“Oh yeah? Well, MY Dad is cooler and stronger than YOUR Dad.”
Schoolyards at recess are microcosms of society. There are the haves, with access to the best inflatable balls and real estate on the playground, and the have nots, who are stuck with last years meager equipment and are usually relegated to the back corner of the property, away from the hopscotch courts and the jungle gym. And of course, there are those who take part in an endless game of one-upmanship. Because everyone knows my Dad is cooler- not to mention stronger- than your Dad.
And so it goes within the automotive industry. In fact, you might say one-upmanship is part of the bedrock the car biz is built upon; without it, you would never see brands trying to outdo one another, and the pace of competition and innovation would slow to a crawl. If that was reality, we’d all be driving Trabants or some kind of anonymous transportation pods.
That isn’t going to happen, not with the capitalist economic system we are all apart of and humanity’s penchant for nice, shiny stuff. The next bigger and better thing is always going to get its fair share of the spotlight.
It’s these kinds of thoughts that enter our mind as we climb about GMC’s newest flagship, the Yukon Denali. This one’s different though- it’s packing the Ultimate trim level meaning, well, the most Ultimate Yukon Denali experience. The recipe is pretty straightforward- take the GMC Yukon Denali (not exactly a penalty box to begin with) and add every single bell and whistle in the options catalogue and BOOM! You’ve got yourself an Ultimate trimmed Yukon, the pinnacle of the model range. It’s so nice that we wondered if we would be upset driving one of these instead of a Cadillac Escalade which costs even more. Our answer? We would be just fine behind the wheel of one of these, thank you very much.
Astute readers will remember our Yukon Denali road test from just over a year ago, except that one didn’t have as much flash as this Ultimate version and it was powered by General Motor’s absolute peach of an inline-six turbodiesel. This year, the oil burner makes even more horsepower and torque and it would be the one we would choose if we were shopping these luxury SUVs.
That’s not to say the 6.2 litre gas fed V8 is a boat anchor- far from it. It’s smooth, makes some scintillating noises when caned and imbues the uber-Yukon with a very fleet 0-100 km/h time for something so large and heavy. We still stand by out judgment that GM makes the best pushrod V8 engines the world over- it’s just that the diesel’s inherent excellence and sparkling fuel economy are too hard for us to ignore. This is really the only thing we’d change on our otherwise decadently turned out tester.
Actually, decadent might not be an apt descriptor for this rig- sumptuous might be more like it. The instrument panel and infotainment screens have grown and feature GM’s best know-how for sharp graphics and snappy animation. Menus are laid out in a thoughtful manner, so much so that we didn’t need to consult the owner’s manual for a quick how-to at any point during the time the Ultimate Yukon spent in the Carpages Garage. Elsewhere, pretty much every surface is wrapped in supple leather, including the seats- which, for the record, are heated and cooled and will knead your posterior until all those stress knots you’ve been carrying melt away. The speaker grilles on the high-performance Bose sound system are intricately fashioned out of stainless steel, and the wood trim we called out the last time around for looking hopelessly cheesy is now the real deal, and as an added bonus, the topographical map of the Denali Mountain is laser etched into its surface. The Cadillac Escalade will always be the torch bearer for GM’s offerings of luxo-SUVs but darn tootin’ if our Yukon Ultimate’s interior digs wouldn’t give the Caddy a run for its money. Rounding out the goods that our Ultimate trimmed Yukon is blessed with is GM’s peerless Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which, when mated to the standard air suspension, makes for ride quality that is downright sensuous. No matter how whether ravaged and potholed the roads you drive on are, the Yukon almost seems to lay carpet over them meaning that no blunt impacts or bump shocks make their way into the cabin.
With that said, there’s not much that’s going to shock you in terms of negativity. There are the obvious complaints, namely that the lusty 6.2 V8 is insatiably thirsty. We also found that despite the stainless-steel grilles that are so beautiful to behold covering the Bose speakers, we were ultimately underwhelmed by the sound quality and clarity the stereo was able to muster. The last of our ire is reserved for the individuals responsible for the design of the transmission interface. We get it- the push/pull switches on the dash make for an airy bit of real estate on the console that would have otherwise housed a traditional gear lever. Still, we never warmed to the unintuitive design, and the “+/-“ buttons to shift manually (strangely, there are no steering wheel mounted paddles) has the be the most un-sporty bit of kit we have encountered in recent memory.
It feels a little weird issuing these complaints, given that overall the Yukon Denali Ultimate is decked out in finery that would make stalwart luxury sedan jealous. While sitting at a railway crossing waiting for a freight train to trudge by, we took a moment to drink in our surroundings, and this made us chuckle. Not because the interior’s confines are a laughing matter, but because your author recalled the 1995 Chevy Tahoe (the Yukon’s corporate twin, mechanically identical) he used to get around in. His example could best be charitable described as ‘well-loved’ (translation: fairly janky) but at the time, it was one of the most luxurious SUVs you could buy. That seems laughable now, given the acres of cheap plastic, the symphony of squeaks and rattles the interior emitted and the lethargy of the V8/4-speed automatic drivetrain. It represents a stark contrast of how the segment has evolved and how much General Motors got it together in terms of design and engineering.
So before you sign on the dotted line for that spiffy new Escalade, take a moment to consider the GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate. You won’t feel like you ‘settled’, and your rig will be considerably posher than many competitors- even more so than a 1995 Chevy Tahoe LT.
2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate – Specifications
- Price as tested: $113,738
- Body Type: 4-door, 7 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/four-wheel drive
- Engine: 6.2 litre V8, OHV, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 460 @ 4,100 rpm
- Transmission: 10-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,725 kg (6,007 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 16.2/100km (15 mpg)