The 2007 GMC Yukon Denali is aptly named. It's an SUV as big as the great outdoors, with a lust for life--not to mention gas, double-wide parking spaces, and your wallet. This urban tank promises a lot, but doesn't quite deliver. It's a six-seater that really holds only four people. (The third row of seats is for those practicing Lamaze or with extremely short legs.) It's an all-wheel-drive SUV not really suited for off-road, thanks to a piddly 9-inch ground clearance. It also gulps fuel like an F-16, barely managing 14mpg in mixed city and urban-highway driving.
The interior materials aren't designed to attract the luxury-minded. The Denali's first and second row of seats are leather clad, but that's about it. The carpet is rough and basic black, the dashboard and doors plasticky, highlighted with strips of painfully faux wood paneling.
The seating up front is comfy, complete with 12-way adjustment (including lumbar support), seat heaters, and plenty of headroom. The second row of seats likewise has heaters, but legroom vanishes if anyone up front moves their seat back. The third row of seats is useless for adults--there's no leg well, forcing a knees-to-chin sitting posture. Getting out of the Yukon from the back seats is a birth experience.
One plus: the Denali can haul. The third-row seats pop right out; and, in a nice technological feat, the second-row seats can fold flat or tumble up flush against the front seat with the push of a button. That leaves a cargo hold up to 60 inches deep, 49 to 55 inches wide, and up to 42 inches high--enough to transport a dinette set with room to spare.
Most of the mod cons
The Denali sports a sweet suite of technology--GPS navigation, CD/DVD/MP3 player, XM satellite radio, and DVD playback for the kiddies in the backseat. Controlling music and navigation is a cinch via a 5.5-by-3.5-inch color LCD panel that's front and center. (The navigation/stereo unit is the same as found in the 2007 GM Yukon SLT and the 2007 Cadillac Escalade.) The screen is bright and sharp, and easily read even in direct sunlight. The screen is lined with hard buttons--on the left for navigation, on the right for audio. The controls are fairly obvious and, along with some old-fashioned knobs, not too distracting to manipulate while driving.
The interface on the MP3-capable stereo works well.
Onscreen, buttons lining the top and bottom select audio sources, change system settings, and so on. We felt the sensitivity on the touch screen could be turned up a bit, as making selections sometimes required an extra tap. Well-designed buttons between the spokes of the steering wheel control audio source, volume, skip, and voice recognition. We weren't impressed with the voice-recognition system, which can control the radio, navigation, and OnStar, to a limited extent. It failed half the time, and when it did work, it went only partway--for example, turning on the radio and selecting XM, but failing to grab the desired channel (such as Bluesville).
The 10-speaker Premium Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound system is merely competent, and road noise (even on a newly paved highway) washes out much of the lower-frequency sound. The unit can play audio CD and MP3 discs, but not WMA discs. ID3 tag information is displayed, but with MP3 discs, folders aren't shown. One plus: there's an input jack for the iPod and other MP3 players.
Like any good SUV, the Denali comes with a mini entertainment center for the kids in the back. Although everything can be controlled up front, those in the backseat can watch a movie in silence (thanks to supplied wireless headsets), run the show with a sometimes cranky remote control, listen to different radio stations than what's selected up front, and more. Two gripes: The 7-by-4-inch pop-down LCD screen's display is a little muddy, made worse for passengers to the side, because the screen doesn't swivel at all. The headsets also pick up a lot of RF interference, which results in hiss.
The rear DVD screen is reasonably sized, but somewhat muddy in resolution.
Like the Yukon SLT and the Cadillac Escalade, there's no Bluetooth option. The backup camera is a nice touch, especially in combination with the rear ultrasonic sensors. The sensors flash a series of lights inside the back cabin as the vehicle gets closer to an obstruction.
Balancing power and efficiency
GM touts the Denali as being the first in the Yukon line to use a 6.2-liter small block Vortec V-8 engine that delivers 380 horsepower with variable valve-timing (VVT), coupled with a new six-speed transmission. (The engine is also used in the Escalade.) But while we appreciate the technology in this power train, GM hasn't struck the right balance of power versus efficiency. The Denali gulps gas yet feels a bit underpowered.
According to GM's press materials, Vortec engines deliver "plenty of horsepower without sacrificing fuel efficiency" by better managing the air-to-fuel ratio during combustion. Alas, it's hard to see the results here. The Denali has fairly brisk acceleration--enough to jump onto a freeway without a sweat. But go up a steep hill, and the engine is a little gutless, perhaps because GM's six-speed transmission upshifts too soon. And as we discovered with the Cadillac Escalade, VVT can compromise both performance and mileage. In our mixed city/freeway driving, the Denali averaged about 14mpg--better than the Escalade, but that's not saying much.
Still, the Denali is a fairly responsive and solid ride. Tap the accelerator, and there's no delay. The all-wheel drive, coupled with a wide wheelbase and fairly low center of gravity, makes it easy to whip around a cloverleaf or up a curvy mountain road without that feeling of tipping over. Like some of its GM SUV kin, the Denali features Driver Shift Control--the ability to manually up- or downshift the transmission.
In these globally warming times, the Denali performs dismally. The EPA slaps the 2007 Denali with its "worst" rating, for spewing out 11.7 tons of greenhouse gases per year. By comparison, the 2006 Lexus RX 400h earns a "best" rating for emitting only 6.4 tons.
Well-protected all around
The Denali comes chockablock with safety goodies, from front and side airbags (the latter, for all seats), to GM's vaunted StabiliTrak electronic stability-control system. In terms of reliability, Yukons have historically had minor recalls. The NHTSA hasn't conducted crash tests with the Denali yet, but similar models have scored just like the Escalade--five stars for frontal crashes (the best), but only three stars for rollover protection.
Tire pressure is shown in a display on the instrument cluster.
Like any good GM SUV, the Denali comes standard with ABS braking, OnStar (including the new remote Vehicle Diagnostics service), passenger sensors (so that air bags are disabled when infants are strapped in), and via the touch of a button, tire-pressure information. More important, the Denali features StabiliTrak, which combines antilock brakes, traction, and stability controls to prevent rollovers and ensure a solid ride. Another key safety feature: minimal blind spots and a pair of Dumbo-size side mirrors that catch everything else. The Denali is covered by bumper-to-bumper, three-year/36,000-mile warranty, including corrosion. Rust-through coverage is six years/100,000 miles.
Our test 2007 GM Yukon Denali with all-wheel drive has a base price of $47,115. Our geeked-out version added GPS navigation, a CD/DVD/MP3 player, and XM satellite radio ($2,145 for the trio), DVD playback for the kiddies in the backseat ($1,295), and 20-inch chrome wheels ($1,995), bringing the tab to $54,615, including an $875 destination charge.
There are plenty of other cars that can haul around four adults comfortably, with room for cargo in back that come in well under the Denali's $54,615. The 2007 Lexus RX 350 is one example, while the 2006 Ford Explorer is another. The Denali's main advantages seem to be very large cargo capacity, with the rear seats removed and folded out of the way, and towing ability, as our tester included a towing mode on the transmission.