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2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali

front and right side exterior of the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Review: GMC 2022 Yukon XL Denali 2wd, Duramax 3L Turbo-diesel

For over 83 thousand dollars you get a very large vehicle with all the bells and whistles that one might expect from a Denali.

By Brian Kennedy

Wed, Apr 27, 2022 12:20 PM PST

What’s the whirring sound?

I asked myself this the first time I stepped up - way up - into the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali. I had to push up from the ground in order to launch myself into the super-high seat. Then I realized I had a helper. That whirring sound was the running boards deploying so that I could step on them on the way up into the massive truck. Once safe inside, I heard them fold up once more. Luxury? Necessity? I would have to decide that as the week went on.

First Impressions

My first time trying to put the Yukon in gear and take off, I had a “what’s up?” moment. No gearshift. No knob on the console, which was my second guess. But instead, up on the dash was a set of what reminded me of the old typewriter keys transmissions in Plymouths  (and others). This one you had to pull the function you wanted, rather than push, but same idea. Very clever and compact, and different in a good sort of way.

the gear shifter system on the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali
The gear "shifter" (lever) on the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali

I drove the Yukon a lot, encouraged by the fact that the full tank of diesel the truck came with could be sipping fumes when I saw the Denali go bye-bye. In fact, I took it as a challenge to use the fuel and the promised 606 miles of range that the dash showed me I had, starting from when I grabbed the keys.

I also knew I didn’t want to go much over that miles number, because filling this thing would be expensive and new - there was some kind of box of liquid (with a plastic bladder, natch) sitting behind the driver’s seat. This had to be added with the diesel. I didn’t want to experiment with that.

front and left exterior side of the 2022 GMC Tahoe XL Denali
The massive exterior of the 2022 GMC Tahoe XL Denali

Highway Driving

And so I headed out onto the highway, leaving LA going East on the 210 freeway to Beaumont and apple country. The feel on the freeway? Not altogether pleasing. The truck feels like it’s undulating, like it’s kind of picking itself up and traveling in small circles rolling from underneath out behind and back to the front.

As for handling the monster on the road, it’s actually easy, the Denali driving smaller than it is. I had no problem staying between the lane lines, even when not using the gizmos that were designed to keep me there with little vibrating nudges under my thighs when I strayed side to side.

image of the diesel engine of the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali
The diesel engine in the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali

City Driving

In the city, the truck drives with a bit of a wiggle from being on such a long frame, and it has a rather tiny view out of the rear window, but it was surprisingly easy to locate in its lane even on narrow suburban streets. I developed some confidence, and that was mirrored by the on-freeway driving experience, as noted.

One big like is that the Yukon is fast in a way that belies its size. On the road, the diesel engine is much more capable than I would have imagined. Except for a slight valve clatter and maybe a little exhaust smell, you don’t know you’re driving what used to be called an “oil burner.” There’s no lag as it picks up and goes when you push the gas (or whatever) pedal. The engine’s size, 3 liters, is more than paid off by the torque of the diesel. I never felt I needed more.

Passing, going up ramps - both were a breeze. Mostly, I didn’t test the sport drive mode, but I did give it a few whirls, and it made the truck faster, though it didn’t need to be. The Yukon felt plenty peppy in normal drive mode. The four modes, in case you’re wondering, are the aforementioned normal and sport, plus snow and ice and trailer tow/haul. In that latter mode, the exhaust braking is maximized. The Denali has the capability  of towing close to 8000  pounds.

the overhead console in the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali
The overhead console in the 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali

Parking the Yukon XL ...

There are a lot of great features in the Yukon, many of them electronic, but the truck is still old-school, hardly feeling like it’s different from what it might have been a decade ago. That is, if you don’t count the safety goodies and the multiple cameras which are supposed to do everything  from avoid a collision to help you park.

Oops, I said it. The P-word. Driving aids included a lot of safety features in addition to parking assist. Good thing, because you’ll need it. This thing is absolutely huge, and I had the worst time parking anywhere, despite beep-beep warnings, the  aforementioned vibrating seat that told me when I was close to something, and multiple mode cameras that could be used to see how far one was from the curb, for instance. All of that stuff was controlled by buttons to the left of the steering wheel.

Parking this vehicle, aids and devices notwithstanding, is next to impossible. I’ll tell you a story in a moment, but before that, note that the buzzy nannies described above go off anytime you’re anywhere close to a bush or a pole when nosing into a space front-wise, making it very difficult to locate the extremes of the front end or rear when attempting a parking maneuver.

a black GMC Yukon XL Denali parked in a rather small parking spot.
Chose your parking spot wisely, the Yukon XL is large.

Speaking of parking, a story. I went to the Pomona swap meet and parked between two trucks with one in front. That would eventually mean I would have to back this monster out of the spot I had it in. I got back to the vehicle after several hours of tramping around looking at other  people’s car stuff, and I couldn’t maneuver out of the space. I went back and forth, back and forth, to no avail. I finally asked a bystander to help, explaining that this wasn’t my car etc. etc. He said sure. We got nowhere.

So he volunteered to get in and do the maneuvering. I thought that it was either that or sit there for hours until the guys on either side, or in front, came and vacated so that I had space to move. I said I would stand guard and yell “Stop!” if he got close to any other vehicles. He inched back and forth about ten times, and finally yet ANOTHER person came along and took one side, watching for distance, while I took the other and slowly, painfully, we got this thing out of the space.

I guess if you owned one of these, you’d either have graduated from transport driver school or learn not to expect to park “normally” - but what a job.

interior of the trunk space of the GMC Yukon XL
Even with the third row up, there is still an amazing amount of space in the cargo area.


Inside, I found it a bit odd that with a truck so big, there weren’t a dozen or more cupholders, but there are enough, including in the center console and elsewhere. What’s absolutely missing, but perhaps would be sold to customers off the dealer accessory list, was a bin for cargo in the back. I had some apples (hello—apple country visit) that got loose of the bag and rolled endlessly around in the cargo hold. Why no device to contain them? I mused.

The interior packaging of displays, function buttons, and controls was all tidy and neat. The sunroof is large and works swiftly. There are buttons that allow you to stow the rear seats from the driver’s position. What’s cool about this is that these are on the overhead console along with those for the sunroof.

If you’ve read my reviews, you probably know that I insist on radios being no-BS. They have to work easily and intuitively. This one falls a bit short of that. I plugged in my Apple phone, and when I got a call, the display suddenly quit, and when I restarted later, the satellite radio changed its channel. This might have been me, but my hopes for a no-manual-needed audio experience wasn’t quite paid off. Mostly, the radio functioned well, though.

captain chair in the second row of a 2022 GMC Yukon XL Denali
The second row captain's chair is mighty comfortable.

Who buys a Yukon Denali?

Who buys this thing? Apparently, people in my neighborhood. Because I was driving one, I started to look for them, including sister-GM division version the Chevrolet Suburban. And I saw them, amazingly. I saw a lot, and I never saw more than one person inhabiting one. No passengers. The point? Not sure. Unless these were all family vehicles which just happened to be going somewhere without the kids. Then why have it?

That aside, this is a well-made, smartly engineered, tidily packaged behemoth. If you can sort out the contradictions inherent in that description, one of these might have your name on it, should you  be in possession of $83,370. For that, you’ll get the standard vehicle price of $72K spiced up with the $8500 Denali Ultimate Package, $3 grand worth of massive black wheels and other stuff, and credit for the diesel, a $1500 savings.

Speaking of the engine, that diesel never did get down to zero miles of fuel left, despite the fact that I drove it everywhere I could think of to the tune of nearly 500 miles. That’s due to the tank size, no doubt, but also the more-than-respectable 23mpg combined city/highway. In other words, this truck is around 5500 pounds, but it does better on gas than the Mustang I drive every day. I still don’t see what I’d do with one, but at least this made-in-Texas gigantor is reasonably thrifty on the fuel, and not un-fun to drive, if you can put up with the aggravation of what to do with it when it’s stationary.

About The Author

Brian Kennedy's profile picture

Brian Kennedy

Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.

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