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2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate Review

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The 2023 GMC Yukon is a full-size 3-row SUV—one of the largest available in America. Redesigned for the 2021 model year, this truck-based sport utility can seat up to eight passengers, carry sizable cargo, and easily tow a boat or travel trailer weighing 8,000 pounds. For those buyers looking for even more interior room, GMC offers the extended-length Yukon XL with improved rear-seat legroom and increased cargo space.

GMC offers the 2023 Yukon in various trim levels. At the top of the lineup is the luxurious and well-equipped Yukon Denali Ultimate. It doesn’t sacrifice capability but adds an impressive feature list, standout styling, and an elegant, high-end interior. Here’s a look at what sets the Denali Ultimate apart from other Yukon variants:

  • Panoramic power sunroof
  • 22-inch 7-spoke ultra-bright machined wheels
  • Retractable running boards w/LED perimeter lighting
  • Full-grain leather trim
  • 16-way power front seats
  • Bose Performance 18-Speaker audio system
  • Rear-seat entertainment system
  • Adaptive air suspension
  • Electronic limited-slip differential
  • Max Trailering package

GMC offers the 2023 Yukon in five trim levels: SLE, SLT, AT4, Denali, and Denali Ultimate. The SLE, SLT, and Denali come standard with rear-wheel drive with the option of 4-wheel drive (4WD), while the AT4 and Denali Ultimate are available exclusively with 4WD. Three different engines are available: a 5.3-liter V8, 6.2-liter V8, and a 3.0-liter turbo diesel. The Denali Ultimate comes standard with the 6.2-liter V8, but buyers may also choose the available diesel engine.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2022 GMC Yukon AT4 and the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali. This review focuses on the new 2023 Yukon Denali Ultimate and how it potentially impacts the Yukon’s overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the GMC Yukon

The GMC Yukon competes in the Large SUV market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2022 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 62 percent of new GMC Yukon buyers are male (vs. 57 percent for the segment), and the median age of a new Yukon buyer is 49 years (vs. 49).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the Yukon in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you’ll find their preferences, from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Powertrain
  • Interior design
  • Feeling of safety
  • Driving comfort
  • Setting up and starting
  • Getting in and out
  • Infotainment
  • Fuel economy

In the 2022 APEAL Study, the Yukon ranks third out of five Large SUV models.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the GMC Yukon

In the following sections, our independent expert analyzes a Yukon Denali Ultimate equipped with the following options:

  • Super Cruise
  • Titanium Rush Metallic exterior paint

The test vehicle’s price was $97,745, including the $1,795 destination charge.

Luxurious Interior with Upscale Materials and Design

While styling features help the Denali Ultimate stand out from the rest of the Yukon lineup, it’s inside where this upscale SUV shines. Elegant Alpine Umber full-grain leather covers the seats, and that’s for all three rows. For an added touch, GMC laser-etched the front seatbacks with a topographical map of Mount Denali with an Ultimate metal badge at the top.

Contrasting nicely with the leather is genuine, open-pore Paldao (Pacific Walnut) wood that trims the dashboard and doors, with another Mount Denali map etched in the wood in front of the passenger. Most won’t recognize that there’s a map inlay, but the wood trim with the high-end leather gives the cabin the appearance of a proper luxury car.

With 16-way power adjustment, you can easily position the driver’s seat for optimum visibility and control access. Front seats also get heating, ventilation, and multiple massage functions. After spending a long day behind the wheel, I found the seats quite comfortable with excellent support, and the massagers do a great job of relieving fatigue. Second-row passengers enjoy comfortable, leather-trimmed bucket seats with plenty of head- and legroom.

Like other trims in the Yukon lineup, the Denali Ultimate features GMC’s intuitive premium infotainment system on a 10.2-inch touchscreen display. Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard. I seamlessly connected my Samsung Galaxy S21 via Bluetooth, with Android Auto starting up automatically every time I started the Yukon.

The Denali Ultimate also gets the Bose Performance 18-speaker audio system with stainless-steel speaker grilles and speakers integrated into the front headrests.

For added peace of mind, the Denali Ultimate comes with the Advanced Security package, which includes a glass-breakage sensor, interior movement sensor, as well as door lock and latch shields.

The standard rear-seat entertainment system in the Denali Ultimate further improves the experience. In the Denali Ultimate, GMC mounts dual 12.6-inch color touch HD screens on the front seatbacks. You can use them with the GMC-supplied wireless headphones or via compatible Bluetooth headphones. With a Wi-Fi connection, the system can play shows or movies from multiple streaming services. You can also use it with a gaming device, plugging in via an available HDMI port.

Bold, Standout SUV Styling

The 2023 GMC Yukon already has a bold look with a classic SUV shape and a large, squared-off grille up front. As the most luxurious version of the Yukon, the Denali Ultimate builds on that SUV style with colors and trims unique to this top-line version.

Vader Chrome trims the large grille on the Ultimate, which has a darker finish for a more premium look. The GMC badge in the center gets a darker chrome treatment to help it stand out. Signature LED headlights and running lights flank the grille, accented by vertical fog lights below.

Vader Chrome accents adorn the fender and lower section of the doors, while the unique front fascia gets Vader and Galvano (brighter) accents. The Vader Chrome accents continue at the rear with a chrome bar across the tailgate. The exclusive 22-inch 7-spoke ultra-bright machined wheels with bright chrome and dark paint accents add to the bold style.

Innovative, Convenient Trailer Towing Features

GMC sets up the Yukon Denali Ultimate for towing with the ProGrade Trailering System package as standard equipment, making towing easy with the Yukon. I pulled my Lance travel trailer, which weighs in at 3,700 pounds, fully loaded—well below the Yukon’s maximum 8,000-pound towing limit. With the hitch view camera and hitch guidance included in the trailering package, I could perfectly line up the trailer hitch and tow ball on the first try.

Once connected, the smart trailer integration screen came up, allowing me to name the trailer so the system could track maintenance, mileage, and fuel economy when towing. Checking the lights also becomes a one-person job. With the touch of a button, the system cycles through turn signals and brakes so the driver can check them from behind the trailer.

While technically not a towing feature, the rear window that opens separately from the tailgate is quite useful when towing. There isn’t space to open the large tailgate with a trailer connected. However, opening the rear window allows access to the cargo area without unhooking the trailer.

Towing with the Yukon and its powerful V8 engine is a breeze. While my trailer was lighter than the big SUV could handle, I was still impressed with the responsiveness and power and how easily I could accelerate up steep grades. As part of the towing package, the blind-sport warning system extends its view to alert the driver if a vehicle is alongside the trailer.

Perhaps the only downside to towing with the Denali Ultimate was the hit on fuel economy. While towing, the trip computer showed an average of 11.3 mpg. For comparison, I hauled the same trailer with a Chevrolet Tahoe (the twin to the GMC Yukon) with a diesel powertrain and averaged better than 16 mpg. Diesel is an excellent option if you plan to do a lot of towing.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

The Yukon Denali Ultimate has the expected long list of advanced driver assistance systems, including forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic warning, and rear pedestrian alert. But as the top-level trim in the Yukon lineup, the Ultimate also gets reverse automatic braking and adaptive cruise control as standard equipment.

Also standard on the Denali Ultimate is Enhanced Automatic Parking Assist. This active parking assistance system searches for a parallel or perpendicular parking space and steers the vehicle into the spot while the driver sits back and enjoys the ride. Watching the steering wheel turn itself is strange the first time, but the system works quite well. Having the vehicle do the parking takes longer, which can be stressful if cars are behind, waiting for you to get parked or move out of the way.

My test vehicle also featured Super Cruise—GM’s advanced hands-free driving system that is available on about 200,000 miles of divided highways. (Note: Super Cruise also requires a subscription to GMC Connected Services). Engaging Super Cruise is much like setting the cruise control. However, once set, the light on the top of the steering wheel turns green, indicating that the system is operating correctly and it is safe to let go of the steering wheel.

With Super Cruise engaged, the Yukon maintains a safe distance from the car ahead and keeps the vehicle in its lane, even around curves. A camera in the dashboard monitors the driver, as the system still requires the driver’s attention for it to work.

While Super Cruise works well, the Yukon still bounces a bit between lanes. This movement is barely noticeable in most situations. However, I tested the system while towing a trailer, and the result was not as favorable. Those minor corrections to stay in the lane became amplified with the trailer to the point where I was uncomfortable and thus completely took over the driving duties.

Independent Expert Opinion

The updates to the design, ride, and interior space that the Yukon received when redesigned in 2021 have made it one of the best full-size SUVs on the road. It may have the capability of a truck, but the Yukon is easy to drive with a smooth, comfortable ride. This experience is brought to a new level when driving the Denali Ultimate.

Everything about the Yukon Denali Ultimate centers around improving the passenger experience. The standard retractable running boards make entry and exit easy. Plus, the LED lighting on the running boards at night looks pretty cool.

Once inside, the elegant leather and wood trim with the large integrated display screen and digital driver display delivers a high “wow” factor. Turning on the seat massagers while the rear-seat passengers watch a movie and Super Cruise handles the driving duties brings the luxury to a new level. As a full-size SUV, the 2023 GMC Yukon can transport multiple passengers, haul plenty of cargo, tow a good-sized trailer, and take the occasional off-road adventure. While every Yukon comes well equipped, for buyers that want this stylish SUV’s impressive capabilities, a luxurious cabin, and a bevy of high-tech safety and entertainment features, the Denali Ultimate is the, well, ultimate way to go.

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