Full-size SUVs are about as politically correct today as a pack of Pall Malls. Which is a shame for the drivers who need the kind of performance, comfort and utility that the redesigned 2007 GMC Yukon Denali XL offers. Base price for the all-wheel drive 2007 GMC Yukon Denali XL is $49,615 ($57,265 as tested). The vehicle comes with a 36 month/ 36,000 mile warranty. EPA estimates peg the gas mileage at 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway, but lead-footed city drivers will pay more at the pump. Way more.
Unlike its uptown corporate brother the Cadillac Escalade, the Denali XL is, in many cases, a design triumph of brute functionalism -- but with a twenty-first century touch of bling tossed in. Buyers who go for the 222.4-inch long XL (with is 20 inches longer than the standard Yukon and 30 inches longer than the Toyota Land Cruiser) do so for the utility and/or the knowledge that "big" gets noticed.
The truck-based Denali XL is just too darned big to ever win a beauty contest.
But GM designers have gussied up the Denali for 2007 with a host of flourishes that combat the drabness of earlier Yukons. The new mesh front grille is borrowed from the GMC Envoy, and its wide breadth across fascia balances nicely with the new vertically-stacked headlamps. Riding on a 130" wheelbase, with optional 20" chrome aluminum wheels, the new Denali look is bigger, cleaner, bolder, but with exterior trim details that say "This ain't your big brother's boring Yukon."
In the Driver's Seat
The real improvement in the 2007 Denali is in the dash and instrument panel, whose trim and ease-of-use are top of the class for the price range.Photo © Ross Johnson
Though the seats in the 2007 Denali have improved, they still lack the plushness, support and comfort of the Escalade. The real improvement in the 2007 Denali is in the dash and instrument panel, whose trim and ease-of-use are top of the class for the price range. The optional ($2145) touch-screen navigation system is easy to operate, and is well-integrated with a satellite radio/cd player that thundered through a Bose surround-sound system. An optional DVD rear seat entertainment system was another $1295. The optional rearview camera system ($195) makes backing the Denali out of the driveway much less of nail-biter.
The base Yukon can seat nine, according to the manufacturer, when outfitted with three rows of bench seats. My test vehicle came with front row bucket seats, two second-row power fold-and-tumble captain's chairs, and a cramped, removable third row split bench that was a hassle to remove and reinstall. The three-zone climate control system, complete with optional front and second row seat warmers, can almost cool or heat a small house.
Cargo volume in the Denali XL is off the charts: 137.4 cubic feet total; 90.0 with the middle seats in place; and 45.8 with the third row seat in place. Positively cavernous.
On the Road
The Denali XL excels in its powerplant, drivetrain and suspension. New for 2007 is an optional 6.2 liter Vortec V8 engine that puts out 380 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque. This makes the Denali XL with its rack and pinion steering as quick as a grizzly bear on steroids. This same powerplant can blast the 5838 lb vehicle up a mountain road, even when loaded with its maximum 1562 lb payload. The Denali XL can also pull up to a 7000 lb trailer. Because of its long wheelbase and lack of undercarriage protection, driving Denali XL off-road on any sort of hilly terrain is not the best idea. But with 9.2" of ground clearance, Autoride suspension with real-time damping shocks and locking rear differential, the Denali XL can handle level off-road terrain with astonishing ease.
New for 2007 in the Denali XL is a 6-speed automatic transmission that can also be shifted manually. Movement through gears is effortless and quiet.
Denali XL is 5-star front crash rated, and comes standard with front airbags and roof-mounted side-curtain airbags for all three rows that deploy when a roll over is detected. The extra-large disc brakes worked hard for the money, but anyone looking to stop on a dime should not be driving almost three tons of SUV.
Buyers who go for the 222.4-inch long XL do so for the utility and/or the knowledge that "big" gets noticed.Photo © Ross Johnson
If you want to load a family of six into an SUV that can pull a trailer load of snowmobiles up a mountain in a blizzard, GM has made a pretty penny in the last few years by giving you the choice of the Yukon, the Cadillac Escalade, or the Chevrolet Tahoe or Suburban. Denali XL ranks at the top of its class when price, performance, and mid-level luxury are the standard.
The irony is that, as the full size SUV has overcome so many of its design kinks in the past few years, pump prices have escalated. You have to make hard choices as to how you are REALLY going to use your SUV.
Are there alternatives to the mammoth Denali XL? Absolutely. The pricier Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, the Lexus LX 470, and Mercedes G500 beat the Denali XL on the luxury scale, and have real off-road chops. In the Denali XL's price range, the Lincoln Navigator packs more luxury, the Toyota Land Cruiser combines a better luxury factor with toughness, albeit in a smaller package.
Fans of the General Motors truck/full size SUV products know this: if a driver wants and/or needs to supersize his ride at a price, the GM products were designed to fit that bill. And the Denali XL still delivers the goods as well, or better, than its competitors.