2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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If you’re of a certain age, you remember a television show called Laugh-In, where Lily Tomlin played five-year-old Edith Ann, rocking in a giant wooden chair.

Being of that certain age, I felt very much like Edith Ann as I hauled my five-foot-four frame up and over the sill into the 2007 Yukon Denali, settled into that sofa of a leather seat, and moved the power pedals so I could reach them. This is one big truck – and I just had the regular-wheelbase Yukon, not the long-wheelbase XL edition.

The Yukon and its XL big brother are GMC’s largest vehicles, and are completely redesigned for 2007, with new interior and exterior features, a chassis that’s stronger than that of the model it replaces, and new engines. The Yukon line-up starts with a 5.3-litre V8 (a 4.8-litre V8 will be used in 4X2 Yukons later in the model year), but the top-of-the-line Denali comes strictly with a 6.2-litre V8, mated to an exceptionally smooth heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission, and with standard all-wheel drive.

The new platform, which underpins all of GM’s new full-size SUVs, combines a fully boxed frame with wider front and rear tracks, and a new coil-over-shock design. In order that passengers forget they’re really in a truck, the Yukon comes with a real-time damping system that GM calls Autoride; its electronically-controlled shock absorbers react almost instantly to road conditions and adjust the damping rate. And you do forget, pretty quickly; this Yukon rides more like a Cadillac sedan, and with much less body roll than I expected given its size. The entire effect is a bit disconcerting: it drives and handles like a much smaller vehicle, until you look around and realize exactly how large your footprint really is.

2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali. Click image to enlarge

There’s the illusion of lower speed common to most oversize vehicles – it generally only hit me when I wondered why everyone else on the highway was plodding along, and I looked down at my speedometer to find myself in “Hello, Officer” territory – but I found much less disconnection to the road than I’ve felt in a few other large luxury SUVs. Wheel feedback is quite good, and there’s decent on-centre feel; brakes are improved over 2006, with larger rotors, stiffer calipers and a new Bosch ABS system. I don’t think I’d go so far as to call it “nimble”, but it’s far less of a handful than its bulk would suggest.

It’s also capable: this is a truck, after all, and in this configuration it’ll haul 3,492 kg (7,700 lbs); the towing package is included, with a heavy-duty hitch, seven-pin connector and trailer brake wiring harness. The six-speed transmission also has a “tap up/down” function, operated by a button on the shifter, which allows the driver to control up- and downshifts when towing.

The Denali is already a flashy vehicle, but GM pimped my ride: my tester was equipped with 20-inch chrome aluminum wheels (a $1,565 option), navigation system, rear-seat DVD, power sunroof and heated steering wheel. Between the Denali’s standard bright grille and those big chrome hoops, especially against the black paint, the truck did stand out, and I was surprised at how many people went out of their way to look at it. Maybe they thought I had a rap star in the back seat.

2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali. Click image to enlarge

Speaking of seats, the Denali has plenty of them: the model comes standard with a three-passenger 50/50 split third row. This three-row seating configuration has become a badge of honour among SUV builders, but it does the Denali no favours. It may be fine in the long-wheelbase XL model, but in the standard version, third-row passengers sit on hard, flat cushions over the rear axle, with their chins on their knees thanks to the raised floor. Entry is via flip-and-fold second-row seats, but because it’s a 60/40 seat, the one on the driver’s side is heavy and difficult to manoeuvre; there’s a power release, but you still have to pull it back up manually.

Second-row passengers have a much better time of it, with plenty of legroom, the same level of comfort as the front seats, and with three-point seatbelts for all three seating positions.

There’s only a 26 cm-long space for cargo with the third seat upright. It can be flipped and folded by pulling a latch, but you’re still left with a bulky folded seat that must be removed if you want to put any cargo there. If you want to pull the seat back up to its upright position, you’ve got to go into the truck, flip the second row and then pull the seatbacks up; the third row has no handles on the seatbacks, and so unless you’re extremely tall and can grab them by the head restraints, you can’t pull them back up while you’re standing at the liftgate. Remove the third seats entirely, and there’s a 114-cm long cargo floor; if you then flip the second row up, you’ve got 156 cm of flat floor. If I actually owned this truck, that third row would be stored in my cellar, which would turn the Denali into a far more useful five-passenger vehicle with room for hauling things.

2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali. Click image to enlarge

Up in the first row, driver and passenger are separated by a massive console, covered with the same glossy plastic wood that adorns the dash, steering wheel, centre stack and armrests; it looks very fake, and when the sun comes through the windshield and strikes the flat console, the glare is blinding. And while the huge mirrors are very helpful for checking blind spots, they also create one: between the thick A-pillar and the massive mirror, I lost a minivan, which only became visible once it moved into my windshield area.

The Denali comes with numerous standard features, including remote vehicle starter, power liftgate, power folding mirrors, heated washers, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming mirror with compass, OnStar, garage door opener, XM Satellite radio and auxiliary rear heater. Rear parking assist is also standard, and uses an audio signal combined with three lights in the inside passenger side C-pillar that light up in succession as you get closer to objects. (If that isn’t enough, you can upgrade the navigation system with a rear-view camera.)

2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali. Click image to enlarge

But it’s overly busy: between my tester’s dash, doors, centre stack, navigation radio, shifter, wheel, mirror and overhead console, there are 83 buttons in the first row, and that’s without counting the power seat controls. (Second-seat passengers get another dozen buttons and two dials for their audio and climate controls.) Remember: always keep your eyes on the road.

Buttons aside, GM has put a lot of care into its new line of truck interiors, and it shows: this generation, including SUVs and the new generation of trucks, boasts excellent fit-and-finish and some of the best workmanship the company has turned out in years. Gaps are minimal, seat hardware is covered and everything is backlit. My only quibble is with the cupholders; they’re covered with a panel that opens to a vertical rest, facing the driver. Hinging it on the other side would avoid having to lift the cup over it.

In short, GM has done a great job on this truck: it handles well, rides beautifully, and provides a superb level of comfort and an eye-catching exterior.

2007 GMC Yukon Denali
2007 GMC Yukon Denali. Click image to enlarge

But in this day and age of rising fuel prices and the slow decline of conspicuous consumption, the relevance of such a vehicle is questionable. In combined driving, mostly in urban areas, I got a dismal 18.0 L/100 km (15.6 mpg Imp), and when I had to go to an event in downtown Toronto, I left the Denali at home and took a subcompact; I just wasn’t in the mood to tackle tight streets and even tighter parking spaces. There will always be buyers who need the Denali’s towing ability or want its eight-passenger seating, or just like driving something that big; but before you commit, take a look at GMC’s other vehicles, including the Envoy and all-new Acadia; when it comes to trucks, bigger isn’t always better. (And that’s the truth.)


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