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2017 GMC Yukon Denali: Comfortable and Capable Cruiser

Large vehicles intimidate me. I am five-foot-barely-two-inches tall so anything bigger than a midsize car might as well be a bus (or, in the case of the 2017 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD, a house). But as one would want from a house, this full-size SUV proved to be an easy-to-live-in hauler during a recent test drive in the Great White North.

As one of several subsidiaries of General Motors, GMC’s task is to promote upscale versions of its parent company’s trucks and SUVs. Finding myself in Whistler, British Columbia, which regularly tops the best ski/mountain resorts list, I wondered if the brand’s “professional grade” sensibilities matched up with the high-end holiday spot. So, enter the Denali sub-brand, which showcases that capability doesn’t need to be sacrificed for luxury.

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For the record, 25 percent of all GMC vehicles sold are Denali models, and more than 50 percent of Yukon sales carry the premium trim label. It’s no surprise then that GMC garners the highest average transaction price among non-luxury brands with about $42,000 per vehicle sale when the industry average is $31,000. The Yukon Denali 4WD I cruised around in retails for about $79,585 MSRP, which is nearly 30-grand more than a base Yukon SLE 2WD. But that’s the expected price these days for the full-size SUV neighborhood.

So, what does the Denali upgrade entail? A 6.2-liter V8 engine is trim-specific equipment and replaces the standard 5.3L V8 found in SLE and SLT models. The larger V8 produces 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque compared to the 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque output of the standard engine. With 5,743 pounds of four-wheel-driving SUV to move—plus up to 8,100 pounds of trailering capacity (8,400 lbs. in the 2WD)—the more power, the better. Not to say the vehicle is speedy from zero to 60 mph, but if you’re buying a Yukon for drag racing, you’re either awful or awesome.

Another Denali exclusive is an 8-speed automatic transmission as Yukon SLE and SLT models receive a six speed. Coupled with a magnetic ride control suspension system and active noise cancellation (both Denali-only features), and the Yukon Denali makes for an exceptionally smooth and quiet cruiser. Even with the weather changing from snowstorm to rainstorm, the seemingly unwieldy SUV was anything but cumbersome while maneuvering along the region’s always-scenic “Sea to Sky” Highway 99. There is enough confidence built into the Yukon Denali that I absent-mindedly found myself one-hand-driving, even along the slick twisties of the coastal highway. Not that I recommend doing that; just pointing out how easy it was to handle the heavyweight.

And while my Dark Sapphire Blue test vehicle’s size and demeanor may appear pretentious as it rolls on optional 22-inch ultra-bright aluminum wheels with equally shiny body-side moldings and chrome accents everywhere, the Denali lineup overall is focused on providing an elevated standard of comfort and class. The leather-appointed seats are optioned for heat and cooling in the front and heated in the second row. Third-row occupants may need to Hulu and “hiyooo” for warmth but they will not succumb to dead electronic devices. There are five 12-volt outlets located throughout the cabin, a 110-volt socket and wireless charging capability.

A 10-speaker Bose CenterPoint Surround Sound system exudes whatever aural fixation you deem worthy. With an 8-inch color MID touchscreen featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, your audio selection is limited only by your smart gadget’s storage capacity. There also is the usual plethora of technology features such as navigation (with NavTraffic), SiriusXM (three-months free), HD Radio and Bluetooth. OnStar with 4G LTE and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot are included with data packages available following a complimentary trail.

From the driver’s standpoint, a head-up display is another Denali exclusive and features intuitive button controls located to the left of the steering wheel (a standard GMC setting). This is a smart move as integrating the HUD settings via the touchscreen or steering wheel controls would only add another level of driver distraction. Without having to search through menu options, those three dedicated-setting buttons required no eyes off the road.

A power-adjustable pedal assembly adds another layer of safety and comfort as drivers of all sizes can sit a healthy distance from the steering wheel (and any subsequent-but-hopefully-not airbag deployment). And forget the clumsy and awkward vehicle climbs as Ingress and egress are simplified thanks to available power-retractable, illuminated side steps and power-release second-row seats.

Other safety-leaning features abound with a tire pressure monitoring system, parking assist sensors, daytime running lights, rear vision camera, Teen Driver Mode, passenger sensing system, hill-start assist and stability control. The included Enhanced Driver Alert Package adds forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, automatic high beams, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and low-speed automatic braking. Interestingly, adaptive cruise control is available as an add-on rather than an added-in.

In the end, the cavernous den of the Yukon Denali makes for delightful living quarters, and with a number of features to make anyone sitting behind the wheel as confident and comfortable as possible. Don’t get me wrong. A three-row, 8-passenger full-size SUV is more metal than the average household needs but if your pockets are deep and you want a gentle brute with luxury moxie, the GMC Yukon Denali will feel like home.