Last week, my wife and I hosted old friends from Finland. Their three teenagers had never seen this side of the pond, so we provided several in-their-face (North) American experiences. It started with me arriving at Pearson Airport in the 2016 GMC Yukon Denali, immediately after picking it up for a week’s testing. Imagine getting to channel your inner soccer mom at the height of Euro Cup fever.

A rolling spa for seven on twenty-inch aluminum wheels, the Yukon Denali is a well-planned people mover. During the five Finns’ week here, we drove a lot: to the pretty Victorian town of Port Hope; the cliffs cupping Nottawasaga Bay; and, of course, all over stinking hot Toronto. Except for the airport commutes, the trips usually included all seven of us, plus an insane Labrador puppy, Orson – but the riders were always pampered, especially the closer they got to the front.

First, the airport pickup: My pal Biba gasped and laughed at the sheer volume of automobile that greeted them. Nonetheless, his family – spending a week in TO and another in New York – was up for the portability challenge. Each of the five had an oversized reinforced suitcase and carry-on bag. However, with all the seats up, the Yukon Denali’s cargo volume is just 433.25 litres. So packing the trunk was a panicky three-minute Tetris challenge with the airport police giving us the stink-eye.

We played with the power buttons, lifting and dropping elements of the two back seating rows arbitrarily.  Finally after some embarrassment, we flattened one backseat. We also discovered a few extra litres of storage cached beneath the floor in the back and a veritable cave beneath the armrest. Everything and everyone managed to fit. We were all inside and on the road.

“This is really big,” our friend Johanna seemed slightly overwhelmed, her neck craning 190 degrees.

“Welcome to AMERICA!” I hollered in a mock-Texan drawl. “We’re gonna grill three-inch steaks on the engine when we get back to the ranch.”

“The ranch” is a narrow downtown house whose tight parking space sits at the end of a pre-automobile-era laneway. Just getting the last few metres to that space this summer could earn you a Master’s thesis in geometry. It’s become a gauntlet of obstacles. Two houses of the eight in our alley are being completely gutted and renovated: pickups, cement mixers, re-bar and burly little men waving coffee cups and cigarettes jut into the lane on odd angles. At the end, the sliding door to our parking space hangs from a crossbar slightly over 1.9 meters high. The Yukon Denali’s roof peaks at 1.89. So parking the Yukon was more like shaving, or putting an uphill birdie on a windy day, than regular driving.

Home-turf appeal: Test Drive: 2016 GMC Yukon Denali

Fortunately, safety features that come standard with the Denali trim include a rear-vision camera, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert and side blind-zone alert. These alerts are reported with busily active graphics of increasingly brighter colours culminating in red, all punctuated by excessively alarming beeps, plus a driver’s seat vibration that feels lovely to an inner soccer mom’s rump but sounds to jet-lagged Finnish people like wet farts. Nonetheless, the alerts helped prevent shaving cuts and bleeding red paint. Power folding mirrors stole those last few inches needed to fit.

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