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2015 GMC Yukon Denali XL AWD

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, Dec 26, 2014

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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2015 GMC Yukon Denali XL AWD (© Harvey Schwartz)

Story by Zoran J. Segina Pictures by Harvey Schwartz Throughout its history, America always liked to think big, including getting some pretty large swaths of real estate at very good prices. We bought 25 square miles of Manhattan in 1626 for about 25 bucks. Then came the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803 from Napoleon Bonaparte, over half a billion acres for about four cents an acre (the French Emperor did not need all this land, having focused in his later years on remote island living.) And the best deal of all - the "Seward's Folly" – where we bought over half a million square miles of Alaska from the Russian Czar for two cents an acre. Without this last acquisition the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali XL AWD would have to carry a different name. The Yukon is unapologetically big. It is 224 inches long. It elicits comments such as "the next size is a bus." Or "we should be docking this thing rather than parking it.” And “why don't we salute the island like Costa Concordia?" A woman in the parking lot spontaneously exclaims: "This is one gigantic truck!" My neighbor Upadi assures me that in his native Java the Yukon would be turned into a mass transportation vehicle.

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Broadside view of the GMC Yukon XL AWD (© Harvey Schwartz)

The Yukon Denali is a luxury vehicle for eight passengers. The tested model comes with real wood and aluminum trim that looks like plastic until the cold feel of the inlays on a chilly morning proves they are indeed made of metal. For an SUV over eighteen feet long the Yukon has a phenomenal turning radius. The intimidating size also helps when changing lanes. Signal your intention and start the maneuver, and the car in the next lane slows down, not even attempting to mess with the Yukon. The sense of enormity is further enhanced by large front fascia which has to be there to keep the aerodynamics within reason. On the road, despite the quiet interior the ride is bumpy. This is a result of classic body on frame construction, and the beautiful twenty-two inch chrome wheels with 45 profile tires which provide little cushioning. While front seats are adjustable every which way, they are not as comfortable as one would expect. A perennial problem with GMC is the height of right elbow rest which cannot be adjusted. If a driver prefers to sit low, the elbow rest sits high enough to create a sense of being squeezed. Having lost Buick as a brand, General Motors is positioning the GMC Yukon in the near luxury niche between Chevrolet Suburban, and Cadillac Escalade. It is hard to argue whether the Yukon would need more high-end features. A head-up display which shows mileage and what is playing on the radio. The left side of the steering wheel has a control for speedometer with an automatic cruise control and distance radar. The right side houses telephone controls and switches for different displays such as trip, average speed, digital speed display, direction of travel, tire pressure, remaining oil life, fuel range, fuel economy, and consumption over the last 50 miles. The last one is the scariest showing at one point 15.6 mpg (best) and 11.1 mpg (lowest.) With a 6.2 liter V8 and over six thousand pounds of curb weight there is little to do. The Tall Girl has problem climbing into Yukon and comments that this car should not be sold to people older than sixty. My mechanics are enamored by the size and features of the Yukon including automatic running boards that slide out when the door is opened. Front seats and the steering wheel can be heated and cooled. A six inch screen can be raised revealing a zip-drive underneath. Back side of the wheel has controls for audio volume and preset stations. It is given that the audio system comes with satellite radio, and connectivity for all kinds of gizmos. The electronics can be plugged in several spaces.

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Rearward view of some massive automotive real estate (© Harvey Schwartz)

Steering this behemoth in narrow spaces is assisted by a rear view camera as well as distance sensors in the front fascia. Should Yukon veer out of lanes discrete vibrations to the driver's thighs serve as a reminder to bring the SUV within. Blinking yellow star in the rear view mirrors are sensors for the cars coming from behind. The dead pedal exists, but I find it positioned too flat. Rear view mirrors are too small for the Yukon’s size, and do not provide good visibility (aerodynamics again.) Below 10 mph in stop-and-go traffic adaptive cruise control disengages, and cannot be turned on until the speed climbs above 25 mph. With my polarizing sunglasses head-up display becomes practically invisible on a sunny day. When the navigation system turns to night settings it takes a long time to switch back to daytime setting. But congratulations GMC! I was able to use for the first time the voice command for a California address. This vehicle recognizes my foreign accent. In calculating the best route, however, the system tried to send me to some strange places. The navigation computer abhors freeway traffic delays and immediately tries to calculate surface street routes. In Southern California traffic this creates a problem because full freeway speed is an unattainable goal here. To save fuel the engine at times turns half the cylinders off – with eight cylinders, four of them should suffice. This works on the flats because of the mass and momentum, but in the city traffic and on slightest of inclines the Yukon needs all available power. A hard push on the gas awakens four hundred and twenty horses under the hood, and the Yukon gets going, but the fuel consumption drops to an alarmingly low level of 3 mpg. In the heavy traffic the high perch provides a calming effect because of the ability to see far ahead above the traffic as opposed to staring at the taillights. On the freeway the view above side walls feels like being on the command bridge removed from the fray and gliding toward destination.

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A cavernous cargo area (© Harvey Schwartz)

Undulating design aesthetics cannot be achieved on the SUV that is eighteen foot long and covered with slabs of metal. The low skirt in the front is there for aerodynamics, but it restricts the approach angle and scrapes the asphalt on steeper driveways. Twenty-two inch rims and the large front headlight bezels, with fog lights underneath, nicely complement the overall look. The Yukon is proportioned just right avoiding a comical look of the some GM SUVs in the past which displayed huge wheel wells with disproportionately small tires and large front end housing miniature headlights. This Yukon gets it. Navigation system calculates alternate routes when it detects the congestion ahead (how does it know about that traffic jam on the 101 North six miles ahead?) At a GM event in Malibu I have an opportunity to test drive the upcoming model of the Yukon Denali with an eight-speed transmission and electromagnetic suspension. The latter dramatically changes the handling of the three ton SUV. The new Yukon feels like a sports car on a twisty road around Malibu with much gentler and pliable ride. The new dashboard is cleaner, clearer. After several test rides I still believe that the low profile tires provide inadequate cushioning, especially having driven similarly equipped Chevrolet Suburban which had noticeably softer ride. Given the same platforms, the softer ride could only be attributed to different tire profiles. Fiddling with cruise control I accidentally engage steering wheel heater. When it finally gets going on an 86 F day in Malibu I practically need oven mitts to continue driving. I also learn from the GMC representatives about two motion sensors to detect what kids are doing in the back. Genius. There are sizable chrome accents on the lower light assembly, chrome strips on the side and roof rails, and a big GMC logo in the front. The trim subtly conveys the notion that the Yukon Denali owners are not ostentatious, merely well-off. That is why Denali model constitute sixty percent of the Yukon sales model. There are little thoughtful details – the lights on the vanity mirror come gradually so as not to blind the driver in the evening. Brake pedal can be moved. In the rarefied atmosphere price points approaching eighty grand, life is brutal and unforgiving with a lot of hardware available. GMs put a lot of thought in marketing Yukon and ultimately decided – correctly - that it is more advantageous to offer fully loaded SUV at a relatively high price, as opposed to offering a stripped machine at a discount.

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Inside looking out in the GMC Yukon Denali (© Harvey Schwartz)

On a short trip to Pasadena I load Yukon with five adults and they just love it all: the quiet ride, electronic amenities, and entertainment options. Moms with kids are enamored by motion sensors, which enhance proverbial eyes in backs of their heads. Even the Tall Girl is admitting that she is getting used to the Yukon. But she does not feel comfortable entering the car in a formal dress. Jeans and casual wear would be more appropriate. At two cents an acre, seventy-eight thousand dollars would buy almost four million acres of land. Even with the 2014 prices you would still end up with the back yard three times larger than Las Vegas. The Yukon would come in handy to traverse all that acreage. “Yes ma’am, this is Bob from the real estate office on the phone. That’s correct, your do have a large homestead and probably need a big SUV to get around. But as a bonus, your land has several million barrels of proven oil reserves to fill’er up. What’s that ma’am. . . . .? Your husband is complaining that he’ll have to develop an oil exploration business and build a refinery before he can get gasoline. Well ma’am, our ad mentioned this is a fixer upper.” For more information about GMC products, go to SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2015 GMC Yukon Denali XL AWD Price: $68,380.00 (base) $77,965.00 (as tested) EPA mileage estimates: City/Highway: 14/20 miles per gallon LA Car observed: 13.7 miles per gallon

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The 6.2-liter, V-8, EcoTec3 gasoline engine (© Harvey Schwartz)

Engine type: 6.2-liter, V-8, EcoTec3 gasoline engine Horsepower: 420 @ 5600 rpm Torque: 460 pound-feet @ 4100 rpm Drive configuration: Two or four-wheel drive, auto locking rear differential Transmission type: Six speed automatic transmission Steering: Electric power-assisted, rack-and-pinion Suspension Front: Independent coil-over-shock; twin-tube shock absorbers; 36mm hollow stabilizer bar Rear: Solid axle with five-link location and coil springs; 28mm hollow stabilizer bar Wheels and tires: P 285/45 R 22 110H M+S all season. Brakes: Power-assisted, four-wheel disc, four-wheel ABS, with Duralife™ vented front (13x 1.2) and rear (13.6 x 0.8) rotors Weight: 6009 pounds

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