HD Road Test Review – 2015 GMC Yukon Denali XL 4×4 with New 8-Speed Automatic

Denali lovers have never had it so good: this swanky trimline now extends beyond the Yukon and into the full range from GMC.

But for many shoppers, the sweet spot of the General Motors truck range is the Denali XL. Nearly all the tech and luxury of the Escalade, with a less shouty overall presence on the roads.

This paradox of the Denali being more humble, yet costing similar to the Caddy is plain for all to see. The idea is that everyone knows the Denali is Caddy-plush, and costs about as much, too. For a big swath of buyers, however, the Denali is the ‘just right’ triplet.

After a week in the insanely great Yukon Denali XL with its new eight-speed automatic, we’d be right behind you in line for the Denali versus the Tahoe or Escalade.

That preference is beyond skin deep, with the Denali XL’s drivetrain now a clear advantage over the Suburban LTZ. The Denali cabin, meanwhile, is less tech-fusing than the Escalade and its unique CUE infotainment setup.

We even discovered a little-known solution to solve previous gripes about the Denali’s choppy ride quality.

But there is a whole world beyond just the GMC Denali and its siblings in the full-size SUV category these days. Let’s charge forward with standard Exteroir, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary section headings. 100-plus photos and two HD videos included to bring these words to live action.


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Big and beautiful!

Around 10 months on the market has done nothing to diminish the sexy lines and excellent design detailing of the 2015 Denali. Along with every Yukon, the Denali sports standard LED DRLs in a hex-like shape around the edge of the lamps. The low-beams are a single HID projector at the top of the lamp, while the highbeams are a halogen reflector in the lower half of the headlight. A few road users are still used to the GM look of low-beams down below: we got a few friendly highbeam flashes on country roads.

Surprise and delight? LED blinkers all around. The lower half of the DRL disengages and flips to amber when the blink is on, without the semi-jarring switchback or LED-off blinker look from some new machines.

The unique LED Denali nose and grille are quite eye-catching, even from afar. With the low-beams and DRLs glowing, all the light elements match in color and feel classy, if less so than the Escalade‘s LED low and highbeams.


The Denali grille effect is now chopped rectangles in satin-finish brightwork, ringed by a chopped outer element in classic bright chrome. Chrome wraps the lower foglamps as well, but these halogen units are a missed opportunity: their yellow hue looks cheap and provides very little light. The 2015 QX80‘s LED foglamps and cornering low-beams put these to shame – but the 2015 Denali is the most cosmopolitan ever from the brand. denali blinker animation

But it’s a stellar shape, nonetheless. 22-inch wheels help the style dramatically, while the Denali XL rides perfectly level. (Some Tahoes and cheaper Yukon’s have a sunken nose look when unladen.)

These grey wheels are just one of a variety of 22-inch styles available — and are near the top of our list. These are actual two or three-piece wheels: those allen screwheads in the wheel edges are actual screws. A great precision detail, and one that makes us wonder if the blades could be resprayed a bit darker, then reinstalled….

The power running boards are a big upgrade over the fixed units in the Tahoe, as are the taillamps. The LED combination brake lights in the Denali are standard on all Yukons, and look pricey and modern. A single C-shape of red LED light forms the standard taillamp and glows double bright under braking. LED indicators inside the C-cup shape are nice – and LED white backup lamps complete the full package.


denail xl 3


The cabin of the Denali XL is quite a treat. Previous-gen owners will be amazed at the depth of changes throughout. Everything feels triple bolted down and all front-seat fixtures and handles feel like they’d hold a man’s full weight. It’s well-built – noticeably so up front.

A giant center console and low-riding center stack is the near-ideal layout to have all the controls at hand, while the Denali brings some authentic luxury feel via satin brushed alloy accents wrapping the main central controls and the steering wheel spokes.



In addition to all the new tech and tight interior quality upgrades, the drive position is the most notable upgrade versus previous GMC Yukons.

Four extra inches of legroom up front are largely thanks to a big new range of seat adjust-ability. Paired with the power tilt/telescoping wheel and power-adjustable pedals, the Denali fits all types of drivers.

As ever, these trucks are heroes for super-tall individuals. The sheer sense of width inside is remarkable — and a very premium aspect of the front cabin. The jumbo center console has leather-wrapped armrest edges on the outer sections, and a Qi phone charging pad in the center.

Buttons and controls galore in the Denali are all logically laid out, for the most part, and helpfully labelled. Many of these controls are buried in CUE menus or vague symbols in the Escalade — so in that way the Yukon’s tech is easy and familiar from many current models.

There are some gripes, however, inside the truck. These are clear when compared with the Escalade, and in sharp contrast to the superlux fittings of the Range Rover or Audi Q7. Things like the French leather stitching that is rough and scratchy under palm, to the hideous fake wood in ultra-gloss, to the reddish-orange shade of the gauges and cabin functions. The red is simultaneously hard to read in direct sunlight, and quite downmarket in general at nighttime.

This is all up front, too.

In back, the Escalade feels vastly more posh than the Denali. Leather quality has a big role to play in this feeling, but it is also the bench second row on the test truck. You can definitely sense cost-cutting in the seats versus the best GM has ever made: on the Escalade Platinum, perhaps.




Functionally, the 2015 models all have a power-folding third row and remote-released second row controls. Both banks of switches are inside the trunk — yet it will take a manual heave from the side doors to put the second row up again once it is down.

The entry/exit access for the third row is finally easier and quicker than the old ‘hop-over’ kid entry method. A single big handle pops the seat up and folded on a gas strut, leaving a good path to that way-back seat. You still sortof squirm in there, but this is par for any three-row SUV.

We wish the seat-flip operation were easier. It takes some leverage and strength to complete the seat movements — and will likely require parental help. Ideally, this would be something the kids could learn and handle on their own.







Sprint Demo Video – Non-HD

The mid-year running changes that saw the Escalade swap to a new badge have brought an all-new eight-speed automatic to the GMC Denali range. As all Denali’s have the biggest 6.2-liter V8 (shared identically with Caddy), they all use this new transmission as well.

Versus the old six-speed, the new transmission improves fuel economy around 1-mpg for all measures. The really noticeable improvements, however, are on throttle and in normal driving. Any pedal push that would’ve triggered the old ‘big-kickdown-big-noise’ event in the previous trucks is now far more sophisticated. Based on this scenario, the Denali now instantly snaps down to a slightly lower gear to move you on down the road. No body heave, no big noise — just power whenever you want it. When cruising at 35-mph or so, a full-throttle application now really lights up your mood. The transmission delivers a gear three or four lower down the spread, but it all happens in an eyeblink.

Just more gears making everything better: a lower first and second to snap you off the line quicker than ever, plus a super-tall top gear for eco highway driving.

End result?


No truck this long and heavy has ever launched forward so fast. It feels like a cannonball taking flight. Very speedy. The new 8-speed lops an estimated half-second off the sprint pace for all Denali’s, nudging 6.0-seconds for the shorty RWD and up to ~6.7-seconds for the 4×4 XL.denali xl4


As noted in the top drive video, the Escalade, Denali and Tahoe have all left some scratching their heads due to the ride choppiness.

This is an issue that hurts the Escalade as well as a base Yukon, but is dramatically exacerbated by the 20-plus inch wheels of the top models.

It is all about tire pressures.

Shipping with 60-plus PSI, they are mostly delivered with PSI ratings in the 40’s — as shown on the individual-wheel PSI display of the MID gauge display.

Checking the doorjam shows the recommended PSI for this wheel/tire set is 35 PSI all around. With PSI’s at 45, the system does not alert you to any issue, despite big overinflation.

After a few rounds of letting air out of the tires, we hit the magic 35 PSI all around. It is not simple to do the deflation right; one would think the dealerships had a computer-managed system to handle this. By hand makes it a guess/check process.

But the results? Ohhhh, the sweet and glorious results.

Finally, we can let the truck breathe over bumps as its magnetic shocks dynamically alter their tightness in milliseconds. Finally, there is a sense of calm in the cabin.

We knew it had to be something: a few test trucks confirmed previously that this was a model-wide anomoly. But this was out first chance to fix it manually.

If you own one of these new K2XX SUVs, check the doorjam sticker to see what your recommended tire pressures are. With heat fluctuations, these should be checked every few weeks. If you are underinflated (which becomes a safety issue for SUVs), the system will notify you immediately.

On a final note:  we hope this tire inflation issue is addressed by GM. In theory based on human error at showrooms, hundreds of thousands of all 2015 GM trucks delivered to owners would have too much air in the tires, and a miserable ride as a result.


The Denali XL 4WD comes in with a base price of $70,220, with the RWD model about $2k cheaper.

Atop that base price, we add the $3k premium pack with power running boards, HUD and adaptive cruise control. Open Road pack for about $2.2k (after $500 discount) includes a moonroof and rear-seat entertainment.

$900 for the upgraded wheels, $500 for Midnight Amethyst Metallic and $400 motion-sensor alarm round out the $8k in upgrades. All in? $78,725.

This might seem like a big tally, but is only about a $3k premium over a similar Tahoe; and around $8k less than a similar Escalade.

Externally, the Denali is priced very near the Lincoln Navigator. The Ford Expedition Platinum (new for 2015) is much, much cheaper but lacks dozens of features versus the loaded Nav, the Denali or even the $90k QX80 Limited from the other week.






Best Denali ever?


The incredible refinement inside the 2015 Yukon XL almost makes you forget how capable the truck really is. Massive comfort, safety and tech upgrades now bring the Denali to the top of the full-size SUV class, and even make it a respectable competitor to the Range Rover LWB, Merc GL or upcoming BMW X7.  Major shock? The Denali is significantly more modern than the QX80 Infiniti or Lexus LX570 — in terms of powertrain, efficinecy, features and even exterior style. A big win for GM that is also a big win for owners.

The level of trust millions of owners have for the Yukon and Suburban is tried and tested. We all know the Denali and its big power is the only contender for towing and hauling huge groups of people.

While all generations have excelled there — this is the first Denali XL that feels as impressive around town, one-up and at full throttle.

With the tire pressures checked and correct,the Denali XL comes into its own as one of the best do-it-all SUVs ever made.

After a week humming The Sopranos themesong at the wheel, it is easy to see why the Texas factory making the Denali is now running three shifts, 24/7 to keep up with demand.


2015 GMC Yukon Denali XL