2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali Redux

GMC’s largest and most luxurious SUV.

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali

The SUV market continues to expand as consumers make the shift away from cars. The GMC Yukon and the larger Yukon XL are part of that trend and include customers moving up from a minivan or a crossover utility vehicle.

2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali

A 2016 GMC Yukon XL Denali was a recent weekly driver, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve been behind-the-wheel time of this traditional, body-on-frame SUV. Indeed, in my past reviews and thoughts about the model I have affectionately called it “Cadillac Escalade Light,” offering homage to GM’s most luxurious SUV.

That doesn’t mean the big GMC is a lightweight — far from it. It’s as close to a Cadillac model you can get without invading the Escalade’s space. But that still means you get perforated leather seats, heated and cooled front bucket seats, heated second-row outboard seats, a heated steering wheel, a Bose audio system, wireless phone charging, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot among other features.

Year-Over-Year Updates

The current-generation Yukon XL was released in 2015, thus its most significant changes took place last year. Even so, GMC wasn’t about to settle on its laurels as there are a few new or updated features included this year.

For one, GMC increased the Intellilink’s processing speed and introduced Apple CarPlay. An enhanced “Driver Alert Package” includes lane keep assist and automatic high/low beam headlamps. Two new exterior colors, a pair of 22-inch wheel choices, and a capless fuel filler feature round out the changes introduced in 2016.

What makes a GMC worthy of the Denali label? Answer: Denali is the top trim level for the brand and is found in every model except for GMC’s full-size Savana van line.

Lay on Some Chrome-Like Touches

One distinguishing feature for all Denalis is the generous amounts of chrome-like trim surrounding the grille, bumpers, headlights, crossing the belt line, on the lower profile trim, enveloping the windows, and on to the rear fascia. Not to be left out are the wheels, typically clad in thick chrome alloy.

The enhanced look isn’t for everyone, but it does provide visual appeal, allowing adorned GMC models get noticed. And if you’re spending around $80,000 for one, you don’t want it to be confused with lesser models. Sure, the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban have their own appeal, but then they’re not GMC.

The Yukon XL is a massive vehicle and represents the extended wheelbase version of the Yukon. This model is marked by a bold honeycomb grille, flared headlamp assemblies, and distinct pockets housing the LED fog lamps.

The long slab sides are marked by chrome, character lines, body sculpting, trim, and an expansive greenhouse. Indeed, the rear side windows are especially long and contribute to this SUV’s massive persona. At the rear is an expansive lift gate, vertical combination lamps, and a spoiler.

Spacious and Upscale Cabin

Inside, the Denali provides standard seating for seven and available space for eight. The standard seating arrangement has two bucket seats up front, a pair of captain’s chairs in the second row, and a third-row split folding bench seat.

Massive is the cabin and every seating position supplies generous amounts of head space and legroom. The third row has the tightest space, but even that area has sufficient shoulder and hip room.

Up front is a pair of comfortable bucket seats with all driver and cabin controls where you expect to find them. Leather is generously found across the dashboard, surrounding the center console, on the door inlays, and covering the seats. Also present are wood grain accents and burnished aluminum trim; contrast stitching on the console as well as on the doors — collectively, these touches elevate this model.

Standard features are many and include three-zone climate control, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, power-adjustable pedals, as well as heated and ventilated front seats. The second row seats also have a heating option and include a power-release fold and tumble feature for ease of access to the third row.

Additional features standard with the Yukon XL includes keyless entry and push button start, a wireless charging port for mobile phones, and a 110-volt power outlet. On the entertainment side, this model has a 10-speaker, Bose Centerpoint audio system; HD radio; a GMC Intellilink telematics system with an 8-inch color display; and navigation. You’ll also find Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

Package upgrades allow customers to personalize their Denali as they see fit.

You have your choice of 22-inch wheels ($1,495), an Open Road package ($2,860) — composed of a power sunroof and a rear-seat entertainment system featuring screens for both the second- and third-row passengers — and heated outboard second-row seats ($395). With the bench seat in place, the captain’s chairs go away. Carefully consider whether you need an eighth seating position at such a loss of very comfortable individual seats.

Safety and Road Manners

On the safety front, the Yukon XL Denali comes with a suite of airbags, stability and traction control, front and rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, side blind zone alert with lane change alert, a rearview camera, and hill start assist. Also available is adaptive cruise control with front automatic braking ($995) and a head-up display ($425).

Take to the road and the big V8 zooms to highway speeds with authority. The 6.2-liter engine works in tandem with an eight-speed automatic transmission, enabling this vehicle to reach 60 mph from a dead stop in about six seconds.

This model has a firm ride and benefits from Magnetic Ride Control, a real-time damping system. An independent suspension is up front and to the rear is a five-line, solid axle suspension. The electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion arrangement provides effortless handling; the four-wheel disc brakes with vented front and rear rotors bring this three-ton conveyance to a certain stop.

Parting Thoughts

The Yukon XL as well as the Yukon appeal to a certain type of buyer. Both models provide a solid and dependable vehicle ideal for carrying large payloads and for towing. Indeed, if you have 8,000 pounds of camper, boat, or recreational vehicle to pull, then the big GMC can handle that.

Buyers who don’t need such a huge footprint as the Yukon models might consider the GMC Acadia and Acadia Denali instead. The all-new-for-2017 Acadia now offers a standard four-cylinder engine in addition to a 310-horsepower V6. It offers room for up to seven and comes with standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive.

Other models in this segment include the Toyota Land Cruiser, Ford Expedition, and the Nissan Armada. Only the Expedition offers an extended wheelbase version similar to the Yukon XL.

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.