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2018 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD 10-Speed Automatic

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 6/25/2018 Erik Johnson

What It Is: The GMC Yukon occupies the middle rung on General Motors’ ladder of mechanically similar-and massively profitable-full-size SUVs, being bracketed by the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban below and the Cadillac Escalade above. The GMC has three rows of seats as standard, is available in regular or XL body lengths, and caters to a clientele who find the Cadillac too flashy and the Chevy too, er, Chevy.

The model range ably spans that middle ground, with starting prices that reach from $50,395 for the entry-level SLE to $67,495 for the flashy Denali. (Add $3000 for four-wheel drive and roughly another $3K for the XL versions.) With up to 8500 pounds of towing ability, all are workhorses, equally at home tugging a 22-foot boat to the shore for a weekend of fishing as they are toting a pile of friends or family to school, sporting events, or the home-improvement store.

a close up of a car: 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic© Chris Doane Automotive - Car and Driver 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic

For even deeper coverage of the Yukon, view our Buyer’s Guide in-depth review.

All models get power from a small-block V-8, with a 355-hp, 383-lb-ft 5.3-liter serving in most Yukons. Denalis like our test subject get the Escalade’s 6.2-liter unit as standard, however, with a robust 420 horses and 460 lb-ft of torque. Our 2018 Yukon Denali was a black-over-beige/brown, four-wheel-drive example that came with a $2935 package that includes a sunroof and rear-seat entertainment, $2495 22-inch wheels, $1745 power-retractable running boards, $895 adaptive cruise control, and a $410 security bundle. All in, our truck clocked in with a sticker price of $78,475, a not inconsequential amount of money that can also get you an SUV from a more pedigreed luxury brand.

Why We Tested It and How It Performed: The last Yukon we tested was a 2015 Denali 4WD, so it’s been a while (we more recently tested a 2017 Denali, but it was the long-wheelbase XL version). More important, though, is that the 2018 Denali added a 10-speed automatic transmission in place of the eight-speed that Denalis received midway through the 2015 model year. Lesser Yukons still use the six-speed unit that was in the aforementioned 2015-model test vehicle.

a car parked on the side of a road: 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic© Chris Doane Automotive - Car and Driver 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic

The transmission swap brought with it a bump in EPA-estimated highway fuel economy from 20 mpg to 22 mpg. (The city rating dropped from 15 mpg to 14, though.) We observed 13 mpg during our time with the truck versus 14 with the six-speed 2015 Denali, but we’ll call that a wash due to the fact that the staffers who drove each Yukon, the trips they took, and the distances the SUVs traveled weren’t controlled variables. Driven in rear-wheel-drive mode on our 75-mph highway test, which we implemented last year, the 2018 version scored 20 mpg.

At the test track, the zero-to-60-mph figure took a 0.3-second hit versus the 2015 model, slowing to 5.8 seconds, but that’s still impressive for a 5815-pound behemoth. At higher velocities, the 2015 and 2018 models essentially tie, so the discrepancy to 60 mph likely is explained by the extra shifts the 10-speed makes on the way to that velocity.

What We Like: The new transmission is rarely caught searching among its plethora of ratios, and its smooth shifts bring to mind warm butter. Indeed, the Yukon as a whole is pretty buttery, with a soft, long-travel brake pedal and obedient and velvety steering. The Denali’s standard magnetorheological dampers do an admirable job of sanding off the edges from harsh impacts, but those seeking a plusher experience will want to avoid the 22-inch wheels and stick with the 20-inchers, or perhaps even downgrade-gasp!-to the non-Denali and its stock 18-inch wheels and conventional dampers.

a car parked in a parking lot: 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic© Chris Doane Automotive - Car and Driver 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic

This mammoth hauler is actually a decent handler if you give it time to react to what you’re doing behind the wheel, responding faithfully to inputs from your feet and hands. Every Yukon is packed with connectivity tech, from standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality to onboard Wi-Fi and hotspot capability. We also like the new Denali-spec grille; it looks upscale and adds some visual depth to an imposing and otherwise bluff front end.

What We Don’t Like: This particular Yukon’s 70-to-zero-mph braking distance was a bit long; the 6054-pound Infiniti QX80, for example, came to a halt in 175 feet versus this Denali’s 192. (As it happens, that spread is almost exactly the same length as one GMC Yukon Denali.) It’s worth noting that we’ve seen the XL version stop some seven feet shorter.

The third row is pretty much for emergency use only; we’d stow those seats in the garage or basement until we really needed them, except you can’t remove them without breaking out tools. (They’re only removable in the sense that you’re de-installing them.) The high load floor means shorter folks might struggle to hoist heavier items into the back; the floor’s height is a result of the Yukon’s body-on-frame construction, which itself is a big reason the Yukon is such a capable hauler. You win some, you lose some.

a car parked on the side of a vehicle: 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic© Chris Doane Automotive - Car and Driver 10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic

Finally, even in this Denali spec, there are some cheap plastics dotted throughout the interior, and the new-for-2018 real wood inlays look, well, less than real. And the cabin design and graphics come across as mediocre and dowdy when compared to approaches being adopted by companies like Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz. Frankly, there are far more luxurious SUVs for the money, although incentives can tip the scales a bit if your heart is set on the GMC.

Verdict: Updated looks and a 10-speed automatic are nice marketing bullet points, but they don’t make for a meaningfully different Yukon Denali.

10 Spot: The GMC Yukon Denali Gets a 10-Speed Automatic: Our test of the GMC Yukon Denali, which received some minor updates and a 10-speed automatic for the 2018 model year. Read the review and see photos at Car and Driver.© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Our test of the GMC Yukon Denali, which received some minor updates and a 10-speed automatic for the 2018 model year. Read the review and see photos at Car and Driver.
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