GMC completely redesigned its Yukon full-size SUV for 2000, but the luxurious Denali version had to wait until 2001. Now it's here. Yukon Denali sits at the top of GMC's SUV lineup, just one rung below GM's 2001 Cadillac Escalade luxury sport-utility.
The most visible difference between the Yukon Denali and the regular Yukon is the Denali's aftermarket-inspired chrome grille, in place of the Yukon's blacked out grille.
Behind that facade, however, is some hardware that sets the Denali apart from the rest of the Yukon line: a more powerful 6.0-liter V8 and a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Neither the engine nor the AWD system is available on the other Yukon models. Nor does Chevrolet offer anything comparable in its Tahoe line.
GMC's 2001 Yukon Denali rides on the same hydroformed frame and five-link coil spring rear suspension that gives the standard Yukon a smooth ride and surprisingly responsive handling. Denali's luxury touches don't overlook the fact that GMC customers will want to tow their boat to the lake or pull their daughter's horse trailer to the show, so it is loaded with features for towing and moving cargo. The bigger engine will help pull any load, while the all-wheel-drive system is just the ticket for pulling a boat up a water-slicked landing. (Denali shares its basic architecture with the GMC Yukon, Yukon XL and Yukon Denali XL, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, and Cadillac Escalade. It is arguably the best full-size SUV and pickup platform on the market.)
The most obvious aspect of the all-new Denali is that its styling is mildly evolutionary, not radically changed. While the new model looks similar to its predecessor, park a new one beside last year's model and the changes are immediately evident. One change is an arched roofline that provides extra headroom for the second and third rows. All the sharp creases on the previous body have been smoothed.
Denali buyers are limited to a traditional hatch rear door with flip-up window. Utility-minded shoppers looking for side-by-side cargo doors will have to limit themselves to an ordinary Yukon.
GMC has gone to great lengths to make the Denali's interior more comfortable, easier to operate and more attractive for families. Getting inside the 2001 Yukon Denali is easier thanks to new pull-handle style door handles that replace the old lift-up style openers. Step-in height has been reduced, making it easier to climb into the driver's seat.
All controls are mounted closer to the driver's seat. Visibility out of the Yukon is very good, thanks to new larger windows. The combination of good visibility and confident handling give the Yukon an air of nimbleness that the Lincoln Navigator lacks.
GMC Denali also tops Lincoln Navigator in the usefulness of its third-row seat. While the Lincoln's third seat is a children-only compression chamber, the Yukon's third seat provides space for adults' feet. It isn't a lot of space, but it is there. The third seat also folds, flips, slides and removes impressively. Whichever way you choose to stow the third-row seat, it is easy to do; it even has wheels to help it roll into the garage for storage.
The Denali features optional second-row bucket seats that give passengers better support and let them adjust their seats individually to suit each person. The leather upholstery is very nice looking and feels comfortable. Seat-mounted shoulder harnesses on the front and rear seats make the Yukon's belts easier to wear.
Music lovers will enjoy the Bose Acoustimass 11-speaker stereo with a subwoofer. It uses a spiral-wrapped radio antenna to cut wind noise. GMC says it chose to use a conventional mast rather than embedding the antenna in a window for better performance.
Yukon Denali delivers on the promise of its impressive specifications. On bumpy rural byways that make some SUVs feel like pogo sticks, the Yukon rides with impressive, sedan-like smoothness. On smooth highways, the Yukon cruises effortlessly.
Car-based SUVs such as the Lexus RX300 use independent rear suspension to provide the ride and handling customers expect, but GMC has managed to give the Denali those benefits without compromising its cargo-carrying utility. A new five-link coil spring rear suspension contributes to better ride and handling than any vehicle in this class. The front suspension is conventional in design, except for the springs. To save space, the Yukon Denali uses torsion bars instead of coil springs in the front. The Denali's conventional ladder frame is fully boxed in the mid-section for maximum rigidity, while the front and rear portions are shaped by the same hydro-forming technique used to make Corvette frames. This rigid design is a key to the Yukon's excellent ride and handling. At the very front of the frame is a section that is designed to crush and absorb impacts in a crash.
The AutoRide computer-controlled suspension helps keep the Denali level over bumps. This effect is especially pronounced when towing; a trailer tends to cause the towing vehicle to rock back and forth when driving over bumps, but the AutoRide system keeps the Denali amazingly smooth.
The recirculating-ball steering provides good control and feedback, even if it falls short of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer and in many sports cars. Denali's power steering system is designed for durability by operating at a lower temperature range. A much-tighter 38.3-foot turning diameter makes the Yukon easier to park than before.
Handling is impressive and surefooted for a full-size SUV.
The rear axle now carries dual-piston brake calipers for its disc brakes. Along with bigger front discs, the new Yukon Denali enjoys a much-needed upgrade in the stopping department. The upgraded brakes perform nicely. To check this out, we towed a heavily laden horse trailer without trailer brakes connected and were impressed with the braking ability. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS.
Under the hood, the Yukons employ the latest version of Chevy's small-block V8 engine family. These Generation III overhead-valve engines are the best yet and rival competitors' overhead-cam engines for smoothness and efficiency.
The new 6.0-liter version cranks out 320 horsepower, which is 45 more than the old 5.7-liter motor. That power comes at the expense of a mediocre EPA gas mileage rating of 12 mpg city and 16 mpg highway, but that is similar to the ratings of some vehicles with much less horsepower and lower towing capacities. At least the 6.0-liter V8 burns regular unleaded fuel, making pit stops a little more affordable. (See NewCarTestDrive.com's review of the 2000 Yukon for more information about standard Yukon engines.)
The all-wheel-drive Denali features a fluid coupled transfer case that sends 38 percent of the available torque to the front wheels and 62 percent to the rear, maintaining constant traction. (Standard Yukons are available with a more traditional four-wheel-drive system or a two-wheel-drive setup with optional traction control.)
All Yukon Denalis are equipped to accept a lighting plug for trailer towing, and have provisions for connecting a trailer brake controller very easily. They also have a new heavy-duty version of the four-speed automatic transmission that is made with hardened parts to withstand the extra power of the 6.0-liter engine. For drivers' peace of mind while towing, the Denali features a transmission fluid temperature gauge, so they can be confident they are not cooking the transmission when pulling a trailer up hills.
GMC Yukon Denali gives full-size SUV shoppers an alternative to their Cadillac dealer when shopping for a luxury SUV from General Motors. Yukon Denali is styled more conventionally than the Escalade, so some buyers may be more comfortable with its traditional appearance. But both are comfortable, roomy SUVs that get surprisingly good gas mileage. Denali offers more power and more seating capacity than its predecessor and adds safety features such as side-impact air bags. These changes don't just make the new Yukon Denali better than the old one; they make it one of the best full-size luxury SUVs available.
Build and price your dream GMC Yukon in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2014 GMC Yukon XL$45,996 | 15,530 mi
2013 GMC Yukon XL$40,999 | 19,606 mi
2012 GMC Yukon$34,200 | 53,798 mi
2012 GMC Yukon XL$53,672 | 9,043 mi
2011 GMC Yukon XL$36,598 | 66,426 mi
2011 GMC Yukon$39,996 | 42,518 mi
2011 GMC Yukon XL$41,622 | 60,875 mi
2011 GMC Yukon XL$41,951 | 52,231 mi
2010 GMC Yukon$36,922 | 60,521 mi
2010 GMC Yukon$39,963 | 50,677 mi
2009 GMC Yukon Denali$34,384 | 50,520 mi
2009 GMC Yukon$37,999 | 54,882 mi
2008 GMC Yukon$21,977 | 99,259 mi
2008 GMC Yukon$25,000 | 102,850 mi
2008 GMC Yukon Denali$30,920 | 54,538 mi
2007 GMC Yukon$19,985 | 123,537 mi
2007 GMC Yukon Denali$19,995 | 121,813 mi
2007 GMC Yukon$21,995 | 94,650 mi
2007 GMC Yukon$22,495 | 89,554 mi
2007 GMC Yukon XL Denali$22,990 | 105,222 mi
2007 GMC Yukon$25,977 | 79,343 mi
2007 GMC Yukon Denali$25,998 | 64,081 mi
2007 GMC Yukon$26,477 | 72,869 mi
2005 GMC Yukon$10,999 | 210,971 mi
2005 GMC Yukon Denali$12,888 | 156,858 mi
2002 GMC Yukon$7,999 | 198,747 mi
1999 GMC Yukon$4,977 | 175,969 mi
1999 GMC Denali$6,900 | 157,432 mi