But I suppose that eventually people will adjust their budgets to the new realities of $2-plus gasoline, and those who can afford to drive big SUVs will continue to do so. If you're among that group, then there's hardly a better big SUV on the market than our test-drive vehicle for the week - the 2005 GMC Yukon Denali.
My theory is that if you're going to drive a vehicle that gets under 20 miles per gallon, it ought to be one that gives you your money's worth.
Without a doubt, the Yukon Denali is one of those vehicles.
There are two versions of the Yukon Denali - the short one that corresponds in size to the Chevrolet Tahoe, and the long one, known as the Yukon XL Denali, which is the same vehicle as the Chevy Suburban, but with a lot more standard equipment than a Suburban. (Five years ago, with the rollout of the new generation of General Motors' popular full-size SUVs, the company changed the name of the GMC version from Suburban to Yukon XL. The designation is an accurate one, as the Yukon XL is an extended-length version of the Yukon.)
For this report, we tested the short-length Yukon Denali model (base price $50,285 plus $850 freight). Although some of the Yukons - particularly, the XL models, are made at the plant in North Texas, ours was a product of the Janesville, Wisc., GM plant.
Many of us here in Texas would say that the proper designation for the shorter Yukon would be "GMC Suburban XS," for "extra-short," since the Suburban came first, and the Yukon was an afterthought - years after -- that just trimmed the three-seat Suburban to allow it to fit inside the average residential garage.
Chevrolet still calls its long model the Suburban, and the shorter version is the Tahoe. I suppose the Suburban name has too much goodwill associated with it to dump it entirely, say, perhaps, to call it a Tahoe XL. But even though the Yukon XL no longer carries the Suburban name, it still is, unmistakably, a Suburban. And the shorter model is simply a shorter Suburban - you get the same passenger space, just a little bit less cargo space behind the third seat.
But the Denali model is unique in that it combines all of the luxury options available on the Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon into one package, making the Denali the most-gussied-up Yukon can buy straight from the factory.
The Denali comes so well-equipped that there are few options. Ours had most of those extras, though, and they raised the price nearly $8,000, giving us a total sticker of $58,060 (including freight) for our test vehicle. Extras on ours included 20-inch chrome-aluminum wheels ($2,995); navigation system/radio in one unit ($2,145); a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,295), great for the kids on long trips; and two captain's chairs for the second row, replacing the three-person bench seat ($490).
The Denali name is not exclusive to the Yukon; GM also now sells a midsize Envoy sport utility with the Denali designation, as well as a full-size Sierra Denali pickup (identical to the Yukon from the nose to the back of the second seat, where it then gets a pickup bed).
But you can't buy a Denali with Chevrolet/Suburban badging, because this variation is limited to the GMC brand. Denali is the Indian name of Alaska's highest mountain, Mount McKinley, and also the name of a national park on that mountain.
Adding these unique luxury models to the GMC line is one way that GM is trying to differentiate the otherwise parallel truck lines that carry the Chevrolet and GMC names. GM wants GMC Trucks to be positioned as more upscale than Chevy trucks, particularly in the way they come packaged from the factory.
What that means is that you can take a Chevy Tahoe, Suburban, Silverado or TrailBlazer and add available options to make it about as fancy as the GMC Denali models of the same vehicles, but you have to work at it - it isn't already done for you the way it is on the Denali.
Of course, there is an even fancier version of these vehicles available - more expensive, too. Those are the Cadillac Escalade and the Escalade ESV, which correspond in size to the Tahoe/Yukon and Suburban/Yukon XL.
The Denali and Denali XL have a 6.0-liter V-8 engine that, for 2005, now turns out 335 horsepower (up from 320 last year) and 375 foot-pounds of torque (up from 365). Fuel economy also has been slightly improved, to 13 miles per gallon city/17 mpg highway, up from last year's 12 city/15 highway.
Length of the Yukon Denali is 198.9 inches, compared with 219.3 inches for the Yukon Denali XL.
All of the Denalis come with full-time four-wheel drive, however, while the base models of the Yukon and Yukon XL have two-wheel drive, and are available with four-wheel drive.
Besides the increased power and better fuel economy, changes for 2005 include those optional chrome wheels that came on our tester; a new touch-screen navigation system (also on our test vehicle); two new exterior colors (steel-gray metallic and blue-green crystal; and an improved OnStar system.
Inside, the vehicles feature plush two-tone leather trimmed seats, 10-way power controlled front bucket seats, heated front and middle seats, an extended floor console with driver information center, wood interior trim, six-disc CD changer, three-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and outside temperature display, and power windows/mirrors/door locks (with programmable auto-lock feature).
Other standard features include 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, four-speed automatic transmission with tow-haul mode, heavy-duty trailering package, stainless-steel exhaust, driver and front passenger air bags and side-impact air bags, four-wheel disc antilock brakes, battery rundown protection, remote keyless entry with alarm, luggage rack, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, automatic headlights, daytime running lights, power-adjustable floor pedals, Stabilitrak stability-control system, tire-pressure monitors, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and fog lights.
The standard full-time, all-wheel-drive system requires no driver input - you can't change it back to two-wheel drive, for instance. And it has no low-range gearing for serious off-road driving.
The AutoRide suspension offer great traction under almost any weather or road conditions. AutoRide uses a real-time damping system to select the best suspension settings for different road conditions. A fully automatic rear air-leveling system, working in conjunction with coil springs, helps to maintains the vehicles' height regardless of how much weight they carry.
Also included are GM's OnStar navigation/communications system, which offers automatic emergency assistance when air bags deploy, and remote unlocking and diagnostics services. Optional OnStar services include hands-free calling and e-mail, as well as concierge services - which can be used to get hotel and restaurant reservations and even tickets to popular theater productions.
Our test car came with seven-passenger seating, with the two bucket seats up front, the two center-row captain's chairs, and a rear bench seats.
Although the vehicle sits up high, it's fairly easy to get into and out of, thanks to some fancy running boards and lots of convenient grab handles.
Ride is more carlike than ever, although this still is, essentially, a full-size pickup closed in to make a big station wagon. Don't expect it to ride like a Cadillac sedan. Trailer-towing is the Yukon's strong suit: The short Denali model can tow up to 8,100 pounds.
The tank holds 26 gallons of gasoline, and regular unleaded is recommended.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
At a Glance-2005 GMC Yukon Denali
The package: Premium, full-size, four-door, seven- or eight-passenger, all-wheel drive, V-8 powered sport-utility. Highlights: This is a very-well-equipped, luxury SUV with almost everything standard, including leather interior; the only options include fancy chrome wheels, navigation system and rear-seat entertainment system. Negatives: High price; poor fuel economy. Engine: 6.0-liter V-8. Transmission: 4-speed automatic. Power/torque: 335 horsepower/375 foot-pounds. Length: 198.9 inches. Curb weight: 5,525 pounds. Towing capacity: 8,100 pounds. Fuel capacity, type: 26 gallons, unleaded regular. EPA fuel economy: 13 city/17 highway. Major competitors: Lincoln Navigator/Ford Expedition, Toyota Land Cruiser/Lexus LX 470, Land Rover LR3. Base price: $50,285 plus $850 freight. Price as tested: $58,060 (includes freight and options). On the Road rating: ***** (five stars out of five).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actually selling price may vary according to manufacturer and/or dealer rebates, discounts and incentives.