Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 GMC Yukon Denali

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

It’s a pretty rare occurrence that someone gets into a vehicle and declares nearly immediate they want to purchase it. It is even more rare for this to occur with every passenger that sets foot in your vehicle. But that was the case with the 2016 GMC Yukon Denali that I piloted over the holidays.

No, I am not exaggerating in the least, every single person that stepped inside and took a ride in the Yukon Denali asked me two questions. The first was, how much was it? And this was quickly followed by “I really like this thing, I’m going to seriously consider buying one.” Now there is one slight caveat, and that is that I accidently had quoted everyone $65,000 as the MSRP of the Yukon I was testing; I had looked at the price on my phone and forgot to continue to scroll all the way to the bottom of the price guide. My tester actually came out to $85,000 -- a minor rounding error.

That said, the price didn’t really change the desire for these people to buy the vehicle, really it just changed their demeanour; they felt cheated and sad that they couldn’t really afford it (oops, sorry guys). But I suppose, especially after having driven it for over a week, that $65,000 was a pipe dream for a loaded full-size SUV that I would consider to be right up there with the luxury makes in terms of ride, features, comfort and build quality -- this was one solid automobile.

As standard equipment the Yukon Denali is equipped with GM’s 6.2L EcoTec3 V8, with Active Fuel Management, direct injection and variable valve timing. The 6.2L EcoTec3 engine also includes aluminum block construction and produces 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque -- a beast of an engine. This engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission which powers the rear wheels or all four wheels in automatic four-wheel drive mode, also selectable are 4-high and 4-low for real off-roading capabilities.

The list of standard features could go on for pages, but the more notable and interesting ones include: magnetic ride control suspension with rear air suspension for max towing, tow/haul mode, heavy duty rear-locking differential, external transmission cooler and engine cooler as well as a heavy duty trailer hitch setup.

Know who else is a fan? Stars in Cars: Roberto Alomar

The interior features standard items like multiple-zone climate control, navigation, leather seating, heated seats, OnStar with 4G LTE, power-folding second and third row with power-unfolding third row and more. This vehicle did have some packages attached to it as well, but even premium items like rear-cross traffic alert, back-up camera, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and more are included. The Sun, Entertainment and Destinations package adds a rear entertainment system for $3,455; check the boxes for the power-retractable side steps, adaptive cruise control and head-up display and you creep just over that $85,000 mark after destination.

When you first walk up the Yukon Denali there is no denying this is one large vehicle, but something about it makes it seem smaller than it is. Perhaps it is the side mirrors, which are a little small for the side of the vehicle that make the Yukon seem sleeker.

Pull on the door handle and the power retractable side steps slide out and down to greet you. They are wide enough to stand on and the perfect height, one can’t help but think that in the colder months the ice and gunk will eventually break the motors but over the course of the week jumping in and out of this Yukon, I really began to love them.

Once inside you are not left wanting for space, with a huge centre armrest and a ton of leg and shoulder room, in every seat inside the Yukon is one comfortable truck. The second row features two captain's seats leaving easy access to the third row. Of course the third row seats are not ideal, but sit in the middle and you can stretch out between the two middle seats making it a very comfortable five-seater.

In the driver’s chair you are offered a heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, power adjustable steering wheel and seat all to get you the most perfect driving position for a long journey. Although the Yukon Denali features a lot of technology, it is all easy and intuitive to use, including the LCD panel dash display and head-up display that makes driving even less fatiguing by keeping your eyes up and on the road at all times.

The rear cargo door features the rare but useful flip open window and of course a fully powered hatch door. With the third row up, cargo space is at a premium even in this very large vehicle, but at a touch of a button the third row can be folded in two separate pieces (60/40) for ultimate flexibility. You can also drop the second row flat and flip them forward from the rear cargo buttons as well, useful if you happen to be stuffing the Yukon full at your local flat-pack big box store.

When you fire up the 6.2L V8 you instantly feel its power, though it actually seems to take quite a bit more cranking than your average vehicle to start up. But once it roars to life, the power output is smooth and linear, and because of the nature of the beast in normal everyday driving, you never really rev out the motor at all. The eight-speed automatic keeps the engine purring quietly in the background so well that the Yukon Denali almost feels like an electric vehicle as it is provides smooth seamless power with virtually no fuss or noise.

Get on the loud-pedal hard and this truck will pull, I have no doubt it would tow easily as well – the engine is far more than the vehicle needs to get moving briskly but I’ll never complain that there is too much power in a car. The cylinder deactivation system works nearly seamlessly as well; you can feel it switch over at lower speeds at times but very rarely can you tell at cruising speeds. That system saves fuel as well, and I was able to average a very impressive 13.7 L/100 km over the course of a week of over 900 km of driving. This also included a few trips with five passengers and a couple of 15-minute warm-ups using the remote starter.

Out on the highway the Yukon Denali eats up the miles, I spent nearly a full day in the vehicle and was never tired or uncomfortable. There is basically no wind noise or road noise to be found, giving you a very relaxing ride. In the city you would think that this large of a vehicle would be a pain but surprisingly it is easy to drive and park. I honestly do not know how GM pulled it off – according to their specifications the turning circle is 11.9 m curb-to-curb, which isn’t really great by any means. But when you park and maneuver the Yukon, it seems to easily fit anywhere you point it.

So, what is the overall verdict? I certainly am not influenced as easily as the average Joe when it comes to sitting inside or driving a new vehicle, particularly in this class. I am in new and luxury cars all the time, so it takes a lot to impress. But if I’m brutally honest, I kind of want a Yukon Denali as well, it is that good.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/160,000 km powertrain; 6 years/160,000 km corrosion perforation; 5 years/160,000 km roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD
Base Price $76,210
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $86,305
Optional Equipment
$8,300 (Crimson Red Tint Coat $575: Sun, Entertainment and Destinations $3,455; Enhanced Security Package $455; Power assist steps $1,920; All-weather floor mats $225; Head-up display $475; Adaptive Cruise Control $1,195)