HD Road Test Review – 2016 GMC Yukon DENALI 4WD

GMC unknowingly timed their full Yukon redesign perfectly:  as the new full-size trucks arrived in 2015, gas prices dropped to historic lows.  Rave reviews on the new trucks’ style, tech and performance propelled massive sales gains: nearly double the sales of the overall vehicle, and almost tripling the previous year’s Yukon XL sales.

These are still down from their heady highs in the 70k-units-plus annual tallies that evaporated after 2008’s gas-price spike.


There is much more to the success of the Yukon Denali than external factors like gas prices., however.  This lux truck is a perfect sweet-spot between yummy mommies, cool dads, flush athletes and wealthy adventurers of all stripes.

Is the magic formula still in effect for the 2016 Yukon Denali 4WD, with its standard eight-speed automatic and updated infotainment with Apple CarPlay?

Oh yes, it is.  This giant machine makes anyone feel like a winner behind the wheel.  A classy option for those who reject the Escalade’s pretension, but demand more fast-lane cache than any Chevrolet can deliver.

That being a widely-known fact, we have identified a few places where the Yukon Denali should up its game — even with its red-hot brand appeal, improved eco skills and maintained toughness for towing, hauling and climbing mountains near and far.

Standard headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary are joined by 80 beautiful photos and a pair of HD drive reviews.  These videos are of the Yukon Denali XL, whose full review in the 2015 model-year is over at this link.  


HD Drive Video



The style of the new Denali is still quite premium, advanced and deeply impressive on the road — even as the Texas factory is working three-shift, 24-hour-a-day rush schedules to make as many as possible for at least the last year.

The coolest and best parts of the Denali come from its unique nose and tail versus its siblings.  This nose is brighter in Denali form than the fairly basic look of the standard Yukons from their $48k starting prices.

A bright chrome outer grille is beveled cleanly at its edges, and matches the look of the foglamp shrouds down below.  Projector HID low-beams are high-mounted within a socket-wrench-shaped LED DRL as standard. These glow bright and proud on the road in nearly every headlight mode, including full Automatic.  The same can’t be said of the new Ford Expedition’s LED foglamps in top trims: that truck needs its parking-lights on to have any LED glow on the street.

These LEDs set a nice tone for the upgrade over the very-dull execution of the nose LEDs in the top Suburbans, yet are clearly less shouty and show-off-ish than those full-height LED DRLs up the edge of the Escalade’s cheeks.

The technical inner grille of the Yukon Denali is a subtle, matte silver stack of chunky rectangles.  It looks strong, premium and serious.  And it is!

As are the halogen highbeams and foglamps.  Despite not matching the white/blue of the other lights up top, these provide good light output and great visibility on par with premium German sedans.  That is certainly new for a value-priced American truck!

The Yukon Denali comes standard with 20-inch wheels, but is upgraded to some really cool 22-inch alloys for a $2k option on the test truck.  These wheels are awesome as standard, and even better for DIY and customizers.  Why?  The painted wheel inserts can be removed by a simple Allen wrench, then painted a darker grey or perhaps gloss black.  Few cars or trucks make their customizations so easy and simple.  No need to remove the wheels from the truck to respray them a more unique, likely darker, and trendier shade.

In addition, the yellow-ish halogen bulbs could be swapped for HID or LEDs fairly easily on a DIY basis for owners.  Perhaps GMC should consider upgrading these themselves, however.  Many buyers would stump an extra $2k in sticker price for the ultimate in high-viz, high-tech lighting.  The Yukon Denali does rock LED blinkers up front and in back, though.  Proving the GMC crew loves LEDs as much as we do!

Around the profile of the truck, the Yukon Denali is also quite premium and appealing.  It rides fairly low on its boots, and the 22’s fill out the giant fenders nicely.  Much better than the standard 18s of the Yukon without many Denali features, or a la carte options on the regular Yukons.

The main difference in the profile views of the Suburban, Escalade and Denali come from the window-edge brightwork and lower sills. The Denali wears fixed running boards, while the Escalade has power-retracting units. The Suburban typically rolls with none at all.

The  retractable units are the best visually, and for sheer ability off-road or in deep snow, where these fixed, full-length steps can get caught in muck.  They are most useful in back, for kids, and for anyone entering the third row of seats.

In the tail, the Denali is defined by its high-status badges and clean new LED combination taillamps. Beyond a body-color bumper as standard, it is hard to pinpoint much original design back there that is not shared with the Suburban.  Luckily, you eye is drawn to what is new.

The crescent-shape of LED main light is sharp and classy.  A world away from the hideous clear GMC taillamps with red blobs from the previous generation, that is for sure.

In all, the style of the Yukon is one of its best selling points.  It is clearly very, very new and very, very expensive.  But not as pushy with its price or tech as the Escalade.  For many, this is the right balance.

The bonus of subtle luxury?  We did not fear being robbed or having the machine stolen while driving it, which could not be said of piloting an Escalade in gritty urban areas.



The cabin of the Denali is definitely its second offensive strength.  Everything is standard, or so it feels looking at the spec sheet and the dozens of control buttons for nearly every seat in the house.

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About The Author

Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly expanding automotive news magazine.He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.