2003 GMC Yukon XL Denali Review

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Sue Mead Sue Mead Editor
September 22, 2002


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Having covered 'bigger' when it introduced eight-passenger seating a couple of years ago, the 2003 Yukon Denali XL is now going for 'better.'  New technologies, a refreshed interior and options such as a DVD entertainment system make this one of the best-equipped people carriers in the premium full-size SUV segment.

The Yukon lineup was completely redesigned in 2001 and will be due for another major revamp in a couple of years.  In the meantime, General Motors has focused on tweaking the model line, which includes the full-size Yukon and new Yukon XL, as well as the upscale Denali models. 

The Denali XL holds a unique position within the premium full-size segment.  As a GMC-branded vehicle, it does not have the cachet or the price tag of a Cadillac Escalade or a Lincoln Navigator.  However, it offers the upmarket features and ride-improving technologies that have become more and more common in non-luxury full-size utes, such as the Toyota Sequoia and Ford Expedition.  What this means is that the bar has been raised for all vehicles competing for driveway space. 

New for ‘03

This model year's offering from The General stretches for that bar with major brake system enhancements, StabiliTrak traction control, improved seating and other upgrades designed to deliver a more comfortable ride.

The exterior of the Denali XL remains essentially unchanged from 2002, with the exception of standard body-colored exterior sideview mirrors with power-fold and integrated turn-signal indicators, a great new safety feature.  A wide, truck-inspired front end carries an oversized grille and GMC badge, low air dam and fog lamps.  The windshield, side windows and wrap-around back windows come with acres of glass.

A powerful Vortec 6.0-liter V-8 is the standard engine, and is matched to a four-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive.  The V-8 delivers 320 horses at 5000 rpm, and 365 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, enough to tow a maximum of 8200 lb.  Payload is 1480 lb and GVWR is 7200 lb.

GM's StabiliTrak stability enhancement system is now standard on all Yukon Denalis.  This system, with sensors connected to the suspension, steering, ABS and traction control systems, serves as the manager for all the information these other systems put out and the emergency responses it makes when it senses wheel slip.  The end result is better responsiveness and more accurate handling - engine torque and braking power is distributed to compensate for slippage, or other traction-compromised experiences.

An improved braking system comes with hydraulic-powered four-wheel disc brakes, with ABS.  Front independent and rear five-coil spring suspension give a smooth highway ride.

Upgraded to first

Inside, the cabin receives safety and comfort upgrades including new seats with thicker headrests, and new seat upholstery patterns.   Power seat controls are standard for front passengers. Second-row captain's chairs, instead of a bench seat, are optional and fold flat for increased stowage space. 

Bells and whistles include new, standard steering wheel controls, which allow the driver to personalize nine vehicle functions, from the language of information readouts (Spanish, English or French) to seat position memory recalls, and an alarm activation.  Settings also can be recalled through a button on the key fob or in the door panel.

Dual-zone, automatic climate control is standard - and it moves and heats/cools enough air per minute to heat or cool a small home.  Power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals also are standard safety and convenience features. 

An AM/FM/cassette/remote in-dash six-CD changer comes standard on all Yukon Denali models.  Optional infotainment systems include a Bose nine-speaker system with subwoofer and a Panasonic DVD player with a seven-inch flip-down screen, and two sets of wireless headphones with independent volume control.  XM satellite radio also is available.

Safety equipment includes occupants-sensing airbags that detect the approximate weight/size of the occupants and automatically disable the system if the passenger is too small (i.e., a child).  Third-row seats are now angled back for better restraint of adults in the event of a crash, and LATCH child seat tethers are standard in all rows.  Three point safety belts are now standard in center seating positions in the first and second-row seats.

2003 GMC Yukon Denali XL
Base price: $37,967 (including $790 destination)
Engine: 6.0-liter Vortec V-8, 345 hp/375 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 219.3 x 78.8 x 75.7
Wheelbase: 130.0 in
Curb weight: 5839 lb
EPA City/Hwy: N/A
Safety equipment: Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, front driver and passenger airbags, center three-point safety belt, LATCH child seat tether system, StabiliTrak stability/traction control system
Major standard equipment: Dual-zone automatic climate control system, six-CD in-dash remote audio system, steering wheel audio controls
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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