The GMC Yukon XL Denali: Big, Bold, & Brash

Cadillac’s Escalade took the world by storm when it was first introduced in 1999. It was big, bold, brash, and unapologetically American. It arrived at just the right time, when gas was cheap, the economy was prosperous, and hip-hop was hitting its “bling-bling” era.

Granted, the SUV itself was pretty mediocre by today’s standards. It was created during GM’s ’90s malaise, when cheapness ruled everything from engineering to design. The Escalade also arrived prior to Cadillac’s angular “Art and Science” renaissance, so it looked just like a Yukon Denali with a grille swap. But it proved to GM that big, fancy trucks were good business. And as the Escalade improved, so did the Chevy Suburban/Yukon Denali it was based on.

GM’s SUV “big three” now all ride on the modern GMT K2XX chassis, introduced in 2015. The body shape of each SUV features crisp, modern lines, with the primary differences being found in the front grille and rear light area. And as the main difference between the Suburban/Yukon/Escalade is found in the front- and rear-end treatment, why not choose the big SUV that makes the boldest statement?

And these days, the SUV that screams “big, bold, and brash” to us is the GMC Yukon XL Denali.

It’s the grille; it’s big enough to live in and is slathered in chrome. It goes way beyond bling and is the physical embodiment of Immortan Joe’s Valhalla. It’s the defining statement of this SUV no matter the exterior color, and it really stands out against our tester’s Onyx Black paint scheme.

The Yukon XL Denali’s interior is admittedly more Chevy than Caddy, but outside of some chevron-patterns in the leather and no CUE system (which some will find a good thing), you won’t find much is missing. Fitted to our Yukon XL Denali are features like full-leather interior trim, power-actuated side steps, power third-row seats, second-row (heated) captain’s chairs, a rear ceiling-mounted entertainment system, and that driver-assistance package that vibrates your rear end when the SUV thinks you’re about to hit something.

It’s a simple, though well-designed, interior, with lots of space for all 7 passengers, and a generous cargo area aft of the third-row seats. “Functional” is the name of the game here, but things are screwed together well enough to make this cabin feel at home both in the city and on a job site. The GMC Yukon Denali is the vehicle the main architect takes to the job site before heading downtown to entertain new clients. GM’s proven magnetic ride control keeps the ride smooth, while active noise cancellation turns this cabin into an oversized version of your favourite pair of Bose headphones.

One would think that the Yukon XL Denali’s size would be cause for concern. After all, it’s over 18 feet long, stands over 6 feet high, and (with driver) weighs over 3 tons. But shockingly, it’s an easy drive around town.

Sure, its massive size means you have to pay extra attention to gaps, changing lanes, and the like. But with a 420-hp 6.2-litre V8 under the hood — plus a modern 10-speed transmission — this oversized SUV never feels slow. This small-block Chevy-derived engine pulls hard from way down low, giving a muscle car-esque surge when pulling away from a stop light or passing slower traffic on the freeway. The Yukon XL Denali handles, well, like a truck, but it’s surprisingly easy to maneuver in and out of tight spaces…as long as you’re mindful of its size, that is.

GMC spent over 80 years perfecting the formula of its Yukon, and it truly shows in this current generation. In our eyes, the 2019 Yukon XL Denali brings the best of everything GM has to offer: truly eye-catching styling, a powertrain built to outlast the apocalypse, and an embodiment of the American philosophy that bigger is always better. And that the Yukon XL Denali is bigger, brasher, and bolder than its Escalade sibling — and over $10K cheaper when comparably equipped — only makes it that much more appealing.



Photos: GMC.

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.