In for the long, luxurious haul

BY Greg Williams. Sep 09 04:00 am

CALGARY — Exquisitely crafted garage doors are Richard Walkeden’s specialty, and so are the fleet trucks and SUVs used to get the jobs done.

As a partner in Equal Door Industries, Walkeden spends plenty of time commuting around town visiting job sites. One of the company’s most memorable custom installations might be in Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley.

Equal Door Industries made the huge wood and glass doors that can be raised or lowered to separate the main gallery from either end of the museum.

Walkeden recently put a 2016 GMC Yukon Denali AWD through its paces, and the vehicle ticked all three boxes on his list of buying considerations.

“First, all-weather capability is important to me, so all-wheel drive is something I’d never be without,” Walkeden said. “Second, I also like to have power. Almost everything I’ve ever owned has had a V-8, and I couldn’t get my brain switched over to a four- or six-cylinder engine. Third, I want something that’s very comfortable to drive and is yet somewhat utilitarian.”

So, the 2016 Yukon Denali comes equipped with all-wheel drive — check. It also features a powerful 6.2-litre V-8 engine that makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque — check. And the new Yukon Denali now has a convenient fold-flat rear-seating system and power rear liftgate to ease hauling chores — so check that, too.

Introduced in Canada with the 2001 Yukon model, the Denali badge offers General Motors’ best of the best in terms of trim and interior comfort accoutrements.

The full-size SUV is now in its third generation, having received a complete makeover for the 2015 model year. With more aggressive styling, the Yukon Denali got an eight-speed automatic transmission and the fold-flat seating and hands-free liftgate.

Originally a Calgarian, Walkeden learned to drive his mother’s four-door Ford Comet. His first car was a 1975 Pontiac Grand Prix, and many vehicles have since come and gone. He’s owned three Denali-trim GMC Yukons, his last a 2012 model, plus a Sierra Denali pickup truck. Currently, his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit and his wife’s 2014 BMW 328xi make up the family fleet.

“I did think the Yukon Denali looked a little boxy and slab-sided,” Walkeden said of the $86,960 vehicle he drove. Some of that price included the optional $575 crimson red topcoat.

“The black cherry colour would look great on a sports car, but on that vehicle it’s a lot of red.”

After opening the driver’s door, Walkeden appreciated seeing the $1,920 power retractable assist steps slide out to aid ingress. At five-foot-10, Walkeden says it was easy to get the 12-way power-adjustable captain’s chair to accommodate his frame.

“The interior is nicely finished with leather and wood inserts,” Walkeden said. “There was, however, some pretty low-cost looking plastic components — for example on the A-pillars — that I don’t think belong in a vehicle in this price range.”

Power from the Denali’s exclusive 6.2-litre engine was “impressive and very sufficient to propel a vehicle that size up to speed as quickly as it can,” Walkeden said.

“And the eight-speed transmission was smooth as silk, almost to the point that you forget it’s shifting up or down. It was really seamless.

“It handled well, and the ride is really nice — until it isn’t. It’s smooth until you upset the chassis, because you’ll get a bit of a truck bounce to it.”

The Yukon Denali is most at home on the highway, Walkeden said.

“It’s extremely quiet, the wind noise is virtually non-existent and there was no noticeable tire noise. I do remember wind noise being an issue around the doors on my old Yukon Denali.”

The lack of wind noise, General Motors said, is thanks to new inlaid doors that fit into the body side openings, instead of over the top of the body.

In terms of utility, Walkeden suggested there was nothing that couldn’t be hauled in the cargo area. The power fold-flat rear seats were a nice touch, and when Walkeden demonstrated how they worked to a friend with an older model Yukon there was a bit of envy.

He enjoyed the heads-up display while driving at night, but noticed when driving during the day while wearing polarized sunglasses the information was all but invisible.

Handing back the keys, Walkeden feels comfortable recommending the Yukon Denali to a family hauling either lots of people or plenty of goods long distances, and wanting to do all of that in relative luxury.

Driver’s Journal

Day 1: First impression is it’s huge. I’ve owned a couple of these, but it somehow seems bigger now. The new front end is much nicer than the last version. I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with the basics and adjust the seat, mirrors and steering wheel (all electrically operated, of course). There is a vast array of switches, buttons and knobs that control more functions than you can possibly imagine. I won’t learn what they all do today.

Day 2: I’m starting to get familiar with some of the surprising features this truck has on board.

When backing out of the garage, the rear-view camera clearly shows what’s behind and helps guide you out while keeping both side mirrors attached. If you start to get near an obstruction, you are warned by way of a firm thump from a device inside the seat cushion. Get even closer and it thumps you a few more times to be sure you are paying attention.

Running quick errands or zipping around town through heavy traffic doesn’t seem to be the intent of this vehicle. It’s too large and cumbersome for tight parking spaces or busy narrow streets.

Day 3: I’m finally out on the highway this morning. Now this is where the Yukon Denali belongs. Cruising at highway speed is so smooth and relaxing in this truck that you have to keep your eye on your speed; 120 km/h feels quite slow. You could easily find yourself at a much higher speed while feeling perfectly in control. It also occurs to me that you could be doing this while hauling six passengers or a full-size refrigerator with no problem.

A long road trip would be a pleasure in this vehicle. It’s smooth and quiet, has plenty of power to pass, and the view of the road is second to none.

Day 4: All of the rear seats fold away at the touch of a button. This is a huge refinement over the previous version, where the seats had to be folded away manually, or actually removed completely if you wanted to load large items.

With all of the rear seats deployed, it’s surprising how little storage space there is behind them when you open the rear hatch. Carrying anything more than small grocery bags requires the seats to be folded into the floor.

Day 5: This is essentially a truck that has a large load and towing capacity so you can’t really expect a car-like ride over all surfaces.

While running around town with my wife, she commented on the overall comfort and quietness, the quality of the Bose stereo, and she particularly liked the white stitching in the black leather seats. The new cabin is much more car-like than previous versions. The very wide centre console curves up and into the dash and is finished in wood and stitched leather trim, giving the driver and front passenger a luxury-car feel.

Days 6 and 7: If you have a large family, carry a lot of gear or spend lots of time on the highway, the Yukon Denali is a perfect choice. It’s a very capable vehicle that offers all the features of any high-end luxury car but can tow a heavy load or carry tons of cargo. The fuel economy was better than I expected, considering the very powerful and wonderful-sounding V-8 engine. The Denali was a pleasure to drive and I enjoyed exploring its features and capabilities during my full week of testing.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

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