Everything is shrinking — cell phones, digital assistants, my bank account . . .
But there are always exceptions. Take trucks.
Trucks and their numbers are growing larger, as are televisions. But, since there’s little that’s very interesting to watch on the gigantic black box, why not hop in this big box and go driving?
The big container in question is the 1999 GMC Yukon Denali, top dog in the GM full-size truck stable, at least until Cadillac’s new Escalade, a Denali clone, comes along. (That’s not counting the Suburban, which is in a class by itself.)
What distinguishes this Alaska-sized sport utility visually is front-end sheet metal that’s positively shapely. Its bold yet luxurious look leaves little doubt as to this truck’s intentions.
Mechanically, this is the Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon. With a 117.5-inch wheelbase and 201.2-inch length, the Denali is about the dimensions of a full-size car. But with 79 inches of height and 8.6 inches of ground clearance, it seems quite a bit bigger — although it doesn’t seem as high as its main competitor, the Ford Expedition.
But it feels bigger than the Expedition. Certainly when driving it, you’re always aware of the amount of vehicle you’re handling, something not true of the Ford.
Not to say there’s anything wrong with the handling. This Denali delivers a comfy ride for a truck, with decent insulation from road intrusions. There’s little side-to-side rocking. Like any truck, though, it occasionally rears its head. Rippled road surfaces are handled exceptionally well. Off-road, it’s a joy. But that width should make you think twice about squeezing into tight places.
One item that hasn’t shrunk is the engine. Power comes from the familiar Chevrolet 5.7-liter V8. This is the old 5.7, not the new one being used in other GM models. That won’t come on board until the 2000 model year. But there’s decent power here, with 255 horsepower and 330 foot-pounds of torque. Unlike other trucks, this is the sole drive train option. It’s good for sub 10-second 0-60 times and it always felt well-powered.
The all-wheel drive system is quite flexible, activated via dash-mounted switches. The driver can elect two-wheel (rear drive), four-wheel or automatic four-wheel drive. The last mode retains two-wheel drive until four-wheel drive is needed.
While traveling around in your big box, you’ll find the accommodations quite suitable. The front bucket seats are wide and supportive. The leather is outright decadent, and the interior is accented with bits of real wood trim. The only disappointment is the Denali uses the same dash that the regular Yukon uses, so only wood and leather make a difference visually. The second row of seats is a pleasant place to put companions, with the usual set of rear climate controls. A third row of seats is not available, although it is on the stock Yukon.
Yet, for a luxury vehicle in which everything is standard, there’s no automatic climate co ntrol. Neither are there little luxuries like a passenger-side climate control, trip computer or fingertip radio controls on the steering wheel. If these seem like quibbles, keep in mind they’re available on vehicles half the Denali’s price.
But heated seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirrors, integrated garage door opener and an overhead storage console are on board. So is a convenient floor-mounted center console, with lots of neat nooks and storage bins, including a flip-up bin to hold a cell phone and note pad. It’s really handy.
The Bose audio system is excellent. It’s dash mounted, including a single-CD player. Also included is a six-CD changer in the center console. Rear-seat occupants have their own controls to access a different audio source than front-seat passengers.
When our world was larger than it is today, size and traction meant a large Detroiter with a bag of sand in the trunk. As the world has grown smaller, and our paranoia larger, it now means buying a larg e all-wheel drive Detroiter with every option.
I think I’ll go watch “The Honeymooners” on my 32-inch stereo surround-sound boob tube.
1999 GMC Yukon Denali
Standard: 5.7-liter overhead-valve V8, four-speed automatic transmission, “Autotrac” four-wheel drive, speed-sensitive power steering, heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, heavy-duty battery, dual front air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, power locks, power windows, keyless entry, theft deterrent system, six-way power seats, heated front and outboard rear seats, Bose stereo with six-CD changer, auto dimming rear view mirror, roof rack, dual heated outside mirrors, rear seat audio controls, rear wiper, chromed aluminum wheels, front tow hooks, Package 1SF (leather trim, front and rear air conditioning, front reclining bucket seats, AM/FM stereo/CD-cassette, Luxury Convenience Package, trailering package, floor mats, 6,800 pound GVW, P265/ 70R16 tires.
Base price: $42,855
As tested: $43,495
EPA rating: 12 mpg city, 16 mpg highway