- Refined interior
- Powerful acceleration
- Hefty towing ability
- Upscale looks
- Hybrid Denali model
- XL's big turning circle
- Clunky third-row arrangement
- Poor fuel economy (non-Hybrid)
- As pricey as lux-brand SUVs
The 2011 GMC Yukon Denali is evidence that big, capable body-on-frame sport-utility vehicles can be supremely comfortable and luxurious.
The 2011 GMC Yukon isn't selling at anywhere close to the levels it was a number of years ago, but it's premature to call its very useful, luxurious design a thing of the past. Especially in top Yukon Denali guise, the GMC Yukon makes a compelling luxury vehicle and is one of the best full-size sport-utility vehicles on the market. And for those who have issue with that models fuel economy in the teens, the GMC Yukon Hybrid can be had in lavish Denali trim and returns up to 23 mpg.
Though it looks from the front much like GM's full-size sport-utility vehicles on which it's based (including the GMC Sierra), the 2011 GMC Yukon is a very handsome vehicle, with good proportions and a minimum of unnecessary detailing. The interior of the GMC Yukon is also very straightforward, too, and has a more rounded, simple style instead of the upright, macho, machine-shop look that some other models sport. Denali versions add more luxury touches, like a honeycomb grille up front and Nuance leather and chrome details to the cabin.
While the Yukon spans a wide range of focused models, all of them have good acceleration and ride quality, and rather light steering, with little if any handling feedback (they're huge trucks, after all). Standard-issue 2011 GMC Yukon models offer a standard 5.3-liter V-8 with 320 hp, but a larger 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 is offered in the longer Yukon XL and luxurious Yukon Denali model. The latter is the pick for the toughest towing demands and accelerates smartly with a rich engine note, but even with the included cylinder deactivation system, it's a very thirsty engine. 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 that can tow up to 8,600 pounds (or 5,000 in the case of the Hybrid).
In Hybrid models, a big 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 is augmented with electric motors and battery power, using a version of the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed by GM with BMW, Daimler and Chrysler. With this system, the Yukon can accelerate (lightly) on battery power alone or with a mix of engine and motor power.
The 2011 GMC Yukon has plenty of interior space, provided you don't plan to use the third row. Both the standard-length Yukon and the stretched Yukon XL come with three rows of seating, but in the standard XL it's only good for kids, and with the combination of a high step-up and a narrow opening to wedge through, it's hard to access.
Ride quality in the Yukon is quite good throughout the model line, with most trims having a nicely damped, almost carlike ride—only cornering on choppy surfaces, or railroad crossings, will remind you that it's actually a body-on-frame truck. Fit and finish inside is generally top-notch, the interior is pleasantly free of wind and road noise. And in keeping with that secure impression, the Yukon's roster of safety equipment and occupant protection ratings are among the best.
With a starting price close to $40,000 and a long set of standard convenience features even in its base SLE trim, the days of work-truck versions of the Yukon are gone. The Yukon SLE comes with power features, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary and a USB port; Bluetooth hands-free calling is newly standard on all models, too. Denali editions come absolutely loaded with luxury and convenience features, including tri-zone automatic climate control, a power-folding second-row seat, parking sensors, and remote starting.
It doesn't come cheap, though. Both a loaded Yukon Denali 4WD or a Yukon Hybrid Denali can top the $60k mark.