My adventures in Southern California driving the newest iteration of the GMC Yukon XL Denali
I will admit, the last time I drove a proper SUV was a couple years back when I was using a 1999 Suburban to get around town. My biggest peeve with that truck was the difficulty that arose with blind spots and it being a large car in a tight city world.
Trying out the 2018 GMC Yukon XL Denali though, is a different story.
I went on a road trip to Southern California recently to once again try my luck at driving the gallant, majestic SUV. In this case, I was outfitted with the latest GMC Denali, which would transport my girlfriend, my brother and a couple friends to the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, as well as to a good friend’s home in Newport Beach.
To start off, when first seeing the Denali up close, it is a nice sight. It’s clean shape and trim are the first things I noticed, immediately followed by the big, shiny grill. GMC’s Global Exterior Design director Matt Noone says, “The new grill, which is flanked by HID headlamps and LED Signature Lighting, advances the design legacy established with the very first Yukon Denali in 1999.”
The grill is definitely the statement piece on the front of the vehicle, accompanied by the very useful HID lights. I had the Onyx Black colorway, which just looks plain cool.
Our trip took us to SoCal at night, and the lighting both in and out of the vehicle is superb. The headlights allow for a great view of the road ahead and to the sides, making it a much easier navigation process. Even inside, the lighting allows passengers to help with navigation, or find a charging cable to plug into the many outlets available and complementing the driver by never being intrusive.
The heads-up display (HUD) was my favorite functionality of the Denali’s tech features, of which there are a lot of to be found! The HUD projects valuable, customizable information above the dash and onto the windshield of the driver side. On my version of it, I had the current speed as the main graphic, as well as the currently playing Bluetooth media towards the bottom of the display. The driver’s dash display was also customizable, showing me things like driving range on current gas tank contents, live mileage figures, and the ability to add different skins and visual configurations to the display, as well as connected media information.
Speaking of media, I tend to gravitate towards listening to hour long podcasts when I’m driving for long lengths of time, but in this case my passengers also wanted some form of entertainment that wasn’t talking heads. Enter the Yukon XL Denali’s rear seat entertainment, and all the options that came with that.
Through the main 8” navigation/infotainment screen in the front console, we were able to set up a Google Chromecast through the included HDMI-in port and through the power of the 4G Wi-Fi hotspot connection in the truck. This allowed everyone to use their phones to cast various Netflix choices or YouTube videos through the connected Chromecast.
The 3 passengers in the back of the truck watched on the two flip down screens, which also allows for Blu-ray watching (our only Blu-ray for the trip, The Fifth Element, was greatly enjoyed), using the wireless headphones that are included. This let me go back to my mix of music and mostly podcasts for the trip while they watched their movie uninterrupted.
As we cruised along, the smooth ride of the Yukon XL Denali and its outside noise reduction allowed everyone to enjoy the ride, at times making me forget I was commandeering a 7,500 lbs. SUV with 5 adults in it.
On day one of our trip we went to the Orange County Fair, where we actually took ride shares instead of taking the Denali, as we would be partaking in happy hour at the fair. This included fried Snickers and micheladas. We also spent way too much to win some stuffed animals, but the glory was in being victorious I tell myself.
The following day was an early trip to Disneyland where we were able to squeeze in 12 rides across the two theme parks, which equaled a lot of walking. At the end of the day, it was great getting to the “Woody” parking lot section and getting into the Denali, setting up the GPS to get on our way, and playing some tunes. The front seats have a heat and vent option and in the warm weather that night, the cool venting in the seat was remarkable.
The following day we headed out of Newport Beach to get back to the Bay Area, but not before trying some vegan food and dipping our toes into the ocean. All in all, it was a fun trip that was helped along by the vehicle that got us there.
One aspect of driving during this trip that offered comfort and ease of use was the blind spot detection, officially referred to as the “side blind zone alert with lane change alert”. A small but bright light on the corners of either side mirror light up when there is a car in the lane next to you. Most times this was good just to be aware as I could see the cars approaching, but there were some points where there seemed to be no car in the lane but the alert would go off and what do you know, a car was hidden in my blind spot. This makes lane changing a breeze with this tool and beats the stress I mentioned earlier with the experience of driving the Suburban. This worked wonders on a nighttime highway or during the day in a busy downtown beach area.
To finalize this review, the GMC Yukon XL Denali delivers in many ways. Not just for gliding down the I-5 to Los Angeles, but also for driving to get groceries, making use of back seats that can be power folded to add even more space. The automatic running boards that pop out from under the truck to help get into the vehicle make the largeness of the Denali less pronounced. And the long list of features and tools allow for an efficient ride, but one that will make you want to take more long drives in it. Bottom line: this truck delivers where it matters– it’s comfortable, tech savvy, and road trip approved. Would drive again.