Versus the competiton:
Ten years ago, who would have thought that the luxury car of the 1990s would be a fancy truck?
Increasingly, that’s true because dolled up sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) from makers such as Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz and soon, BMW and Cadillac, are rapidly replacing luxury sedans in the garages of the affluent.
GMC, positioned as General Motors’ premier truck brand, has launched two luxurious SUVs. The Envoy is based on the compact Jimmy, while the Denali is a full-size Yukon.
Denali, or “the High One” in the language of the native Athabascan people, refers to Alaska’s Mt. McKinley. Denali is clearly the peak of GMC’s product line, and it has been plumped up so thoroughly that Cadillac’s upcoming SUV, the Escalade, is heavily based on it.
Built on 117.5-inch wheelbase, the Yukon is shorter than a Suburban and has only two rows of seats, whereas the Suburban is available with a third seat. Except for length, the two vehicles have much in common.
In city driving the Denali felt big and occasionally cumbersome, but certainly less so than the longer Suburban.
Visually, you can distinguish the Denali from the standard Yukon because it has a large grille, jewel-like headlights, fog lights, recessed tow hooks, chrome wheels and body cladding that accents the wheel wells. The monotone look is sleek and sublte. Our test vehicle’s Meadow Green Metallic paint was vibrant without being gaudy.
Inside, yards of leather and Zebrano wood accents set the tone for what the Denali is really about: delivering its occupants in style and comfort, no matter how bad the weather or how rough the road. Heated, 6-way power front seats are standard, and come upholstered in glove-soft two-tone leather, which is detected by your nose as soon as you open the door. Even the outboard sections of the back seat are heated.
Elsewhere, goodies abound: Six-speaker Bose stereo with CD player, Homelink transmitter built into the overhead console, power windows, power locks and heated outside mirrors. There are separate controls for rear-sear air conditioning and stereo operation.
Front seats are wide and soft, with inboard armrests. Leather is everywhere, even atop the lid of the center console, and the two-tone color scheme is aesthetically pleasing. There is adequate room for adults in the back seat, and the split-folding seat is a boon for carrying long cargo, such as skis or bikes, while still having room for a third passenger.
GM’s OnStar cellular phone communications system is optional. OnStar uses a cell phone and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technology to link the driver with a center where advisors provide real-time help. OnStar also notifies the center automatically in the event of an airbag deployment so emergency help can be summoned to the vehicle’s exact location.
Despite the fact that the Yukon is essentially a truck, it doesn’t ride like one, thanks to special Bilstein shock absorbers and fat Firestone touring tires that are far less noisy than the mud and snow treads found on so many SUVs. Since most folks will never take a Denali on serious off-road trails, these tires are a good pavement compromise. While ride was as plush as most luxury cars, I would trade more ride firmness for less pitch and sway.
Power comes from 5.7-liter V8 that pumps out 255 horsepower, which might seem like a lot except that the Denali has a curb weight of 5,867 pounds. Even still, the Vortec V8 has lots of low- and mid-range muscle, or torque, so it accelerates with reasonable authority, and is capable of towing 6,500 pounds. Use it hard and its gets fairly noisy. Gas mileage is rated at 12 mpg city and 16 highway.
Four-wheel drive is standard. AutoTrac keeps the vehicle in two-wheel drive until there is some wheel slippage, at which time four-wheel-drive is automatically activated. This system is especially useful for city use, but precludes serious off-roading.
Co ared to other luxury SUVs, the Denali is right there in size, but it costs somewhat less than its competitors. In light of the upcoming Cadillac Escalade, it just might be the bargain of the luxury SUV crowd.
The base price for our test vehicle was $42,855. Leather, front and rear air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with CD player, trailering package, power seats, tilt wheel, cruise control, power windows, power locks, heated seats, heated outside mirrors, chrome wheels and limited-slip differential are all standard.
The sticker price was $43,495 including freight.
The standard warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.
Vehicles for The Star’s week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.
Point: Comfort and convenience are a priority throughout, so the leather seats and wood trim are perfect additions.
Counterpoint: Cockpit ergonomics are still not great, and I would sacrifice the soft ride for tighter handling.
ENGINE: 5.7-liter, V8
WHEELBASE: 117.5 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 5,867 lbs.
BASE PRICE: $42,855
PRICE AS DRIVEN: $43,495
MPG RATING: 12 city, 16 hwy.