Size matters, especially if you’re driving a 6,000 pound, 224-inch behemoth, you need a powertrain equal to the task. The key upgrade to the 2018 Yukon Denali XL beyond the new grille and 22-inch wheels is GM’s new 10-speed automatic transmission. Mated to a 6.2-liter V8 the combo judiciously doles out 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque.

When it debuted in the 2017 Camaro ZL1, this 10-speed was initially tuned for performance. In this hulking SUV, GM targeted comfort and precision as benchmarks. Shifts are smooth; if there are multiple-gear up or downshifts, they’re not noticeable. The 10-speed allows for a wider gear ratio spread than the 8-speed used in the 2017 model, so torque and power are better distributed. The result is an even ride with a generous amount of power when needed.

Immediate throttle response makes accelerating out of tight spots feel almost spritely, a boon for an SUV with a 130-inch wheel base. Riding on the same Magnetic Ride Control system as the previous year makes for a plush ride. Bumps and dips in the road get eaten up by the adaptive dampers, even when taken at speed. Surprisingly, the XL drives like a much smaller SUV, just try out its turning radius as proof. The only time you’ll really feel its size is navigating through cramped strip mall parking lots.

Also: See the 12 Kelley Blue Book Best Buys of 2018

It’s big

The XL badge definitely applies. Looking in the rearview mirror you might think your eyes are playing tricks on you, like an experimental film director using a long lens. The XL goes on for days. Visibility out of the back window though, is exemplarily, much better than in some shorter family haulers, thanks to the Yukon’s boxy exterior design.

Inside, all the luxe trappings you’d expect from the high-end Denali line show up, from contrast-stitched leather seating, satin finished trim accents, a Wi-Fi hot spot and the 8-inch infotainment display. If you have venture capital funding, there’s Smartphone connectivity and enough USB chargers to run an internet start-up out of the back seat. Our vehicle as tested came equipped with the Ultimate Package that includes power retractable running boards, an enhanced security package, adaptive cruise control with forward automatic braking and the Sun & Entertainment package, ratcheting the vehicle price to $80,585 including destination.

Despite waning sales of the Yukon in 2017, GM hopes big time that the new cosmetic updates and new transmission will keep it competitive with the 2019 Lincoln Navigator and the 2019 Ford Expedition. 

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