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2019 GMC Yukon Denali review: Steady as she goes

GM’s full-size SUV hulk sees few updates for 2019.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read

While much of America goes crazy for car-based, more fuel-efficient crossovers, there are still plenty of people who need something more. Whether it's for towing, carrying loads of people or just because you like the feeling of something trucky, there's nothing quite like the capability of a full-size SUV.


2019 GMC Yukon Denali

The Good

Great ride quality with standard magnetic ride control keeping body roll in check. An excellent 10-speed automatic transmission smooths the 2019 Yukon's ride.

The Bad

Features are a little lackluster for something touted to be luxury.

The Bottom Line

The 2019 GMC Yukon is a fine performer, but others in the class offer more features for a similar price.
2018 Yukon Denali XL
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2018 Yukon Denali XL

At 19 feet long, the GMC Yukon Denali XL is best kept off of tight city streets.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Enter the 2019 GMC Yukon, currently going grille-to-massive-grille with the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada and Toyota Land Cruiser. The Denali trim tested here ups the luxe a bit, giving the 2019 Yukon enough amenities to stand tall with the Lexus LX 570, Lincoln Navigator and Infiniti QX80, not to mention the Cadillac Escalade, with which the GMC shares a platform.

Go big or go home

Now in the fourth year of its fourth generation, the Yukon is available in SLE and SLT trims, with a 5.3-liter V8 under the hood. The Yukon offers seating for seven, eight or even nine passengers, depending on configuration (the base SLE can be had with a front bench seat). Rear-wheel drive is standard, and four-wheel drive is optional.

And then there's my tester, the ne plus ultra Denali XL. This luxury-focused version comes exclusively with a 6.2-liter V8, seating for seven and four-wheel drive. The XL model is a full 20 inches longer than a standard GMC Yukon, measuring a sizable 19 feet in overall length. The good news here is the XL affords you hella cargo space. The bad news, of course, is that this big boy is a chore to drive in congested cities.

Huge inside, but could be nicer

Thankfully, the Denali's cabin is quiet, spacious and comfortable, though it's starting to feel a little outdated. This most-loaded Yukon gets leather-trimmed, heated and cooled seats (for both front- and second-row passengers), but they lack the massage function of both the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.

2018 GMC Yukon Denali
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2018 GMC Yukon Denali

Heated and cooled seats are nice, but what about the massage function?


The 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system looks a little small in the GMC's expansive cabin. It runs GMC's incredibly straightforward Intellilink software, with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard. Now that the latest version of Apple iOS brings Google Maps to CarPlay, something that was already available on Android Auto, I recommend just using this interface instead of Intellilink. It's easier to get navigation directions right onto the touchscreen, avoiding GMC's sometimes laggy system.

Wireless charging is standard in the 2019 Yukon Denali, as is a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot for up to seven devices. Keeping things charged should be pretty easy, with two USB ports and a 12-volt outlet up front, plus 110- and 12-volt outlets for second-row passengers and an additional 12-volt outlet in the way-back. Add the optional rear-seat entertainment package and the second row gets an HDMI port, two USB ports, wireless headphones and even wireless projection. Or, you can just kick it old school (relatively speaking) and play DVDs on the pair of 9-inch displays.

The Yukon's second-row seats flip forward with the touch of a button, so it's easy to get in and out of the third row. Once back there, you'll find a respectable amount of legroom -- of course, I'd expect nothing less in a vehicle of this size.

2018 GMC Yukon Denali XL: Big, but not the best

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Where the Denali XL truly excels is in its ability to haul your cargo. You've got over 39 cubic feet of space behind the third row, expanding to nearly 95 cubic feet with both back rows folded. The Ford Expedition Max, meanwhile, offers 34.3 and 73.3 cubic feet, respectively. However, and somewhat oddly, the Yukon's almost-identical twin, the Cadillac Escalade, offers 121.7 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats folded.

Lots of power, nice to drive

As I mentioned, the GMC Yukon Denali only comes with GM's 6.2-liter V8, good for 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The Yukon comes standard with GM's excellent Magnetic Ride Control, which can adjust the suspension electronically at all four corners, as well as actively reduce body roll. No, it doesn't turn this nearly 6,000-pound beast into a corner-carver, but it does allow for a smooth, controlled ride. Magnetic Ride Control is probably the best thing about the Yukon.

A 10-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but doesn't do much to help quench the Yukon's thirst for fuel. During my week of testing, I only saw 13.2 miles per gallon, well short of the EPA's combined rating of 16 mpg. The Yukon is officially rated at 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, which bests both the Infiniti QX80 and Lexus LX 570, but the Lincoln Navigator is the most fuel-efficient of the large-and-in-charge SUVs, with 16 mpg city and 21 mpg highway.

2018 Yukon Denali XL
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2018 Yukon Denali XL

The GMC Yukon Denali XL returns mid-pack fuel economy.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Two-wheel-drive Yukon Denalis can tow 8,400 pounds, though this XL with four-wheel drive reduces that number to a still-plenty-useful 7,900. Regardless, the Yukon comes with a 2-inch receiver hitch and both four- and seven-pin wiring harnesses. An optional trailering package includes an integrated trailer brake and automatically leveling rear suspension, but I wish it had the awesome Pro Trailer Backup Assist of the Ford Expedition.

Other standard tech goodies include blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, the ACC won't engage below 15 miles per hour and automatically shuts off below 10 mph, making it useless in heavy stop-and-go, rush-hour traffic. Other manufacturers offer full-range adaptive cruise control. GMC's system could really use an update.

Worth the money?

For my money, I'd skip the XL and just go for the regular Yukon Denali. Features like the aforementioned Magnetic Ride Control, a head-up display and active noise cancellation are all standard at a $66,200 price point. I could pony up $8,000 to get the Denali Ultimate Package that adds things like power-retracting steps for easier ingress and egress, but that's a lot of money. Instead, I'll jump out the door with a lightly optioned Yukon Denali that costs just $69,600, including $1,295 for destination. A far cry from the $82,190 of the test car you see here.

That said, if you're dead set on something in the GM family, the Cadillac Escalade offers the same engine and driving dynamics, but feels nicer inside. Or, save some coin and just get a Chevy Tahoe or Suburban. Good and useful as the 2018 Yukon is, it's hard to recommend it when newer offerings like the Expedition and Navigator are so much more refined. 


2019 GMC Yukon Denali

Score Breakdown

Performance 7.5Features 6.5Design 7Media 8