Since California is in an eternal drought rain comes as a total shock to most drivers, their inability to handle the rain is legendary and many crashes ensue. True the roads aren’t really up to it, the water doesn’t drain well and pools up causing hydroplaning and the inevitable aftermath.
So it was a perfect time to take delivery of my tester for the week, the 2019 GMC Yukon Denali XL, a massive vehicle, with more room inside than a 1 bed flat in London and a curb weight of close to 5,500 lbs.
The sheer mass is not a problem since the Denali has a thumping 6.2 liter V8 up front developing 420 hp @ 5,600 rpm and 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm, enough to propel it from 0-60 in 6.1 seconds. That’s pretty quick for a full sized SUV but you do pay for it at the pump, despite the V8 having active fuel management which allows a the engine to “turn off” half of the cylinders under light-load conditions to improve fuel economy.
That said I did only manage 13.2 mpg for the week but according to EPA tests that’s a 5.5–7.5% improvement in fuel economy over the same engine without Active Fuel Management.
The Yukon is available in SLE and SLT trims, with a 5.3-liter V8 under the hood or the optional engine in the Denali. There are several options for seating, for seven, eight or even nine people.
On The Road
At 19 feet long the Denali XL is a lot of vehicle and one of the few I’ve tested that won’t fit in my garage. Despite this and being a body on frame truck it drives as if it were much smaller, except when you need to parallel park of course. Even so the Denali trim’s active safety features such as the low-speed automatic braking, wide-angle rear-view camera and front/rear parking alert sensors are very helpful.
The Yukon comes standard with GM’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control, which adjusts the suspension electronically to actively reduce body roll. It makes for a tremendously smooth ride on almost every surface. It doesn’t make it into a sports car though, it will under-steer if you go into a corner too fast.
Another outstanding feature is the excellent 10 speed automatic transmission co-developed with Ford. Shifts are smooth as butter and if you need speed it will drop down 2 or 3 gears with no delay. It’s all so effortless. I spent the rainy and snowy week in Auto mode which let’s the vehicle decide on whether it needs 2 or 4 wheel drive and adjusts the transmission accordingly. Huge pools of standing water, pouring rain, slick roads, nothing fazed it.
The big beast also has what GM are calling automatic grade braking which controls unnecessary acceleration and reduces the need to brake while cruising downhill. Sensors monitor braking, throttle position, trailering conditions and acceleration to relay appropriate transmission commands to remain in a lower gear while the vehicle descends. It turns on automatically and a message appears in front of the driver to confirm it has been activated.
Creature comforts abound inside the big Denali, the front seats are heated, cooled and leather appointed even in the second row. The cabin is very quiet, spacious and comfortable, although it’s starting to feel a little outdated, it’s definitely due for a refresh.
The 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is where an upgrade is needed, it looks so small in the expansive dash, however, it functions perfectly and has a fast and intuitive interface. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and easy to use. Also offered is a WIFI hotspot that worked great even when my phone had no signal.
Open up the rear hatch and you get buttons to flip the second and third row seats forward and unsurprising in a vehicle this size, there’s plenty of legroom in both rows. Space is Denali XL excels, drop doth rows down you have a massive 94.7 ft³ cubic feet available, with both seats upright there’s still 39 cubic feet of space behind the third row. This beats out the Ford Expedition, it’s closest rival.
Is It Worth It?
My tester’s base price was $72,300 but had the black edition option checked meaning it’s as tested price was $81,940. Personally I would save that $8K since that equates to 2,300 gallons of gas at the average current price of premium here in San Diego. This truck is fun to drive so you won’t regret it.
I’m definitely not in the market for a vehicle this big but having spent the week with it, I was sorry to see it leave. Whether you need to tow something or carry a boatload of people this is one very good full-size SUV.
2019 GMC Yukon Denali XL Numbers
BASE PRICE: $72,300
PRICE AS TESTED: $81,940
VEHICLE LAYOUT: Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 7-seat, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE: 6.1 liter pushrod 16-valve V-8
POWER: 420 hp @ 5,600 rpm
TORQUE: 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 10-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
0-60 MPH: 6.1 sec
CURB WEIGHT: 5,482
CARGO SPACE: 15.3 ft³ with 3rd row up, 51.7 ft³ with 3rd row folded and 94.7 ft³ cubic feet with the 2nd and 3rd row folded.
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON: 14/16/20 mpg
OUR OBSERVED: 13.2 mpg
PROS: Fantastic ride quality, excellent 10 speed auto, tons of space
CONS: Thirsty despite active fuel management, dated interior