GMC displayed its Denali XT concept at the 2008 Chicago auto show to gauge reaction. This vehicle will be polarizing--some will think it's a great idea, while others won't understand it. Among its biggest assets, it offers a 50-percent increase in combined fuel economy over comparable midsize pickups when running on gasoline and provides an early look at new GMC truck design language that could show up in some form on future GM trucks. The bottom line is that this is the kind of little truck GM needs to compete with vehicles like Toyota's futuristic A-BAT, Honda's Ridgeline, and the coming Chinese and Indian compact-truck invasion.

The rear-drive Denali XT has a unibody architecture and falls into the sport/utility truck (SUT) category, meaning it straddles the line between traditional SUV and pickup truck. Think a flatter, more nimble Honda Ridgeline or Explorer Sport Trac. Denali XT's new, more efficient 4.9-liter version of GM's small-block V-8 features fuel-saving technologies such as direct injection and Active Fuel Management.

The new engine is matched with GM's unique two-mode hybrid propulsion system, which includes an all-electric drive at low speeds, giving the SUT good overall fuel economy. With its unibody structure, the Denali XT is lighter than conventional body-on-frame trucks, with better ride and handling characteristics. Likewise, the Denali XT is filled with technologies and features that maximize its flexibility, including a cargo-space-enhancing midgate and height-adjustable suspen The design and construction were spearheaded by Holden Design, within the Australian arm of GM's global design and engineering network. Based off the Holden Ute, we've heard it reported from several sources that this vehicle will be the follow-up to a Pontiac midsize SUT, due out by 2010.

GM calls this its :muscular form, firmly planted: to give the Denali XT a confident road presence. Minimal overhangs, large wheels, sleek headlamps, and a low roof profile deliver an aggressive appearance.

:It is a robust yet tailored design statement unlike anything else on the road,: says Ed Welburn, vice president, Global Design. :It has the youthful look of a custom automobile that incorporates the capability customers expect from a truck.:

Inside, the Denali XT blends mechanical functionality with leather-trimmed comfort. Billet-metal surrounds, controls, and instruments convey the cold precision of an aircraft cockpit. The Denali XT seats four. The high-cowl vehicle architecture enables higher seating positions, allowing the distance between front and rear occupants to be reduced without compromising knee room. This packaging efficiency creates generous interior and cargo-bed dimensions within a more compact package.

The Denali XT uses a unibody structure more akin to a strong car chassis than traditional body-on-frame pickup trucks, the consequence of which is twofold. First, payload and towing capacity are less than most other vehicles of this size, offering what could be the smallest towing capacity for any V-8 offered in the U.S.


However, the second (and probably more important) consequence of using a unibody chassis--the four-wheel independent suspension with its lower center of gravity and quick, responsive capability--will have one of the most performance-oriented driving feels of just about anything on the road. Up front, the multilink suspension features a forward-mounted steering rack and dual lower links with ball joints, providing sharp responses to driver input. At the rear, a four-link design uses coilover shocks and a decoupled stabilizer bar to enhance cornering control and reduce body roll. In short, it's a truck wanting to be a sport sedan.

The rear cargo area is wide, deep, and flat, with no suspension or wheelhouse protrusions into the bedbox. The Denali XT utilizes a midgate (just like the Avalanche, Cadillac EXT, and Hummer H2 SUT) that can be lowered over the rear seats to extend the cargo-carrying capacity from inside the vehicle into the bed. The rear seats fold flat to provide a longer floor for carrying items such as skis, surfboards, or wood from the home-improvement store. A fixed rear window allowed engineers to retain the vehicle's structure, reducing mass and complexity.

The Denali XT has an estimated payload and towing capacity of 1100 and 3500 pounds, respectively. Those numbers are certainly tolerable when compared with those of other compact pickup trucks, but fall short of the capabilities of midsize trucks or other SUTs.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the Denali XT, beyond the fact that it's the wildest SUT we've ever seen, is that its new rear-drive two-mode hybrid transmission is paired with a smaller-displacement version of GM's small-block engine. The new 4.9-liter, E85-capable V-8 powers the Denali XT with an estimated 326 horses. Plus, it uses direct-injection technology to produce the power of a larger engine, but consumes less fuel and produces lower emissions than a comparably sized powertrain. Also, the functionality of GM's Active Fuel Management system has been expanded through the use of hybrid technologies, enhancing the cylinder-deactivating feature to further improve fuel efficiency. Additional powertrain technologies have been integrated as well, including Active Thermal Management, which transfers thermal energy from one driveline component to another to improve efficiency, and a high-efficiency axle configuration, which fundamentally reduces the losses normally associated with conventional axle configurations.

Like the Tahoe, Sierra, and Escalade 2-Mode Hybrid systems, the Denali XT's two-mode hybrid system is partnered with a V-8 engine (in this case, a 4.9-liter), using an electrically variable transmission for better city and highway fuel economy. In city driving, all-electric propulsion is used at low speed up to 30 mph, with the dual-mode, two-motor electric variable transmission working at highway speeds. A set of four fixed gears can be used when towing or carrying heavy loads.

Why this engine and this hybrid system? According to GM, "The specific characteristics of the Denali XT allowed the synergistic evolution of GM's small-block V-8 and two-mode hybrid beyond the recently introduced in GM two-mode hybrid products, such as the GMC Yukon Hybrid and Sierra Hybrid. The integration of the advanced internal-combustion engine technologies and two-mode hybrid system on the Denali XT reinforces GMC's Professional Grade position as a brand that continues to exceed customer expectations."

Is this the next wave in pickup-truck technology? While it does use some amazing technology that will make it into a truck in the next few years, we're not sure people are looking for pickup truck that's really not a pickup truck. And are sedan people really looking for their cars to do more truck things? This all remains to be seen. Certainly the Honda Ridgeline and Ford Explorer Sport Trac sell well, but whether GM can succeed by bringing back the El Camino or Caballero has to be considered a longshot at best. If nothing else, a Holden Ute in this country with a Corvette motor and optional six-speed manual will be fun to romp around on our test track.



GMC Denali XT
Base price range $25,000-$40,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4-door, 5-pass SUT
Engine 4.9-liter D.I. V-8, AFM
Horsepower, hp 326 (mfr est)
Torque, lb-ft 350 (mfr est)
Transmission 2-mode electric variable, 4 fixed gears
Suspension, f/r IFS/IRS double A-arm, coil springs
Wheelbase, in 125.4
Length x width x height, in 205.0 x 76.5 x 62.5
Tires Kumho 285/35R23
Base curb weight, lb 3872 (est)
Max GVWR, lb 5000
Max payload capacity, lb 1100
Max towing capacity, lb 3500
Max cargo volume, cu ft 36.2
0-60 mph, sec 8.7 (TT est)
60-0 mph, ft 134 (TT est)
Fuel econ, city/hwy, mpg 16/23 (TT est)
On sale in U.S. 2011, maybe

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