2015 GMC Yukon Denali XL 4WD

I can only imagine what it must be like to take the captain’s seat on the USS Starship Enterprise. But climbing behind the wheel of the new GMC Yukon Denali XL — at night — has to be similar to taking the commander’s console of a starship.

It is the take-charge position, lighted at night with an array of colors, gauges, switch controls and mood lighting. The front seats are wide and full-bodied, padded, powered and bolstered, heated and cooled. The center console is megasize with hanging-folder storage, trays and drop zones for phone and device storage, cup holders and multiple plug-ins and USB ports. 

The Yukon XL is the biggest SUV model (seven to eight seats) in the lineup and the Denali is the top of the line.

This truck is 18 1/2 feet long, stands a little over 6 feet tall with a beam of more than 6 1/2 feet and a heft of 6,009 pounds at the curb. Nothing in this universe with those dimensions should drive with such ease and quiet. 

These big utes aren’t the most efficient people movers; minivans are better and roomier. But when a 7,900-pound trailer has to be pulled over the mountain and six or seven people want to ride along, there aren’t a lot of choices. Among them are the Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada, Toyota Sequoia — but the Yukon XL is a few inches longer with more pulling power.

The Denali gets the big 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter direct-injection V-8 with variable cylinder management. The 4WD fuel “economy” is 14 mpg city, 20 highway and 16 mpg combined. Premium fuel is recommended, not required — but don’t starve the engine of power.

The engine’s 460 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm seems to diminish the weight and while the Denali XL is not balletic in handling, it moves out when needed. The 43-foot turning circle is surprisingly maneuverable in the mall, but it’s still like docking the Enterprise in some situations.

With power-adjustable front seats, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel and power adjustable pedals, just about all sizes can set an ideal driving position. The gearshift lever on the column has an awkward action and would be more efficient as shift buttons or a dial on the console, and it would clean up the area around the steering wheel. The same goes for the foot-pumper parking brake; the top-line Denali should have an electric brake. 

The front seats have nearly 43 inches of headroom — Stetson class — and 45.3 inches of legroom for the lankiest. The back seat has 38.7 inches of headroom and 39 inches to stretch the legs. Shoulder room is less than 2 inches narrower than a Toyota Yaris. Power-folding running boards, $1,745, are almost a necessity for helping kids and passengers step aboard.

When the going got tight, I thanked all the standard driver-safety aids: Safety Alert Seat, blind-zone alert, lane-change alert, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision alert and lane departure warning. While I was daydreaming, the Safety Alert Seat gave me a buzz (vibration) as traffic slowed and I was gawking at a wreck along the side of the road. The electronic aids put eyes in the side and back of the pilot-driver’s head. Even so, there’s a huge blind spot at the base of the windshield pillars where they meet the side-view mirrors. Look twice because they can hide a pedestrian or a Corolla.

There also are 10 air bags, including front seat center bags (to protect from a T-bone crash from the passenger side). The Stabilitrak system integrates rollover mitigation and there is good brake support from four-wheel discs with 13-inch front-vented rotors at the front and 13.6-inch vented rotors rear.

This is a lot of truck and almost priced by the pound. Its starting price of $69,375 includes the $995 freight charge from Arlington, Texas, and with extras the test truck was almost $78,000 — or $13 a pound. Fortunately, these trucks are long-term ownerships and tend to become part of the growing family. 

The Denali may be the best that GMC can muster and while it is good, it is a challenge to dress up what has the foundation of a farm truck (the Sierra pickup) and load it with luxury. It is a testament to the engineering of the base truck that this Denali is so accomplished. But luxury has a different definition in this application. It’s not a Range Rover or a Mercedes, but it’s half the price and rolls with the force of an American hero.

Mark Maynard is online at mark.maynard@utsandiego.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage 

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