2020 GMC Yukon Denali First Drive

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As capable as they are handsome, the Yukon and the stretched Yukon XL are multitasking machines. They offer seating for up to eight, a maximum tow rating of 8100 pounds, and optional four-wheel drive. A 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic powers SLE and SLT trims; the chrome-laden, leather-lined Denali offers near-Escalade levels of luxury and gets a 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 and an eight-speed automatic. An 8.0-inch infotainment system, 4G LTE connectivity, and onboard Wi-Fi are standard.

General Motors pretty much owns the full-size SUV segment with its entries from Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac. Sales of the General’s six regular- and extended-length full-size SUVs totaled 255,907 through November; in the same period, Ford found just 63,887 buyers for its four total variants of the competing Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. It can’t hurt that GM covers all the pricing bases from the $48,410 entry-level Chevy Tahoe to the $98,790 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum 4×4. As those hefty MSRPs suggest, these trucks produce lots of profits, especially luxury variants like the one we’ve tested here, the GMC Yukon XL Denali.

2020 GMC Yukon Denali Redesign

More than a people hauler, the extended-wheelbase Yukon XL can tow and haul heavy cargo, too. Nearly 19 feet long from stem to stern and riding on a massive 130-inch wheelbase, the big GMC has room for up to eight people (our Denali test truck’s second-row captain’s chairs limited it to a maximum of seven) and can carry 39 cubic feet of their belongings behind the third row. Tow ratings range from 7900 to 8100 pounds, depending on equipment.

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Paying the $8650 premium for the Denali upgrade over the next-lowest trim, the SLT 4×4, brings magnetic-ride-control dampers, HID headlamps, active noise cancellation, a larger alternator (to handle these electrical upgrades), a customizable driver’s display, a glitzy grille, and sparkling body-side trim. A more functional Denali upgrade is its 6.2-liter V-8, which supplants lesser versions’ 5.3-liter V-8. The 6.2 is a detuned version of the Corvette Stingray engine and produces 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque here, output we made ample use of during a 40,000-mile long-term test of a 2015 Yukon XL Denali. So why test the same GMC again? Since our long-termer was built, GM replaced the 6.2’s former six-speed automatic transmission with a new eight-speed unit.

The new powertrain pairing propelled this 2017 model from rest to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds at 98 mph. Compared with the best results we got from our 2015 long-termer, those are improvements of 0.1 and 0.2 second—essentially a wash. The eight-speed proved somewhat more useful in terms of fuel economy, if not in our combined average—16 mpg, just like the long-termer—then over our 200-mile, 75-mph highway cruising test. During that exercise, this Yukon XL returned 21 mpg, or 1 mpg higher than its EPA highway rating.

2020 GMC Yukon Denali Redesign

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