The new-for-2007 GMC Yukon Denali and the XL Denali are two burly, luxurious and expensive sport-utility vehicles.
They boast a host of fancy features; have handsome, leather-swathed interiors; powerful (and thirsty) V-8 engines and they have that tough go-anywhere, tow-anything demeanor that has attracted buyers for the past 15 years.
In short, they are equally at home at the country club or the hunting cabin, on the superhighway or on the rutted and rocky off-road trails.
Actually, the new Yukons and their Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Tahoe stable mates are more of a refinement than a total redesign, but the extensive work has smoothed most of the rough edges that were obvious in their predecessors.
I spent all my time in the shorter-wheelbase Denali, but except for size the two vehicles are essentially identical. Size, however, does matter. The XL, at 222 inches, is 20 inches longer than the Denali and its 130-inch wheelbase stretches 14 inches farther than that of the Denali.
TheXL boasts 45.8 cubic feet of cargo behind the third-row seating, 30 more than the Denali. And, that 30-cubic-foot advantage continues with the third-row seats removed and the second-row seats folded forward. Bottom line: The XL has a total of 137.4 cubic feet of room; the Denali has 108.9.
One more thing: Adult passengers in the Denali third row will sit with their knees nearly scraping their chins. Passengers in the XL back row can stretch out.
From the pilots chair, improvements are most apparent in the driving dynamics. The all-wheel-drive Yukon Denali - a two-wheel-drive version will be added later in the 2008 model year - was not only quiet and comfortable to ride in, it was reasonably pleasant to drive. It did not feel top heavy or lean precipitously in sharp turns.
With families beginning to turn from pickup-truck based SUVs to more user-friendly car-based crossover vehicles, these redesigned SUVs should come as a welcome alternative to those who need serious towing capacity or outback agility.
In addition to the level of luxury, the things that separate the Denalis and the even more upscale Escalades from the rest of the pack are the engine and transmission.
The Denalis are powered by an aluminum 6.2-liter powerplant that features variable valve timing and produces 380 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. It gives the hefty trucks a towing capacity of 7,900 pounds and returns an EPA-rated 13 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the open road. However, my calculations put fuel economy at 10 to 15 miles per gallon in a week of mostly suburban and highway driving. And, I suspect the Denali XL, which weighs 300 pounds more, is slightly thirstier.
While regular Yukons get a four-speed automatic transmission, the Denalis are outfitted with a smooth, six-speed shifter that can be operated manually by the flick of a gearshift- mounted switch. However, left to its own devices, the Denalis will downshift even on gentle grades because fifth and sixth are both overdrive gears.
The keys to the new Denalis driving dynamics are a stiffened, fully boxed frame, a coil-over-shock front suspension, a five-link rear suspension, power rack-and-pinion steering and an electronic shock-absorber system which automatically adjusts itself according to road conditions.
The Denalis have all-wheel drive systems which automatically transfers power to the wheels with the most grip when the going gets slippery. A locking rear differential provides maximum traction when needed.
On the outside, the Denalis mild redesign gives them a more sophisticated look than their predecessors.
Inside, the leather upholstery and softer dashboard materials give the passenger quarters an ambience akin to that of, say, a Cadillac. Were not talking Rolls-Royce here, but the Denalis have definitely moved uptown from their humble pickup truck roots.
Heated bucket seats are standard in the first and second rows and the second-row seats will fold at the touch of a button to improve access to the third row or enhance the cargo compartment.
The GMC engineers did not skimp on safety features, either, and they have been rewarded with a five-star frontal crash safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In addition to its dual front airbags, the Denalis have side curtain airbags for all three rows. If sensors indicate a rollover is about to occur, the airbags will stay inflated for an extended period of time because a rollover occurs more slowly than a side-impact collision.
The vehicles sensors also will automatically trigger tightening of the front seatbelts in certain rear-end collisions.
Other safety features include electronic stability control, a back-up assist which sends an audible warning if the Denali is about to back into something, the OnStar emergency communication system and strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes.
Base price of the Yukon Denali I drove was a hefty $47,670. The XL Denali starts about $2,500 higher. Standard features include three-zone climate control, premium sound system, driver information center, 12-way power adjustments for the driver and front-passenger seats, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, and power assists for the liftgate and rear window.
Options on the test vehicle, which rocketed the price to $55,505, included a navigation system, sunroof, rear-view camera system, 20-inch chrome-aluminum wheels and a rear seat entertainment system which, annoyingly, restricts the drivers rearward vision when the screen is pulled down.
Next to the Cadillac Escalade, the Denalis are about as plush as sport-utility vehicles get. Yet, I couldnt help but wonder if their stats may not be fading.
With the recent emergence of excellent crossover vehicles, including those built by General Motors, the Denali simply is not as sensible a purchase for family needs as, say, the less expensive, equally roomy and equally opulent GMC Acadia.
There will always be a market for some off-road-capable, full-size SUVs, just as there is one for the eminently practical minivans. But based on their early sales successes the crossovers look like the next bright lights in practical transportation.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
380 horsepower 6.2 liter V8 Engine
6 speed automatic transmission
18 inch polished alloy wheels with P265/65R18 all-season tires
4 wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS
Active self-leveling suspension
Mechanical center differential
Rear locking differential
Variable intermittent rain sensing wipers
Step running boards
Front and rear ventilated disc brakes with ABS
Front, rear and third row head airbags
Tire pressure monitoring
Front fog/driving lights
Rear parking sensors
7 person total seating capacity
12-way power front seats
Heated front and second row seats
Driver seat memory
Remote power door locks
Heated power mirrors
Dual zone front climate control with rear air
Leather and wood steering wheel
AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo with 9 speakers
XM Satellite Radio
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model, some options are only available as part of a package, see your GMC dealer for details)
GPS Navigation system
20" Chrome Aluminum Wheels
Rear Seat DVD Entertainment System
Power Retractable Assist Steps
Rearview Camera System
Cargo Area Management System
Heated Steering Wheel
For more information on the GMC Yukon XL Denali, visit www.gmc.com
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