Nearly 25 years ago, GMC launched its first-ever Denali model, the 1999 Yukon Denali. Alongside the 1999 Escalade, it was GM’s first attempt at rivaling the Lincoln Navigator, which had come out a year earlier. The Denali differed from the normal Yukon by offering better standard equipment and a more luxurious interior. It also boasted some exterior bits, but nothing too obvious besides the badging. They kept pretty much that same recipe for every generation of Yukon Denali that followed and it is still the case to this day. The Yukon Denali Ultimate, on the other hand, takes things up a notch.
The latest Yukon, even in its more basic version, is a handsome truck. It looks very muscular and when painted in black, it’s hard to refute its stately looks. The Denali, specifically the Ultimate in this case, builds on top of this great base to offer a full-size SUV that simply just looks cool. Whereas the basic Yukon comes standard with 18-inch machined aluminum wheels, the Denali comes standard with 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, which is already quite an upgrade. The Ultimate? It comes standard with 22s. The same size is available on the Denali but the finish and the wheel themselves are exclusive to the Ultimate.
Also exclusive to the top trim are the accents and the grille finished in what GMC calls “Vador Chrome”, which is kind of a black chrome—highly distinctive. The GMC badge loses its typical red hue and trades it for black, giving the front end a cleaner, meaner look. Overall, I think the Denali Ultimate is the best-looking Yukon currently available. Standard under the hood is a 6.2 L V8 engine developing 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, I’ve tested other vehicles with the same engine and I always appreciate it. It has good power delivery, good torque, and great responsiveness. There is also the possibility to get the 3.0 Duramax Turbo Diesel engine. Also standard is a 10-speed transmission with a very weird gear selector situation. Instead of having an actual gear shifter, there is an assembly of switches and buttons and, simply put, I’m not a fan. I’m driving this massive beast of a truck and I put it in drive using my index finger to flip a switch, I would much rather have an actual gear shifter, like in the Silverado I’ve tested.
Climbing inside the Yukon using the standard power-retractable assist steps and you discover the Ultimate’s sumptuous interior, which is one of its most distinctive features. Exclusive to this version is the Alpine Umber upholstery on all three rows of seats, the center glove box, and door panels, and it simply looks beautiful. Every single seat also features a relief map of Mount Denali, the tallest peak in North America, etched into the upper part. This is not the only place where you find relief maps of Denali either, there is also one laser-etched in the open-pore woodgrain trim on the passenger side of the dashboard, alongside the coordinates to Mount Denali.
Going back to the front seats, they also feature metal badging with the Ultimate logo and, you guessed it, relief maps of Denali alongside the coordinates. Said front seats are also exclusively adjustable in 16 ways, including massaging, which is a nice feature to have. Do you want more exclusivity? You got it. How does an 18-Speaker Bose Sound system with speakers included in the headrests sound to you? Since it is a Yukon, there is a ton of room inside, I’m somewhat and I can fit with no problems in both rear rows. Accessing the third row is extremely easy, you just need to pull on a lever twice on the side of the seat, the first pull folds the seat and the second gets it out of the way. The third row can be folded up or down automatically using buttons in the rear but also using buttons on the ceiling upfront, which is a great idea.
Going back in the rear, you also have buttons to individually fold down the second-row seats, but you will need to go to each seat to fold them back up. Despite all the passenger room, you still get a decent size cargo area with the third row up, 722 L to be exact, fold it and it goes up to 2,056 L, fold the second row and it goes all the way up to 3,480 L, which is massive. Overall, the interior of the Denali Ultimate is spacious, looks very nice and luxurious but unfortunately, there are some cheap plastics mixed in with the leather and the wood, especially around the touchpoints like the window switches and other buttons. It is disappointing for that price point, but I think GMC did a great job making it feel like a high-end vehicle.
Speaking of price point, the Yukon Denali Ultimate has an MSRP of over $120,000, which is a lot of money, dare I say too much. At this price, it’s up there with the Escalade, and I would rather have the Escalade. The interior is much nicer, the brand name is fantastic and the truck overall is just cooler. I feel like the only reason to get the Yukon over the Cadillac is to be more subtle, the Escalade is way less discreet and not everyone likes that and so if you want most of the Escalade’s bells and whistles without its head-turning look, you might want to look into the Denali Ultimate.
Tech-wise, it features a 10.2-inch infotainment screen with Google built-in, and as always, it works great. It is very intuitive, easy to use, and fast, I always like using the screen in GM vehicles. The infotainment screen also includes a camera system, which lets you see from up to 13 different angles, and they’re all very high-quality. It makes parking this massive vehicle just that much easier. They turn on automatically when the reverse gear is selected, but there is also a button on the left side of the dashboard, which I always appreciate. There is also a second screen which is the 12-inch digital gauge cluster, it is high quality, pretty configurable, and can display many important things. Even larger than the two screens is the 15-inch colour heads-up display that can show many customizable pieces of information about the vehicle. One big thing missing, though, is Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free driver-assist technology. I’ve never had the chance to test it out but I’ve only heard great things about it. Being close to $20,000 more expensive than the Denali, I would have expected the Ultimate to come standard with Super Cruise.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the 2023 Yukon Denali Ultimate. The truck has a massive road presence, great styling, a cool, quirky interior, a fantastic infotainment system, a powerful engine, and room for days. Sure it’s very expensive and Super Cruise should definitely come standard, but overall, it’s a competent truck. Personally, I would go for the Escalade, but I can see why people would rather get something a little less eye-catchy without making too many compromises on the luxury features.
Vehicle provided by GMC Canada
Photography by Olivier Lessard