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.
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.