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Stretch Utilities: 2015 GMC Yukon XL and Denali XL Driven

2015 GMC Yukon XL / Yukon Denali XL

First Drive Review

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GMC’s big brawler, in fancy and extra-fancy forms.

You’d think that with a nicely updated Suburban going on sale, there would be little reason to consider its similarly updated Yukon XL cousin. After all, they both get essentially the same mechanical and styling upgrades. But such thinking overlooks the halo of the GMC brand as well as the magic of the Denali trim and its 6.2-liter V-8.

The only way to get that inseparable pair is from your friendly GMC store. Roughly half of Yukon and Yukon XL customers opt for the Denali version, and they’ll now enjoy a 6.2-liter V-8 freshly updated with direct fuel injection and a higher compression ratio. Generating 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, the Denali’s substantially more powerful V-8 cuts nearly a second from the Yukon XL’s zero-to-60 time, dropping it to around 6.3 seconds. Not bad for a three-ton machine.

The standard Yukon XL benefits from a similarly updated 5.3-liter 355-hp V-8, which makes it about as quick as the last-generation Denali. EPA fuel-economy estimates are up 1 mpg in the city in all powertrains, while highway ratings improve by up to 3 mpg. Towing capacity remains healthy, ranging from 7900 to 8300 pounds.

Improved performance is always welcome, but the primary reason for buying one of these jumbo machines is to haul stuff. Compared to the regular-wheelbase Yukon and Denali, the XL versions are 20.4 inches stretchier stem to stern, have 26.4 cubic feet more max cargo space, and give adult third-row passengers a fighting chance at comfort with nearly 10 inches more legroom.

The keen buyer might be surprised that despite being slightly wider and longer than its predecessor, luggage capacity in the new XL is down more than 10 percent. Blame the new flat-folding second- and third-row seats that work with a fairly thick shelf added to the rear of the load floor to produce the flat surface. The folding seats are a great convenience, but the thickness of the shelf absorbs some volume. Wider back doors improve seat ingress and egress for all passengers in the aft section.

But the biggest upgrade is in the first row, where the benefits of the redesigned interior are most apparent. A new dash bulges and curves attractively, positions the eight-inch LCD screen conveniently high in the center stack, and presents logically grouped infotainment and HVAC controls. A new instrument cluster with a small central screen is attractive and legible, while the Denalis get a different cluster with a much larger and reconfigurable LCD. Overall, this is a comfortable and pleasing cabin for long journeys.

The previous Yukon XL was already a surprisingly comfortable cross-country cruiser and the new version builds on that strong foundation. One of the biggest improvements is wind noise reduction. The front side glass is now the acoustic laminated type and the new doors have triple seals and are inset so that their edges catch less wind. The result is an impressively hushed cabin on the highway.

As expected, the XL retains the traditional, truck-style separate body and frame construction, but both have received the expected generational stiffness upgrades. This has made a firmer suspension possible for better ride control and sharper handling, although one never forgets that these machines stretch nearly 19 feet long.

The one downside to this tauter demeanor is a firm ride, especially with only one or two aboard. Surprisingly, this problem is exacerbated on the Denali XL, which comes standard with Magnetic Ride Control shocks. Normally, those highly responsive components—used to positive effect in the Corvette, Camaro ZL-1, CTS, and other GM products—would improve the ride/handling balancing equation, but the tuning in at least this truck application hasn’t yet achieved that stage of refinement.

We’d be inclined to go for the standard XL with 18-inch wheels and get all of the packaging, styling, and noise-reduction upgrades with the best possible ride. But given the critical importance of bling and the added zing of the 6.2-liter V-8, we’d be willing to bet that the Denalis will remain as popular as ever.

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Written by Lewis Shaw

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