Stephen J. Mraz

There are two new paint schemes (Red Jewel Tintcoat and Dark Slate Metallic, for those keeping track), and a twowheel- drive version will be released later this year. Still the Denali retains all the luxury and amenities customers come to expect in a $58K vehicle ($51K base price with $8k of options and a $1k off for having two option packages.)

Needless to say, the SUV is comfortable to drive, once you get used to the size. The driver’s seat and steering wheel, for example, are leather covered and highly adjustable, as well as heated. In fact, all front and second-row passengers recline in leather-covered and heated captain’s chairs. Windshield- wiper fluid is also heated, which makes cleaning the windshield in the winter somewhat of a steamy experience.

Bored backseat passengers can watch the ceiling-mounted DVD player or listen to CDs, MP3s, or AM, FM, or satellite radio.

For the driver, there’s dashmounted navigation, an ultrasonic sensor that alerts you to objects in back, plus a screen that shows what’s going on behind the vehicle whenever it’s put in reverse.

The 6.2-liter engine pumps out 380 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque (at 4,400 rpm) through a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s enough to get the Denali up to speed quickly on highways and on ramps despite tipping the scales at 2.8 tons. But the four-wheel disc brakes took some getting use to. They didn’t want to bring the behemoth to a stop as quickly as I thought they should. And fuel economy isn’t the greatest at 13/19 mpg (city/highway), but I believe I got more like 22 or 23 mpg while driving a consistent (cruise-controlled) 65 mph on the freeway.

The vehicle’s size and weight also pay dividends in safety. It earned five stars in NHSTA’s frontal and side crashes and three stars for rollovers. (Interestingly, NHSTA says frontal crash ratings should only be compared to those of other vehicles of the same size and weight. So I assume the association’s fivestar rating on a Fit wouldn’t mean the same as five stars for a Mack truck.)

Safety also gets a boost from ABS, stability control, dual front air bags, as well as head-curtain bags for all three rows of seats. Sensors determine if a passenger is in a seat and how heavy they are. This info lets air bags inflate without injuring children or smaller adults. The SUV also has remote vehicle start and, strangely enough, it is listed as safety feature.

The Denali is first-class transportation for six, more if you’re carrying kids. And sure it’s big, sucks a lot of gas, costs quite a bit, and won’t win any friends at Earth Day celebrations. But if you need the room or towing power (up to 7,900 lb of towing capacity), and can afford the payments, go for it. And enjoy the ride.

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