Wait. Didn’t we just drive this thing? No, Fiends. That would be the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 2WD, which we all know has completely different badges is a completely different vehicle. All kidding aside, I’ve always been a bit perplexed by GMC. To me, the company’s offerings have always seemed like slightly restyled trim levels of vehicles already available in either Chevrolet or Cadillac’s stable. I’m no accountant, but one would think any profits you made by offering buyers a variety of “choices” would be sniped away by the cost of an alternate dealer network, additional advertising, styling and parts, not to mention those sales that get pulled away from GM’s sister marks. So why bother? The question kept rattling around in my head during my week with the GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid. Hop the jump to see what I found.
First, it’s important to remember the Denali Hybrid is different than its upscale cousin, the Escalade Hybrid, in a number of ways. The most noticeable of which is the MSRP. While the ‘Sclade will knock you back a staggering $73,135 base, the Yukon Denali is more than $10,000 cheaper – starting at $61,080. There are a number of exterior changes differentiating the two, including a front fascia, head and tail lights, and wheels. Inside, the Denali’s interior falls a bit short of the Cadillac, especially in the dash and instrument area. There’s a smaller DVD nav/reverse camera screen, too. Do those changes account for the 10 large discount on the GMC? Not exactly.
So what’s the same? Nearly everything. The Denali’s seats aren’t finished in leather that’s quite as nice as the Escalade’s, but they’re easily as comfortable. Likewise, the GMC’s ride may seem a bit stiffer, but we’re guessing that has as much to do with the placebo effect as it does damping rates and sprung weight. The truck is powered by the same 6.0-liter V8 engine and a clever 2-mode transmission with an incorporated electric motor that helps the petrol unit along. Fuel economy sits at around 21 mpg, which is identical to the big Caddy as well. The regenerative brakes still suffer from the same grabby nature as the Cadillac, too.
This all makes the Denali seem like a fantastic deal, and compared to the Cadillac, it is. The problem here is why does General Motors need the Denali at all? Why not offer an upscale version of the Chevrolet Tahoe that still falls well short of the Escalade? Or a stripper version of the Escalade? Or no mid-level luxury version of the truck at all? I understand there’s a solid market to be had there, but is it really worth fragmenting the company’s line up this way? That’s hard to say.
Taken on its own, the GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid is a fine truck. It offers gobs of space inside, the all-weather capability of four-wheel drive and a solid towing capacity. It’s comfortable enough for over-the-road travel and boasts respectable fuel economy for a vehicle this size. What’s more, its hybrid drivetrain makes it eligible for more than generous tax incentives. If you’re looking for a high-profile ride that costs the equivalent of a Nissan Versa less than its Cadillac Cousin, this is your ride.
But is it necessary? I don’t think so. There’s little debating GM commands the body-on frame SUV crowd with its stylishly designed rigs, but in my eye the company could skip the Denali all together. At $61,080, the truck seems like a great deal, but on closer inspection the plasticy dash, tiny nav screen and cheap-looking tail lights aren’t acceptable at this price point. Stick with the Escalade, or if you can’t afford it, tick away all of the options on a Tahoe. You’ll sleep better at night with another $10,000 shoved in your mattress.