2015 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD review: The SUV with the four-foot grille…and more

2014 GMC Yukon Denali

2014 GMC Yukon Denali

The grille of the 2014 GMC Yukon Denali is four feet across. We know. We measured it. It’s a foot and a half tall, too, and it’s all shiny chrome and graced with “GMC” in bold red letters. And that’s not the only way it’s big. It comes with a price tag of over $76k.

What, exactly, does one get for three-quarters of a hundred grand? More, one would hope, than just a big, shiny grille on the Yukon Denali.

What one gets, to start with, is the 2014 GMC Yukon, new from the frame up, the fully-boxed frame made from 75 percent high-strength steel. New shear-style body mounts—rubber between metal to allow more controlled motion—improve stiffness of the body-on-frame construction.

The GMC Yukon body has been recontoured for the 2014 model year, with smoother edges for improved aerodynamics. Airflow has been improved, largely for wind noise reduction, with an inlaid door assembly, rather than laid on top, and better airflow. Laminated front side glass and windshield reduce noise coming in from the outside.

2014 GMC Yukon Denali dash

The 2014 GMC Yukon Denali puts its shifter on the steering column and makes better use of the center console. (click to enlarge)

On the top-of-the-line Yukon Denali, which we tested, active noise cancellation is standard. Active noise cancelation reads the ambient noise in the cabin and plays a countervailing sound through the (Bose standard) sound-system’s speakers, neutralizing the sound waves.

The quiet cabin is perhaps the most noticeable element of riding in the 2014 GMC Yukon Denali, followed by its smooth ride. It’s remarkable, considering that along with the strut-type front suspension, the Yukon has a solid rear axle—though with a five-link/coil spring configuration—and with a stylish but not necessarily the most bump-absorbing 22-inch wheels, what with their tires’ relatively shallow sidewalls. But the Denali also has the GM’s third-generation magnetic ride control, which continuously varies shock absorber firmness based on the roadway or terrain. Whoever invented the phrase “rides like a truck” didn’t mean for it to apply to the 2014 GMC Yukon.

The wheels of the 2014 Yukon are a half-inch wider, which contributes to the 2014 Yukon’s improved handling, as does a wider rear track, making the 2014 GMC Yukon Denali come off as that big guy in high school who had all the moves on the dance floor despite his size. He might not be the nimblest but he definitely was smooth. So is the Yukon Denali.

Speaking of big, the 2014 Yukon comes with either a new 5.3-liter V-8 or, standard with the Denali, the 6.2-liter Ecotec3 V-8. While the 5.3 is rated at 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque (higher on E85; the 5.3-liter is flex-fuel capable), the Denali’s 6.2 is rated 420 horses and 460 lb-ft of torque. The three tons the engine has to move (our test Denali 4×4 was the heaviest configuration) means those numbers don’t make the acceleration one might otherwise expect, but the Yukon is tow rated at 8,100 lbs for the Denali 4×4, or up to 8,500 lbs for the standard Yukon with rear wheel drive.

2014 GMC Yukon Denali cargo area

The 2014 GMC Yukon Denali cargo area has a flat load floor all the way to the front. (click to enlarge)

The interior of the Denali was soft-touch just about everywhere—and that’s standard for Yukon’s of all trim levels—while the Denali’s Jet Black interior was offset by white thread in French stitched seams. The Yukon Denali also comes with leather on the front seats, along with heating (seat bottom and back, or seat back only) and cooling.

Pushing a button on the right rear bulkhead will fold and tumble the second row bucket seats—which are heated—and the third row 60/40 seat will power the seats from fully-raised to lowered to form a flat floor…and power them back up again. And with both rows of seats folded, the cargo area has not an almost flat floor but a completely flat, slide that desk-to-go-into-that-college-apartment flat, all the way to the back of the front seats. Maybe someone has been listening to our complaints. But seriously, with a vehicle this big, the load floor should be flat.

The instrument panel has conventional speedometer and tachometer dials separated by a reconfigurable color information screen. We preferred the classic four- dial oil temp/water temp/fuel/ammeter gauges with selectable data screens underneath, with tire pressure, oil life remaining, hours on engine and fuel used, along the traditional trip computer readout.

GM’s Intellilink system with an eight-inch multi-information screen has legible and well-organized audio and map functions that don’t require a deep dive—or any dive—into the owner’s manual to use.

2014 GMC Yukon Denali with 22-inch wheels

2014 GMC Yukon Denali with 22-inch wheels

The center console, befitting the overall size of the Yukon, is wide and with the shifter for the six-speed automatic up on the steering column—itself power-adjustable tilt/tele—the console is freed up for covered bins, including one with two USB ports and a 12-volt power plug. Another lid covers two widely-spaced cup holders. There are more USB ports in the storage compartment under the center armrest. Storage compartment really doesn’t do it justice. It’s big enough for a laptop computer…laid flat.

As a full-size sport-utility, the Yukon rides high off the ground, with a 22-inch step-, er, climb-in in height. Our test Yukon Denali, however, had optional power retractable running boards. Open a front or rear door and a step wide enough to step on clunks down. Close the door and it clunks back up. The downside? It costs $1,745. You can do a lot of hopping for that.

Rear vision on the Yukon is, well, lousy, so a rear backup camera is standard on all trim levels. The Denali, however, adds rear cross traffic alert because, well, with the Yukon, it’s really needed. Between the second row headrests and side pillars, rear three-quarter vision is nil. The Denali’s blind spot alert is handy when changing lanes.