A 24-km/h assessment of a prototype Denali’s go-anywhere chops
Prior to the gala launch of the 2021 GMC Yukon in Vail, Colorado—GMC is the official vehicle of Vail Resorts—the Professional Grade folks let us take their new flagship Yukon Denali for a brief spin in a carefully groomed snow-covered parking lot. Full disclosure: This drive never topped 15 mph (24-km/h). Still, it was roughly as informative as the ride-alongs we were granted at the Chevy Tahoe launch a month ago.
First of all, when we peered under the extensive interior camouflage we could see and feel sumptuous leather on the dash and door tops sporting a rather coarse alligator-like grain. The Light Shale (creamy) leather seats, featuring perforated inserts, were luxuriously trimmed in contrasting teak-colored welting and X-cross stitching. This interior might just possibly give the Lincoln Navigator a run for its money.
We started off with the two-speed transfer case set to its Auto mode and headed off to a pair of “split mu” events that alternately placed the left or right tires on grippy rubber while the opposite side was on slick, wet snow. Naturally, the truck stepped off smartly in each case, and we were left to imagine its electronic limited-slip diff reacting just that nano-bit more quickly than the Tahoe/Suburban’s new mechanical one could have.
From this event, we wheeled around to face a daunting 20-degree metal-grate incline ramp. Before attacking it, though, we pressed the button to engage 4WD Lo mode. Then we pressed a button inside the left-most rotary dial on the dash, which causes the outer ring to select ride height. (This dial otherwise selects between the four drive modes: Normal, Sport, Off-Road, and Tow/Haul.)
One twist of the dial to the right raises the suspension an inch, a second raises it another inch. This 2-inches-up mode is only accessible with 4WD Lo engaged. The suspension can be lowered manually by twisting left, but it will drop the first inch automatically when you shift out of 4WD Lo. The trucks automatically lower 0.75 inch for aerodynamics at highway speeds and can be manually lowered 2 inches from the standard ride height for easy access. There’s even an automatic-lowering mode that will either drop when you shift to park or begin lowering when the truck drops below 15 mph (24-km/h) so it’s already down when passengers want to climb out (the system stops lowering if a door opens).
Anyway, once up on our tippy-toes the truck mounted and scaled the ramp with ease. We were told to stop and hold midway up, prompting a “Hill Start Assist Active” message to appear on the instrument panel screen. This prevents the truck from rolling back. During this exercise we also engaged the forward camera view to fill in the substantial forward blind spot caused by that gigantic hood. (There are nine camera views that show potential obstacles ahead, behind, and to either side of the truck and to assist with parking maneuvers or when attaching a trailer.) At the top of the ramp we engaged the de rigueur hill-descent control, which can be set to automatically maintain any speed from 1 to 19 mph (30 km/h) using whatever combination of engine and friction braking makes sense. The set speed is selected via the cruise-control switches.
Throughout these few exercises the driver information center kept us apprised of the truck’s roll and pitch angle, the steering angle, and which axles were engaged and in which mode. For a vehicle that makes no pretense at running the Rubicon and isn’t even the off-road-optimized trim level (that’s the AT4’s purview), the Yukon Denali boasts a pretty impressive roster of tools to assist the casual trail runner on those occasional excursions off-road.
We’re itching to pit the Yukon Denali against a Lincoln Navigator. And now we’re tempted to include an off-road element in that matchup.