If you’re searching (you needn’t search long) for a recent example of social stratification, look no further than your Buick/GMC showroom and its 2015 Yukon Denali. While Buick has long held a place in the hearts, minds and wallets of America’s executive class (or did until the 5-Series, E-Class and Audi’s A6 came along), the GMC lineup has always been more about the work day and working class than, well, ‘class’. Sure, it may have been perceived as a notch (or two) up the food chain from Chevy’s Silverado and Tahoe, but the Sierra (pickup) and Yukon (SUV) always seemed more closely connected to working-class roots than the elevated reaches of polite society. If a GMC dealer or sales rep, in a word association, was given a choice between Paris Hilton and Paris, Texas, historically he or she would have taken Texas. With a $70K Yukon Denali now on the showroom, today we’re not so sure.
To its credit, GMC’s Yukon family is as all-new as you’d hope the descriptive would suggest – but rarely does. Underneath the skillfully sculpted sheetmetal is a new chassis featuring a fully boxed frame and boasting a high percentage (let’s call it 75% – they did) of high-strength steel. A more rigid structure provides a platform for a smoother, more composed ride, helped in no small part by new shear-style body mounts, a wider rear track and wider wheels. Despite the platform enhancements this remains a big body-on-frame truck. And no matter how they present it, if you don’t need to tow 25-feet of Airstream trailer or Sea Ray boat you’d be more than adequately served by GMC’s crossover Acadia. Admittedly, an Acadia won’t earn you the same bragging rights at the 19th hole, but who remembers what was discussed at the 19th hole?
Inside, the ‘new’ news is equally good. Inlaid doors fit into the body side openings rather than over the body’s top. That, in turn, reduces wind noise and improves aerodynamics (this is now a ‘slippery’ barn door, rather than just a barn door…). Laminated windshield and front door glass is added to reduce road and wind noise, while fold-flat second-and-third-row seats improve both cargo space and convenience. There is also an all-new cargo management system, easier ingress/egress, and more USB ports and power outlets than you can count on your manicured hands and pedicured toes.
Under the Yukon Denali’s hood is the Denali’s ‘exclusive’ 6.2 liter V8 with Active Fuel Management, variable valve timing and direct injection. Described as the segment’s most powerful engine, and a clear rebuke of Ford’s EcoBoost strategy, the powertrain (which includes GM’s six-speed Hydra-Matic) is about as stress-free as pairing a hot tub and your trophy wife. With 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque this Yukon simply goes; it will even go when connected to the aforementioned Airstream. And while an EPA estimate of 15 City/21 Highway won’t impress the Greenies, it impressed us, helped in no small way by the range of a 26-gallon tank.
So, we’re impressed by the platform and – given the segment – its footprint, but left less-impressed by a Denali’s $70K window sticker. When we think of ‘Jimmy’ we think of actor James Stewart, and then maybe actor Cagney or driver Clark. This, at a suggested out-the-door of over $75K, is the King James edition – at a price that would buy you a nice bungalow in most of Detroit. We, then, would spec something more modest on the GMC showroom, while getting most of the capability offered by the top-of-the-lineup Denali.
In our build we’ll stick to GMC’s blue-collar roots, opting for the base SLE trim and 4WD. (If you buy a take-it-anywhere rig, you should be able to take it anywhere/anytime.) This gives you GM’s way-excellent 5.3 liter V8 and 6-speed automatic. And it keeps your base price – before destination – under $50K. To that we’ll spend $730 for ‘Convenience’ (auto-dimming mirror, power-adjustable pedals, programmable liftgate and Universal Home Remote), $650 on a Heavy Duty Trailering Package, $135 on polished exhaust tips (bling with a lower case ‘b’) and just over $300 on all-weather floor and cargo mats. Options total $1865, delivery is $995 and the total MSRP is just over $52K.
And what would I do with the almost $20K in savings when compared to the $71K Yukon Denali? I think I’d spend it on the upcoming GMC Canyon. And get it dirty.