- Classy and upscale, not garish
- Strong acceleration
- Serious towing ability
- Luxurious interior
- XL models are tough to park
- Dismal fuel economy
- Tough access to tight third-row seats
- Third row won't fold flat
The 2009 GMC Yukon Denali still ranks as one of the most stylish and comfortable ways to do serious cross-country hauling.
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.
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.