18 feet, 8 inches), width (6 feet, 8 1/2 inches) and height (6 feet, 2 1/2 inches) require adjustments while parking, making U-turns or negotiating lane changes. And it’s overall weight (7,500 pounds) requires earlier consideration when braking.

Yukon Denali is big, gas guzzling

Potential Denali buyers, of course, aren’t seeking a zippy little machine to scoot around town or to take for a mountain road run-about on a warm weekend afternoon. Rather, a full-size beast is what’s in mind. And it’s exactly what the Yukon Denali offers.

It’s a monster family hauler, spacious and safe — and a gas guzzler. It has a 31-gallon fuel tank capacity, which is needed. When it powers down the road, other drivers tend to do two things — stay out of the way or challenge you for some weird drivers’ supremacy among big vehicles and their drivers with attitude or testosterone deficiencies.

Limitations unfold with most parking situations. Shopping center spots, angled options in malls require astute maneuvering. And street parking? Many spots I encountered were too narrow or not long enough.

Then again, what’s a little inconvenience with you’re driving down the road in an apartment-sized machine? And who cares about gas mileage and a massive turning radius when you’re blasting along like one of the gang from a Mad Max movie?

The Yukon represents a lot of what’s wrong the auto industry and yet it does so while its occupants reap the benefits of perforated leather and heated seats, a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, and massively powerful sound system and navigation system, easy-on-the-eyes wooden accents and a lot of room to stretch out. Plus, there’s enough other technology to satisfy a small group of engineering students.


Lots of V8 power.

Extraordinairy comfort.

Nine-passenger seating (but only on the base model).


Difficult maneuvering in parking lots and in other common driving scenarios.

Heavy and requires early braking.

Very high seating.

Facts & Figures: 2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, not available.
Airbags (8).
Fuel economy: 14 mpg (city), 20 mpg (highway), 16 mpg combined, eight-speed automatic transmission (with all-wheel drive).
Horsepower: 420.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $70,745.00.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.gmc.com.
Price As Tested: $78,125.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,0000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/100,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles; Free maintenance, 2 years/24,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“Despite the numerous choices in the expanding midsize-crossover-SUV field, there will always be strong demand for a full-size vehicle such as the 2016 GMC Yukon. For sheer passenger space (it can seat up to nine), cargo volume and towing ability, many Americans simply can’t forgo what the Yukon and the stretched Yukon XL are serving up.” — AutoTrader.com.

“The Yukon feels confident in everyday driving, especially with the Denali model’s adaptive suspension. Ride quality with the base suspension leaves much to be desired, though. It cushions sharp impacts well and is resistant to large float and bouncy motions, but even small imperfections send shivers and shakes into the cabin due to the old-school solid rear axle.” —Edmunds.com.

“The Denali drives more like the equivalent of a dutiful but dimwitted Labrador. Generic. And that’s OK — it’s unfair to expect a Lab to have the intelligence of a German shepherd — but it’s worth noting. And the Denali is dutiful, after all: It will tow 8,100 pounds, which is more than enough to pull a gooseneck trailer and two quarter horses behind you. — bloomberg.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“It’s bad-ass big and powerful and illogical for anything but massive towing or a large family and for when the price of gas isn’t a concern. It’s quiet and comfortable and ready for rough duty. But there’s a huge learning curve for anyone accustomed to any other kind of vehicle.”

Article Last Updated: March 22, 2016.

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