by: Aman Sundher
I’m a slightly larger than average guy, with slightly larger than average friends. So, when my friends call me and say we have tickets to the Abbotsford airshow and they want me to drive, I’m normally less than excited. Four 6’1”+ guys, starting at 205 pounds each, really tax my poor little C-class Mercedes. Thankfully GMC called and let me take a 2017 GMC Yukon Denali to test for the week. I couldn’t believe it – we made it to the show and back without a single complaint! Not to mention we stopped on the way home to pick up a transmission for one of my projects and had trunk space to spare. This Yukon meant business!
Let’s start with the obvious. The 2017 GMC Yukon Denali is big and I mean REALLY big. It’s one of the largest, if not the largest SUV available to the public. Driving the Yukon gives you a sense of presence that is like driving a Peterbilt down an alley. Everyone gets out of your way and you can see 3 cars ahead. The body just oozes class, almost like a well-tailored suit. The jewel-like LED headlights are very tasteful but not too flashy and the grill reminds everyone that under this fancy suit beats the heart of a full-size truck. 22” wheels fill out the wheel wells perfectly and help keep the proportions of the enormous body. My favorite feature of all is the automatic side steps. Not so much for me, but for the general public. The Yukon Denali is a fairly high truck, and the last thing you want to do is to rip your nice suit pants climbing out for a very important meeting. Not that that’s ever happened to me, recently.
Anyway, being this big does have its drawbacks. I’m sure the Yukon Denali would feel right at home in the suburbs of Texas or even Las Vegas, but Vancouver is a totally different story. Parking this beast at the movie theater was a six, yes six-point turn. And the Yukon still stuck out two and a half feet past the lines. Just for laughs I thought I’d park in the small car spot at the local grocery store and the parking lines stopped just short of the rear tire. The truck is so long that the bumper was almost in oncoming traffic. Not to mention I was way too scared to pull into underground parking. I’m 6’1” and this truck is taller than me. I did, however, manage to parallel park downtown though – the rear view camera is definitely a necessity.
Being as big as the Yukon Denali is, GMC gave it a powerful engine. The 6.2L Ecotec3 (no, that’s not a typo) is more than capable of moving this GMC Denali straight to Mach 10 in a hurry. It sounds great and the Ecotec3 is equipped with cylinder cut out technology, which barely makes a difference in fuel economy at all. It’s the thought that counts, right? But seriously, the engine is more than capable and the 8100lb towing capacity is pretty substantial for a seven-seater SUV. I do wish GMC came with a Diesel option though. If there’s room for a 6.2L V8, is it that much more to ask for a 6.6L Duramax?
Alas, we can always dream. Moving down the line, the 8-speed transmission is a dream. The rpm’s stay nice and low on the highway and nice and high when you bury it. Much like the GMC’s of yesteryear, the steering is about as responsive as a yacht in a storm. This can be both good and bad. Good in the sense that the ride is phenomenal. Magnetic ride control treats speedbumps like pencils and the hydraulic engine mounts soak up any and all vibrations from the grumbling V8. The downside is the lack of confidence on windy roads and literally zero steering wheel feedback. Now the brakes, in my opinion, are the biggest failing in the GMC Yukon Denali. If you don’t go to the gym and you plan on buying a Yukon, it’s time to start. The amount of force needed on the brake pedal is actually scary. The first day of driving it I nearly rear ended more than a few cars. I understand the Yukon is a big heavy truck but the brakes are fairly large. If I needed to stop in a hurry I was literally standing on the brake pedal, definitely something to seriously consider.
Older GMC Suburbans and Yukons typically shared the same interiors of their full-size truck brothers. Thankfully, the new generation seems to borrow more parts from its Cadillac cousins. More and more people were commenting on why anyone would buy the Escalade if the Yukon is this well-equipped and I couldn’t agree more. The Yukon Denali has more buttons and gadgets than a commercial jet. It has the standard backup camera, front and rear parking sensors, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. But it’s the other options that really set the Denali package apart.
There’s a massive 8” touch screen that is easy to read and simple to navigate. The voice recognition actually works without you having to shout at it for 10 minutes. And there’s enough USB and Auxiliary ports to charge everyone’s phone, laptop, tablet, MP3 player, microwave and well, you get the picture. Heated and air conditioned front seats are fantastic and the rear captains chairs, with heat, are a nice touch too. Unfortunately, the interior is so quiet that the front A/C seats sound like a wind turbine spooling up. I guess there is such a thing as too quiet. The big party piece is definitely the electronically folding middle and rear row seating. It’s surprising how convenient this feature actually is. Rather than going door to door collapsing the seats, simply open the trunk and hit the switches on the side. Very posh.
The moral of the story is if I needed a vehicle to drive passengers in limo-like luxury, the GMC Yukon Denali is definitely my first choice. Yes, it’s big and yes it has a few minor issues, but it’s cheaper than the Cadillac and has more space than its German competitors. At its $86,000 sticker price, it’s not for everyone, but it’s one of the best 7-seaters I’ve ever driven.