GMC Yukon XL Denali (2004)

"If you can check your social conscience at the door, the XL Denali invites you to take up too much space, too much fuel, and enjoy every minute of it."
Good: huge, powerful, comfortable.
Bad: environmental monstrosity, turning radius, cornering.

The GMC Yukon XL is a beast of a vehicle - humungous in all respects. It can carry as many as eight people, and still have room for a heap of cargo. The Yukon is the identical twin of the Chevy Suburban, but in Denali trim, and comes with a more powerful engine and a bunch of saucy accouterments, like automatic ride control and full-time all-wheel-drive. All dressed up in Denali mode, it's almost the "sport edition" of the Cadillac Escalade, with which it shares this GM 6.0-liter, 325-hp engine.

This is a vehicle Tony Soprano would be proud to drive. But at a suggested list price of $51,160, he'd have to get Paulie Walnuts to knock a few more heads together to make the payments.

As implied by the "XL" in the name, the Denali is a long vehicle: 18 feet to be specific. To put that in perspective, if your driveway was just long enough for a Honda Accord, the Yukon XL would stick out more than two feet into the street. If your driveway were Mini Cooper size, the XL would stick out six feet into the road. If you live anywhere but rural Texas, you'll need to consider this length, as it will make itself apparent to you repeatedly on city streets, in parking spaces, and whenever you (God forbid) need to turn around. The turning radius is quite awful.

The last time we drove a Suburban, we remembered the brakes feeling just barely adequate, seeming to work hard to bring that nearly three-ton beast to a halt. The brakes on the Yukon SL Denali seem better to us. Are we imagining it? Was it all that work we've done on the leg press at the gym? Hard to say without a side-by-side comparison. But we weren't afraid of plowing into the car in front of us. That's a good thing, as Martha would say.

Cornering in this truck is something that needs to be planned in advance. It's fine around town at moderate speeds or on straight highways, but you've got to keep your speed down on any kind of twisty roads, lest you soil those nice, leather seats.

Power is bountiful. While we hated the Denali for environmental reasons, we have to admit that we enjoyed driving it. It's got that big, ol' American V-8, power-to-spare type of feeling, with an enormous six-liter V-8 and lots of torque. In that way, it's a throwback. It reminds you of the '60s and '70s, when no one ever had to think about gas prices, pollution, or having to fight foreign wars to maintain access to petroleum. If you can check your social conscience at the door, the XL Denali invites you to take up too much space, too much fuel, and enjoy every minute of it - until you have to park or make a three-point turn, anyway.

The most significant thing you'll notice about the interior is the same thing you notice about the exterior. It's huge. There's plenty of room - legroom, hip room, shoulder room. There's room to get away from your spouse, even if he or she is sitting in the passenger seat. The Denali edition, in particular, is loaded up with all the goodies: nice comfortable seats with seat heaters, rear climate control, a screen for everything, radio, navigation, and lots more. It's dressed like a luxury car.

This vehicle is so big that even with the third row of seats, there's still a good amount of room for cargo behind that. The Explorer and a bunch of other vehicles have a third row now, but that third row usually sits right up against the back of the car, without room for both cargo and passengers. This vehicle has room for both.

A lot controls are conveniently located on the steering wheel. It's got separate heating and ventilation controls that don't require the screen, which is an extremely nice gesture. There's a little computer that allows you to track mileage for personal trips separate from business trips. That's before you lump it all together anyway and try to deduct the whole thing from your taxes.

The styling of the Suburban/Yukon XL hasn't changed much over the years. It's a long rectangle with a snout. What's to like? What's not to like?

We expect servicing for the Yukon to be about average. The good news is that all of the work can be accomplished by any reputable, independent shop.

One other nice aspect to buying a vehicle from GMC is that you won't have a problem getting parts.

We'd expect the Yukon to be about average in terms of reliability, or perhaps a bit below average, over the life of the vehicle. Put it this way: Don't expect to be driving this car 100,000 miles, without sinking some money into at least one or two major repairs.

Not that many people want a vehicle this big. The burdens of driving and owning it limit its audience. It's not a car for city dwellers (unless you make a living chauffeuring people to the airport). And, if seven passengers are all you need to carry, there are plenty of better choices, including most minivans. If you need room for eight, your choices are more limited, but something like a Honda Pilot SUV will do that and not burden you with enormous size and weight.

But there are people who live in wide-open areas, who regularly carry eight people, or a combination of people and cargo, and for them, nothing else will do.

But who will step up to a loaded version of the Suburban like the Yukon XL Denali? Well, it's either someone who wants the space of the Suburban with a lot more pampering. Or someone who wants the pampering of a Cadillac Escalade, but doesn't have any chart-topping rap hits yet.

Although "lumbering" is the word that comes to mind when we think of this vehicle; at the same time, it is fabulous in its own enormous, slothful way. It is huge, comfortable and heavy. You feel totally invulnerable in it, and you probably are.

If you really have a need for such a vehicle - that is, if you regularly chauffeur around a soccer team or the entire New England Patriots offensive line - then the Yukon Denali is a nice way to travel. For the rest of us, the appeal of this vehicle is really limited to a nice way to take a trip across the long as you didn't care about the price that you were paying for gas, the ozone layer, global warming, your kid's asthma, or where you were going to park when you GET to the other side of the country.

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