2009 GMC Yukon Denali Review

Yukon Denali

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Average user score
5 5 stars
Based on 4 reviews


The Good

Look for potent performance, a comfortable ride, heady styling, plenty of cargo space, three rows of seating, and some surprising agility in the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali.

The Bad

Negatives for the ’09 Yukon Denali include cramped and inefficient third-row seats, poor gas mileage, intrusive engine racket, and a hefty purchase price.

The CarGurus View

Although not quite a Ferrari, the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali shows flashes of on-road agility while providing a solid, comfortable ride. Trailer-towing prowess and a ton of semi-luxurious creature comforts give this flagship SUV its reputation for comfortable utility, but it’s definitely not for the faint of wallet.

At a Glance

For looks, cabin accommodations, towing ability, and ride comfort, there are far worse choices than the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali. This seven-to-eight-passenger full-size SUV, positioned a tad above Chevy’s Tahoe and a notch below Cadillac’s Escalade, is a heavy hauler with a hint of luxury, a family vehicle with an attitude – as long as the now-standard third-row seats are reserved for smaller members of the family. Touches of luxury, like premium leather upholstery, simulated wood trim cabin accents, new-for-’09 20-inch aluminum wheels, and the aforementioned third-row seat, are standard in this hulking Ute, but be advised, these niceties don’t come cheap.

The ’09 Yukon Denali is available in two trim levels, the standard-length Base and the extra-long XL. The XL, at 222 inches in overall length, with a 130-inch wheelbase, adds some 28 cubic feet to the 109-cubic-foot Base's cargo area. Base Denali dimensions, meanwhile, are 202 inches long overall, with a 116-inch wheelbase. Both trims are offered with rear-wheel drive (RWD) or full-time four-wheel drive (4WD), with an optional second-row bench seat increasing passenger capacity from the standard seven to eight people.

This spiffy Jimmy, based on the wide and hefty GMT 900 chassis, was last redesigned in 2007 and competes with the likes of the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, and Nissan Armada. Most reviewers find the Denali a tad more upscale than the Expedition, a bit cheaper than the Sequoia, and a touch more capable than the Armada. Though essentially unchanged from ’08, such additions to its list of standard features as upgraded audio capability, XM Real Traffic, aluminum wheels, and Bluetooth technology allow the 2009 Denali trims to fill their niche with enough muscle, comfort, style, dependability, and panache to satisfy even the most demanding trailer-toting family.


The ’09 Yukon Denali’s standard 6.2-liter Flex Fuel (FFV) V8 engine gains more than 20 hp for ’09. When managed by a standard six-speed auto-manual transmission, 403 hp at 5,700 rpm and 417 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm can be expected from this up-powered V8. That’s enough oomph to haul 8,500 pounds of trailer comfortably at highway speeds and up long grades in the RWD Base trim. Additionally, the Denali’ drivetrain features a standard auxiliary transmission fluid cooler and locking rear differential. Despite variable valve timing, mileage is a rather dismal 12/19 mpg for both the RWD and 4WD variations, while, adding insult to injury, GM recommends using only premium unleaded gasoline in this upscale Jimmy. Meantime, efficiency drops even lower when burning E85 ethanol fuel.

Although the Yukon Denali’s beefier V8 is marginally more powerful and mighty thirsty, most reviewers find it adds little to the overall performance of this big Ute over the 5.3-liter V8 in its lesser Yukon brethren. Additionally, an unrefined and often intrusive engine racket during acceleration does nothing to justify the barely noticeable increase in power. Furthermore, unlike its lower-level siblings, this upscale trim is unavailable with low-range gearing for its 4WD system, thus off-road use is highly discouraged. Virtually all reviewers, however, are impressed with the tap-up/tap-down feature unique to its standard six-speed auto-manual transmission.

Ride & Handling

Despite upgraded aluminum wheels, the low sidewalls on its 20-inch all-season tires make the ’09 Yukon Denali’s ride a bit bumpier than need be. Otherwise, a short and long arm front independent and multi-link rear suspension with front and rear stabilizers provide a stable and comfortable ride on the highway. This large Jimmy, especially the XL trim level, will, alas, be a bit unwieldy in city traffic and crowded parking lots. In a nod to its stretched-out nature, however, a number of reviews claim the XL offers the best overall ride of the pack.

Steering, though competent in town, is described by many reviewers as a bit overfriendly on the highway, with the 20-inch wheels coming in for the lion’s share of blame. Reviewers are pleasantly surprised, though, to find little body lean and noseplow in hard cornering, though the standard self-leveling active Autoride suspension seems to generate some difference of opinion among reviewers as to its contribution to added ride comfort and handling.

Stopping power in this heavy Ute is noted by most reviewers as steady and effective. Powerful four-wheel ventilated disc brakes bring this big SUV to a stop with a solid pedal feel and few dramatics.

Cabin & Comfort

Princely accommodations, befitting its top-shelf position in the Yukon range, are the ’09 Yukon Denali’s hallmark. Standard step running boards, trailer hitch and wiring, unique honeycomb grille, power liftgate, remote engine start, and a roof rack complement such cabin luxuries as premium leather upholstery, second-row captain’s chairs, and simulated wood dash and trim accents. The list of interior amenities continues with heated, power-adjustable front bucket seats, heated second-row seating, new third-row bench seating, a heated steering wheel, power-adjustable tilt-wheel steering with mounted audio and cruise controls, power-adjustable pedals, power windows and heated, reverse-tilting outside mirrors, remote power door locks, universal garage-door opener, tri-zone climate control, a single-CD player with nine Bose premium speakers, XM satellite radio with RealTime Traffic, and Onstar/Bluetooth hands-free communications technology.

Despite a boatload of standard features, the ’09 Denali also offers a number of handy optional items. Topping this list are a power sunroof and voice-activated DVD navigation. Cooled front seats, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, a rear-view camera system, an MP3-capable audio system, power-retractable side-steps, an integrated trailer brake controller, and second-row bench seats are available for a few extra bucks.

Though touted as entry-level luxury class, the ’09 Yukon Denali trims are found by reviewers to have a number of off-putting low-end materials, indistinctly marked and too-small controls and buttons, a lack of cabin storage, and cramped third-row seating in an otherwise comfortable and upscale cabin. Additionally, virtually all reviewers note that the pesky third-row seat does not fold flat into the floor, thus presenting the difficult task of removing it for convenient loading of extra cargo. On the plus side, numerous reviewers are pleased with a plethora of standard goodies and gizmos, with useful and unobtrusive interfaces for the nav and audio controls coming in for special praise. Overall, however, most professional reviewers find the Cadillac Escalade to be a better luxury value than the Yukon Denali.


The hulking ’09 Yukon Denali uses its considerable size and weight to provide a significant measure of passenger safety. However, if that’s not quite enough, such standard safety equipment as four-wheel ABS, traction and stability control, dual front side-mounted airbags, three-row head airbags, Onstar alert and safety-alert communications, daytime running lights, front fog/driving lights, front and rear parking sensors, a remote anti-theft alarm, and a post-collision safety system help ensure additional passenger safety and security. Rain-sensing wipers and a blind-spot alert system are further optional safety items.

The ’09 Yukon Denali, indeed, the entire Yukon lineup, earned a top rating of five stars in front and side crash testing from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Rollover testing, however, results in a lower three-star rating. Perhaps because of the ’09 Yukon Denali’s size and weight, no data is available from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

What Owners Think

A lack of cabin storage and some understandable issues with gas mileage top the list of owner complaints with the ’09 Yukon Denali. Meanwhile, a cramped, barely accessible, and inconvenient third-row seat, cut-rate cabin plastics, dubious cabin storage space, engine noise, and the XL trim’s unwieldy length in tight parking lots also tarnish a bit of this high-end Jimmy’s luster in the eyes of many owners. Finally, though a boon to anyone hitching up a trailer, the Denali’s available rear-view camera system is noted by a few owners as needing a few tweaks for top performance.

On the plus side, owners praise the 2009 Yukon Denali for providing an abundance of standard appearance, cabin, and safety amenities, as well as for its sharp looks, standard remote start, cavernous cargo space, V8 power – despite its appetite for gas – and heated second-row seats. Additionally, a reasonably supple ride, especially in the XL trims, and some surprisingly capable handling characteristics, at least in the Base trim levels, should maintain this high-end Jimmy’s standing as one of the better choices in a full-size Sport Ute.


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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