2016 GMC Yukon Denali Review

Yukon Denali

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2016 GMC Yukon Denali Overview

For those seeking the ultimate in towing performance, top-shelf luxury appointments, safety, and passenger-carrying ability, GMC offers the 2016 Yukon Denali. With seating for up to 8 adults, a powerful drivetrain, and a modern, yet surprisingly simple-to-use infotainment system, the Yukon Denali stands apart from its Yukon brethren by being just a little better in many important areas.

Although the Yukon Denali forgoes the 3-across front bench-seat option found in some other GMC SUVs, shoppers won’t miss it. The Denali’s mission veers toward family and personal luxury, whereas some of GM’s other SUVs can be outfitted for work and business. The Yukon can be configured with either two captain’s chairs in the second row or a bench in some trims. Thus, it can be set up for 7 or 8 passengers.

One thing that sets the Yukon Denali apart from other Yukons is its 6.2-liter V8 engine. Producing 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, the big V8 in the Denali is more robust than the V8 in base Yukons. It's also just as frugal. In 4-wheel-drive (4WD) configurations the Yukon Denali can deliver up to 22 mpg on the highway, just one mile per gallon less than the smaller V8 in base Yukons. This is partly due to its 8-speed transmission and the all-important active fuel management system, which disables cylinders when cruising to ration fuel. A quick peek over the fence at the Lincoln Navigator, the GMC Yukon Denali’s closest non-GM competitor, reveals a surprise. The GMC V8 gets better fuel economy than Lincoln’s Ecoboost V6.

New for 2016 are lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam control in the Enhanced Driver Alert Package. Capless fuel filling is now also standard. Crimson Red Tintcoat and White Frost Tricoat are new colors. New Yukon Denalis will also benefit from GM’s expanded use of 4G LTE Wi-Fi. Passengers will benefit from the strong wireless internet signal, and the driver/owner will benefit from enhanced proactive alerts. For example, the Yukon Denali can tell a driver if it is experiencing any battery or tire-pressure issues while the driver is away from the vehicle. There's much more to come in this area. GM is leveraging the real-time communication abilities this new system offers, which the company says are 100 times faster than the prior On-Star telematics data-transfer system. All Yukon Denalis will come with 5 years of included On-Star Services, though data is purchased monthly via a subscription service. Apple Car Play, which integrates Apple iPhone apps, appears in the 2016 Yukon Denali, and Android Auto will roll out mid-year.

Inside the 2016 Yukon Denali, many things we think of as options are included, such as premium perforated heated and cooled leather seats for the front passengers, a heated steering wheel, and heated seats for the second-row passengers. The infotainment system has an 8-inch touchscreen the driver can customize to taste by displaying the icons for his or her favorite apps. A rear-view camera with guidelines is standard. The color schemes are also selectable. A premium Bose CenterPoint Surround Sound audio system is standard.

Most of what is not standard, such as the adaptive cruise control, keyless entry with remote start, and retractable side steps, are rolled into a couple of packages, which most dealer inventory will include. The optional heads-up display is worthy of special mention. It doesn’t just show the driver a speed in miles per hour—it also shows turns the navigation system is suggesting, or audio information, or incoming call information, or transmission information (helpful when towing), and the status of safety systems such as lane-departure warnings.

The 2016 Yukon Denali 4WD is a vehicle that can tow 8,100 pounds and carry 1,554 pounds of stuff in the cargo area (presumably with the seats folded flat). Rear-wheel drive (RWD) Yukon Denalis can actually handle 300 pounds more when towing and about 50 pounds more cargo.

Being a popular large family vehicle, the Yukon Denali needs to be safe, and it is. Its 5,700-pound curb weight is one helpful factor, and this is not just theory. IIHS says that its real-world data proves large 4WD SUVs have a much lower death rate than average vehicles. Another is the available forward-collision prevention with auto-braking. It would seem a no-brainer to opt for that in such a large vehicle.

The 2016 GMC Yukon Denali RWD starts at about $65,000. A fully loaded Yukon Denali 4WD will top out above $75,000. That's expensive, but so are its competitors that offer this much space and capability. The Yukon Denali will appeal to a buyer looking for luxury, space, and maximum capability.


John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. In the early 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric race car from scratch. In addition to his work at CarGurus, John covers automotive news at Torque News and GM-trucks.com and is a contributor to CarTalk and BestRide. Aside from all things automotive, John loves fishing and hockey, preferably in the company of his two boys.

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