LARGE AND IN CHARGE
2015 GMC Yukon Denali & Yukon XL & Sierra Denali 6.2L EcoTec3 V8
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Fri, Sep 20, 2013
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
FIRST DRIVE A Triumphant Return to Form or A Last Gasp? By Sean Spear From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, light-duty trucks and full-sized SUVs ruled the roads. Comprising 53 percent of the domestic new vehicles sales in 2007, Americans loved their utility, and Detroit loved their profit margins. They were cheap to build, but became expensive to fuel when gas prices hit four bucks a gallon that same year. Sales then took a nose-dive, even before the Great Recession, with the later downturn in the construction industry seeming to be the final nail in the coffin. SUVs and trucks became the favorite vehicles of Americans to dump through the Cars For Clunkers Program. In the depths of the recession, many of the pundits had declared the SUV and the truck dead. With drops in sales by the hundreds of thousands and market share dropping like Lehman Brothers stock from 53 to 47 percent in just two years, it wasn’t hard to see why not. However, it seemed that neither Detroit nor the American family got that message. Detroit continued to build them, although at a reduced number, while tooling away in the garage on the next generation of body-on-frame behemoths. More importantly, the American family didn’t seem to completely walk away either. Today, the Big Three proudly proclaim that these vehicles are back, and the sales numbers seem to support this. In August, Ford sold just over 71,000 F-Series trucks, up 18 percent year-over-year and its best August for trucks since 2006. GM said sales of the Chevrolet Silverado jumped 23 percent to 43,603, while Chrysler Group sold over 33,000 full-size Ram pickups, also up 18 percent from last August. However, a closer look at the numbers show that while light-duty truck sales are up to pre-recession levels, the full-sized SUV continues to lag behind. Sales of big SUVs hit 237,000 last year, up 4.5 percent from the 2009 trough, but still only a quarter of what they were in the boom years. While experts point to a recovering construction industry as the primary driver for the return of the truck, some fear that the big SUV may have permanently lost its fan base to the smaller crossovers like the recently revamped Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.
The General Goes All-In General Motors held a bi-coastal unveil of its new line of full-sized SUVs, with the 2015 Chevy Suburban and Tahoe getting the Broadway treatment in New York, and the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali and Yukon XL getting a dose of So Cal paparazzi in Long Beach. A unifying element was the simultaneous unveiling of the next generation of GM’s bread and butter truck engine, the 6.2L EcoTec3 V8. While this ‘hunk of iron’ weighs in at the same displacement as the top-end engine found in the current year line-up of these vehicles, it is truly an all-new powerplant that exceeds the current version in every measureable way. A review of first-drive impressions of this engine follows. In GM’s pantheon of trucks, the ‘professional grade’ GMC products have long been targeted to higher-end customers. GM promotes the image of the guy at the construction site carrying the roll of plans instead of the one with the roll of copper wiring. According to GM, GMC Yukon customers are the youngest and most affluent buyers of this class of vehicles, with household incomes averaging $165K. Yukon and Sierra Denali buyers are even a step above that, averaging $186K in yearly income. Whether it is justified, the GMC brass in attendance regularly compared the Denali to the Land Rover line of SUVs in terms of sales, features and pricing. When presented with the new Yukon Denali and XL, the look of the truck seem to imply more ‘update’ than ‘revamp’. Overall shape and proportions seem almost unchanged from the current models. However, the substantial list of subtle visual cues and new technology-based features suggest a much more evolutionary approach.
“The truck is fairly large, and we didn’t want to take away from its presence.” says GMC Designer Alexandre Henriques. “So we included subtle design elements with the goal of focusing the eye to the best features of the truck. Both inside and out, we hope the owner feels like we provided luxury details without dominance.” Indeed, both models have their fair share of chrome accents (as is found on so many trucks these days) but none of it forces you to shield your eyes. Simple items such as the chrome trim on the door handles and the daytime running LEDs appear smaller and more restrained then in the current versions of the truck. Think less a piece of jewelry for a flavor-of-the-month pop star, and more a go-anywhere conveyance for her perpetually sought-after music producer. The subtle elegance doesn’t stop at the car door. As you step inside, you quickly notice the improved materials, but again without the need for sunglasses. Authentic (i.e. not faux) materials like brushed aluminum, wood, and leather replace the textured plastics most have had to endure in previous GM products. Exposed stitching on the premium-level seats complete the impression that GM really intended to please your senses while riding in the truck. The ride is where the technological improvements really come into view. GMC’s engineering team focused on improvements to noise reduction, engine performance, and even security. In fact, they took noise reduction so seriously that the engine architecture itself was changed to reduce chatter sound through things like coating the intake manifold with acoustic material and burying the high-pressure fuel pump between the cylinder bays. The engineers even used acoustic material for the wheel wells. Other items designed to make for a comfortable driving experience include a Bose Surround Sound System with Bluetooth and Pandora built-in, magnetic ride control, and a boatload of other cool techie features like Parking Assist, Blind Spot & Lane Departure Warnings, and even a Lane Change Alert that tells you not to make that lane change you just signaled for because another car is coming up on you in that lane faster than you think. Wow.
Despite the creature comforts and the tech, anyone thinking about buying something this big must still be considering utility. First-in-class third row and second row fold flat seats will help with the big hauls inside the cabin, and the estimated 8,500 lbs. towing capacity will make due with almost anything one would think you’d need to hitch outside. And yes, it seems like there are as many USB power ports as there are cup holders scattered throughout the cabin, with even a 110-volt wall-style power outlet and fold-down ceiling Blu-ray Disc Player. The General is banking that this full range of new SUVs will bring customers running back to this market segment. The Yukon Denali and the Yukon XL certainly give them a strong hand to bet with. The key will be to see if the buyers are willing to play along. First Ride with the 6.2L Authorized access to the soon-to-be released 2014 GMC Sierra Denali pick-up offered a chance to play with GM’s fifth generation top-of-the-line light duty truck engine. This all-new 6.2L EcoTec3 V8 will be featured in the forthcoming 2015 Yukon Denali models, scheduled to hit the showrooms in early 2014. At 420hp with 450 lb-ft of torque, these numbers are enough for any truck guy to take notice. But it’s the other descriptive numbers that truly make your eyes go wide: 350 lb-ft of torque at only 1,000 rpm; and a 12,000 lb towing capacity (approx. 8,500 lbs for the Yukon Denali). And although not released yet, EPA fuel ratings are expected to best the currently available 5.3L V8’s 16 city/23 highway; thanks to GM’s active fuel management system that allows the engine to run on just four cylinders when not under load.
Using an eight-mile route through the streets and freeways of the South Bay, the engine was like a sleeping bear until pressed into action via the throttle. It was then that you’d hear it’s growl, reminding you that yes, that is a bear that you are poking at. There was a slight hesitation when mashing on the pedal, but then the truck would roar to life as it ate up the pavement. The slight response delay was more likely an issue of transmission programming than throttle hesitation. Once in gear, you felt the truck plant you into the back of the seat as it hurriedly took off. Whether starting from a cold stop or going from approximately 45 to 55 mph on the I-710, mashing the accelerator translated into you being mashed into the driver’s seat. Despite all the noise reduction measures in the truck, any level of acceleration coaxed a distinctively pleasing V8 growl out of the truck. Steering remained balanced and on-center even during hard acceleration. The route gave opportunities to ride over rough pavement and even cross old asphalt-sandwiched railroad spurs. None upset the truck in the least. While the engine will undoubtedly be more gently applied in normal driving, future Denali owners should take some comfort in knowing that this engine will be ready to run when asked. Others will need to just watch out when this bear comes alive next Spring.
For more information about GMC products, go to www.gmc.com