2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

My brother is tall.

My brother is tall. He works for a construction company so he has to drive to work sites. He has kids that need carting here and there, both with and without stuff.  Plenty of stuff.

His dream vehicle is the Yukon Denali XL.

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Approximately the only thing that my brother and I have in common is our parents.

I can completely understand why he finds the vehicle so desirable. He’s big, it’s big. He needs something durable, and the SUV is durable. He needs to carry plenty of people and the Yukon has three rows and, as we’re talking XL, it has cargo space in the back even with the third row up and ready for passengers. And he, like all of us, would like to spoil ourselves with something, and the Denali trim level is nothing if not sumptuous. (Yes, sumptuous.)

The vehicle as driven has an MSRP of $68,380.

Additional sumptuousness in the form of options (Touring Package, power retractable running boards, adaptive cruise control, Midnight Amethyst Metallic paint, 22-in. aluminum wheels with painted inserts) adds $8,590 to the bill. Then with $995 for destination, you arrive at $77,965.

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Did I mention that it is a “dream” for my brother?

Probably for several other people, too.

But I suppose if you measured the sheet metal and the leather and the electronics and all of the other elements that go into this vehicle, that price is actually something of a bargain.

Let’s face it: the whole is greater than the weight of the parts, because there was a whole lot of thoughtful engineering that transformed the mass into a well-executed vehicle.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Yukon XL Denali is something that you might not remark about immediately, but will be pleased with the performance of something you won’t notice.

The SUV is powered by a 6.2-liter V8. This is a monster of an engine, generating 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Admittedly, you need a monster of an engine because it needs to move something that weighs some 5,800 lb., is 18.5-ft. long, nearly 7-ft. wide, and just over 6 ft. high (trust me: you want to opt for the power retractable running board, although, as I’ll get to in a moment, they are one of the sore points in the vehicle).

Now you would imagine that when moving a giant, nearly three-ton box, you’d need a lot of fuel. A lot. The Yukon XL Denali has a 31-gallon fuel tank, which is a good thing regarding the number of times you’ll be visiting the gas station(and let’s face it, although visiting the gas station is now unlike a stint in an endodontist’s exam room, even at $2.00 a gallon you’re talking about the price of a couple of movie tickets at the multiplex and small bag of popcorn and a Coke for a tank).

Anyway. . .one of the clever things that GM Powertrain engineers has developed is a cylinder deactivation system. In GM-speak it is “Active Fuel Management.” What this does is determine whether or not it is possible to use the eight-cylinder engine as a four-cylinder engine. You might be surprised to learn that as you are cruising along down the highway, you really don’t need all eight pistons working.

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to drive a wide variety of cars, trucks and minivans with cylinder deactivation. Some are smoother than others when it comes to engagement/disengagement.

While driving along in the Yukon XL Denali I wondered whether it had Active Fuel Management.

It does. It is that seamless.

(As someone who ordinarily drives a car, I couldn’t get all that excited about getting about 18 mpg. But I suppose SUV drivers will be delighted.)

(And I probably ought to point out that the engine also has variable valve timing and direct injection, which also help fuel economy, as well as a six-speed automatic. It should be noted that between the time that I had the vehicle and, well, now, GMC announced that the 2015 Yukon Denali and XL Denali models would be equipped with an eight-speed automatic, which provides better fuel efficiency.)

About that deployable running board. You want it for getting in and out of the vehicle, for certain. But the thing is that the cabin is so quiet that when I climbed in, started the engine, and prepared to put the SUV into gear, I heard the mechanical noise of the running board getting stowed, which was a bit disconcerting.

The cabin is quiet. (There is active noise cancellation when driving, by the way.)

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“Denali” is the name of the highest peak in North America. It represents the top-of-the-line for GMC. And this is really quite evident in the execution of the interior, from the materials to the seating comfort, from the touch screen in the instrument panel to the 10-speaker Bose surround sound. Opt for the Touring Package and get things like rear-seat entertainment and even a third-row DVD screen, and you’re feeling like you’re in a family room on wheels.

While all vehicles are getting spotted with sensors like a kid with chicken pox, it makes more sense in some than others. Sensors make a whole lot of sense in the Yukon XL Denali. Especially the standard side blind zone alert, lane changing alert, and lane departure warning. There is also standard forward collision alert, but I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble seeing the front end. The rear, however, is so far back there that the technological advantage was greatly appreciated.

If you’re like my brother, you’d probably REALLY like this SUV.

Selected specs

Engine: 6.2-liter, VVT, direct injected V8

Material: Cast aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electrical power-assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 130 in.

Length: 224.3 in.

Width: 80.5 in.

Height: 74.4 in.

Seating capacity: 9

Trailer towing maximum: 7,900 lb.

Max cargo volume (2nd & 3rd row folded): 121.1 cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 14/20/16 mpg

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