Battle of the bulge

2005, GMC, Yukon Denali AWD

"Ow-w-w-w! There's a bulge in my wallet, and it's bruising my backside. Please won't you help me spend the spare $75,000 that's distending my pants pocket and making my sit-down time so miserable? Sincerely, Cash Brashful/Gloaming Acres, TN"

So if you've ever wondered what the life of an itinerant auto writer is like, perhaps the foregoing provides an insight. The pressure is tremendous; the responsibility dire. Who among us relishes the thought of misappropriating somebody else's $75,000? And yet, if there's money to burn, somebody's got to fan the flames.

Dear Mr. Brashful: Have you ever been tempted to test-drive a full-size luxury SUV?

Although not quite as big as its XL-badged sibling, the Yukon Denali is a spacious eight-seater with a 6.0-liter V8 mated to a four-speed automatic. It shares this monster motor, by the way, with the Hummer H2; and it's good for 335 horsepower and 375 ft.-lbs. of torque. On the one hand, that means a tow rating of 8,100 lbs. and payload of 1,457 lbs. for people and cargo. On the other hand, it also means 13 mpg/City and 17 mpg/Highway with regular fuel. At least a Denali owner can take satisfaction in the fact that mileage is improved for 2005. The Hummer H2 scarcely manages 10 mpg. The strength of the Yukon Denali is its quiet self-confidence. It's a comfy, roomy cabin for eight; and its highway ride is arguably the best in the category.

Interior cargo space ranges from 16.3 cu. ft. to 105 cu. ft., depending on seat configurations. For 2005, a new touch-screen DVD-based navigation system appears, and together with the OnStar telephone assistance system (standard), XM Satellite radio and rear-seat DVD theater (options), Yukon Denali is an electronic heaven on wheels.

It may not boast ultra-sophisticated off-road features like hill descent control, but its stability-controlled AWD system is plenty competent in snow and mud. Best of all, its as-tested price, Mr. Brashful, is just $54,490, leaving you ample opportunity to spread some happiness with your remaining $20-grand-or maybe not.

The Ultimate. Sorta says it all. For $63,830, as-tested, Lincoln sells a version of its giganto Navigator SUV into which it is virtually impossible to stuff any more features.

There are three rows of seats for seven occupants; and the rear two-seat bench folds flat in two sections with stately poise, via pushbuttons. The rear tailgate, likewise, opens and closes with the push of another button. Punch, punch, punch the video buttons on the dash-mounted monitor, and you have a world of Sirius-satellite music, DVD-navigation and dual-zone climate control at your fingertips. Radio and an in-dash six-CD deck, moreover, interface with the optional DVD entertainment system for rear-seaters.

Although longer by nine inches than Yukon Denali, The Ultimate seats one less passenger. Its cargo range is marginally better, at 18.3 cu. ft. to 105 cu. ft.; but as a tow-and-haul vehicle, Navigator's a champ. The 5.4-liter single-overhead-cam V8 is rated for 8,300 lbs. of trailer pulling and a maximum payload of 1,608 lbs. Curiously, the 300-hp, 365-ft. lb. stats are a tad less powerful than the GMC's, while variable valve timing and a six-speed automatic are more efficient. But fuel economy is almost equally dismal at 13 mpg/City, 18 mpg/Highway-requiring premium, no less.

This Navigator's ride, while comfortable enough, is only penultimate compared to the Yukon's. And maneuverability in tight traffic and parking situations is, ultimately, tedious. Personally, Mr. Brashful, whereas I enjoyed playing with the Navigator's gadgets and hauling a little furniture around in that big cargo hold, I was a tad embarrassed to be seen in this big multi-chromed thing with a forced-smile on its toothy grille. Bashful or Brashful as the case may be, I suppose.

Of course, if you've got "75 large" burning a hole in your pocket, what could be more immediately gratifying than a $73,750 Range Rover HSE from Land Rover? Just think on it: you're one transaction away from total relief.

And this time, you'd be paying for legitimate "class." With its pedigreed lines and tastefully restrained styling, Range Rover plays the part of those who know they're attractive but honestly don't care. Inside are beautifully upholstered leather seats and well-placed switches and controls all arranged to highlight a conspicuous lack of fussiness and abundance of charm.

New for '05 is Land Rover's own touch-screen monitor for navigating, playing tunes, adjusting the climate. It's a bright, intuitive display, and Bluetooth wireless compatibility is built in. But the real gadgeteering is reserved for Range Rover's sophisticated powertrain.

In additional to a twin-cam 4.4-liter V8 making 282 hp and 325 ft. lbs., Range Rover boasts a silky five-speed auto with manual-shift feature. Then, there's the acronym soup of electronics devoted to traction and to safety: In addition to the now almost prosaic ABS (anti-lock braking), there's HDC (hill descent control), DSC (all-terrain dynamic stability control), EBA (emergency brake assist), EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution) and 4ETC (four-wheel electronic traction control). All this for getting to and from those treacherous places one naturally dreams of visiting in a $75,000 vehicle.

There will only be five of you going, however; and your towing will be limited to 7,700 lbs., payload to 1,345 lbs. Cargo capacity ranges from 35 cu. ft. to 65 cu. ft. And be sure to plan your stops, Mr. Brashful. Fuel mileage is a let-them-eat-cake affair: 12 mpg/City, 16 mpg/Highway, requiring premium. With money to burn, you might as well soak it liberally with petrol if you want the job done right.

2005 GMC Yukon Denali AWD; 8-pass., 4-door; AWD, 6.0-liter OHV "Vortec" V8, 4-sp. auto; 335 hp/375 ft.-lbs.; 13 mpg/City, 17 mpg/Hwy., w/ regular; cargo: 16.3-105 cu. ft.; tow: 8,100 lbs.; as-tested, $54,490

2005 Lincoln Navigator Ultimate; 7-pass., 4-door; 4WD, 5.4-liter SOHC V8 w/ vvt, 6-sp. auto; 300 hp/365 ft.-lbs.; 13 mpg/City, 18 mpg/Hwy., w/ premium; cargo: 18.3-105 cu. ft.; tow: 8,300 lbs.; as-tested, $63,830

2005 Land Rover Range Rover HSE; 5-pass., 4-door; 4WD, 4.4-liter DOHC V8 w/ vvt, 5-sp. auto; 282 hp/325 ft.-lbs.; 12 mpg/City, 16 mpg/Hwy., w/ premium; cargo: 35-62 cu. ft.; tow: 7,700 lbs.; as-tested, $73,750

By Marc Stengel

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Images of the 2005, GMC Yukon Denali AWD

2005 GMC Yukon Denali AWD
2005 GMC Yukon Denali AWD
2005 Land Rover Range Rover HSE
2005 Land Rover Range Rover HSE
2005 Lincoln Navigator Ultimate
2005 Lincoln Navigator Ultimate
2005 GMC Yukon Denali AWD
2005 GMC Yukon Denali AWD