I Hate How Much I Love the GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate

a black car parked in front of a building
I Hate How Much I Love the Yukon Denali UltimateChris Perkins

Today's full-size SUVs are ridiculous. Too big, too inefficient, too much truck for 99 percent of the people who buy them. If you need a big family car, get a minivan. The new hybrid Toyota Sienna will easily carry around four kids, and get 36 mpg doing so. I stand by all that. I'll also say that the GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate is so good that after a week with one, I now understand why people buy these, and I can see a world where I would do the same. Which I hate.

As the name implies, this is the top of the GMC Yukon tree. The Ultimate trim, which was introduced for 2023, pushes the Yukon Denali well into Cadillac Escalade territory with unique interior trim, standard four-wheel drive, tweaked exterior styling, and a host of other niceties. It also unlocks the ability to order Super Cruise, GM's excellent hands-free driver assist system. It costs $96,495, and this one bounced in at $97,745.

the back of a car
Chris Perkins

It's not a huge surprise this truck is so good. These are the sorts of vehicles GM does best. As major sources of profit—all the more important as it invests in an EV future—full-size SUVs really matter, and you can tell the engineers and designers behind this latest generation knew that only the best would do. GM also has such a long history with full-size SUVs, so there's a lot to build on.

Despite being enormous, the Yukon feels like a much smaller vehicle. I usually hate driving full-size trucks in and around my New York City home, but this rig was easy to wheel around. It's an imperious experience, sitting at such a high perch, enjoying the immense torque of the 6.2-liter V-8, the perfectly unhurried shifts from the 10-speed automatic, and this quiet, imminently comfortable cabin. The stress of city life melted away, aided in large part by the standard massaging seats.

It's like being allowed to cut the line. You feel bad for everyone else around you, but worryingly, not so bad that you'll take some principled stand of solidarity.

the engine of a car
Chris Perkins

Everything is so well-calibrated. The steering, pedals, engine, transmission, and MagneRide dampers all work in perfect harmony to provide a cohesive driving experience. It's remarkably comfortable for something that rides on 22-inch wheels, and the interior is also beautiful and well-trimmed with its open-pore wood.

While hands-free driving is something of a gimmick, for now, Super Cruise works very well. But do know that it will automatically change lanes without your input, something that freaked me out the first time it happened. With this feature, the Yukon Denali Ultimate might be the ultimate long-haul road-trip vehicle. Even better if you get the lovely 3.0-liter inline-six diesel, which gets 26 mpg on the highway to the 6.2's 18 and 528 miles of range on a tank compared with 384. However, I won't for a second deny the sound, effortless power, and immense torque of a big-ass small-block V-8.

Perhaps the biggest rival to the Yukon Denali Ultimate comes from within GM, the Cadillac Escalade. An Escalade Premium Luxury costs about the same and offers an even more spectacular interior paired with a similar driving experience. Yet while this truck isn’t subtle in any way, it's not quite as flashy as the Cadillac. The GMC badge doesn't necessarily scream "This is a $100,000 truck" and there's an appeal to that. Driving around the Yukon for a few days, it never caught a second glance.

Objectively then, there's nothing wrong with it. So let's deal with the subjective. My minivan comparison isn't 100 percent fair as this truck has towing capacity a Sienna couldn't dream of and far more luxury. But if you don't need to tow, say, a boat—or because this is Road & Track, a race car—you probably don't need this truck. It's wasteful.

And yet! What a way to travel. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." And he certainly understood American excess.

The Yukon Denali Ultimate is absurd, and it would be my first choice if I had to tow a race car from New York to Florida. How irritating.

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