GMC Yukon XL Denali is a whole lotta luxury

2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali-07122017-0001
2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali

2018 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD: Like Granddaddy used to drive ’em.

Price: $80,900 as tested (in a 2017 configuration). The trim level started at $71,665. Open Road Package added power sunroof and rear-seat entertainment for $2,895; 22-inch aluminum wheels, $2,495; premium paint and retractable running boards (a must), $1,795.

Marketer’s pitch: “Denali is the pinnacle of what it means to be professional grade.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes that it’s “born for the interstates, room for your extended family and their stuff” but not that it’s “pricey, awkward to maneuver, doesn’t fit in many garages, V-8 is thirsty.”

Reality: Granddaddy was a little cranky. This might be why.

Cowboy up: We’re putting on the big boots and ordering our coffee black, because big SUVs are the game this week and next. First comes the Yukon XL, and next week, the Nissan Armada.

Way up here: Maybe you have a lot of people and trailers to pull around. Or maybe you just like the feeling of riding up high.

If it’s the former, your choices are limited. If it’s the latter, there are easier ways to do it.

Bigger than ever: Anyone paying attention knows that trucks are growing up, up, up — but not as much as you’d think. The 2018 model is 74.4 inches tall (it seems even taller), 80 inches wide, 18 feet 8 inches long, and 5,965 pounds. In 1992, the K2500 Suburban was 68.8 inches tall, 76.6 inches wide, 18 feet 3 inches long, and 5,600 pounds.

Up to speed: The 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V-8 engine provides 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

Whoa. This giant school bus of a vehicle lurches from a stop to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds — impressive.

Shifty: The 8-speed automatic transmission comes with a column shifter with just a plus-minus button for upshifting or downshifting. It pretty much goes unnoticed, as a good transmission should.

On the road: The Yukon Denali XL is a big, towering beast that pretty much drives like one. Other companies have gotten much better handling out of ginormous pickup trucks, notably Ram and Ford.

And even the Cadillac Escalade offers a “Sport” setting, which simply is a “Doesn’t sway like a tipsy moose” setting. Yukon XL passengers get an extra 20 or so inches to stretch out in or fill with cargo, but drivers pay the price.

In the parking lot: Low-speed maneuvers are easier than you might think. Tight parking locations went better than in many full-size trucks.

Driver’s Seat: Tough guys drive the Yukon Denali XL. Stiffen your spine, because the leather-covered seats are extra firm.

Camera icon GMC
2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Friends and stuff: “Denali” means “delovely,” and the interior offers all the appointments one would expect — wood trim, nice leather, and stitching.

Cargo haulers get 121 cubic feet behind the first row, the biggest of all big SUVs, but still no match for a minivan. The family better have tough spines as well. The middle and rear row are also extra firm.

A movable second row seems as if it would be a bright idea for 10 years ago.

The rear row is not terrible, but only because legs can stretch into the center aisle. Headroom is great, but the third-row seats are firm, unpadded, and low to the floor for 80 grand. Knee room and foot room are the real issue.

Play some tunes: For this kind of money, a better-sounding stereo system should be a must.

Control is fairly simple, with a knob for volume and another for tuning. Buttons underneath allow for plenty of choices, although the touchscreen is needed to finish most tasks.

Keeping warm and cool: Heater controls are logical. Knobs control driver and passenger temperature; a third knob handles the fan. Buttons offer choices for location.

Front seats offer bake and breeze, but I’d never found a seat cooler to vibrate and hum as much as this one.

Night shift: Lights illuminate the roadway well, and the interior lights are a subtle glow that doesn’t mess up the view forward.

One nit — the light controls and all/four-wheel-drive controls are paired together, with the same kind of knobs. I never accidentally changed modes, but I came awfully close once or twice.

Fuel economy: I averaged a respectable 18 mpg in a variety of driving situations. That V8/V4 configuration GMC uses does help.

Where it’s built: Arlington, Texas.

How it’s built: Abysmally, it would seem. The Yukon XL and stablemate Suburban have ridden the bottom of Consumer Reports’ reliability barrel for years.

In the end: For this money, you could get a ratty used Ram and a minivan, save trips to the service center, and still have 20 grand or more to buy another horse. But after a week in the Yukon Denali XL, I admit I kinda liked it. Yeehaw!

Next week: Nissan Armada.