For most of its history, the Electra was Buick’s largest and most luxurious sedan, and the most prestigious car in GM’s fleet that wasn’t a personal luxury coupe or a Cadillac. In other words, the Electra offered a similar levels of luxury, comfort, and practicality to a Cadillac, but in a slightly more understated manner which some humbler buyers preferred.
Naturally, the days of the big luxo-barge sedans are over. People who want the feeling that they’re floating down the interstate in their living room generally go for a big, luxurious SUV, or more recently, large CUVs. While I’d hardly call the Cadillac Escalade the direct successor to the RWD Fleetwood Brougham, it does share many similarities with its departed ancestor.
For starters, the Escalade the largest vehicle in Cadillac’s lineup, and certainly makes no apologies for this nor its unimpressive fuel economy. Also like the Fleetwood Brougham, the Escalade offerers plenty of interior room to stretch out, as well robust power from a massive V8. Similar to the Fleetwood Brougham, the Escalade holds a position of disconnect from both the rest of Cadillac’s lineup of now German-fighting cars and crossovers, as well as the direction Cadillac is trying to go as a brand.
My extended case for the Cadillac Escalade versus the Fleetwood Brougham naturally relates back to Buick, and our featured car, this 2007 GMC Yukon Denali. After the discontinuation of the rear-wheel drive Electra’s belated and short-lived Roadmaster successor, Buick has been left without an ostentatious flagship vehicle. Enter the GMC Yukon Denali.
As stated, big, fully-loaded Buicks were often purchased by those who those who found comparable Cadillacs just a bit too pretentious (and probably a bit too unjustifiably expensive). While it’s true that the Buick name didn’t have the same cachet as Cadillac, in terms of appearance, the big top-trimmed Buicks were just as gaudily trimmed as their Cadillac relatives.
Naturally, Buick Electras were still bought to make a statement of wealth, just not quite as much of one as a Cadillac. If buyers really wanted to stay humble, they would’ve stuck with a fully-loaded Impala. This is where the Yukon Denalis comes into play. More or less, it occupies the same position in GM’s hierarchy as the Electra as a that’s still quite flashy, with most of the same luxury accommodations as its Cadillac sibling, just not the top-shelf brand name and price tag.
Forgive me if my theory seems too far fetched, but this is the best conclusion I could reach to the question of why somewhat would buy one of these over an Escalade. What got me trying to wrap my head around this dilemma, and the very reason why I’m writing about this car is that I recently had the chance to take one for an extended overnight test drive. As most readers probably have guessed, this is not my type of vehicle at all, which is the very reason I asked to take it home for the night, to experience something very different.
Starting with the outside, it’s safe to say terms such as “expressive”, “trend-setting”, or even “interesting” have ever been used to describe the styling of any GMT400 and later full-size SUV. After all, they’ve always been based on their more utilitarian pickup truck counterparts, and these gigantic SUVs’ primary purpose has always been to haul families and all their gear around.
Clearly an example of form following function, the basic box shape has never allowed for major moves in the styling department. In any event, I personally find the clean lines of the GMT900 (2007-2014) SUVs to be more attractive than the fussier styling of their immediate predecessors or successors, the former of which hasn’t aged gracefully and the latter of which is too incohesive.
Opening the heavy (and in this example, creaky) driver’s door activated the power-deploy running boards, which were by no means necessary but nonetheless rather handy. Ascending up into the cabin revealed a very straightforward layout with a profusion of different materials. The most frequently touched surfaces are covered in stitched leather or vinyl, including the padded door panels and armrests.
The large thin-rimmed steering wheel was covered in leather and rich-looking burl wood (the only interior wood I was certain was real) all around. I was rather surprised to find that the wheel only tilted, and didn’t telescope, but it wasn’t much of an issue in this car as I needed to be quite close to reach the pedals anyway. Apparently the Denali does have power adjustable pedals, but I couldn’t easily find how to adjust them among the myriad of small, confusing buttons and levers scattered throughout the cabin, many of them out of easy reach.
Regardless, the extra wide bucket seats are supremely comfortable, with generous padding and a surprising amount of support. The fact that the woman who traded it in was about my height and stature made it easy to find my optimal seating position after just a few minor adjustments.
In terms of its ride-quality, the GMC Yukon Denali presents a smooth, sobering ride that often feels like you’re gliding through air. Even with its 20-inch chrome rims, the Denali soaked up all but the worst bumps in the road, nullifying my usual challenge of dodging potholes. That said, I really don’t like driving something that gives me no feel of the road.
The soft-sprung suspension gives off an overly floaty feel that gave me the sensation of being on a cruise ship and quite frankly had me wanting Dramamine. A soft, floaty ride may be alright for passengers, which may explain why these vehicles are so popular for shuttling around often drunk people as livery vehicles.
But as a driver and one who actually enjoys driving, the Yukon has all of the handling characteristics of trying to drive your living room around. Along with its very high ratio, loose feeling steering, calculating every maneuver leaves a great deal of guessing.
Of course, no one buys these gargantuan SUVs because they’re “fun to drive”. Vehicles like the Yukon, and its Tahoe/Suburban/Escalade siblings are bought for their comfort, space, and ride height, among other more hedonic characteristics. The Yukon certainly delivers in these areas, and in the case of this top-spec Denali model, luxury features are in abundance.
For a 2007, this truck came just about as “fully loaded” as I can think. Heated seats, heated steering wheel, navigation, bluetooth, satellite radio, power tailgate, power deploying running boards, rear-view camera, and a rear seat entertainment system were all included. For a moment I even thought it had lane-departure assist, although again, this was due to a confusingly labeled button that just ended up changing the info in the gauge cluster to display miles until empty.
Now I’ll be 100-percent honest when I say that I wanted to hate this car. It’s a big, brash, excessively large truck with uninspired styling inside and out, horribly tacky chrome exterior and woodtone interior trim, and a numbing driving experience. In other words, it’s exactly the opposite type of vehicle that appeals to me, and driving it was about as out of character as me stepping foot in a fast food joint.
Yet, in a way I can’t clearly explain, I kind of liked it. It wasn’t that I liked the physical act of driving this gussied-up truck of humble origins, as I found nothing about it particularly enjoyable to drive, and nothing about its styling or interior had me oohing and aahing. It was more what this car stands for — unnecessary size, arrogance, tackiness, and above all, a model of conspicuous consumption and money outweighing good taste — that appealed to my inner rebellious side.
Driving this chromed-out, black 5,600+ pound tank gave me a great sense of empowerment. Riding up high, surrounded by colossal cage of steel and tinted glass, I felt like I owned the road, and quite frankly, I probably drove like even more of an arrogant driver than I typically do.
So would I ever consider buying or even driving a car of this nature for an extended period of time? Absolutely not. However, it was nonetheless a one night stand I did not regret the next morning. Sometimes it feels good to be bad.