Why in the world would someone spend six figures on a GMC Yukon instead of a Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, or something with a German luxury badge?
It took about 24 hours of rolling around town in a $101,040 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate when it hit me: This answer is because no one will realize this hulking three-row SUV costs six figures.
For some buyers that’s the point.
With 16-way massaging front seats, rich leather, and suspension tuning found in a Cadillac, the team at GMC appeals to a different crowd with the Denali Ultimate series.
GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate tones down the bling
The Denali badge denotes this Yukon is “the nice one.” The Denali Ultimate badge takes things a step further, but it’s all about small details adding up.
Picking out a Denali Ultimate from a parking lot will take a keen eye. The flash is toned down on the exterior thanks to darkened chrome bits and satin trim. The 22-inch wheels feature a two-tone finish, but they might be too subdued for the bling crowd. In a somewhat odd twist, the fender badges don’t feature the outline of Mount Denali as they do on the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate.
GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate delivers hidden luxury
The cabin is where the Denali Ultimate steps up its game over standard Denali models.
The full-grain leather seats are covered in some of the nicest leather found in a mass-produced GM product today. The center console, dashboard, and doors all feature warm open-pore Paldao wood trim. Cross-stitching on the seats and door panels really shows the effort GMC put into the Denali Ultimate’s cabin. It goes further. A topographical map of Mount Denali is embossed on the seat backs, and those seats have 16-way power adjustments, heating, cooling, and a massaging function. They put the Denali Ultimate in Escalade territory and far from the Chevy Tahoe.
The metal grilles on the 18-speaker Bose audio system, which includes speakers in the front headrests, are a classy touch. But the system itself is a step down in sound quality from the AKG systems in the Cadillac Escalade. The lows hit, but the overall sound is muddier than the AKG system. It’s better than other Bose systems in GM products, but it’s not AKG good.
The Yukon Denali Ultimate’s headliner isn’t quite as special, but that might be for the better. It’s a cloth material with a finish similar to the huge shade that covers the panoramic glass roof. The GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate features a synthetic suede headliner that doesn’t match the sunshade, creating a weird contrast in the roof material. I’d rather have a roof that matches, like in the Yukon Denali Ultimate.
GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate drives like a Cadillac Escalade
A 3.0-liter turbodiesel-6 with 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque comes standard in the Yukon Denali Ultimate, but my tester featured the optional 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft for a $1,055 premium. Like other applications of this powertrain, the V-8 is buttery smooth and the 10-speed automatic transmission blends into the background with no 1-2 or 2-3 shift hiccups. But over the course of a 615-mile Minnesota winter road trip the V-8 guzzled fuel to the tune of 17.1 mpg. The less-expensive turbodiesel is rated at 26 mpg on the highway with four-wheel drive.
The standard air suspension and adaptive dampers are the stuff of luxury SUVs. When broken pavement attempts to disrupt the ride the Yukon fights back admirably. The tuning is the same as what’s found in the Cadillac Escalade, which explains a lot of why bumps and potholes are relegated to the background. The Yukon Denali Ultimate is a body-on-frame vehicle, and that’s hard to hide when it comes to cumbersome handling. However, the big SUV doesn’t feel as heavy as the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, because it isn’t, and it’s more planted with less body roll in a corner than the Lincoln Navigator.
The Yukon Denali Ultimate I tested was equipped with GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driver-assist system. This $2,200 option was recently updated with the latest software that increased the map data to from 200,000 to 400,000 miles of roads in the U.S. and Canada and enabled the system to be used on some non-divided highways. In my thorough winter testing, Super Cruise is still the best hands-free driver-assist system money can buy, with Ford BlueCruise and Lincoln ActiveGlide coming in second. GM’s system is the most aware of its surroundings, location, and own abilities given the current conditions. When it couldn’t properly read the lane markings due to snow, it warned me and shut down. It also had no issue staying centered in its lane on a two-lane undivided highway with sweeping curves.
Is the GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate worth the money?
The Yukon Denali Ultimate can easily reach six figures, but is it worth the money? Well, it depends.
This GMC isn’t a value when pitted against the Escalade or Navigator. The 2023 Yukon Denali Ultimate costs $97,300 (including an $1,895 destination charge), and for that price Super Cruise should come standard. If I’m going to buy the ultimate Yukon, I want the ultimate in equipment.
At about $9,000 more than a comparably equipped Yukon Denali, the Denali Ultimate bundles most of GM’s best features into an under-the-radar luxury family hauler. It lacks the interior pizzazz of the Escalade and certainly won’t make the same statement rolling up to the hotel or country club, but maybe you don’t want to make that statement. If that’s the case, then the 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate is a comfortable and capable stealth-wealth solution.
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