The GMC Yukon Denali has been a pet project of mine since the trio of next-gen GM SUVs debuted in September of 2013. I went from auto writer to fan-boy: creating color turn-tables, pouring over the equipment lists, and generally fawning over the machine.
Some seat time only confirmed my strong desire for the Denali as the sweet-spot of the Tahoe/Suburban/Escalade line-up.
I deeply enjoyed the Denali's plush leather and interior mood, while relishing the benefits both the Tahoe and Yukon bring to the table for 2015.
Let's dive in with the usual categories: Exterior, Interior, Driving Experience and Summary.
The new Denali is quite a handsome truck.
It is a far more exclusive and expensive appearance than the Tahoe LTZ tested in Atlanta last month, despite sharing pricing that is darn close.
The Denali is loaded outside right from the $63,000 2WD base price - with 20-inch rims and power-operated running boards that the Tahoe does not offer.
The paints are also much richer than the Tahoe, and there is more painted surface overall. The lover sills grab body-color paints in the Denali, and the quality of the metallic shades also appears to be a bit higher than the Tahoe as well.
For all intents and purposes, the Denali is equipped and finished from the Escalade toolkit much more than the regular Yukon and Tahoe.
The choices outside include nine rich color shades, animated below. The newest is this rich Iridium paint color - a dark metallic titanium in cloudy or night-time scenes, but relatively bright plum in the sunlight. It is not a favorite, despite being very interesting in its light-reflectivity.
The other key exterior choices are minimal -- with 22-inch rims available for the same $3,000 premium as they are for all Sierra's, Silverado's and indeed the Tahoe and Suburban.
The chunky seven-spoke setup is very handsome on the truck, matching its tough-but-glamorous appeal nicely.
Silver, chrome or silver with dark internals are offered on the 22-inch rims, with the dark insert being my clear preference. This test model wears the standard silver finish.
Exterior options besides this are only wheel locks and various trailer packages -- all money well-spent.
The Denali badge has always pulled alot of its weight and price premium on the insides of the trucks as well as the outside. But how does this work when you consider that the Tahoe LTZ is so vastly superior to the old models in every way: comfort, quietness, materials and tech!?
The Denali still brings meaningful improvements on the theme. The overall standard of the leather and dash-wrap feels just a click or two higher-quality -- everything is low-sheen and soft-touch.
The two available brown shades of cabin are really wonderful - both are a quick way to shortcut the brain into a premium mindset versus the standard black leather -- which is easier to confuse with Tahoe-type materials.
Both trucks are huge as ever, and feel good inside right away. The power-folding rear seats are awesome! Check out this video demo of the 2015 Tahoe's power-folding seats -- shot with one hand, pls forgive the learning curve trying to get headrests down!
The Denali is easier to get into thanks to those quick power-folding running boards outside, which I found myself using. The floor is still a bit higher than most other SUVs these days, notably the new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. The Range Rovers have a lower sill and what feels like an overall lower floor height than the Denali.
But once seated, the biggest sense of cool and calm wafts over you in the Denali. It is familiar but everything is just that little bit easier to reach, operate and appreciate. Example? The seat heaters and seat cooler settings are a little button right at the outer base of the center stack -- easy.
The Denali and its large standard engine are amazing companions. They have a deeper bark than the 5.3-liter top V8 of the Tahoe, and fire up with more of a gurgle too.
I would suggest the Touring package with heads-up-display and moonroof -- it is worth it unless you are above about 6'6" -- in which case more headroom might be nice. There is tons of room everywhere in the Denali though, with actually four extra legroom inches in front (said "two" in the video at the top...).
20" chrome wheels
Rear seat entertainment system
Enhanced Security Package
6.2L EcoTec3 V8 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Engine block heater
Polished exhaust tips
20" Tires, all-season, blackwall
22" all-season, blackwall tires
22" 7-spoke Silver wheels with Black inserts
22" 6-spoke premium Silver ultra-bright machined wheels (dealer installed)
22" 7-spoke Silver wheels
Assist steps, power-retractable, with perimeter lighting
Audio system, IntelliLink with Navigation, AM/FM stereo, CD player and 5 USB Ports
Rear seat entertainment system with Blu-Ray
Seats, front bucket leather-appointed
Seats, second row bucket, power release, heated
Seats, second row split-folding 60/40 bench, power release, heated
Front console organizer
First and second row all-weather floor mats
Adaptive Cruise Control with Crash Imminent Braking
Cargo shade (dealer installed)
Rear cargo mat
Cargo net (dealer installed)
I love how the Denali rides and handles. It is fun and fast and responsive. The upgraded wheels on the Tahoe LTZ will have a much more pronounced impact on ride quality than they do on the Denali, which has standard magnetic suspension.
On our brief drive we did not have a chance to fiddle much with any sport settings or suspension softness controls, and the Denali did bring some quick jabs over road bumps that are totally imperceptible in luxury cars like the S63 AMG and its air suspension. But hey, that is a lofty competitive set.
The tradeoff is that the Denali has much more grip and roll resistance than the Tahoe, which means you are more confident driving it fast and hard around corners.
While 2WD might be on your radar in a dry or hot climate, I would suggest the $3,000 upgrade to four-wheel-drive for all buyers. The system is switchable - so you can leave it in rear-drive most of the time in the Cali sun -- but put it in 4 Auto when you want to drive fast. This is helpful -- the 6.2-liter engine has gobs or torque and can make progress more rapidly, with less tire spin, via the 4 Auto setting.
The other major cabin option in this regard is the two-speed transfer case - which then brings a 4 Low setting as well as the 4 Auto and 4 High. Helpful if you are towing frequently on gravel or using boat launches that are steeply graded.
But the final piece of the Denali puzzle is indeed this heavenly V8. It drops estimated sprint times from the Tahoe's 7.4 seconds to 60-mph down to what felt like about 6.2-seconds to 60-mph.
6.2-liter V8, 6.2-seconds to 60-mph!
A nice round number to put in your head when opting for the Denali. Overall, the Denali is outstanding this year.
It will do wonders for the GMC sales charts -- earning back buyers who will find its performance, features, tech and comfort far closer to Mercedes-Benz GL550 than ever before.
When these buyers might have left the GM or domestic truck/SUV fold, they were getting a quantum leap in driving manners and luxury via the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover or Audi Q7.
Coming back, they will be thrilled to find the best big-V8 feeling still present in the GMC, but now draped in a super-premium shell that is fast, luxurious and extremely tech-integrated.
Well done, GMC.
This is an A+ truck.
Primary competitors, for me, would be a loaded GMC Yukon SLT -- if only for the darker, non-chrome grille.
COLOR CHOICE ANIMATIONS
2015 GMC Yukon Denali