2019 GMC Yukon XL Denali review update: Gracefully aging

Dig deep into the 2019 GMC Yukon XL Denali and you’ll find parts designed to fit trucks from decades past—some from more than 30 years ago. 

What’s incredible is that the Yukon remains relevant and worth serious consideration.  

GMC has upgraded the Yukon throughout the years with the latest powertrains, safety technology, and even managed to defy logic with the suspension in a bid to keep the big SUV rolling in the current marketplace.

Regardless of its true age the Yukon—and its fraternal twin the Chevrolet Tahoe—have remained king of the full-size SUV segment for years with little to no real challenge from competitors. That all stopped last year. The redesigned 2019 Ford Expedition arrived with a new platform, aluminum body, and all the latest technology consumers expect.

With a TCC Rating of 6.2 out of 10, the 2019 GMC Yukon scores for its powerful engines, great towing ability, high-zoot interior, and chiseled design. Where it misses is in a bulky third row that takes up a lot of space, a staggering price tag, and a high cargo floor.

I recently spent a week hauling the kids around town and running errands in a 2019 GMC Yukon XL Denali. Here’s where the big SUV hit, and where it missed:

Hit: Smothers bumps. There’s no way to get around the fact that the Yukon still rides around on a solid rear axle, but the engineers at GM have done some impressive feats to smooth out the ride quality. Its magnetic shocks deserve credit for the way they fix ride issues the 22-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in tires with narrow side profiles introduce.

Miss: The 10-speed automatic needs a reprogramming. The Denali’s 6.2-liter V-8 engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that was co-developed with Ford. In the Yukon, the transmission is a smooth operator when lugging along. Bury the throttle and suddenly its shifts are anything but smooth. The transmission can also get confused, which results in hunting for the proper gear. Ford’s Expedition and F-150 have far better programming for this 10-speed.

2019 GMC Yukon

Hit: Interior build quality is first rate. Inside the Yukon’s interior displayed perfect fit and finish with high-quality materials throughout the cabin. Comparatively, the 2019 Ford Expedition I tested recently had some rough edges on certain plastics, exposed mold lines, and trim-fit issues that the Yukon simply didn’t have.

Miss: Poor interior packaging exposes the Yukon’s age. Fitting an interior with room for up to nine—yes, the base Yukon comes with a front bench seat—over a separate frame and a solid rear axle means some compromises in legroom. To make a fold-flat third row, GM placed a storage bin in the rear cargo area. While it offers a nice hidden spot for small items, the load floor is comically high. That’s funny for loading groceries, but not for heavy items. 

2019 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD

Hit: Sharp design. Despite its age the Yukon still looks sharp, especially in Denali guise with the black-out package. The LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, sharply creased sheet metal with squared-off edges all lend to a chiseled design that has aged well. The Yukon won’t look outdated any time soon.

Miss: It’s old. I delved deep into the Yukon and found everything from hood hinges to suspension components that date back several generations. Outside of a few mounting points, the Yukon’s frame is two decades old. I chatted with Eric Miller, who runs GM truck parts source Squarebody Specialists, and he told me that the axles could basically bolt into a ’74 Suburban. Most of this doesn’t matter in daily driving, but the off-center steering column is a result of parts adapted over the years to work on the latest model is a constant reminder of the Yukon’s compromise. 

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