2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Automotive enthusiasts often wonder aloud – ourselves included – why General Motors would choose to keep GMC while sending Pontiac (and Saturn, and even Oldsmobile before it) into the great automotive graveyard in the sky. The answer, as is so often the case, is profit. It's much easier for GM to rake in money hand over fist by rejiggering the trucks, crossovers and SUVs that it would already be developing for Chevrolet and making them a bit more luxurious and *ahem* "Professional Grade" with new grilles, badges and unique packaging for GMC.

While it may sound like we're being cynical, we totally approve of GM's fullsize SUV strategy. The least-expensive way to get into the fold is with the Chevrolet Tahoe, which starts at $45,595 with a 5.3-liter V8 engine and a cloth interior. Bumping that same Chevy to LTZ trim and its $59,995 sticker price lands a much nicer leather-clad interior and more techno-bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at. But it still looks like a Tahoe, and it still comes with the smaller 5.3-liter engine. Or, you could do what we'd do: Walk into your GMC dealer and take a look at the Yukon Denali. Here's why.

Driving Notes
  • The 2015 GMC Yukon Denali wears a starting sticker price of $62,680 or $65,380 for the XL version we drove. That's a difference of $2,685 over the Tahoe LTZ. You get quite a bit for that bit of coin, which is a pretty small percentage of the truck's total cost.
  • Of course, it's stupidly easy to raise the Denali's starting price to stratospheric levels. A Touring Package for $4,110 includes an excellent head-up display, loud and proud 20-inch wheels in chrome, a power sunroof, rear-seat entertainment and an enhanced security system. That last bit is noteworthy because these big SUVs are frequent targets of thieves. Power-retractable side steps cost $1,745 and aren't really necessary for most body types, but adaptive cruise control and automatic braking assist for $1,695 may be more desirable.
  • Besides the styling, which we'll get to in a moment, the most obvious benefit brought by the Yukon Denali is its standard 6.2-liter V8 engine. Its 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque is an immediately noticeable improvement over the Tahoe's 5.3-liter and its 355 hp and 383 lb-ft, especially when taking off from a dead stop or when passing on the highway.
  • While the six-speed automatic transmission is tried-and-true, it's two gears shy of current market leaders. That said, its deficiency is less apparent when mated to the Yukon Denali's 6.2 than the 5.3 of the Tahoe.
  • As you'd expect, the bigger engine in the Denali carries an efficiency penalty at the pump. With ratings of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 on the highway, the two-wheel-drive Denali's deficit sits at one mpg city and two highway. Not insignificant, but then again, neither is the extra power.
  • As a staff, we universally prefer the Yukon's looks to the Tahoe's, and, while we still find the Denali trim overtly blingy, we feel the treatment works better on the fullsize trucks and SUVs better than on smaller crossovers. If you want to go full bling, wait for the Cadillac Escalade and be prepared to open your wallet significantly further.
  • Inside, the Denali buyer will be coddled with heated and cooled seats sewn in supple leather. Instead of a traditional analog gauge cluster, GMC has fitted the Yukon Denali with a customizable LCD with three distinct themes. Each of them can be customized to include information relevant to the driver. Couple that with the standard eight-inch screen in the center stack and its MyLink infotainment system, and you'll have plenty of doodads to play with.
  • As you'd expect, there's a ton of room inside the Yukon Denali. A maximum of 94.7 cubic feet is available with all seats folded down, or you can pile in seven or eight occupants (depending on whether you chose second-row buckets or a bench). Need more space? No problem; the Denali is also available as an XL that's a full 20 inches longer, as seen in our image gallery. Either way, the truck's max tow rating stands at 8,300 pounds, which is more than any three-row crossover or minivan can tug along.
  • Even with those heavy-duty ratings, the Yukon Denali is about as serene an automotive conveyance as you'll find at this price. It's extremely quiet, with effective aero tuning, sound-deadening glass and active noise cancellation technology effectively drowning out the outside din and making conversation among all rows of passengers an easy affair.
  • With standard magnetic ride control, the 2015 Yukon Denali is supremely composed on the road, belying its massive 5,533-pound curb weight by feeling almost light on its feet at highway speeds. Steering is light at slow speeds, yet it firms up well as the pace increases.
  • Basically, what we have here is the middle child in GM's fullsize SUV portfolio. It's nicer than the Tahoe and standard Yukon, but not as far into luxo-barge territory as the Cadillac Escalade. Call us Goldilocks if you must, but if it were our own hard-earned money on the line, this GMC would be the just-right body-on-frame 'ute we'd be most interested in driving.