2016 GMC Yukon Denali XL

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The only real competition the GMC Yukon Denali XL’s got is the Cadillac Escalade ESV – which is basically the same thing in a slightly restyled (and more expensive) Cadillac wrapper.'16 Denali XL lead

Because no one else makes anything like either.

Oh, nominally, there’s the Lincoln Navigator. Which is similarly big on the outside. But it is very small under the hood: V6-only since last year. The Cadillac comes standard with (and the GMC offers) a colossal 6.2 liter V8 that makes 420 hp Corvette-sourced horsepower vs. the in-need-of-the-little-blue-pill Lincoln’s 3.5 liters and 365 hp.

But why buy the GMC over the Cadillac?

Or vice-versa?

Well, one, the Cadillac might be just a touch too much – visually (and financially). It starts out more than $20k higher than the basically the same thing GMC.'16 Yokon rear view

The GMC is also less of a polarizing presence.

The Climate Change Crowd will still hate you for owning a Yukon, but having an Escalade in your driveway is like inviting Trump to your dinner party.

Both are a little hard to ignore.

WHAT IT IS

The Yukon is the GMC version of GM’s plus-sized SUV. It’s more luxurious (and more expensive) than the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban on which it’s based – but not quite as luxurious (or nearly as expensive) as the Cadillac Escalade (which is also based on the Tahoe/Suburban).'16 Denali interior

It comes in big and really big (XL, literally) sizes – like the Cadillac (ESV). The standard wheelbase model being based on the Tahoe and the extended wheelbase version being based on the Suburban.

One of the chief differences between the Yukon and the Tahoe/Suburban – and a commonality it shares with the Cadillac – is that you can get it with that mondo 6.2 liter, 420 hp V8 paired with an eight-speed transmission. This combo is not available in the mere Chevy (it’s standard equipment in the Cadillac).

Starting price is $48,165 for the standard wheelbase Yukon with the smaller 5.3 liter V8 and RWD. A top-of-the-line Denali trim with the 6.2 V8/eight-speed automatic and 4WD lists for $68,045.

The long wheelbase XL starts at $53,865 with the 5.3 V8 and hits $70,745 for the Denali trim with the six-point-two V8 and 4WD.'16 Denali storage cubby

Its ritzier sister ship – the Escalade – starts at $72,979 for the regular wheelbase version and from there ascends to $94,950 for an ESV Platinum trim.

The only non-GM model that’s somewhat similar (and also comes in standard and long-wheelbase versions) is the Lincoln Navigator, which starts at $63,090 for the regular wheelbase Select.

A long-wheelbase L Reserve trim starts at $76,540.

WHAT’S NEW

AppleCarPlay capability has been added to the IntelliLink smartphone integration system and the optional Driver Alert Package now includes Lane Keep Assist and automatic high-beam control. A power (and hands-free) liftgate is standard on SLT and higher trims and all Yukons get capless fuel fill.

Also, the third row now folds flat – power actuated on Denalis.

WHAT’S GOOD'16 Denali lux shot

Denali trims are Cadillacs in all but name … and price.

Available in two lengths (unlike the import-brand large SUVs).

Available with either of two V8s (vs. the Navigator’s one V6).

Large (eight inch) and easy to use touchscreen in Denali, with secondary knobs and buttons that  are superior, in terms of function, to the Caddy’s slick-looking but slippery to use “haptic” tap/slide microwave oven-style controls.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Yukon Denali – with the 6.2 V8 – tows 200 pounds less than a less-fancy Yukon (no Denali) without the 6.2 V8.

Both tow less (8,300 and 8,100 lbs.. max, respectively) than the V6-only Lincoln Navigator (8,600 lbs.)

The base 5.3 V8 comes paired with a less-efficient six-speed automatic.

To get the 6.2 V8 (and with it, the more efficient eight-speed automatic) you have to get the Denali trim (starting price, $65,045 for a 2WD/regular wheelbase version) which is a $16,880 jump from the base SLE trim’s MSRP.

UNDER THE HOOD'16 Denali engine pic

The Yukon being midway between a Tahoe and an Escalade, it offers both engines. The one that comes standard in the Chevy – and the one that’s standard in the Cadillac (and not available in the Chevy).

Both are aluminum block/head engines with direct (rather than port fuel) injection and variable valve timing, as well as cylinder deactivation technology  – but they’re still fundamentally the same tried-and-true overhead valve/pushrod designs that GM has been massaging since 1955.

This is a good thing.

Others (Ford) have gone with overhead cam designs or turbos – or both –  which involve more parts, more complexity and (at least potentially) more expensive repairs when something needs fixing. Despite all that, none of them can match the power – or the fuel efficiency – of GM’s “simpler” V8s.

Base trims come with the same 5.3 liter V8 used in the Tahoe, making the same (rated) 355 hp and 383 ft.-lbs. of torque. The 5.3 engine is paired with a six-speed automatic and your pick of RWD or 4WD (electric-select).

This combo will get a Yukon to 60 in about 7.2-7.3 seconds, a quick time for a huge SUV that weighs 5,536 lbs. (and that’s the regular wheelbase model). Indeed, the 5.3 V8 is strong enough that it’s also standard in the longer wheelbase (XL) version of the Yukon. GMC does not make you buy the optional 6.2 V8 because it’s not necessary to buy it. '16 Denali engine 2

That engine makes 420 hp and 460 ft.-lbs. of torque, strongest in class. It also knocks a second off the zero to 60 time.

The 6.2 is standard equipment in the Denali, both wheelbases.

Notably, the 6.2 V8’s superior performance doesn’t cost much in the way of dramatically higher fuel bills. EPA rates the 2WD Denali (with the 6.2) as capable of delivering 15 city, 22 highway. The 5.3 equipped Yukon (also w/2WD) rates 16 city, 23 highway – a negligible difference.

Probably, this is because the 6.2 V8 is paired with GM’s new eight-speed automatic, which is more efficient than the six-speed box used behind the 5.3 V8.

The downside – already mentioned – is that to get the eight-speed, you have to buy the 6.2 V8, and to get the 6.2 V8 you have to buy the Denali.

And that will cost you.'16 Denali tow

Interesting – and despite its (by far) class-leading horsepower (with the 6.2 V8) the Yukon is not the big Kahuna when it comes to towing. That honor goes to the Lincoln Navigator – despite the fact that it doesn’t come with a V8 or offer one, either. The Lincoln comes only with Ford’s twin-turbo’d “EcoBoost” 3.5 liter V6, which makes 365 hp and 420 ft.-lbs. of torque. It’s not as much torque as the GMC 6.2 V8 makes, but the Lincoln’s twice-turbo’d six develops its peak output at just 2,500 RPM vs. 4,100 RPM for the GMC. This probably accounts for the Lincoln’s class-best maximum tow rating of 8,600 lbs.

The GMC maxes out at 8,300 lbs.

However, the Lincoln’s not nearly as quick as the 6.2-equipped GMC and notwithstanding that it’s only got six rather than eight cylinders and about half the displacement, the V6 Lincoln’s gas mileage is still just 16 city, 22 highway, virtually the same as the 6.2 Yukon Denali and slightly worse than the 5.3 equipped Yukon  (16 city, 23 highway). It’s a head-scratcher why Ford decided to go with that elaborate – and potentially big bucks to fix – twice-turbo’d V6 given there’s virtually no fuel efficiency advantage vs. a V8.

It should also be kept in mind that the Lincoln’s base price ($63,090) is nearly what you’d pay to get into a Yukon Denali with the 6.2 V8 and considerably more than you’d spend on a regular Yukon with the 5.3 V8 (which is already stronger than the Lincoln’s turbo V6 and slightly more fuel-efficient).

ON THE ROAD'16 Denali XL road 1

This is a big rig – but not unmanageably so.

In part because it’s really not that big.

At least, not by “in The Woods” (rural country) standards. My friend has a 1500 series Ram truck, crew cab, long bed. That thing is actually slightly longer overall than the Denali XL I test drove (which is 224.3 inches long, bumper to bumper – vs.  203.9 inches for the regular wheelbase model). Her rig is also taller, which enhances the feeling of being bigger.

The GMC is 74.4 inches off the pavement. For some sense of that, a Ram 1500 pick-up like my friend’s stands about three inches higher.

So also the Navigator, incidentally. It sits 78.1 inches off the pavement.'16 Denali road 3

The GMC’s lower profile also helps high-speed handling. It is more aerodynamically slippery than the Navigator and – in the curves – less prone to feeling tipsy because its center of mass is hunkered down closer to the earth.

Also – and this is kind of surprising – the Denali’s turning circle (43 feet)  is only slightly more Queen Mary-like than the much smaller Chevy Equinox’s (40 feet) I test drove a few weeks ago.

The Navigator’s is even tighter – just 39 feet (less than the Equinox’s).

But it’s the explosive acceleration of the Yukon (especially when ordered in Denali trim, with the 6.2 V8) that puts distance between it and the Navigator. And which also makes you feel good about what you spent vs. both the Tahoe and the Escalade.'16 Gnomesayin'

The 5.3 Tahoe will run with the Navigator – which ought to make Lincoln feel ashamed (given what they charge for the thing). But the 6.2 Yukon runs with the 6.2 Escalade – which maybe ought to make Cadillac feel bad about what they charge for the thing. I I’d expect my $72k Cadillac to be able to outrun my neighbor’s $65k GMC.

But it won’t. They are exactly matched, engine-wise.

And having driven both, I will tell you that the GMC version rides better – because it’s not shod with those trendy but functionally stupid 20-inch ree-ums that the base trim Cadillac comes with. Even with the fancy magnetic ride control system, there’s going to be a trade-off when you have wheels that tall mounting tires with hardly any sidewalls at all. 

Rap Star Rims. It’s an idea that deserves to be thrown in the woods.    

AT THE CURB'16 Denali curb 1

GMC is the last of the Mohicans – so to speak.

Ford dropped Mercury. No one else still has a not-quite luxury line that’s a step up from their bread-and-butter-line.

That’s GMC’s role. You want something that’s nicer than a Chevy? But doesn’t cost as much as a Caddy? Well, here you go.

But it goes deeper than price – and appearance. There are some significant functional differences between the GMC and its flashier Caddy cousin. One of the most notable of these is the wheel/tire packages that come with each. The Yukon comes standard with eighteen-inch wheels and tires while the Escalade comes with those god-awful twennies … gnomesayin’?16 Denali interior 2

The former is what you want if you want to use the truck for things that trucks are generally useful for, like bullying through mud or up a washed out gravel road, as out here in The Woods. The latter is what you want if, primarily, you are interested in “bling” – and how the thing looks.

If you think such looks good.

You can get those twennies on the Denali if you want ’em (and don’t mind the reduced capability and the harsher ride) that go with but it’s interesting that they’re not standard Yukon equipment while the Caddy comes only with them – and offers even larger (22 inch) ree-ums.

Another major point of departure is the GMC’s gauge cluster and secondary controls. Instead of the Caddy’s microwave oven-style flat panel (and swipe/tap “haptic” controls) there are mostly conventional knobs and buttons for accessories such as the AC. These are much more straightforward, much easier to use, than the Caddy’s controls.

Particularly if you happen to be wearing gloves, say. It’s another obvious clue about the City Boy (Escalade) vs. Country Boy (Yukon) natures – and intended roles – of these two.'16 Denali drop down DVD

The Yukon is still a very nice rig, however – and the Denali version has almost everything, features and amenities-wise, that you’d find in the Cadillac – including the same magnetic ride auto-adjusting suspension, 10 speaker Bose surround-sound audio rig, Xenon HID headlights and a configurable instrument cluster plus the eight-inch LCD gauge display in the center stack (which opens and closes electrically to reveal a hidden storage cubby).

You can add a sunroof and heads-up display – just like the Escalade’s. One of the few notable differences is the GMC’s rearseat DVD entertainment system has two drop-down screens hanging from the headliner vs. the individual monitors built into the seatbacks you get in the Caddy.

Also, the Escalade offers power-folding running boards (Navigator does, too).

Is it worth another $16k? You tell me!

All trims come with GM’s 4G in-car WiFi – a neat feature that eliminates the need to search out a Starbucks to get online. Heavy-duty trailer packages are available that include a load-leveling system and electronic trailer brake, as well as HD cooling and different final drive ratios.

THE REST'16 Yukon interior 2

By adding the flat-folding third row, GMC (and Cadillac) sacrificed about 16 cubic feet of total cargo capacity, but the interior space is still Hindenburgian: The XL has almost 40 cubic feet (38.9) of cargo capacity behind the third row (or about three times the space you’d have available in a typical mid-sized sedan) and 121.1 cubic feet with the first and second rows folded.

You want a cross-country bus? This is the one. Lay the first and second rows flat, throw a queen sized mattress back there (yes, it’ll fit) and then take turns driving and sleeping, stopping only to pee and fill up. Which – another surprise – you will do less often than you might expect. The XL has a 31 gallon fuel bunker (“tank” hardly seems adequate) and it’ll go 713 miles before it’s empty. That’s farther than a Prius hybrid will travel on a full tank and – trust me – a 6.2 Denali is a lot more fun to drive. No sad sounds when you floor it. And if you hit anything, you will win.

With gas holding at around $2 a gallon, it doesn’t even cost that much to fill the thing up, either.

Enjoy while you still can.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Nice review of what I believe is GM’s longest running production vehicle and arguably most successful?? I’ve heard a mixed bag of opinions on the 5.3 V8 with regards to performance, but that 6.2 V8 is definitely a beast. I would never buy any of these vehicles, but if I had to choose, it would be GM’s here, over the stupid Ford crap. I scratch my head and wonder why Ford didn’t put their 6.4 V8 in the Navigator to make it more competitive.

  2. Eric,

    Good review – I often would see these coming in as trade-ins with 300k+ and ran great. And by “these” I mean the suburban/yukon platform. They stand the test of time.

    As for the towing numbers – how accurate would you say they are? Is there a standardized method for measuring this? I ask because though Ford is supposed to be the best I had many customers report the opposite.

    Also, when I worked at Chrysler dealership the corporate trainers would swear the numbers were fudged on Fords end. Any thoughts?

    Thanks

    • Hi CP,

      Thanks!

      On towing: I, too, have heard complaints about the Fords with the EcoBoost V6; that it struggles (and sucks gas).

      I personally would choose the V8 over the turbo V6 every time. The GM 6.2 especially is a magnificent piece of work.

      • Eric,

        Appreciate the response. GM’s numbers do seem more conservative and that’s why I assumed they were more reliable. Also, whats nice about the GM’s is that they don’t jerk when taking off as to make towing easier.

        As for Ram I have heard mixed reviews. The ‘Ram’ expert that visited our store, (Ive sold all three American brands), reported that in a pull test between the Ram 3500 and Ford F-350 yielded the Ram being victor. Again, thats coming from an obviously biased source.

      • eric, I haven’t driven a 6.2 or towed with one but we (company) finally have some old 6.0 Chevy’s and they towed like crazy plus just keep on keeping on. The boss with a much bigger fleet told me a few months back after I arrived at the rebuild shop with a 5500 Dodge that I would have to back out of and let it cool down, the same problem he has with over a dozen of them, that he was going back to GM, Cummins be damned. And the newer Cummins aren’t reliable in any way like the older ones, the 4 valve vs the 2 valve, the hang in there workhorse. The other boss just bought another new Dodge duallie in the last 2 months or so after trading in a 2015. Why? It had so many electronics problems as they all have had for years(back to 2004 I know of). His words were, it had so many electronic problems, a bit over a year old. Why he still buys them tells me he needs some smarts injected. It makes not a white of difference which is the absolute powerhouse when you work them every day and now Ford has the top dog. We don’t know how long they’ll last and most I’ve seen have been used by company guys who ride around and rarely pull anything. Not so for all those old Chevy and Dodge pipeline pickups beat to crap…..and the Chevy’s would appear to be winning that since there are very few older Dodge’s but lots of older GM’s all the way back to the early 90’s still humping it.

        The other thing you have to think about is the uber price of parts. Dodge parts are out of reach unless you’re making big money with them and it still gets old with the downtime since no independents will work on them and dealership waiting time in the shop is in months.

        As far as pulling goes, that depends on how they’re spec’d and who operates them.

        I can take those same Dodge screw up trucks and make a run and get back with no damage but not so all the employees. And this is from somebody who doesn’t often use them.

        Thankfully, I mostly do what I did today, 670 miles on a 60 Series Detroit or occasionally an ISCC Cummins(good engines, easy on fuel like the Detroit) and occasionally the big dog, the 3406 old school Cat.

        I walked past an older 3406 the other day on the way to another Pete with a new 3406 E model, as different sounding as different brands. A couple days later a friend with a really nice old Pete and a 3406 old school, mechanical engine he keeps in perfect tune. And here’s what it’s all about, he pulls me over in front of the radiator and said “Listen”. God, that engine sounded like an electric motor with exhaust, just smooooooth, a quiet little roar. We all haul together at times and when he gets a hair, he can just step around us all and go on home. Bye, see you later. It doesn’t hurt to have a 13 speed either. Oh hell, nobody cares about this…..but it’s what the little guys(light trucks) long for, the forever machine.

  3. The prices that these things command are mind boggling. $75-100k for an American SUV?! The more dumbfounding aspect is that they can’t build enough of these things!

    The whole state of the car industry reminds me of the housing boom circa 2006. Average prices in my area were north of $400k when the historical average was 100-200k. Even with these astronomical prices houses wouldn’t last a week on the market. This luxury car boom sure seems a lot like the housing boom.

    I remember reading that the median combined household income in the U.S. was somewhere in the area of $40-60k. I had not discovered Ron Paul and I knew nothing about economics but I knew that the average person could afford a $200-$400k home with that income. Anyone with a bit of common sense knew it was not sustainable. Mark my words…the moment the next credit crunch hits, the market for $30k+ vehicles is going to evaporate overnight. This crash is going to be EPIC.

      • The base Chevy can be bought for less than $50k but most come overloaded with options and a stratospheric sticker price. I suspect the used market will become saturated and deeply discounted after the other shoe falls. Followed by fire sales when gas prices skyrocket. Auto loans and leases don’t have bubbles as long as repo men exist.

        How can a behemoth Suburban consume about the same amount of EPA estimated fuel as the smaller-in-every-way-possible Equinox? Please don’t tell me GM developed a relationship with the feds that would exonerate VW.

        • True CC,

          I was a Honda salesman back during the crash of 07′ and gas prices were pushing $5/gal. I couldn’t believe the prices people were accepting for trading in their 1 or 2 year old SUV’s. The only thing that mattered was lower payments. Didnt matter if they were carrying an additional $5k of negative equity into their new vehicle.

          • I look forward to expensive gas again. I want to clear the roads again. It was nice for a little while in 2008-2012 to see fewer vehicles taken on trips. Just three years later, its as if nothing happened. I like the idea of grabbing an SUV for pocket change. They cost too much now.

            • Job security for me…..but it won’t happen any time soon. Land storage is near to full, miles of tankers waiting offshore….and tanker rent is high so it’s not speculators that own that oil. Iran soon regains trading status with really cheap oil.

              If I didn’t use oil, I’d be pissed at the tax I have to pay to keep it flowing.

  4. I enlarged the pic of the tire on the scales and couldn’t see anything but “OFF”. Stick some 17″ wheels and tires on it and watch the fuel mileage jump……and the handling in anything other than dry take a leap also. I commonly see these uber tired things dead on a lease road. I guess when you have that much money you don’t know how to change a flat or have somebody there to do it for you.

  5. I just hope one comes along when the clutch goes out on the Pete with a big load of rock and somebody’s willing to pull it.

  6. “This is a big rig – but not unmanageably so.”

    Yep, I bet it handles pretty decent for it’s size.

    But that’s not the reason why folks in Utah and Northern Arizona refer to them as “BMWs.” 😉

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