The top of GMC’s trim ladder in any model is the Denali, but for the last couple of years, they’ve also had a “Denali Ultimate” trim that adds even more great stuff. That continues for the bestselling Yukon full-size body-on-frame SUV, but this year you can get Super Cruise — GM’s hands-free driving tech. I haven’t used Super Cruise in a while, and it’s much better than it was before.
The Yukon Denali Ultimate we tested is a six-passenger model with two seats in each of three rows. The Denali Ultimate trim is great, but the big draw for us was the new and improved Super Cruise.
The original iteration of this hands-free driving tech was impressive a few years ago when it worked only on major freeways. But like a talking dog, you don’t criticize his grammar — the amazing thing is that it talks at all. Now the new version drives better, responds better, and goes more places. It’s a regular Mr. Peabody to our Sherman.
GMC knows how to dress up the Yukon Denali. For the most part, it’s the same kind of square two-box design that all big SUVs use. It’s masculine to the point of machismo, the grille is massive, and the one we had was all black chrome trim over some dark color called Titanium Rush Metallic, a $495 option, plus a little chrome for bling. Yup, it’s an SUV all right. Big one, too.
As mentioned, GMC knows luxury. The seats are upholstered in fine leather with topstitching that recalls a well-kept baseball glove. The front seats are heated and ventilated, with heat in the second row as well. The trim is all open-grain wood — looks like rosewood in this case. It’s all very attractive and comfortable.
GMC gives the Yukon Denali its biggest and best engine. It’s the 6.2-liter EcoTec V-8, rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to the 10-speed automatic transmission with GM’s advanced AWD/4WD system. You can choose rear-drive, full-time AWD, or hi-lo 4WD with the push of a button. With all that, the Yukon has plenty of power under your foot, and will tow up to 8,200 pounds. Fuel economy is about what you would expect, at 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway.
Safety and Technology
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Yukon four out of five stars in most tests, except rollovers, which got three stars out of five. Generally speaking the Denali and Denali Ultimate trims will have every safety feature on the market, plus a few really nice goodies like the camera-based rear-view mirror, surround-view reversing camera system, and a blind-spot monitor that includes your trailer if you have one attached.
The big news, though, is the updated Super Cruise hands-free driving system. GM has been doing the background work and this system is now well worth the $2,300 price tag as an option on top of the Denali Ultimate package. It worked pretty well since it was introduced in 2017 on certain Cadillac models. But now it works impressively well on byways as well as major freeways.
The rules haven’t changed — you still have to keep your head up and eyes on the road, but Super Cruise engages faster, handles more changes, and disengages more smoothly when you want to take control. This is an A+ driver assistance feature, and a big reason to consider the Yukon over other brands’ full-size SUVs.
On the dash, GMC equips the Denali Ultimate with a 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen, which works well. Bigger news is the full-color head-up display, which is really nice. There’s also a mobile device charging pad, and a really impressive 18-speaker Bose audio system, with speakers in the front seat headrests. Our test vehicle came with the second-row entertainment system, with twin tablets to allow each second-row passenger to select their own programming.
The Yukon Denali Ultimate comes with magnetic ride control, an electronic locking rear differential, and air ride suspension. That being said, it’s still a really big and heavy SUV, and it’s a little bit ponderous on the road. With 22-inch wheels and comparatively low-profile tires, the suspension is working hard to smooth out bumps. Under full-throttle acceleration, the front end rises and the Yukon can feel a bit unsettled.
Apart from that, the Yukon is quiet, composed, and exactly what you expect. The ride and handling have both benefitted from the current generation’s switch from a solid axle to independent rear suspension.
What really impressed us in our week with the Yukon was the progress in GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driving feature. It has become more versatile, capable, and polished than in its early years. Where the initial rollout would have you wondering when the vehicle would turn to follow the road, Super Cruise now drives like an experienced human driver, smoothly and predictably.
Denali Ultimate is the top Yukon trim level, and with the Super Cruise and the nice paint color, this SUV is stickered at $99,145 including all fees. That’s actually not bad in a world where the top Escalade V-Series will set you back half again more than the Denali, and Ford is charging a comparable price for something as primitive as the Bronco Raptor. GMC is likely to continue to see strong Denali sales across the board, especially as Super Cruise catches on.