If GMC’s Yukon Denali isn’t luxurious and feature-laden enough for you, there’s now one higher.
The first-ever 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate comes with a long list of extra features, including some that can’t even be optioned on the regular Denali. While the Yukon lineup overall starts at $68,198, the Denali Ultimate begins at $114,393, both including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $2,095. It’s also available in the longer Yukon XL for another $3,000. My tester had another $1,340 added in dealer-installed accessory illuminated door and liftgate sill plates, bringing it to $115,733 before taxes.
The boxy Yukon is handsome overall, and has a functional look to it. The regular Denali has a considerable amount of flashy chrome trim, while the Denali Ultimate has darker chrome that’s understated and richer-looking. The regular Denali’s 20-inch wheels are swapped out for 22-inch chrome-and-painted rims on the Ultimate. My tester’s Onyx Black paint was included in the price – as is Sterling Metallic silver – but most colours are extra-charge from $495 to $1,195.
Inside, the Denali Ultimate is distinguished by “Alpine Umber” full-grain leather upholstery with unique stitching in all three rows. The front seats are embossed with a topographical map of Denali, located in Alaska and the tallest mountain in North America, which is also engraved into the open-pore wood trim.
The Yukon hasn’t been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which affects this rating; while at the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it earns four out of five possible stars overall. It gets five stars for side crash protection, but only four for front crash, and three for rollover.
For driver-assist features, all Yukon trims include emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high-beam headlights, and all but the base trim have blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. On the Ultimate, the blind-spot coverage also includes the length of a trailer; and you also get emergency rear braking, a self-parking feature, and adaptive cruise control.
As you’d expect for the price, the Yukon Denali Ultimate comes with a full load of features. In addition to items from the well-equipped Denali, like magnetorheological dampers, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated second-row seats, the Ultimate adds a standard adjustable air suspension, an electronic limited-slip differential, camera-based rearview mirror with camera washer, and the maximum towing package for a capacity of 3,629 kg (8,000 lb).
Along with full-grain leather upholstery in all three rows, the Ultimate has 16-way massaging front seats, a dual-screen rear entertainment system, and an 18-speaker stereo system with speakers in the front-seat head restraints. While not added to my tester, both Denali trims can be optioned with Super Cruise, a hands-free highway driving assist that can be used while trailering. The only other available options for the Ultimate are a trailer camera and some lighting appearance accents.
User Friendliness: 8/10
Most of the Yukon’s controls are simple and easy to use. There are buttons and dials for almost all of the frequently-used functions, such as climate control, seat heating, and the air suspension height, which is much less distracting than finding and tapping icons on the centre screen. Even the head-up display is easily adjusted using a toggle switch. When you do have to delve into the infotainment system, it’s intuitive and uses large icons, and contains Google Built-In and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections.
However, I’m not sold on the gear selector, which is an awkward vertical stack of buttons on the dash; even the manual shift function requires reaching over to tap the little buttons. At the very least, there should be steering wheel-mounted paddles. Finally, the wiper stalk can be tricky to use, as it’s easy to mix up the rear wiper control with the sensitivity ring for the rain-sensing front wipers.
While I’m not keen on the button-based gear selector, it frees up space in the centre console, which features a deep storage bin, along with a generous console box. Otherwise, the Yukon offers 722 L of cargo space with the third row up, and as much as 3,480 L when the second- and third rows are folded.
The third row folds and lifts electrically, while the second-row seats are power-folding but must be manually lifted back up. Among its rivals, which include the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, and Nissan Armada, only the Jeep Wagoneer has more space behind the third row. But if it isn’t enough, the longer Yukon XL is similarly-sized to the Yukon from the second row forward, but has more third-row legroom and 1,175 L of cargo space behind those final seats.
The Yukon is as roomy as you’d expect for its size, including in the third row, which in addition to 886 mm (34.9 in) of legroom has a low floor that gives a more natural seating position, rather than sitting with your chin on your knees. It can be a bit of a squeeze to get in behind the second row, but it helps that the rear doors open very wide, and you can always slip into the second row and then step back between the captain’s chairs if no one’s in them yet.
The front seats are long-distance supportive and include heating and ventilation, along with 16-way power adjustment and massage. The second-row chairs are also sculpted for a comfortable ride and are heated, and passengers there can set their own single-zone temperature, including choosing the vent mode or setting it to automatic. The rear climate can also be set using the driver’s controls.
The Yukon is available with a 355-horsepower 5.3L V8 in its lower levels, but the Denali and Ultimate come with a 6.2L V8 that makes 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. I had that engine, but both Denali trims also offer a 3.0L inline six-cylinder diesel as a no-charge option, making 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. All engines mate to a 10-speed automatic transmission, and the Denali models come standard with four-wheel drive. This is a big vehicle to move around, and the 6.2L’s acceleration is best described as strong rather than quick. It’s smooth and linear, and the transmission shifts equally smoothly.
Driving Feel: 8/10
You never forget that you’re driving something this large, but the Yukon has well-weighted and responsive steering, and a surprisingly tight turning circle. The Ultimate’s standard adaptive air suspension can be lowered for easy entry or raised for tougher trails, and while it provides a supple and comfortable ride, it can sometimes feel a bit wallowy on uneven pavement.
The four-wheel drive system includes high- and low-range gearing, along with an automatic setting that can be used on pavement. It’s very handy for wet roads or in winter conditions when there can be alternating patches of snow and dry asphalt.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The 6.2L V8 is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 16.6 L/100 km in the city, 13.1 on the highway, and 15.0 in combined driving. In my time with it, I averaged 17.2 L/100 km. Premium fuel is recommended but not required.
That puts it at the higher end among its competitors, but it’s also the largest-displacement engine among them. The Nissan Armada’s 5.6L V8 is the thirstiest at 15.4 L/100 km, while the Ford Expedition’s turbocharged 3.5L V6 rates at 12.9 L/100 km. The Toyota Sequoia is redesigned for 2023 and has a hybrid powertrain with a powerful twin-turbo 3.5L V6 that rates at 11.7 L/100 km. Should you opt for the Yukon Denali’s 3.0L turbodiesel, it rates 10.5 L/100 in combined driving.
It’s hard to assess value with an SUV that starts at $114,393, but the Denali already makes up a sizable chunk of GMC sales and there’s no question there will be a market for this Ultimate version. The regular Denali starts at $91,198, and while you can add some of the Ultimate’s features to it for an additional $11,620, including the tow package, larger wheels, and enhanced driver-assist features, others such as the leather and premium seats are not available.
Among the Denali’s competitors, the Ford Expedition’s top trim is $102,205, while the Jeep Grand Wagoneer starts around $107,000 to $127,000. Shoppers can also look at the Cadillac Escalade, a cousin to the Yukon, which is $97,598 to $127,598.
Buyers who just want the interior space and capability will likely start their shopping with the less-expensive Chevrolet Tahoe, sibling to the Yukon, or the longer Suburban, which relates to the Yukon XL. But the Chevy’s top High Country trim isn’t enough for some, and that’s where the 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate slots in. If you want luxury, give this a look.
|Peak Horsepower||420 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||16.6 / 13.1 / 15.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||722 / 2,056 / 3,480 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate|
|Price as Tested||$115,833|
$1,340 – Illuminated door sill plates, $745; Illuminated tailgate sill plate, $595