2012 GMC Yukon Denali Review

Yukon Denali

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The Good

Three rows of seating, hefty towing capacity with V8 power, acceptable ride comfort, cavernous cargo capacity and a fuel-sipping hybrid alternative all fit the 2012 GMC Yukon Denali high-end sport ute’s posh image.

The Bad

A third-row seat that’s cramped, frustratingly inefficient and tough to remove as well as a hefty MSRP, less-than-stellar mileage numbers in conventionally powered trims and the lack of a telescoping feature on the steering wheel might have folks looking at alternatives to the 2012 Yukon Denali.

The CarGurus View

GMC’s 2012 Yukon Denali is among the last of a dying breed of truck-based full-size SUVs. As such it does a good job of tackling big towing and hauling jobs, not to mention packing almost every imaginable convenience and creature comfort. If, however, it’s mostly comfortable passenger-toting that you’re interested in, not to mention keeping a low profile, the large crossover route might be a better way to go.

At a Glance

Big and bold, brash and brutish, the 2012 GMC Yukon Denali represents the most luxurious version of the high-end Yukon models. This 7/8-passenger full-size SUV sports all the bells and whistles of its lesser siblings, as well as a bunch of standard amenities that put it nearly on a par with Cadillac’s vaunted Escalade. And therein lies the rub in the minds of a number of reviewers: This big ute doesn’t come cheap.

In any case, look for the Yukon Denali to be delivered in conventional gasoline versions as well as fuel-sipping gas/electric Hybrid editions. Both versions are available with either standard rear-wheel drive (RWD) or, in the case of the conventionally powered Denali, available full-time all-wheel drive (AWD). Strangely, a traditional 4-wheel drive (4WD) system, with auto-locking hubs and a 2-speed transfer case, can be delivered with the Hybrid variation. Both pack identical appearance, comfort and convenience amenities, along with a class-leading 109 cubic feet of cargo area with the second-row seatbacks folded and the third-row seats removed. With all seats upright, cargo space drops to about 17 cubic feet.

A noteworthy add-on for this model year is the standard navigation system that’s been upgraded from the old DVD-based unit to a hard-drive-based version for quicker responses and digital music storage capability. The Hybrid, meantime, additionally gets standard front side-mounted airbags and an audio upgrade new for this year.

Both the conventional and hybrid versions of the Yukon Denali boast prodigious towing capacity, with the conventional trim capable of 8,300 pounds when properly equipped and the Hybrid able to tote some 6,000 pounds, again with the proper equipment.

Once more, alas, reviewers caution that the third-row bench seat is heavy and bulky, making it dauntingly difficult to remove. As well, these third-row seats are designed only for small children, according to the majority of reviewers' opinions. Should only people-hauling capabilities be desired, therefore, most suggest looking into a large crossover as opposed to the over-muscled Yukon lineup.

Jimmy’s own Acadia crossover, with its better mileage numbers, accessible and roomy third row and more civilized drive, is one of the more capable alternatives to the Yukon Denali. If, on the other hand, it has to be a full-size, conventionally powered and loaded sport ute in the driveway, Toyota’s Sequoia Platinum offers a similar mix of performance and practicality, though a lower towing capacity, while Ford’s well-appointed Expedition King Ranch, though not as powerful, offers a handy fold-away third row, considerably easier cargo loading and more numerous state-of-the-art techno-goodies. Hybrid-wise, meanwhile, GM’s own Chevy Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade offer the sole alternatives to Jimmy’s Yukon Denali Hybrid.


A variable-valve-timed (VVT), ethanol-capable (FFV) 6.2-liter V8 engine is again standard in the conventionally powered 2012 Yukon Denali. Mated with the auxiliary-cooled 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission, this potent V8 throws down 403 hp at 5,700 rpm and 417 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. Towing is maxed out at 8,300 pounds, with the proper equipment, while mileage is estimated at a wallet-smacking 14 mpg city/18 highway in the standard RWD edition and 13/18 in the AWD-packing variant. The AWD system, meantime, splits torque 50/50 to front and rear axles in normal conditions, while instantaneously diverting torque from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip when roads get slippery.

At the heart of Jimmy’s Yukon Denali Hybrid is a VVT, gasoline-burning 6.0-liter hybrid V8 powerplant that’s capable of 332 hp at 5,100 rpm. A 4-speed automatic transmission, meanwhile, is bolstered by a variable transmission that houses a pair of 60-kilowatt electric motors, and boosts total output to 379 hp. Look for 367 lb-ft of torque from the hybrid powerplant, with the electrically driven variable-speed transmission allowing up to 25 mph on electric power alone and providing light-load shifting capabilities. The 4-speed auto transmission, meantime, is eminently useful for heavier loads on the hybrid drivetrain, and, of course, regenerative braking helps reenergize the 300-volt battery pack.

Curiously, the Yukon Denali Hybrid can be delivered with an available 4WD configuration with auto-locking hubs and electronic hi-lo gearing, making it surprisingly off-road capable. Be advised, however, that its delicate hybrid technology is not yet ready for serious rock-climbing adventures. Maximum towing capacity, meantime, is pegged at 6,000 pounds, while mileage, helped by cylinder de-activation at highway speeds, is a class-leading 20/23 for both the RWD and 4WD editions.

In tests, the conventionally powered Yukon Denali went from 0-60 in a lickety-split 7.5 seconds, while the Hybrid is touted as nearly that quick despite toting several hundred more pounds in battery and electric-motor weight.

Reviewers laud the V8 acceleration shown by the 2012 Yukon Denali, though a few claim it feels only marginally stronger than the 5.8-liter V8 that’s standard in its lesser siblings. The shiftable automatic transmission, meanwhile, is hailed by reviewers for its smooth performance and alert downshifts.

The Yukon Denali Hybrid also receives kudos from reviewers not only for its very respectable fuel economy numbers, but for its surprisingly adept response to pedal-to-the-metal acceleration demands.

The one thing that concerns a number reviewers about the conventional V8 is a comparative lack of refined purr, especially on heavy acceleration. Most, however, remain impressed with the quiet efficiency of the Hybrid edition’s gas/electric combo.

Ride & Handling

Representing the remains of the truck-based, body-on-frame sport utes that were once the only game in town, this oversize Jimmy sports a front independent suspension with short and long arm front end, a multi-link rear, and front and rear stabilizer bars. Non-hybrid Yukon Denalis roll on 20-inch chrome alloy wheels, while the Hybrid flaunts 22-inch chrome alloy wheels. Both trims once again mount all-season tires.

Ride comfort is about what you’d expect from a heavy, pickup-truck-like behemoth, according to reviewers. All note that the short sidewalls on the non-hybrid trim’s 20-inch tires allow anything over medium-size bumps to be noticed, with the Hybrid’s larger wheels and tires only exacerbating the problem. Several reviewers also mention that the standard load-leveling suspension remains only marginally effective in smoothing out the ride.

Most reviewers note that steering is on the light side, which is fine around town, but a bit too feathery for relaxed highway cruising. Agility, in the opinion of many reviewers, is not helped by the 20- and 22-inch tires, though a few concede that body lean and noseplow are admirably minimized in tight turns. Reviewers are, however, quick to point out that this truck-bred ute boasts a tighter-than-expected turning radius, making downtown traffic and crowded parking lots much easier to bear.

Brakes in both the Yukon Denali and the Denali Hybrid are described by the majority of reviewers as powerful and true, with no pedal glitches. Tests saw the 2012 non-hybrid edition coming to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet, pretty much on par for the class. Expect the heavier Hybrid trim to take a couple of extra feet.

Cabin & Comfort

With the Denali name comes a few added amenities over less posh-oriented Yukon trims. Things like unique styling touches, a power rear liftgate, step running boards and a trailer hitch and wiring, not to mention a roof rack and additional sound insulation, all drape this high-end sport ute’s handsome profile.

Premium leather upholstery is standard aboard both Denali iterations, as are heated power-adjustable front seats, heated (in non-hybrid trims) and second-row captain's chairs, driver's memory settings for seats, mirrors and steering wheel, remote power door locks, heated, reverse-tilting power-adjustable and power-folding outside mirrors, and power windows. Power-adjustable pedals, meantime, are complemented by cruise control, tilt-wheel steering, remote engine start, a universal remote garage door opener, a rear-view camera, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and rear parking sensors.

All 2012 Yukon Denalis sport a heated, simulated wood and leather steering wheel mounting cruise and audio controls, while more leather and simulated wood, not to mention simulated alloy accents help decorate the cabin. Tri-zone auto climate control, meantime, is bolstered by standard Sun Sensor technology.

OnStar/Bluetooth hands-free communications and voice-directions capability again comes with this high-end hauler, as does a Bose premium audio system boasting 10 speakers, a single-CD player, satellite radio, separate rear audio controls and a USB connection. Finally, the upgraded navigation system subtly integrates itself into the whole setup, with little interference to audio and communications settings.

Additionally, Hybrid trims carry a dashboard-mounted display that shows engine performance and fuel-efficiency readings in an eminently readable format.

This flagship Yukon trim, though doubtless well-equipped, can still be delivered with an available power sunroof and/or rear-seat DVD entertainment, while both the conventional and hybrid editions also remain eligible for an integrated trailer brake controller and bench second-row seating for a total capacity of 8 people.

By and large, reviewers are duly impressed with the plush cabin and appearance accoutrements adorning this full-size ute, but more than a few lament what they feel is an abundance of hard plastics, not to mention a dearth of truly padded padding. Gauges are large and well-lit, according to most reviewers, though a few find markings a bit fuzzy for their taste. The newly upgraded navigation system gains a bunch of media fans for its seamless interaction with the standard audio components. Altogether, reviewers remain impressed with this high-end SUV for the posh extras that place it a noticeable cut above its lesser Yukon siblings, though one or two express the opinion that for the kind of money spent on the Denali, prospective sport ute buyers might want to simply step up to the equally well-equipped Cadillac Escalade.


Although its sheer size is a welcome safety factor on the highways and byways of this nation, the 2012 Yukon Denali nonetheless carries its fair share of notable standard safety equipment, much of it government mandated.

Four-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) are complemented by electronic brakeforce distribution, as well as traction and stability control, while front side-mounted airbags (new for 2012 on the Hybrid edition) and 3-row head airbags also help keep occupants protected. Then there are extras like turn-signal-integrated mirrors, daytime running lights, front fog/driving lights, a blind-spot warning system, a post-collision safety system, OnStar emergency services and stolen vehicle recovery assistance, and a remote antitheft alarm.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives this super-sized wagon its second-best 4-star safety rating, with a third-best 3 stars in rollover protection dragging this all-inclusive score down. Front and side protection testing, however, gain the Administration’s top 5-star rating.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), unfortunately, offers no testing data on the 2012 Yukon Denali.

What Owners Think

While the Yukon Denali Hybrid won’t be doing much rock climbing without serious performance repercussions, there are some who take it on a road less travelled and who complain only that its 22-inch tires are not well suited to this endeavor. For those who own other flagship Yukon iterations, seat comfort, that frustratingly difficult-to-remove and decidedly cramped third-row seat and a hefty price tag are among the more common complaints.

Those same Hybrid owners who maintain the back forty in high-end fashion laud its decent off-road capabilities, not to mention its best-in-class gas mileage. For those with the conventional edition, inspired towing power and the crisp acceleration of the big 6.2-liter V8 is a major deal-maker. The handsome profile, well-wrought cabin, plethora of standard goodies, and what many owners find to be a surprisingly cushy ride all contribute to those who lavish their driveway with a loaded-up 2012 Yukon Denali.


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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