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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
Flex-fuel 403-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 with 417 pounds-feet of torque
Transmissions provide crisp, timely shifts
GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali feel surprisingly fleet of foot. No, really!
Road & Track
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.
Aside from the low mileage numbers, the 2009 GMC Yukon Denali offers everything you could ask for in the performance department.