GMC Yukon XL Denali — Ultimate everything sport utility

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

More than two decades ago four of us decided to do the ultimate baseball tour attending 10 major league stadiums in 12 days. It involved a lot of driving, eating what seemed like a ton of hamburgers and hot dogs, and keeping one guy on a diet of soft drinks so the other three could partake of the local brews.

But what made this 2,500-mile excursion from New York to Minneapolis to Atlanta — with seven other stops in-between — a major success was our transportation. The big General Motors sport utility — a Chevrolet Suburban — was just right for four guys rotating in and out of the seats and taking a turn behind the wheel. We wrote at the time that there wasn't a vehicle on the road including the fledging minivan that could so handsomely accommodate us baseball road warriors.

If our group of old codgers decided on another trip today, we would again opt for one of the big GM siblings (all-new for the 2015 model year). And after spending time in the rather lavishly equipped 2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali (we drove the sister Chevrolet Suburban last year) with its standard 6.2-liter V8 mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, we would lobby hard for the GMC.

Over the years the Denali name has become synonymous with big SUV luxury, now recipients of a complete makeover, including riding on a new platform shared with the all-new GMC Sierra body-on-frame pickup truck. With the restyling the Yukon gets a new grille, full-width bumpers, more sculpted sides and fenders along with a strong character line just below the beltline, and a slightly less raked windshield. The new styling modernizes the big sport utility while leaving its basic look intact.

While the very capable 5.3-liter V-8 making 355 horsepower is standard equipment on the Yukon XL, the Denali version gets the 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque as standard in both the rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions. For comparison purposes it has been measured at 6.3 seconds from 0-to-60, a commendable feat in a vehicle that weighs in at three tons. Not so commendable, but expected in a vehicle this big and powerful, is a gas mileage rating of 14 mpg city, 20 highway and 16 overall.

We were pleased with the on-center highway feel of the new electric power steering and the big truck's ability to hold the line at increased speeds on curving roads loaded with 35 mph cornering signs. Body roll was minimal thanks in part to the standard magnetic ride control, a unique feature that has moved from the Corvette to the company's more mainstream vehicles over the years.

The interior has been updated with a more sculpted dashboard that includes an eight-inch LCD touchscreen mounted higher in the dash for easier viewing. Interior materials in the Denali are first class and fit and finish is excellent. The large, central infotainment display with reconfigurable digital instrument panel is intuitive to navigate. The premium Bose 10-speaker surround-sound audio system supplied the quality sound one expects from a luxury vehicle. And, important to us, the readout for satellite radio is excellent.

New for Yukon in 2016 is GMC’s IntelliLink system compatible with Apple CarPlay, a phone integration technology which puts iPhone features (iPhone 5 and later) on the display in a smart, simple manner. CarPlay makes it easy to connect to the features smartphone users rely on most. The features allow customers to display select apps onto and control them through the touchscreen interface of GMC’s IntelliLink system. The Denali also comes with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.

Front and second-row captain's chair seating in the Denali proved comfortable and spacious. Reaching an optimum driving position proved easy with the combination of power adjustable pedals, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and eight-way adjustable driver's seat. When all seats are folded and tumbled flat, cargo carrying capacity is a large 121.1 cubic feet.

Despite its high level of standard features our test truck came with several desirable options, the best of which was the Premium Package ($3,165) that included power retractable running boards (we of old and aching knees welcomed the extremely helpful step-in aides each time they powered out as we opened the door), adaptive cruise control, and a head-up display.

An Open Road package ($2,860) brought a power sunroof and rear entertainment system. The striking optional 22-inch aluminum wheels added another $895 making the bottom line on our four-wheel drive (towing capacity is 7,900 pounds) test truck $78,725.

Base price: $68,940; as driven, $78,725
Engine: 6.2 liter V-8
Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 460 foot-pounds @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: four wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 130 inches
Length: 224.4 inches
Curb weight: 5,981 pounds
Turning circle: 43 feet
Towing capacity: 7,900 pounds
Luggage capacity: 39.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 121.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 31 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 20 highway, 14 city, 16 combined
0-60: 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Lincoln Navigator L,  Cadillac Escalade ESV, Infiniti QX80

The Good
• Strong V-8 mated to new 8-speed
• Quiet cabin
• Large cargo capacity
• Latest in infotainment features

The Bad
• High rear cargo floor

The Ugly
• Anemic gas mileage