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2019 GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali Review, Prices, and Changes

2019 GMC Yukon Denali

2019 GMC Yukon Denali

2019 GMC Yukon Buying Advice

This is the best SUV for you if you believe the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban are too pedestrian and the Cadillac Escalade is too pretentious.

Yukon is the largest of GMC’s sport-utility vehicles, easily outsizing the compact-class Terrain and the midsize Acadia. The latter two are crossovers that use car-type unibody construction. Yukon by contrast employs truck-type body-on-frame engineering. Yukon’s truck roots mean better towing capacity, greater off-road capability, and theoretically, more efficient packaging for passenger and cargo room than a crossover. In this specific case, though, that passenger and cargo advantage doesn’t necessarily pan out. Read on to learn why not.

Like most GMC SUVs, crossovers, and pickup trucks, the 2019 Yukon shares much of its basic engineering with other General Motors vehicles. It comes in standard-length form and as the extended-length XL.That’s also true of the aforementioned Chevy and Cadillac SUVs. The Yukons outsell the Escalade, though demand can’t match that of the Tahoe and Suburban, the best-selling full-size SUVs in America. Yukon has, however, tapped into a highly profitable vein by drawing precisely the folks who find the Chevys too plain and the Escalade too ostentatious. Some 75 percent of Yukon buyers choose the top-shelf Denali trim, which dresses up this SUV in decidedly classy but just-understated-enough attire and fits it with a high-output V-8. GMC offers a Denali grade in all its vehicles, but in no other does it capture the share of buyers it does in the Yukon line.

Should you buy a 2019 model or wait for the 2020?

Wait. GM will release fully redesigned versions of all its large SUVs for the 2020 model year. They’ll have fresh styling, ride a new chassis, and weigh significantly less than current versions. A V-8 will likely continue as the core engine, but a turbocharged four-cylinder may join the lineup. Most significant: passenger comfort and cargo room should increase because GM will dump the current models’ ancient solid-rear-axle suspension design for a more modern and refined independent setup, as used in every rival.

The next-generation 2020 models will have more luxury features, too, particularly the Yukon Denali and Escalade. Don’t be surprised if GM’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving technology make its way to these vehicles. All in all, improvements to the redesigned ‘20 Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC full-size SUVs should enable them to retain sales dominance in their respective market segments.

Consider a 2019 GMC Yukon or Yukon XL only if you can get a significant discount. Dealers should be motivated to cut prices to clear inventories for the redesigned replacements.

If you do shop a 2019 Yukon or XL you’ll have your choice of base SLE, SLT Standard Edition, SLT, and Denali trim levels of both. Note that the SLT Standard Edition may not return for model-year 2020. GMC added that grade for model-year 2018 to bridge the $8,000 price gap between the base SLE and full-fledged SLT.

All ’19 Yukons come with a V-8 engine and the choice of rear-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive (4WD) that includes a low-range gear set for off-road use. The system can be left engaged on dry pavement and comes with an “Auto” mode that dynamically apportions power based on available traction. It operates similarly to an all-wheel drive (AWD) system commonly found on crossover-type SUVs, but offers the advantage of the low-range gearing.

Two new SLT packages are available for 2019. The Graphite Edition includes blackout exterior trim and 22-inch wheels. The Graphite Performance Edition delivers features previously exclusive to the Denali, including a larger V-8, a 10-speed transmission, magnetic ride control suspension, active noise cancellation, and a head-up instrument display.

Changes


Styling: Yukon and Yukon XL are essentially re-badged versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, respectively. This is especially true in the SLE and SLT grades, which largely mimic the LT and Premier versions of their Chevy counterparts in terms of pricing and features. The GMCs do look a bit more upscale, however, thanks mostly to a grille with a simpler design. Inside, GMC logos on the steering wheel and infotainment-system boot screen are about the only ways to tell a mainstream Yukon from its Tahoe/Suburban counterpart.

Indeed, that SLE and SLT Yukons are largely indistinguishable from LT and Premier Tahoes is part of the reason Denali is the choice of nearly three of four Yukon buyers. Visually, Denali grades are distinguished by additional chrome body trim, a tonier grille, and fancier wheels. GMC continues the cannily effective spruce-up inside, with a unique instrument cluster that’s more configurable than on the other grades. Denali’s standard leather upholstery feels superior, and unvarnished wood veneers made from authentic ash are very elegant.

The Denali cabin is let down by the silver accents around the central dashboard control stack, air vents, and door handles. They’re painted plastic rather than aluminum. That’s acceptable in a $50,000 Tahoe but not in a grade that can easily break $80,000. That’s Lincoln Navigator territory, where interior design and materials quality elevate that upscale Ford Expedition to true premium-full-size SUV status.

In any Yukon grade, the front bucket seats are very comfortable and allow for commanding forward visibility. Surprisingly small exterior mirrors and tall second- and third-row seats compromise views to the sides and aft. A 360-degree camera system would help, but the ’19 Yukon doesn’t offer one. The infotainment system uses GMC’s solid IntelliLink interface with standard support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. The system in our Denali review sample was occasionally slow to respond to user input, but this is something that could probably be easily fixed with a software update.

Room is adequate in the second row of any Yukon. The seats recline but do not slide, which could be problematic for taller occupants. Where Yukon and its GM siblings suffer is in the third row. Because these vehicles do not have an independent rear suspension, engineers had to place the aft-most seats atop a bulky solid rear axle. This results in raised rear floor and an awkward seating position for all but small children. Third-row legroom in regular-length Yukons is no better than in the back seat of a subcompact car.

A 14-inch-longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) gives XL versions a bit more third-row legroom, but not enough to really sit comfortably and far short of the sofa-like accommodations in such rivals as the Expedition, Navigator, and Toyota Sequoia. The Yukon XL’s body is a full 20.5 inches longer than a regular-length Yukon, and most of that advantage goes to carrying capacity.

Cargo volume in regular-length models is just OK. There’s only 15.3 cubic feet of space behind the third row. That opens to 51.7 behind the second row and 94.7 with both rear rows folded. Serious gear haulers spring for the XL, which has 39.3 cubic feet behind the third row, 76.7 behind the second, and 121.1 with both folded. Be aware, though, that a Yukon XL is nearly 19 feet long, bumper to bumper, so measure your garage before you buy to see if it’ll fit.

Mechanical: The ’19 Yukon continues with two V-8-engine on offer. SLE and SLT models get GM’s excellent 5.3-liter V-8, here with 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. It’s far from the most powerful engine in this competitive set, but no rival beats this overhead-valve classic for smoothness. Acceleration is effortless from a stop, but the standard six-speed automatic transmission seems to rob this V-8 of its full potential. Indeed, this engine is paired to fine effect with an eight-speed automatic transmission in the mechanically similar GMC Sierra 1500 full-size pickup truck.

There’s more robust Yukon performance on tap in the Denali grades and in SLTs with the Graphite Performance Edition get a 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. This is the engine used in the Escalade and as in the Cadillac, GMC teams it with an impressive new 10-speed automatic transmission. Co-developed with Ford, this gearbox allows the big V-8 to really flex its muscle. It’s louder but noticeably stronger than the 5.3-liter and can push a Yukon Denali XL 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, quite impressive for a truck that weighs nearly three tons.

Less inspiring is the Denali’s ride quality. The solid rear axle and optional 22-inch wheels result in crashing and body jiggle (especially on potholed streets) that the standard magnetic ride control suspension can’t fully overcome. Best to stick with the 20-inch wheels that are standard on the Denali (other Yukons come with 18s). In any model, however, the steering is numb and slow to respond to driver input. Body lean in fast turns will encourage you to cool it around corners. These dynamics should be no surprise, given that this is a tall, heavy truck. But newer rivals, notably the Expedition and Navigator, feel nimbler.


Features: Yukon SLE and SLT can at least partially justify asking prices that are higher than those of their Tahoe counterparts thanks to more standard equipment. The SLE is decently equipped for an entry-level grade. Standout standard features include front- and rear-obstacle detection, three-zone automatic climate control, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment, upgraded Bose-brand audio system, built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, 10-way power driver’s seat, and 4-way power front-passenger seat.

Stepping up to the SLT Standard Edition nets upgraded exterior trim, leather upholstery, heated front seats, power-adjustable pedals, and power-folding third-row seats.

Springing for the SLT adds a lot more goodies. Standard on this grade are keyless access, pushbutton ignition, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats with driver memory positioning, power-adjustable pedals, heated power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, heated second-row seats, power release “fold-and-tumble” second-row seats, power-folding exterior mirrors, and a hands-free power rear liftgate. Also included on the SLT are several driver-assistance features, including blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, low-speed autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, and automatic high-beam headlights.

In addition to its more-powerful engine and unique trim, the range-topping Denali adds magnetic ride control, perforated leather upholstery, imbedded GPS navigation, upgraded Bose audio, active noise cancellation, head-up instrument display, and LED headlights.

Prices

Yukon prices straddle the line between mainstream-class and premium-segment full-size SUVs. Base prices here include GMC’s $1,295 destination fee and are for models with rear-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive adds $3,000 across the board.

Among standard-length models, the SLE is priced from $50,795, the SLT Standard Edition from $55,995, the SLT from $58,795, and the Denali from $67,895.

For the Yukon XL, the SLE starts at $53,495, the SLT Standard Edition at $58,695, the SLT at $61,495, and the Denali at $70,595.

Most Yukon options come in packages, and their pricing is the same between standard- and extended-length body styles. SLE grades offer a $2,430 Value Package that includes power-adjustable pedals, programmable power rear liftgate (no hands-free operation), wireless garage-door transmitter, and 20-inch wheels. The $730 Convenience Package includes everything in the Value Package sans the 20-inch wheels. A $545 Enhanced Driver Alert Package includes the driver-assistance features that are standard on the full SLT.

The SLT Standard Edition offers a $3,540 Value Package with 20-inch wheels, power sunroof, and second-row bucket seats that replace a three-across bench. The $3,430 Open Road Package, which cannot be ordered in concert with the Value Package, includes 9 additional months of satellite radio and real-time traffic alerts, sunroof, and a rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment system. Imbedded GPS navigation is a $495 standalone option.

The Standard Edition’s Open Road Package and imbedded navigation are available on the SLT for the same price. Exclusive to this grade is the $3,920 Premium Edition Package, which includes 22-inch chrome wheels and other unique exterior trim. The above-mentioned Graphite Edition is $2,995, with the Performance Edition adding another $3,000 on top of that.

Surprisingly, the Denali is not fully loaded. Its Open Road Package is $3,035. The Denali Ultimate Package includes Open Road plus power-retractable running boards, radar cruise control that can maintain a set following distance from traffic ahead, and extra exterior brightwork. Ordering the Ultimate Package allows for the addition of the $1,000 Ultimate Black Edition, which is similar in concept to the SLT Graphite Edition.

Among standalone options, paint colors that are not Onyx Black or Summit White cost $395-$495. A Trailering Package is $580 while some specific wheel designs will run an additional $2,995.

Unfortunately, a fully equipped Denali is the only way to get adaptive cruise control. It is a tradeoff we’re willing to make as we believe the SLT is the best value in the Yukon lineup. We’d take it without any options but admit that Graphite Edition looks rather slick.

Fuel Economy

EPA ratings for 2019 Yukons with the 5.3-liter engine are decent. Rear-drive versions of both body lengths rate 15/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined. Adding 4WD drops ratings to 15/21/17 mpg for the standard-length model and to 14/21/16 for the XL.

Move to the 6.2-liter V-8, and the ratings are 14/22/17 mpg with rear drive and 14/20/16 with 4WD for both body lengths. Our 4WD Denali XL test vehicle returned 16.2 mpg in mostly suburban commuting.

All Yukon models employ cylinder deactivation that allows the engine to run on four cylinders at cruising speeds to conserve fuel. The 5.3-liter V-8 uses regular-grade 87-octane gasoline, with some versions capable of running on E85 ethanol-blended fuel. GM recommends, but does not require, premium-grade 91-octane gas for the 6.2-liter engine.

What’s Next?

A complete redesign is on tap for model-year 2020, as we reported above. We hope GM will address these big SUVs’ biggest shortcomings, especially regarding passenger and cargo volume. Some rumors suggest that our desired independent rear suspension will be an option, but it seems unlikely to us that GM would engineer two different versions. We’ll have to wait and see.

Top Competitors

Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Nissan Armada, Infiniti QX80, Toyota Sequoia

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]