Traveling solo — considering the destination and the vehicle in question — was a bit of a disappointment. But any trip to Yosemite National Park is worthwhile.

This time, I drove in the Denali, a special package edition of the GMC Yukon sport-utility. This is a way for GMC to differentiate itself from Chevy and also attract interest in an increasingly crowded field of luxury sport-utilities.

The Denali, named for the native Athabascan word for Mt. McKinley, is a mountain of a sport-utility.

It gets a distinctive front end, many body-colored trim pieces, heated mirrors and special tires. Other luxury touches include Zebrano wood trim, a Bose Acoustimass sound system and the Denali logo on the doors.

Although the interior of the Denali is tasteful, it isn’t as inviting as the cabin of the Navigator, for instance. And, despite some exterior panel changes, I still find that the Suburbans (both Chevy and GMC), Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and the Denali all look too much alike.

The 5.7-liter V-8 is a big, strong engine, but it isn’t very smooth. And it was a bit loud and rough for my taste as I negotiated the hills going into the Yosemite area.

The push-button four-wheel-drive system worked well. I did, however, have to pull over and consult the owner’s manual to figure out how to get the vehicle back into two-wheel-drive.

The rear panel doors are a bit strange. Most other brands offer either a one-piece rear gate or a two-piece door that lets you open just the window or the entire door. The Denali’s rear has two doors that swing out, not up. These doors tend to want to close on their own, an inconvenience when you’re loading a vehicle.

The Denali seats five or six. There’s room for a third seat, but General Motors wants to keep those who need that type of set-up headed toward the Suburban.

Of the three I tested, I found the Denali to be my least favorite vehicle. Perhaps that was because, despite its intentions, it still felt the most like a truck. It was, however, the cheapest of the bunch. For carrying people and things, and for getting compliments, I preferred the Navigator. When it came to driving and style, my vote went to the Land Cruiser.


What we drove: 1998 GMC Yukon Denali, a four-door, full-size, four-wheel-drive sport-utility with a 5.7-liter V-8 and an automatic transmission.

Base price: $42,855

Price as tested (includes options and delivery charge): $43,665

Curb weight: 5,940 pounds

Length: 201.4 inches

Standard features: Dual front air bags; Bose sound system; 6-disc CD changer; remote entry; running boards; front and rear air conditioning; leather seats; power windows, locks and mirrors; tilt steering; heated seats; wood trim; luggage rack; four-wheel anti-lock brakes; anti-theft system; rear-seat audio controls; rear panel doors; floor and cargo mats.

Options on test vehicle: None

EPA figures: 12 mpg (city); 16 mpg (highway)

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