General Motors' cars and trucks have the best seat-heaters. I'm in the Upper-Midwest, and for the holiday season I borrowed a 2008 GMC Yukon Denali XL for the drive back to Wisconsin. Now it can be told (to GM); the sport/utility came back with so many miles because I drove it not just to a vacation rental near Milwaukee, but then on December 30 to see the Lions vs. Packers at Lambeau Field, another 120 miles or so from my parents' home in the suburbs.
My wife, Donna, and I drove from Detroit to the vacation rental a couple of days before Christmas, the Denali XL loaded with presents, our three collies in the cargo area, and a Charlie Brown tree on the roof. A Ford Expedition with a flat-folding third row might seem a better choice, but with blankets and dog beds keeping all the collie fur off the SUV's black carpeting, the third row seats were folded and flipped, helping create a barrier between the dogs and the second row. The huge XL felt loaded to capacity, and often needed to downshift from sixth gear to pass on the freeway. But it was as smooth, powerful and comfortable as anything we could have asked for -- a far better choice for this trip than sibling Hummer H2, for example. The XL doesn't fit in Motor Trend's Detroit Bureau garage any easier than it does in L.A.'s G3, but it's made for crossing the frozen prairie several states in a day.
Why are GM's heated seats best? Because after you've warmed the leather under your backside, you can shut off the cushion heater and still run the seatback heater, which sooths the lower back. Our Denali also came with a heated steering wheel, a $150 option, and worth it, especially for regular Lambeau tailgaters. Other options were 20-inch chrome wheels ($1,950), and a package that includes touchscreen navigation with CD/DVD/MP3 players, rearview camera (very useful particularly with the cargo space full, and should be standard on any SUV this size), rear seat entertainment and a power-sliding sunroof. The navigation system doesn't deserve praise like the heated seats. It's hard to program and to use effectively; it was difficult to input certain destinations.
The Denali's 6.2-liter small block is rated 380 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. With a Gross Vehicle Weight of more than 7400 pounds, it's not subject to EPA fuel mileage estimates. We began the journey with the dashboard display showing 12.5 mpg, and coaxed no better than 13.6 mpg -- a lot of highway driving with some city driving -- out of it. A full tank took us from Detroit to the North Side of Chicago on one tank. Fill-ups were in the $90 -$95 range. I tried both regular and the recommended, but not required premium, the latter of which is worth the few extra bucks in this truck: there's noticeably smoother power delivery with 93 octane.
I've never been a big fan of SUVs. I have no interest in towing a motorboat or horse trailer. Now I have a better appreciation of them, especially the really big ones. Hummers still don't make any sense, but Suburbans, Denali XLs and Expeditions do so long as they have the interior space to make up for their avoirdupois.
So my father and I trekked up to Lambeau on that Sunday to see the Green Bay Packers rout the Detroit Lions, 34-13 (my wife bought us the tickets early in the season, when both teams were undefeated and the last game might have meant more). In Lambeau's parking lot, the Denali made a great tailgater -- friendly fellow Packer fans donated a couple of bratwurst, washed down with Hendricks martinis. Lambeau is a sacred place for sports fans; going there for the first time felt much like my first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, only much colder.
We saw Brett Favre play a bit more than the first quarter, from our nosebleed bleacher seats. Lions fans behind us saw the Packers' third-string quarterback, Craig Nall, continue the rout and brought out their "Fire Matt Millen" sign. Even with an easy win and Favre watching from the sidelines in 19-degree weather, we stayed, like the rest of the stadium, to the very end.
Three weeks later, the Packers lost to the New York Giants in overtime of course, so they won't be playing in Sunday's big game. Still, Green Bay's 14-3 season was far better than the sports pundits expected. The Pack will be back, and I'll return to Lambeau -- maybe next time with a diesel.