2009 GMC Yukon Denali Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 19, 2009

The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali still ranks as one of the most stylish and comfortable ways to do serious cross-country hauling.

To bring you this review of the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali, TheCarConnection.com's editors have test-driven this luxury SUV and report their impressions; they're available here along with research gathered by TheCarConnection.com that compiles input from professional reviews across the Web.

The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali and Yukon XL Denali are full-size body-on-frame sport-utility models that are mechanically similar to the standard GMC Yukon models, along with GM's Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and the Cadillac Escalade. But exclusive powertrain and luxury features set the plush, luxurious Denali models apart from the rest of the line and warrant this separate review.

Relative to the rest of the Yukon lineup, the 2009 Yukon Denali has the exact same silhouette and basic layout, but the difference rests in the details. From the outside, the Denali's honeycomb-style grille, flashier wheels, and chromed door handles and trim are the most distinguishing features, while inside, the Denali has upscale materials, with a soft appearance, supple Nuance leather, and more chrome accents for the instrument panel.

The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali comes with an engine that's not offered elsewhere in the Yukon lineup—or on GM's full-size trucks except in the Cadillac Escalade. The 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 has variable valve timing and an aluminum engine block (GM says it's the first application of VVT in a mass-produced pushrod V-8). It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and comes with either rear-wheel drive or a full-time, road-oriented all-wheel-drive system, with a tow rating of up to 7,900 pounds.

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Altogether, this powertrain makes the Yukon Denali a joy to drive as long as you aren't the one worrying about the fuel budget. There's plenty of reserve power for hills, quick passing maneuvers, and full loads; the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly but responsively. But the engine doesn't include the fuel-saving Active Fuel Management technology found on GM's other V-8s, and its fuel economy rates at an unimpressive 12 mpg city, 18 highway (19 mpg with 2WD); TheCarConnection.com's editors have seen single-digit fuel economy from normal city driving with this powertrain in the Escalade. Furthermore, premium fuel is recommended.

The extended-wheelbase 2009 Yukon XL Denali model adds about 20 inches of overall length and 14 inches of wheelbase, which goes to a more accessible third row and larger cargo capacity in back. That brings its total length up to 222 inches (more than 18 feet), which many city dwellers or even those who frequent shopping malls might find too large to fit easily into conventional parking spaces.

The GMC Yukon Denali models all get GM's Autoride electronically controlled damping system, which does a great job bringing good ride comfort and decent steering response through the big 20-inch wheels. Overall, the Denali isn't tremendously maneuverable, but it handles surprisingly well on back roads; you'll quickly forget that you're piloting a 6,000-pound vehicle.

The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali comes with captain's chairs in the first and second row, covered with soft leather and heated in both rows; there's also more leather trim throughout, including a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel. For the second row, a bench seat is offered as a no-charge option. A third-row bench seat has seating for up to three more in back, but with either version access is a bit difficult. With the third row removed and the second row folded, the Yukon XL has a huge 137.2 cubic feet of cargo space, and there's still respectable room for cargo with people in all three rows. Keep in mind that in the standard-length version, there's very little space behind the last row.

The Denali models come absolutely loaded with luxury and convenience features. Standard features include tri-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable pedals, a power-folding second-row access seat, Rain Sense wipers, ultrasonic parking assist, and a remote start system. Also included on the 2009 Denali is a Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system with 10 speakers and XM Satellite Radio. Options include a navigation system, a rearview camera system, and DVD entertainment for the second and third rows. Power-retractable assist steps are another option.

The GMC Yukon Denali gets top five-star ratings from NHTSA in both front and side-impact crash tests, although it gets a three-star rollover rating. To help make up for that, its StabiliTrak stability control system includes rollover mitigation. Equipment highlights for this secure vehicle include front side and side-curtain airbags, and a new side blind zone alert system is available.


2009 GMC Yukon Denali


Badge engineering is clearly on display with the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali, but there are enough unique pieces to keep things interesting.

The GMC Yukon Denali and its corporate cousin, the Chevy Tahoe, are perhaps best known for their roles as the go-to SUV for government motorcades, but these ubiquitous domestic SUVs are also quite popular with consumers.

The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali and GMC Yukon Denali XL are the top-of-the-line versions of the family, but they still share largely the same styling as the rest of the lineup. Road & Track reviewers report that the GMC Yukon Denali 2009 "model gets updated exterior trim" and optional "new 20-in. aluminum wheels," while Cars.com notes distinguishing features include "a chrome grille." In addition to the standard GMC Yukon Denali 2009, GMC offers the Yukon Denali XL, which Cars.com says "measures about 20 inches longer than the regular Yukon, at 222.4 inches long, with a width of 79.1 inches." These dimensions make it "nearly identical to the [Ford] Expedition EL," which is the vehicle that TheCarConnection.com finds to be most frequently compared to the Yukon Denali XL. Reviewers generally approve of the generic SUV shape, and although Jalopnik feels the "GMC Yukon Denali's front looks kind of like a Chevy Tahoe with the grille lopped off and replaced with a chrome chain-link fence," they proclaim "it's big and muscular. We like big and muscular." Edmunds reviewers also praise the "handsome styling" on display with the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali. ConsumerGuide observes that the Yukon Denali 2009 "is positioned just below Cadillac's Escalade," although it doesn't look quite so flashy.

The interior of the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali wins praise for its modern, functional styling. Edmunds reviewers once again refer to the styling as "handsome," while also reporting that "the control layout is simple and straightforward." ConsumerGuide reviewers approve of the fact that the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali's "optional navigation system absorbs, but doesn't complicate, audio functions." The one major criticism of the overall appearance comes from Jalopnik, where reviewers "feel as though [they've] seen this interior before—like on the GMC Sierra, the Chevy Silverado and the Chevy Tahoe," although they concede that "for the most part it's well-designed."


2009 GMC Yukon Denali


Aside from the low mileage numbers, the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali offers everything you could ask for in the performance department.

Everyone knows luxury doesn't come cheap, and in most cases performance is an expensive commodity as well. The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali offers both luxury and impressive performance, but the trade-offs are a high sticker price and disappointing (though not unexpected) fuel economy.

Unlike the rest of the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon lineup, the Yukon Denali 2009 gets an exclusive "6.2-liter V8 that makes 403 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque," according to reviewers at Edmunds. Luxury SUV buyers might recognize this as the same engine that motivates the Cadillac Escalade, and for the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali, the rating is up 23 horsepower over last year's Yukon Denali. Reviewers are generally impressed with how well the engine moves the 5,500-plus pounds that the GMC Yukon Denali carries around, and Jalopnik feels that the "Vortec V8 gives you a much power as you need, whenever you need it." Cars.com also points out that the GMC Yukon Denali 2009's big engine is "flex-fuel [capable]," although fuel economy suffers even more when using the alternative, ethanol-infused combustible. While the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali boasts, in the words of Edmunds reviewers, "strong towing and hauling capabilities," ConsumerGuide notes that the "Denali's 6.2 feels only slightly stronger" than the engines found on the rest of the Yukon lineup. That sentiment, however, is more indicative of the power in the base Yukons than an indictment of underperformance in the GMC Yukon Denali.

In addition to the single Denali-exclusive engine, Cars.com reports that the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali is "available with rear- or four-wheel drive," with the permanent 4WD being "distinct from the available part-time four-wheel drive on the regular Yukon." Whether you choose two or four drive wheels, Road & Track points out that the GMC Yukon Denali 2009 sports a "new 6-speed automatic transmission," which ConsumerGuide says has "shift lever buttons for manual operation." Driver-selectable gears for automatic transmissions have been around for years on passenger cars, but up until now they have been slower to make their way onto full-size SUVs like the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali.

Regardless of whether you choose 2WD or 4WD, fuel economy comes in well below what the Sierra Club would like. The official EPA estimates are that the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali and Yukon XL Denali will return 12 mpg city and 19 mpg on the highway with either transmission. Adding to the wallet-draining effect of driving a GMC Yukon Denali is the fact that GMC recommends premium-grade gas for the thirsty V-8 under the hood.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that, surprisingly, the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali and Denali XL live up to their billings as both Sport and Utility Vehicles. The available four-wheel-drive transmission and hefty towing capacity make the GMC Yukon Denali a practical choice for either summer or winter activities; Road & Track even reports that the "Yukon Denali [feels] surprisingly fleet of foot," with the "taut, well-tuned chassis [feeling] more car-like than truck-like in operation." Kelley Blue Book calls the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali "by far the best handling full-size SUV ever to wear a GMC badge," thanks to a "revised suspension and greatly improved steering and braking characteristics." ConsumerGuide isn't quite so impressed with the ride quality, stating that "impact harshness over sharp bumps is exaggerated by the short sidewalls of the available 20-inch tires," but of the two Denali models, they claim the XL offers "the smoothest rides of the bunch" that they tested. One other impressive performance note, especially for a vehicle that tips the scales at nearly three tons, is ConsumerGuide's finding that the "brakes offer no-drama stopping control with solid pedal feel." The reviewers at Jalopnik, always sticklers for performance, also assert that "the four-wheel disc brakes worked with aplomb" during their road test.


2009 GMC Yukon Denali

Comfort & Quality

Wrestling with the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali's 50-pound third-row seats is a hassle, but it's the only blemish to a well-designed, well-appointed cabin.

The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali is positioned just a half-step below the Cadillac Escalade in the GM luxury hierarchy, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com question some of the seating layouts found inside the GMC Yukon Denali.

The 2009 Denali and Denali XL feature standard seating for seven, spread across two front buckets, two middle-row captain's chairs, and a three-person rear bench seat. Kelley Blue Book reports that seating capacity can be increased to eight with the addition of the available "power fold-and-flip second-row seats," but they warn that, "unlike the Ford Expedition, Dodge Durango and Nissan Armada, none of GM's full-size SUVs feature a fold-flat third-row seat." Many other reviewers agree that, "for anyone that's grown accustomed to the convenience of a fold-flat third row, this could be the Yukon's deal-breaker." Aside from this frequent complaint about the rear bench, reviewers are impressed with the overall level of comfort inside the GMC Yukon Denali 2009. ConsumerGuide states that the "front seats are supportive," with "ample headroom and legroom" and "a power tilt feature [for] the steering column." ConsumerGuide also praises the "adult-comfortable 2nd row," but they note the "low-to-floor 3rd row cushion forces knees-up discomfort for anyone larger than toddler size" who finds themselves in what Edmunds refers to as the "bulky third-row seat."

Parking the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali, and especially the Denali XL, is a chore, but the flip side is that the street-spanning exterior gives you lots of cargo room to work with. Cars.com reports that the Denali XL's "cargo volume measures 45.8 cubic feet behind the third row," and with the third row pulled out, the "cargo volume is 137.4 cubic feet; that's compared to the Expedition EL's 130.8 cubic feet." For the standard-length GMC Yukon Denali 2009, Edmunds measures the maximum interior cargo room at "109 cubic feet," which "rivals that of the Ford Expedition and bests most other competitors." ConsumerGuide is similarly impressed, rating the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali and Denali XL a perfect 10 in cargo space.

Inside the cabin of the Yukon Denali 2009 lineup, passengers will be impressed with the level of detail for a domestic vehicle. ConsumerGuide says GMC Yukon Denalis "get added dress-up touches," which contribute to what Edmunds calls the "high-quality fit and finish" throughout the interior. Cars.com also loves the "high-quality fixtures [that] include flush-mounted controls, low-gloss materials and chrome instrument surrounds." Compared to both the domestic and foreign competition, Edmunds feels that the GMC Yukon Denalis assembly and materials quality "place it among the class leaders."

In keeping with its luxury-minded aspirations, the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali is remarkably quiet on the road. ConsumerGuide says noise suppression is "impressive for a large SUV," with road noise "well muted" and "the only evident wind rush [coming] from around [the] outside mirrors." Edmunds also marvels that "the 2009 GMC Yukon's ride is notably quiet," thanks to enhanced sound suppression throughout the cabin.


2009 GMC Yukon Denali


Rollover risk aside, the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali holds up well in crash tests and offers the safety features you would expect.

The tank-like stature and dimensions of full-size, body-on-frame SUVs like the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali tend to give them an aura of safety, and in this case, it's well deserved. Not only does the Yukon Denali 2009 lineup ace its impact tests, but the Yukon Denali also comes loaded with safety features.

The IIHS has not yet had a chance to crash test the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali, but the federal government has conducted its full battery of tests on the Yukon Denali and given it the stamp of approval. The Yukon Denali 2009 lineup earned a perfect five-star rating in both frontal impact tests, as well as both side impact tests. Unfortunately, as is the case with most tall SUVs, the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali earned just three out of five stars in the rollover risk category. While the three-star rating is poor, it is hardly unusual and shouldn't be considered a deal breaker.

The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali and Yukon Denali 2009 XL both come with a lengthy list of safety features, according to TheCarConnection.com's research. Road & Track reviewers report that "GM's Side Blind Zone Alert monitoring system is a new option," and Cars.com adds that "a rearview camera system that's integrated into the rearview mirror, rear parking assist and rain-sensing wipers" are all available. Kelley Blue Book recommends springing for the rearview camera, advising that "vehicles this big benefit the most from rearview cameras that let the driver see what's lurking behind the back bumper." While the newly available optional features are appealing, the Yukon Denali is no slouch in terms of standard safety features. Edmunds observes that "antilock disc brakes, stability control, OnStar communications, front-seat side impact airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with rollover sensor are standard on all Yukons." Last but not least, Cars.com reminds potential GMC Yukon Denali owners that a "tire pressure monitoring system" comes standard.

As noted earlier, visibility can be a sore spot on large SUVs like the GMC Yukon Denali. Despite the reputation that some have for blind spots, ConsumerGuide says that, when driving the GMC Yukon Denali, "visibility is unobstructed by headrests or roof pillars," although the "body's tall flanks block the driver's view of small nearby objects, making the optional rearview camera worth considering."


2009 GMC Yukon Denali


The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali packs a tremendous list of features that's likely to make other Yukon owners green with envy.

As the top-of-the-line variant of GMC's Yukon lineup, the Yukon Denali 2009 already includes most of the features that are optional on other Yukons. However, for the deep-pocketed buyer, TheCarConnection.com's research shows that GMC still offers a number of additional features for the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali.

Beginning with the basics, Cars.com reviewers report that the GMC Yukon Denali features a "standard leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant controls," along with "standard XM Satellite Radio with real-time traffic and route advisements." Road & Track, meanwhile, adds that "new amenities like hands-free Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, OnStar turn-by-turn navigation and third-row seating are all standard" on the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali lineup. Several features distinguish the GMC Yukon Denali from the standard Yukon range, and Kelley Blue Book states that some of the base Yukon's "optional equipment that's standard on Denali includes a power liftgate, power fold-and-flip second-row seats, ultrasonic rear parking assist (standard on SLT), power-adjustable pedals," and an "upgraded audio system." Edmunds rounds out the standard features list for the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali by noting the standard "heated and cooled seats" and "18-inch alloy wheels."

The GMC Yukon Denali 2009 may sit at the top of the Yukon line, but that doesn't mean all the available goodies come standard. For those willing to pay a little extra, Kelley Blue Book reviewers find that "optional even on Denali are a rearview camera, power-retractable side steps, navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, 20-inch wheels...and a power sunroof." That navigation system is much improved over the one found in previous GMC Yukon Denalis, as Edmunds notes that "this year's navigation system now has real-time traffic capability." Edmunds also reports that, unlike in some competing models, the GMC Yukon Denali 2009' "rearview camera system...doesn't require the optional navigation system."

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September 28, 2016
2009 GMC Yukon Denali AWD 4-Door

perfect truck for pulling my 20 ft ranger bass boat in style

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70,000 miles, just breaking in. Love the power when pulling the boat out of the water at any angle or steepnes of the boat landing.
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February 10, 2015
For 2009 GMC Yukon Denali

Excellent overall for my family of 6.

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Not hard to park at all, being a truck driver helps. Fuel economy not the best, but it is a large heavy vehicle with a large motor, 6.2 Vortec. I love it for the long road trips, super nice inside and out... + More »
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