GMC Yukon Denali – space and luxury for a price

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The daughter said she had to move a few books and other assorted items accumulated from two years of teaching. She had changed teaching positions after the school term ended in June.

She asked her mother and me if would we help transport her stuff from the old school to the new school? She procrastinated through the short summer break, and moving stuff in her little sports car would entail numerous 60-mile round trips with only a couple of days left in late August to complete the task.

How much stuff? “Just a few boxes of books, some desk items, a couple of small globes, not much else,” she insisted.

Good thing we were in possession of the 2007 GMC Yukon Denali, one of General Motors’ all-new premium large sport utility vehicles. She would have had to pull a U-Haul behind her Mazda RX-8 to get the job done by herself.

As is it took two trips in the Denali and a full day of loading, driving, unloading, driving, loading, driving and unloading. Maybe she underestimated on purpose the quantity of teaching paraphernalia she had accumulated so that we wouldn’t be hesitant to help out.

But what are parents for? It was dad, mom and the Yukon to the rescue.

The Denali is the top-of-the-line Yukon, a kissing cousin to the
Cadillac Escalade. It provides a quiet and comfortable leather-clad interior, smooth ride, civilized performance and a pleasurable driving experience. In fact, we very much looked forward to the road trips between the loading and unloading, luxuriating in the cool upscale surroundings as we traveled the 30 miles between schools.

The Yukon is one of the new breed of full-sized 2007 General Motors sport utilities. It’s a bridge between the Chevrolet Tahoe and the upscale Cadillac Escalade. All three versions also come in extended forms — the Chevrolet Suburban, the Yukon XL and the Escalade ESV.

The total reworking of GM’s full-sized sport utilities is a job well done, with a few exceptions, at a time when big SUV sales are in the tank. Even with the full stable of new vehicles, 2006 sales are down compared to 2005.

If you want to go luxury, gas prices be damned, than the Denali is worthy of consideration. It carries nearly all the amenities of the Escalade, but at about a $9,000 savings. Its styling is more conservative, but may wear better as time passes.

For a base price of $47,990 for the all-wheel drive Denali, you get a monster 6.2-liter V-8 generating 380 horsepower (the Escalade wrings out 403 horsepower from the same engine) and 415 pound-feet of torque, GM’s new six-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels and a tow rating of 7,700 pounds.

A lot of good stuff comes at the base price including leather seating, Bose surround sound audio system, heated seats and triple-zone climate control. Safety has not been overlooked with a full compliment of airbags, stability control and a roll over sensor.

The big SUV is magnificent on the highway. It smoothed out the worn road surfaces of our well-traveled interstate thanks to standard automatic adjusting suspension while offering very accurate handling due in part to the truck’s new rack-and-pinion steering.

Merging and passing are never a problem with the big V-8 under the hood. Granted, the brawny engine is tasked to move nearly three tons of truck, but it gets the job done effortlessly.

Fortunately, we had a sunny — albeit blisteringly hot — day for the move. Had there been inclement weather, we would have been miserable but safe in the Denali where the braking system has been revised with larger discs and stiffer calipers and where automatic all-wheel drive can shift as much as 40 percent of the torque to the front wheels.

Maneuvering in the school parking lots was surprisingly easy helped by the Yukon’s tight 39-foot turning radius.

Finding the right driving position was simple thanks to the standard 12-way power driver’s seat and power adjustable pedals. Soft-touch controls are well placed and the standard XM Satellite Radio provided the pleasing sounds of our favorite station, channel 50, The Loft.

Unfortunately, General Motors did not go the distance in its redesign. And that seems to be par for the course as the big automaker attempts to save a few dollars here and a few pennies there.

The biggest complaint we had was the third row seat which does not fold flat into the floor as it does on most modern minivans and many SUVs including its rival, the Lincoln Navigator.

The seatback folds forward, but it eats up valuable storage space. The seat can be wrestled out of the truck and stored, but we were moving between schools and did not have the luxury of a storage place for the seat. So we were stuck with the space-eater.

The second seats tumble forward and out of the way, a nice touch. We found later in the week what we already knew. The third row is not inhabitable by adult passengers for long distances. It forces them to put their knees too close to their chins. We had to stick two people back there for a 25-mile drive and the complaints were loud and often.

And then there’s the gas mileage issue. The big engine is rated at 13 mpg city and 19 on the highway with premium fuel recommended. We derived about 15 mpg on our adventure.

Regrettably, the more fuel-efficient 5.3-liter V-8 offered in the standard-issue Yukon is not available in the Denali. In addition to having flexible fuel capability — it can run on a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas — it features cylinder deactivation in which four cylinders shut down during cruising situations. This technology yields an EPA rating of 16 mpg city and 22 highway.

Yukons start at $33,995 for a two-wheel drive with a 4.8-liter V-8 generating 290 horsepower. The 5.3-liter version begins at $35,760. Our Denali test truck carried a bottom line of $52,275 that included optional 20-inch chrome wheels, a rear entertainment system and power-sliding sunroof.

If you desire a luxurious full-sized sport utility with a big towing capacity and you don’t need a third-row seat for hauling extra passengers, then the 2007 Yukon Denali is hard to beat. If you absolutely need more useable passenger space but don’t want to give up cargo room, you should check out the Denali XL — the same size as the Chevy Suburban. It comes with all the Denali goodies at a starting price of $50,665 including destination.


Base price: $47,990; as driven, $52,275

Engine: 6.2-liter V-8

Horsepower: 380 @ 5,700 rpm

Torque: 417 pound-feet @ 4,300 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Seating: 2/2/3

Turning circle: 39 feet

Towing capacity: 7,700 pounds

Maximum payload: 1,465 pounds

Curb weight: 5,635 pounds

Fuel capacity: 26 gallons

EPA mileage: 19 highway, 13 city (premium)

Also consider: Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX470, Infiniti QX56

The Good:

• Powerful 6.2-liter V-8 engine
• One of the most attractive interiors in the luxury segment

• Excellent road manners

The Bad::

• Third-row seat has to be muscled out of the truck to gain maximum cargo capacity
• Third-row is uninhabitable by adult passengers

The Ugly:

• Second mortgage necessary to pay for great quantities of premium gas