The GMC Yukon Denali is the flagship of its entire brand and a truly luxurious SUV and that might make it a better value than the Cadillac Escalade
No vehicle in the GMC lineup is as crucial as the Yukon in its top-tier Denali trim. It sets the bar for the rest of the family and completely transforms the big SUV from a high-end premium product to an unquestioned luxury vehicle. Of course, it’s not the most luxurious vehicle under the General Motors umbrella of brands. The Cadillac Escalade holds that position and offers five different trim levels that get progressively more expensive and impressive. With that in mind, we want to find out which one is the better buy from a value standpoint. We’ll compare everything from specs to performance, to interior quality, and even trim options. Then we’ll tell which we’d spend our cash on.
The GMC Yukon Denali is the top trim level of the GMC Yukon. It starts at $73,795 and comes with a 6.2-liter V8 engine. It produces 420-hp and 460 lb-ft of torque and then sends that power to the rear wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel-drive is optional. The EPA estimates that the Denali will get 16 MPG in the city and 20 on the highway. In addition, a 3.0-liter diesel engine is available. It makes 277-hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. It gets 21 MPG in the city and 27 on the highway. The Denali is covered by a three-year or 36,000-mile limited warranty and a five-year or 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. It can tow up to 8,200 pounds.
Cadillac offers the Escalade in five different trims and the base model starts at $79,440. It uses the exact same drivetrain as the Yukon Denali but actually gets worse fuel economy. The EPA says that it should get 14 MPG in the city and just 19 on the highway. The diesel engine is also available on the Escalade and in this case, it gets the same fuel economy scores. On the plus side, Cadillac does provide a longer warranty for the Escalade. The limited warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles and the powertrain is covered for six years or 70,000-miles. Each vehicle includes a single complimentary maintenance visit. The Escalade can also tow up to 8,200 pounds.
Since these vehicles use the same suspension, the same drivetrain, and have the same power, they feel as identical as two different vehicles could feel behind the wheel. As large SUVs go, these two are hard to beat with anything else built in America. The 6.2-liter V8 sitting just ahead of the passenger compartment is a gem. It actually makes the Yukon and the Escalade feel and sound somewhat like sports cars. The 10-speed automatic transmission is very fast to shift and seems to always be in the right gear.
Put the pedal down and the engine reacts almost instantly delivering excellent power and a great soundtrack too. Around corners these big beasts both feel light on their feet but by no means would either one keep up with the best super SUVs from Europe. That’s not what either is aimed at. In a way, they’re somewhat like old-school muscle cars, full of power and unconcerned about being the quickest thing about the turns. The diesel engine is far less responsive but offers improved fuel economy and doesn’t sacrifice any of the brute force needed for towing.
While these SUVs couldn’t be more similar with regard to driving dynamics they feature very different interior treatments. Starting with the GMC, the Denali gets a special dashboard unlike the rest of the Yukon lineup. Instead of the somewhat cheapish-looking infotainment system that sticks out from the center of the dash and rises above the pad itself, a large 10.2-inch screen is integrated into the dash completely. Real wood accents and exclusive interior colors round out what is a stunning collection of luxury.
The Cadillac Escalade looks even more futuristic and special though thanks to a very sharp asymmetrical dash design. The huge 16.9-inch infotainment system isn’t even square and a gigantic 14.2-inch driver information display is so big and bright that it would put a number of other vehicle’s main infotainment systems to shame. Overall, the materials in the Escalade simply feel more luxurious and special.
Each of these SUVs does end up sharing a number of important features. First of all, the fit and finish found in each one are outstanding. We really appreciate the attention to detail found throughout each cabin. In addition, interior space is identical in each vehicle. We’d love to see a little more headroom in the second and third rows but that’s the only gripe we can come up with. Every seat is comfortable and supportive, and even third-row passengers have decent legroom and technology around them. Both vehicles have a long-body version that offers more cargo space behind the third row.
As the top trim of the Yukon, the Denali comes with most of the features available as standard equipment. That includes 20-inch wheels, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row bucket seats, an adaptive suspension, a heated steering wheel, a surround-view camera system, a heads-up display, a premium 14-speaker Bose sound system, a wireless charging pad, and a heated steering wheel.
Buyers can then add on more features like adaptive cruise control, a digital rearview mirror, 22-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, power-retractable side steps, a rear-seat entertainment system with two 12.6-inch infotainment screens, and an air suspension.
The Escalade is available in five different trims. It starts out with the Luxury trim with its 22-inch wheels, the large infotainment and driver information screens mentioned above, heated front and rear outboard seats, tri-zone climate control, a 19-speaker AKG Studio sound system, forward collision mitigation, lane-departure warning, and parking sensors.
Above that is the Premium Luxury which adds a heads-up display, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control, an automated parking system, and blind-spot monitoring. It also opens up three available packages including the performance package, the touring package, and the heavy-duty trailering package.
The Sport trim is nearly identical to the Platinum Luxury trim but adds unique 22-inch wheels, gloss black accents, and opens up unique interior color treatments.
The Premium Luxury Platinum tacks on an adaptive air suspension, soft-closing doors, leather-wrapped interior trim, front seat massaging functions, the rear-seat infotainment system, and a 36-speaker AKG sound system.
The Sport Platinum ditches the chrome accents of the Premium Luxury Platinum for gloss black, adds body-colored door handles, and opens up special interior colors.
When we start talking about this kind of cash, the gap between the $73,795 GMC Yukon Denali and the $105,890 Cadillac Escalade Sport Platinum isn’t as big as it might seem. What makes this competition even easier to decide is that the Escalade with its Premium Luxury trim only costs $88,290. That’s not much more than the Denali but it adds too many features to list them once again here. From the improved interior to the inclusion of important safety features like adaptive cruise control to the better warranty coverage, the Escalade runs away with this victory, even if it has the same drivetrain as the Denali.