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2011 GMC Yukon Denali ReviewThe Good
Plenty of posh appointments, cavernous cargo space, loads of passenger room, attractive styling, lots of power, surprisingly adept handling, and an available Hybrid trim keep the 2011 GMC Yukon Denali in wine and caviar.The Bad
A poorly designed third-row seat, tepid gas mileage, and a raucous V8 in the non-hybrid trims, as well as the Hybrid’s hefty pricetag conspire to tarnish the 2011 Yukon Denali just a bit.
The CarGurus View
Though elegant and powerful, the 2011 GMC Yukon Denali seems a bit of overkill. If image is more important than practicality, however, and the Cadillac Escalade is just too ostentatious, then, by all means, give this quasi-posh sport ute a look.
At a Glance
Big, bold, and beautiful all have a place in describing the 2011 GMC Yukon Denali. This full-size, seven- or eight-passenger SUV is the flagship of the Yukon fleet, positioned just a notch below the Cadillac Escalade on GM’s luxury scale. Loaded with standard features, this big Jimmy offers a surprisingly plush ride for its truck-based chassis, yet handles nearly as well as crossovers half its size. Furthermore, a tight turning radius keeps this beast manageable in all but the most cramped of parking lots, yet it still offers almost 109 cubic feet of cargo area and acres of passenger room. If there’s one thing that lowers this posh ute in the eyes of reviewers and owners alike, however, it’s the fact that the pesky and bulky third-row seat will not fold flat and must be removed to take full advantage of the cavernous cargo bay.
In any case, the Yukon Denali comes in two trim levels for 2011, the non-hybrid Base and the pricey but efficient Denali Hybrid. Both are delivered with standard rear-wheel drive (RWD), with the Denali Base available in all-wheel-drive (AWD) format, and the Denali Hybrid available with on-demand four-wheel drive (4WD). Both trims boast V8 power, with the Base Denali mounting a six-speed auto-manual transmission and the Hybrid sporting a unique continuously variable transmission (CVT) that will convert to a conventional four-speed automatic for heavier towing or hauling chores. Both trims boast such standard exterior amenities as a roof rack with side rails, trailer hitch and wiring, step running boards, and power liftgate, while the Denali Base additionally boasts auxiliary transmission cooling. An integrated trailer brake is optional on the conventional Denali trim, but neither version is designed for serious off-road use, despite the Hybrid’s available 4WD system.
As is traditional, major competition for the 2011 Yukon Denali consists of Ford’s Expedition and Toyota’s Sequoia, both excellent sport utes, though neither can claim comparable standard luxury appointments. Additionally, neither the Expedition nor the Sequoia is available in a hybrid variation. Towing-wise, the non-hybrid Yukon Denali Base pulls a tad more than the Sequoia, but can’t quite match the Expedition.
Upping the horsepower a bit over its more common siblings, the conventionally powered 2011 Yukon Denali Base comes equipped with a 6.2-liter Flex Fuel V8 engine and six-speed auto-manual transmission. This monster cooks up 403 hp at 5,700 rpm and 417 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm, with the drivetrain featuring a standard rear locking differential. Variable valve timing does its best to help this hefty ute achieve 14/18 mpg in RWD versions and 13/18 with available full-time AWD. Towing is maxed out at 8,300 pounds in the properly equipped RWD Denali Base and 8,100 pounds in the Base AWD trim level, with its center-mounted mechanical differential. This is some 200 pounds less than the lower trims with the standard 5.3-liter V8. Go figure! Anyhow, the Flex Fuel V8 is recommended to burn premium gasoline, and when using E85 ethanol fuel, mileage figures drop significantly.
Hybrid versions of the 2011 Yukon Denali pack a standard 6.0-liter hybrid V8 gas-powered engine that combines with a 300-volt electric motor for 332 hp at 5,100 rpm and 367 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. A unique continuously variable transmission (CVT) and standard rear locking differential manages these ponies, with the added bonus of the ability to convert to a regular four-speed automatic when hauling heavy loads. Gas mileage is increased to 20/23 mpg in both the RWD and 4WD Hybrid trims, though towing capability drops to 6,200 pounds and 5,700 pounds, respectively. Regenerative braking helps the V8 powerplant recharge the NiMH battery, and this big green SUV can run on electric power alone at up to 25 mph for short distances in city traffic. The Denali Hybrid’s on-demand 4WD system, meanwhile, features auto-locking hubs and electronic hi-lo gear selection.
Reviews of the Yukon Denali Base’s larger conventional engine are a bit mixed. Some claim the extra power is hardly noticeable on the highway, while others note a significant improvement in acceleration from a stop. One test has the 6.2-liter V8 jumping from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds, a full second better than the 5.3-liter engine that equips lesser trims. All reviewers, however, are disappointed that actual towing capacity drops by a couple of hundred pounds compared with the smaller V8, while engine racket, especially under brisk acceleration, is far more conspicuous. The six-speed auto-manual transmission is described by virtually every review as smooth and responsive, while all laud the ability of the Hybrid’s CVT to convert to four-speed efficiency and oomph under heavier loads.
Ride & Handling
Both the 2011 Yukon Denali Base and Denali Hybrid feature a short and long arm front independent suspension, front and rear stabilizer bar, and multi-link rear suspension. All this complements 20-inch alloy wheels on the Base trims, and 22-inch, 8-spoke alloy wheels standard on the Hybrid trims. As befits its royal status, the non-hybrid Denali sports GM’s Autoride active, load-leveling suspension as standard equipment, with the Hybrid boasting the standard Premium Smooth Ride suspension. All trims, meanwhile, roll on standard all-season radial tires.
Ride comfort, though reasonably compliant for a truck-based SUV, is compromised a bit with the standard 20-inch wheels on the conventionally powered Denali Base trims due, according to a number of reviewers, to the relatively low sidewalls. Bumps and imperfections are exaggerated, while already overfriendly steering is made even lighter with these larger wheels. A fairly tight turning radius, however, surprised some reviewers in combining with this over-easy steering-wheel effort to offer some additional maneuvering capability in tight spaces.
Body-lean and noseplow are well-controlled in both the Denali Base and the Hybrid, according to reviews. Meantime, brakes are noted as powerful and true in the Base trim level, with no apparent glitches in pedal action. The Hybrid’s regenerative braking system, on the other hand, is described by reviewers as effective, but pedal anomalies take a little time to learn.
Cabin & Comfort
In its lodgment just beneath the Cadillac Escalade, Jimmy’s 2011 Yukon Denali boasts more than its share of luxury amenities and high-tech goodies. Such standard amenities as premium leather upholstery, multi-level heated, power-adjustable front bucket seats, reclining second-row captain's chairs, tri-zone climate control, power liftgate, and tilt-wheel steering pampers passengers and driver, while remote power door locks, power windows, and heated, power-adjustable, reverse-tilting outside mirrors also do their bit in easing the ride. Standard techno-wizardry includes cruise control, remote engine start, a universal remote garage door opener, rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, and OnStar Directions and Connections navigation and communication using Bluetooth technology. Memory for driver's settings, simulated wood and simulated alloy dash and door accents, Sun Sensor automated lighting and climate control, and a heated, leather and simulated wood steering wheel come standard, as well. Entertainment is handled by a single-CD player with ten premium Bose speakers, 5.1 surround sound, XM satellite radio, and a USB connection. The Hybrid, meanwhile, adds standard second-row heated seats and voice-activated DVD navigation to the mix.
Options for all Yukon Denali trims include a power sunroof, rear-seat DVD entertainment and up-sized, chrome-plated multi-spoke alloy wheels. Additionally Denali Hybrid trims can be delivered with available 20-inch alloy wheels.
Reviewers find this classy ute’s cabin lushly appointed, inviting, and well laid-out. Though hard plastic surfaces abound, reviewers note that the high-end Denali mitigates this effect with passenger-friendly soft surfaces where needed, as well as some attractive texturing, and also note a refreshingly simple dash and center stack arrangement of the LCD screen, gauges, controls and buttons. Standard step running boards ease entry and exit with this high-riding Jimmy, while all reviews laud the passenger room inherent in this sizeable ute. Virtually all reviews, however, continue to pan the frustration and effort required to remove the standard third-row seat entailed in order to take advantage of the cavernous cargo area.
The 2011 Yukon Denali trims each boast standard four-wheel ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, as well as traction and stability control to complement their hefty size advantage. Passenger protection equipment, meanwhile, consists of standard front side-mounted airbags and three-row head curtain airbags. Additional standard safety equipment includes dusk-sensing headlights, daytime running lights, front fog/driving lights, OnStar remote notification of airbag deployment and/or collision, post-collision safety system, and remote anti-theft alarm. Optional for all trims is GM’s Side Blind Zone Alert system, which warns of traffic approaching on either side while on the highway.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has no data on the 2011 Yukon Denali, doubtless due to its overbearing size. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in the midst of recalibrating safety standards and testing methods, rates the mirror-image 2010 Denali trims at five stars for front and side impact protection, their highest score. Rollover protection, however, is given a middling three stars for both the AWD/4WD trims and the RWD versions.
What Owners Think
Gas mileage is mentioned most frequently by owners when discussing shortcomings in the 2011 Yukon Denali Base. All, however, are well aware that this big Jimmy just isn’t built for fuel efficiency. Those frustrating removable third-row seats still come in for their fair share of owner vituperation, while some owners are a tad disappointed with so much hard plastic still dominating an otherwise well-wrought cabin. Finally, a number of owners bemoan the Hybrid’s hefty pricetag, perhaps realizing the difficulty of recouping its initial cost in normal gas savings.
Owners do, however, appreciate this snazzy Sport ute’s styling and cabin amenities while praising its better-than-average ride and handling capabilities. The potent conventional 6.2-liter V8 engine provides enough towing capacity for all but the most dedicated towing enthusiasts, while the Hybrid’s green-leaning technology lets owners of this full-size SUV feel good about their contribution to cleaning up the atmosphere just a bit. In short, most owners of the Yukon Denali feel that the hulking, truck-based ute still has a place on the road.
Have Laptop, Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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GMC Yukon Denali Questions
Want To Trade 60/40 Heated Bench Seat For Captain Seats?
Seat is tan in color and has the push button chair folding mechanism, they are also heated.