A Week With: 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate

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If you were under the impression that the GMC Yukon Denali was the apogee of SUV luxury from GM’s premium truck manufacturer, think again. 

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate 3-4 front
GMC determined that it needed a higher trim level than Denali for 2023, hence the GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate.

The brand’s designers have raised the bar for their particular style with the Yukon Denali Ultimate. Basically, it’s got everything you could find in the option book, and then some. 

Overview

The Yukon Denali Ultimate was a new trim level for 2022, and it rolls into 2023 offering everything GMC can possibly put into its top-of-the-line full-size SUV. From premium leather with baseball-style stitching to massaging seats to magnetic ride control and an audio system above even the standard Denali, it’s all here. Of course, you’ll be paying a healthy price for all that stuff, too. 

Exterior

On the outside, the Denali Ultimate comes with a few exclusives. There are several colors that are exclusive to the Ultimate trim. These include the deep blue “Titanium Rush Metallic” of the test Yukon. 

On the outside, the Denali Ultimate comes with a few exclusives, including the new Titanium Rush Metallic exterior color on our test vehicle.

Denali Ultimate also includes the Galvano grille, with more than 10,000 individual reflective surfaces to give the face of the Yukon a glittery effect, and what GMC calls “Vader Chrome” trim and highlights around the front, and bright chrome trim along the sides. The 22-inch wheels are also unique to the Denali Ultimate trim. 

Interior

Inside, the Denali Ultimate features leather in “Alpine Umber,” which is approximately the color and feel of a well-made baseball glove. The plaited double top-stitching reinforces the image and the aroma of the leather is frankly intoxicating, if you like that. The “new car smell” of the Denali Ultimate is just like trying on a brand new leather jacket. 

The trim that you expect to be wood in the Denali Ultimate is in fact real wood. It’s open-grain Paldao, which is a hardwood from Southeast Asia. That won’t win GMC any environmental awards, but neither will anything else about a Yukon Denali. The wood is gorgeous and feels great to the touch. 

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate side
Our test model came with the 6.2-liter V-8, rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

The rest of the interior is classic Yukon Denali. You won’t find any great surprises here, just the full list of features including heated and ventilated front seats with a massage function. I have to admit, when massaging seats first appeared in top European luxury sedans, I thought they were overkill; a feature invented just because no one could think of anything else. Now that I’m a bit older, I wonder how humanity muddled through its barbaric evolution without the ability to get a hot stone massage during our commute. It’s a brave new world that has such vehicles in it! 

Powertrain

The Yukon Denali Ultimate wouldn’t be very ultimate with anything less than the top GM engine. That’s the 6.2-liter V-8, rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. If you prefer, you can get the Ultimate with the Duramax 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder turbo-diesel, but with the price of diesel staying high while gas drops, at least for now you’re probably just as well off with the V-8. Both engine options are paired with the 10-speed automatic transmission, and GM’s most advanced 4WD system comes standard on the Denali Ultimate. 

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate interior
The Yukon sports a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen, and the Denali Ultimate package includes an 18-speaker Bose sound system.

That 4WD system has a key feature, which is the Auto mode. You can run the Yukon in rear-drive mode for the best fuel economy or use the traditional 4HI and 4LO four-wheel drive modes. But the current generation also has Auto mode, which acts more like the full-time all-wheel drive used on crossover SUVs. 

Most of the time in Auto mode, you just drive along with the rear wheels. But when slip is detected, the system engages the front wheels on the spot, which makes this a perfect mode for winter driving. You can leave the system in Auto mode all the time. 

The Yukon Denali Ultimate has a tow rating up to 8,000 pounds with the V-8, or 7,800 pounds with the diesel. More notable is the fact that the rear-view camera has a hitch view, and the blind-spot monitoring covers the trailer when one is attached. Like all good tow rigs, the Yukon now has the trailer brake controller integrated onto the dashboard. The Yukon Denali Ultimate’s payload is 1,671 pounds, but unless you’re hauling gold bricks, that’s more than most people will put in or on a luxury SUV. 

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate rear seats
Inside, the Denali Ultimate features leather in “Alpine Umber,” which is approximately the color and feel of a well-made baseball glove.

Safety and Technology

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the 2023 GMC Yukon with four stars for crashworthiness, and that’s a good rating for a body-on-frame vehicle. However, the real safety story for the Denali Ultimate is in the long list of standard advanced safety and driver assistance features. 

All the usual forward collision and detection features are there, plus reverse automatic braking, auto high beams, parking assist, and a 360-degree surround view monitor when reversing. That’s super handy because this is a very fully sized full-size SUV, and it feels every inch the behemoth in a tight parking lot. 

You can tell a lot about what GMC thinks is important by the way it lists features on the window sticker. Just after all the mechanical goodies is the Connectivity and Technology section. The Yukon sports a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen, and the Denali Ultimate package includes an 18-speaker Bose sound system, which is six more speakers than you get in the regular Denali. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, along with wireless device charging. Denali Ultimate also includes a very nice and large color head-up display. 

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate cargo
The Yukon Denali Ultimate offers plenty of room for luggage and other cargo.

One feature that some people dislike but I really appreciate is the camera-based rear-view mirror. This is especially good at dusk, when the camera really maximizes the available light, and at night, when the camera’s dimming abilities are much better than flipping any real mirror. 

Driving Impressions

The thing to remember about the Yukon Denali is that it’s big and heavy. On the freeway, it’s fantastic. You roll along on the independent rear suspension with air ride adaptive springs and magnetic ride control dampers and you’re the undisputed king of the road. However, the counterpoint is that when you get off the freeway and onto often narrow neighborhood streets, the Yukon is still the same size. Parking lots are also challenging for the large-size SUV. But anyone buying a Yukon is aware of that and finds the tradeoff worth the challenge. 

On a winding mountain highway, you feel the Yukon’s size and weight again. This is not entirely a bad thing as it helps facilitate a mindset of patience and an unhurried pace. Luckily, you’re riding in supreme comfort and maybe getting that massage, too. 

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate Specifications

Dimension L: 210 inches/W: 81 inches/H: 76.5 inches/Wheelbase: 120.9 inches
Weight 5,827 pounds
Powertrain  6.2-liter V-8 engine, 10-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive
Fuel Economy 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway/16 mpg combined
Performance Specs 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque
Price Base price: $93,255; As tested: $97,745 including $1,795 destination charge.
On-Sale Date Available now

Wrap Up

The trim walk on the Yukon Denali Ultimate is easy because you’re already at the top of the Yukon trim ladder. The only thing you have to decide is whether to invest $495 in one of the special colors and whether to spend $2,200 on GM’s Super Cruise driver assistance package. I think the special color is a no-brainer. The rich blue on the test vehicle was a welcome departure from black/silver/gray. 

Super Cruise is a more personal call. I don’t care for that level of driver assistance on a regular basis, so I might leave that box unchecked. However, on a base price of $93,255, plus a destination charge of $1,795, adding in $2,200 for the Level 3 driver assistance capability isn’t a big jump. It’s not going to affect your monthly payments materially, so why not? 

The bottom line on the Yukon Denali Ultimate is this: You’re either into it or not. If you are, then nothing else is likely to meet your needs. If not, you can spend a lot less money and still get a very nice Yukon. 

2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate ­— Frequently Asked Questions

What is included in the Yukon Denali Ultimate package?

According to Car and Driver, “the Denali Ultimate includes nicer leather, unique interior and exterior trim, and optional Super Cruise. The 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate features a dark chrome look for the exterior and an interior with nicer leather. The 16-way power front seats feature a massage function and speakers built into the headrests.”

Does the Denali Ultimate have massage seats?

Yes. The Denali Ultimate features best-in-class 16-way power front seats with massage features to help ensure that the driver and front seat passenger are as comfortable as possible.

Is High Country or Denali better?

GMC Denali offers higher quality interior features, infotainment, and stylings over the Chevrolet’s highest-end trim, the High Country.

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