Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

2015 GMC Yukon Denali SUV's a dinosaur with plenty of roar

The 2015 GMC Yukon Denali has a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine - a version of the direct-injected engine in the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. (Jim Fets/GMC/MCT)
The 2015 GMC Yukon Denali has a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine - a version of the direct-injected engine in the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. (Jim Fets/GMC/MCT) MCT
The 2015 GMC Yukon Denali has a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine - a version of the direct-injected engine in the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette. (Jim Fets/GMC/MCT) Gallery: 2015 GMC Yukon Denali SUV's a dinosaur with plenty of roar

(MCT) -- By now, lumbering dinosaurs like full-size SUVs should be part of the primordial goo coursing through hissing oil refineries in Baytown.

They weigh as much as my garage, occupy too much lane space and eat way too much fuel for our sensitive iPhone and Instagram times.

Besides, greenies and government truth-twisters pronounced SUVs officially dead five years ago after the recession and inflated fuel prices blasted 40 percent of their sales away - more or less permanently.

They couldn't possibly be wrong, could they?

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  • So I guess I was a bit surprised to find a 2015 GMC Yukon Denali in my driveway recently - it wouldn't fit in the garage - still standing over 6 feet tall and weighing 5,500 pounds, and looking better than ever.

    Someone clearly forgot to tell General Motors and its thriving plant in Arlington, Texas, that truck-based SUVs are supposedly as passe as my white Bee Gees belt.

    (Darn. Does that mean I've got to lose the white shoes, too?)

    As you may have heard, GM unveiled new models of the Yukon, Chevy Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade late last year, the first thoroughly upgraded models since 2007.

    The General, which holds a whopping 75 percent share of the shrunken SUV segment, figured out long ago that the affluent buyers left in the segment prefer truck-based SUVs and will buy big.

    The one I had, by the way, proudly wore a staggering window sticker price of $71,720.

    All of GM's new SUVs flaunt taut, tightly creased bodies for 2015 that give them a leaner look - even though they aren't.

    On the Denali I had, big vertical headlamps cut back onto the tops of the front fenders, squeezing against a huge silver egg-crate grille emblazoned with "GMC."

    You won't mistake it for a Tahoe.

    A raised hood conveyed "power," Bubba, as did a more prominent character line above the door handles.

    All of the new SUVs have essentially the same dimensions as the old ones, but their flatter, more tightly drawn sides give them a chiseled, muscular look.

    Moreover, the Denali I had rolled on giant seven-spoke 22-inch wheels wearing 285/45 tires.

    Still, if you're looking for really substantial changes, stick your head inside - after stepping up on the retractable running board that disappears beneath the truck when the door is closed.

    (Mine, incidentally, had three rows of seats, including at long last a back row that folds down automatically with the push of a button, something Ford has offered for years.)

    A slightly curved, medium-brown dashboard in the Denali rolled down onto a tan lower dash.

    It kind of swirled around a fairly large center stack trimmed in satin silver plastic that looked sort of elegant in a butchy way.

    The center stack, which dropped gracefully onto a broad console, featured mostly buttons and knobs that were far more functional than the obtuse electronics in most German SUVs.

    As you might expect, head- and legroom in the bucket seats in the second row were immense, particularly for those of us who have been downsized some by life lately.

    The door panels featured brown tops that matched up with the dashboard and tan padded panels that complemented the seats nicely.

    Meanwhile, the truck's smooth tan seats looked good enough to cushion millionaire posteriors, offering decently supportive bolsters trimmed with tight stitching.

    It made me feel prosperous every time I pole-vaulted in.

    But to be honest, I was more interested in the truck's new 6.2-liter V-8 - a version of the direct-injected engine in the 2014 Corvette that churns out 420 horsepower in the Denali with 460 pound-feet of torque.

    The engine, fitted with cylinder deactivation for better fuel economy when you don't need all eight pistons, was tied to GM's old six-speed automatic.

    Though the transmission sometimes felt like it needed more gears - lugging slightly up hills before it downshifted to a gear too low - the overgrown Denali can absolutely rip to 60 in a very fleet 5.6 seconds.

    In fact, I think the main reason to pay the $15,000 premium for the more expensive Denali is to get the 6.2-liter V-8. Standard Yukons are powered by a less lusty 5.3-liter V-8 with 355 horsepower.

    Even with the extra horsepower, the Denali is still rated at a fair 15 miles per gallon in town and 21 on the highway - economy that should improve after it gets an eight-speed automatic in the next year or so.

    While the pushrod V-8 in the Denali is technically old-school, it felt thoroughly modern.

    Powerful right off idle, the engine pushes the big Denali along with smooth, civilized urgency. If prodded, it responds with a subdued snarl and a surprising leap forward, and it can tow up to 8,400 pounds.

    But you to have to keep in mind that GM's big SUVs are built like trucks, their large bodies bolted to ancient ladder-style frames.

    As a result, the ride can get fidgety over less-than-perfect surfaces, with a touch of bounce on the bad stuff.

    It never gets really harsh, but whatever illusions you had about driving something smooth as a luxury sedan will disappear on most two-lane blacktops.

    On interstate-quality concrete, though, the Denali just cruises, eating up miles effortlessly.

    It is ably assisted by another one of GM's well-tuned electric steering units. It's a tad slow, but nicely weighted and linear.

    If you must, you can push the Yukon a little in corners, though I wouldn't recommend it.

    You'd be playing with an SUV so tall that most Americans couldn't wash the top of it without a step ladder.

    In all honesty, nothing short of highly compromising photos or a bunch of kids and a boat would ever prompt me to buy a full-size SUV.

    They just aren't my 10-gallon tub of beer. But the quick, polished Denali is a slightly different dinosaur - one that stomps the earth a tad more lightly.

    ---

    2015 GMC YUKON DENALI:

    -Type of vehicle: Seven-passenger, rear-wheel-drive, full-size SUV

    -Fuel economy: 15 miles per gallon city, 21 highway

    -Weight: About 5,500 pounds

    -Engine: 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque

    -Transmission: Six-speed automatic

    -Performance: 0 to 60 in an estimated 5.6 seconds

    -Base price, excluding destination charge: $62,680

    -Price as tested: $71,720

    Terry Box The Dallas Morning News