Denali, in the Koyukon Athabaskan language of Native Americans, means ‘the high one’. That’s why they called the highest mountain peak in North America by this name. At over 6,100 metres, the massive mountain in south-central Alaska is also among the tallest in the world. So when General Motors came out with a more upmarket variant of its Yukon SUV in 1999, it didn’t have to think much about what to call it. The Denali moniker truly embodied the truck’s enormous proportions, and went on to be the name of choice for the top-spec versions of many other models in GMC’s line-up. 

The last major redesign to the Yukon Denali was made back in 2014 and it went on sale as a 2015 model. There were some minor updates in 2017, but this year, GMC has introduced a few noteworthy changes to the Yukon Denali, the most significant being a new 10-speed automatic transmission paired to its 6.2-litre V8 engine. This is the gearbox that GM developed in partnership with Ford, and has already been put to use in Ford’s full-size pickup truck range, as well as the 2017 Camaro ZL1, 2018 Cadillac Escalade and the Chevrolet Tahoe RST. With a wider ratio range than the old eight-speed transmission, it serves up quick, seamless shifts. Throttle response is instantaneous and the progress is smooth and effortless as the 10-speed helps in providing a linear torque curve and impressive power delivery. There’s no hunting for cogs when accelerating quickly, although you get some irksome downshifts when you brake hard. In short, the new transmission proves to be a far better match for the 420 horsepower, 624Nm, V8 than the one it replaces. While the StabiliTrak electronic stability control is standard across the range, Denali models include third-generation Magnetic Ride Control, a system that continuously monitors the road and alters damping accordingly. The ride overall is comfortable, and the interior appointments are befitting the Denali’s positioning as a premium variant.

 

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Photos: Aiza Castillo Domingo

 The Denali models are also distinct in their appearance thanks to the signature chrome grille and unique exterior trims, including high-intensity discharge headlamps. It also comes equipped with illuminated, power-retractable assist steps, available 22in wheels (20in rims are standard), Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound 10-speaker audio system, a rear-seat entertainment system with Blu-Ray/DVD player, wireless headphones, USB port and SD card slot, leather-trimmed heated and ventilated driver and passenger seats, and heated second-row seats, and wireless charging for compatible smartphones among others.

Safety is also given due attention with the Yukon featuring a wide range of driver-alert technologies, crash-avoidance systems and occupant protection features. The Driver Alert Package adds Lane Keep Assist, which nudges the vehicle back into its lane if it senses a drift, and Intellibeam headlamp technology, which controls the high beam according to surrounding traffic conditions. Other safety features include Front Centre Air Bag that deploys from the inboard side of the driver’s seat and inflates between the driver and front passenger, Safety Alert Seat that vibrates if the system collision with another vehicle, Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Automatic Braking, trailer sway control, hill-start assist and four-wheel, four-channel anti-lock brakes. There is also an optional trailer brake controller that monitors trailer brakes.

 

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Photos: Aiza Castillo Domingo

The one aspect that detractors have traditionally held against Denali models was their price. Things are no different here. The price of the GMC Yukon Denali starts at Dh306,500, which is in the region of a top-spec Toyota Land Cruiser or a Nissan Patrol, both of which are highly capable, reliable and crammed with comparable features. Opt for the longer wheelbase Yukon XL Denali version, and the price goes up to Dh318,100. That’s a good Dh129,000 more than the base Yukon. Whether the additions to the top-spec version is worth paying that extra dosh depends on how much of a Denali fan you are. While the vastly improved Ford Expedition, and the aforementioned Japanese rivals have priced themselves quite competitively, the Yukon Denali, with its distinctively imposing presence is hard to ignore.