Ask ten United States citizens what Denali is, and I bet you nine of them say a big, burly vehicle with lots of chrome and the letters “GMC” going across the front. And that one person who thinks of the mountain? They probably live in Alaska and drive a Chevy, but they at least know the gist of what GMC’s Denali is, whereas I’m willing to bet there are plenty of people that have never even heard of the Alaska Range. When you get to the point where you’re more well-known than the thing you’re named after, and that thing is literally the highest peak in North America, you know you’re doing something right.
When you walk into a GMC Sierra 1500 dealer and see “Denali” embossed on the side of a vehicle, you already know that’s the pinnacle of luxury, the apex of posh features, the top dog (we see what you did there, GMC). I think there are a few reasons why the Denali trim is so widely known. First off, it’s been around for quite a while, spending many years building its empire deluxe. Second, it is practically a car empire because GMC uses it for so many of its models, and finally, the Denali trim’s eminence can be attributed to people liking it, plain and simple.
Before the Denali name grew into the towering maverick it is today, it started as more of a hill, albeit a hill with a lot of potential. It made its debut in 1999 as the top trim offering for the Yukon. GMC developed the Denali trim to compete in the luxury SUV segment, which was just starting to get its legs. The height of luxury looked quite different in 1999 than it does now, with the premium features offered with the first Denali being things like keyless entry, heated seats, heated mirrors, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. There is one thing that certainly hasn’t changed about the Denali trim, and that’s the inclusion of chrome accents. Although the presence of chrome in modern Denalis has been expanded on, even the very first one had a bit of extra shine with chromed aluminum wheels.
Getting a Denali today means getting a lot more than heated seats. After 1999, GMC continued developing the Denali trim, adding more and more luxury features as technology allowed and spreading the trim to other models, almost all of them, in fact. Excluding most commercial vehicles and the new HUMMER EV, the Denali trim can be found on every vehicle produced by GMC in 2023. That’s six total, including the Sierra HD. Here’s a look at those six vehicles and what the height of luxury looks like today.
The 2023 GMC Terrain is a small but mighty SUV that seats up to five people and has a maximum towing capacity of 1,500 lbs. The Denali model is far from being just additional comfort and convenience features, although that’s part of the package, too. The Terrain Denali has more driving assistance features than the other trims, like adaptive cruise control and blind zone monitoring. It has all-wheel drive and an upgraded, premium suspension. Its exterior is distinguished by body-colored and chrome accents, and its interior is characterized by high-quality materials and creature comforts aplenty. Its seats are perforated leather, and its infotainment screen measures eight inches diagonally, up from the seven inches in the other trims. Wireless charging is standard, as is a head-up display. The sound system is also upgraded to a seven-speaker setup from Bose.
The Acadia is another SUV from GMC and considerably sized up from the Terrain with seating for either six or seven passengers, and its towing capacity is bumped to 4,000 lbs. Its Denali trim gets the bigger and better treatment as well. Its standard powertrain is a 3.6-liter V6 that generates 310 hp, while the other three Acadia trims come standard with a 228-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Passengers can enjoy riding in the Acadia Denali in comfort. It has heated and ventilated seats for the driver and front passenger and heated seats for the second row. The steering wheel is heated, too. Both the driver and front passenger can combat back fatigue from long trips with power lumbar support.
The Yukon is held in high esteem in the Denali line, being the first vehicle to sport the badge. For 2023, Denali repays the favor in kind with two versions of the luxury trim: Denali and Denali Ultimate. The Yukon Denali comes standard with all of those luxury features Denali has become synonymous with. The interior is leather and heated where it counts, wireless charging is standard, and, of course, there’s plenty of chrome. The Yukon Denali Ultimate ups the ante even more with features like power-retractable assist steps with their own LED lighting and the ProGrade Trailering System, which makes hauling easier and safer with a number of driver assistance technologies. The Denali Ultimate also sports its own look; instead of the chrome accents, it has Vader Chrome, a darker, sleeker version that creates a more refined look.
The Canyon is GMC’s smaller truck offering. It has four trim levels, with the most luxurious being the Denali. It has a leather interior with wood accents, heated and ventilated front seats, and plenty of smart storage spaces. There are a number of trim-exclusive styling elements, like 20-inch machined aluminum wheels, chrome assist steps, and a unique grille. Just like the other Denalis on this list, the Canyon Denali leads the pack in safety and driving assistance features. It comes standard with lane departure warning, forward collision alert, and an HD rear vision camera, to name a few.
Sierra/Sierra HD Denali
The Sierra HD line is larger than the Sierra 1500 and more work-oriented with increased capability. It’s the only vehicle on GMC’s commercial side to come with a Denali trim, which tacks on extra features like trailering and off-roading packages. The standard Sierra 1500, like the Yukon, has both a Denali and Denali Ultimate trim. They have over 40 inches of available screens, including a 13.4-inch infotainment system, a 12.3-inch driver information display, and a 15-inch head-up display. The Sierra 1500 Denali comes standard with a Denali-exclusive grille, chrome recovery hooks, and available features include an extra durable carbon fiber composite bed.
The Sierra Denali Ultimate follows the Yukon Denali Ultimate’s lead with Vader chrome accents. Its interior is the most premium of any Sierra, with materials like full-grain leather and real wood. Its front seats are power-adjustable 16 ways and have a massage feature. Finally, GM’s hands-free SuperCruise driving technology is available on both the Sierra 1500 Denali and Denali Ultimate.
Denali: Climbing Ever Higher
The Denali has been reaching new heights in luxury since its debut in 1999. It’s grown a lot since then, becoming the top trim for most GMC passenger models and paving the way for the ultra-premium Denali Ultimate trim. It’s exciting to see how far this line has come in the past twenty years and even more exciting to think about where it might be in the next twenty.