On The Road 6/18: 2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD

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By Peter Perrotta

When I first looked at this week’s review vehicle, a diesel engine 2021 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD, it immediately reminded me of my selling days at the Mercedes dealership.

Back then – 2015 – it was more than obvious to most of the sales associates that one of the best overall value cars in our lineup was the diesel engine E class sedan.

Before the explosion of the crossover models, the E class sedan was Mercedes’ “bread and butter” – a good overall quality car that was fairly reasonably priced for the upper crust sedan buyer.

When you added in the diesel engine component, it made the E sedan even more of a value play.

Why is that you say?

The diesel engine has less moving parts and its mean temperature runs several degrees lower than a combustible gas engine, thus, over time, diesel engine cars break down less and are known to last almost forever.

In Europe, where the diesel engine is far more popular than in the United States, diesel engine Mercedes are known to last anywhere from 300,000 miles to 500,000 miles.

The problem is, we Americans in our infinite wisdom, never took to the concept of owning or maintaining a diesel engine car. American’s perceptions of diesel engine cars was that they ran noisy and emitted a smellier and smokier exhaust.

While that was once true, in the earlier versions of the diesel engine cars offered in the U.S., it is far from true now. These diesel engine cars produced now are smooth running and clean.

Hence, when I first started up the Denali to take it out for a test spin, you could barely hear that the engine was on and there wasn’t one trace of smelly exhaust smoke.

The newly redesigned Denali – inside and out – is offered up with three engine choices for 2021. My test vehicle was outfitted with an inline 6 cylinder 3.0 liter turbo diesel engine. It is also available with a 5.3 liter V8 gas engine and a 6.2 liter V8 gas engine.

In my opinion the big advantage the diesel Denali brings to the table is the wear and tear longevity factor and it gets better gas mileage for this large three row SUV.

By comparison the 6.2 liter V8 gas engine gets 13 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway. The 6 cylinder diesel engine gets 20 miles per gallon in city driving, 26 mpg on the highway for an impressive overall EPA rating of 22 mpg. For a vehicle of this size, that’s not too shabby.

The EPA estimates that the diesel engine Denali will cost the average consumer about $2,050 per year in fuel costs as it uses about 4.5 gallons of fuel for every 100 miles you drive it.

This newly redesigned Denali has not been crash test rated by the government yet.

So what’s new on this year’s version of the GMC Denali?

It has a bigger bolder exterior look topped off by a more pronounced and rugged looking front grille. It has a new platform and chassis with a longer wheel base and a fully independent rear suspension.

Inside are upgrades galore headlined by stitched leather seats, luxurious wood trim, an upscale Bose audio system and a GMC infotainment system featuring a 10.2 inch touchscreen, standard, navigation and available 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. The base price of the 2021 Yukon Denali GMC 4WD is $71,400. The bottom line sticker price on my tester came in at $82,245 after adding in options and destination and delivery charges.

The added options on my test vehicle included $11,205 for the Denali Ultimate Package, $495 for the Hunter Metallic exterior paint, $350 for a power sliding floor console and $1,500 for the diesel engine upgrade.

Included in the Denali Ultimate Package are: panoramic moonroof; rear seat entertainment system; 22-inch aluminum wheels; power assisted side steps; adaptive air suspension; an upgraded trailering and hitch system and more.

While I’m not usually a fan of these big, three row SUVs, I must say driving this Denali for one week was enjoyable. Simply put, it doesn’t feel like you are driving a large wheel based SUV. There is a smoothness and athleticism to its drive that makes it seem like you are driving more of a mid-sized SUV.

Of course, there is ample head room, shoulder room leg room and cargo capacity is very impressive – 122.9 cubic feet with the second and third row folded.

Moreover, its trailering capacity is a very impressive 8,200 pounds – enough to almost drag a small sized yacht along.

Car and Driver gives the newly redesigned Denali high marks for its spacious three row capacity, trio of engine choices and impressive on road performance.

Car and Driver gives the Denali low grades for being too similar to the less expensive Chevy Tahoe, having a hulking exterior shape and having inefficient fuel ratings for its gas engines.

Overall, I feel that the Denali is a best in class choice for anyone who is looking to buy or lease an upscale three row and I highly recommend the diesel engine version.

Peter Perrotta’s On The Road column appears weekly. He can be contacted for questions an comments at pperrotta@comcast.net.