Pros: Credibly balances workaday capability and weekend playability; fits neatly between Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and Cadillac Escalade
Cons: Like its core demographic, Yukon and Yukon XL are showing their age
Regardless of the current price of a gallon of gas, GMC's Yukon remains a staple in many car pool lanes, in most areas of the country. Whether it's the shorter wheelbase (116 inch) Yukon or longer (130 inch) Yukon XL, the Yukon's high hip point, expansive glass area and truck-based platform make it a great perch from which to navigate school zones, the morning commute or the drive to the weekend place on Friday afternoon.
The Yukon/Yukon XL and the Tahoe/Suburban, with which it shares a chassis, a drivetrain and most sheetmetal, remain the enduring examples of a plentiful American past in which gasoline was cheap, roads were wide and families-or families and their friends-were large. To its credit, while the cubic volume and correspondent investment of a Yukon are necessarily sizable, its truck-based architecture and stone-ax simplicity promise long-term reliability, inexpensive maintenance and endless possibilities.
However, here in the present, the Yukon and its body-on-frame derivatives are living on borrowed-from-the-EPA time. Having a body independent from the underlying platform may make for a stronger SUV, but it creates inefficiencies in a world that is notably less tolerant of them. And while GM hasn't confirmed the design path the next Yukon, Yukon XL or Yukon Hybrid take, they will undoubtedly have unitized bodies, less weight and reduced capabilities.
Comfort & Utility
Entering either the Yukon or Yukon XL requires stepping up before getting in. Once inside, seated behind the relatively narrow steering wheel-which is great for smallish hands, less so for those larger-you'll enjoy almost unrestricted visual access to the world around you. Even with the standard 2WD chassis, the Yukon's perch is high, allowing you to navigate traffic by looking beyond what's in the lane next to you-unless, of course, what's immediately adjacent are other SUVs.
If the Yukon's separate body-on-frame architecture is a tad long in the tooth, so is its interior. To GMC's credit, the instrument gauges are easily readable, but the Yukon's center stack is so-o-o-o last century. GMC has added those technological bits and pieces necessary in the luxury truck category, but they appear added in rather than designed in. And the seating, while comfortable, provides just the smallest suggestion of real lateral support; if hopping in, make sure you're holding on.
For those who regularly carry a bunch of people, or a few people in combination with a bunch of things, the Yukon and Yukon XL are better equipped for the task than most vehicles. Both front and middle rows are genuinely spacious. The Yukon's third row is one an adult can actually enjoy, not the for-kids-only penalty box so many third rows now tend to be. If taking a lot of stuff on a regular basis, we'd go for the extra space of the XL, which gives you three rows and prodigious cargo space. And if you're towing, the Yukon XL is available on a 2500, three-quarter-ton platform, with more than 9,000 pounds of towing capability.
Under the hood of those Yukons equipped with the 5.3-liter V8 is GM's Active Fuel Management technology, in which computers monitor the engine's load; if all eight cylinders aren't necessary for forward movement, then four of those cylinders are deactivated. Navigation radio with touchscreen is standard on the Yukon Denali and optional on the Yukon SLT. The entertainment side includes SiriusXM satellite radio with CD/DVD player, color touchscreen display, USB port, radio data system and pause/play radio. This package is optional on SLE and SLT and standard on Denali, Hybrid and Denali Hybrid models. Bluetooth technology is standard on all models.
Finally, GM's OnStar is provided on all trim levels. Whether you're using it for turn-by-turn navigation, concierge service or an on-road emergency, it can prove invaluable with only a modest subscription fee.
Performance and Fuel Economy
Within the GMC Yukon family (Yukon, Yukon XL, Yukon Denali, Yukon XL Denali and Yukon Hybrid/Denali Hybrid), there are four available drivetrains. Standard on the Yukon/Yukon XL 1500 is the 5.3-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management, which makes 320 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque. Opt for the Yukon Hybrid (only with the standard, short-wheelbase Yukon platform), and you'll enjoy a two-mode hybrid system featuring an electrically variable transmission and 300-volt nickel-metal hydride energy storage system, working with a 332-hp V8 displacing 6.0 liters. Both drivetrains are seamless in their operation, with prodigious torque, instant off-the-line response and sleep-inducing over-the-road relaxation.
All Yukon Denali models are equipped with a larger-displacement 6.2-liter V8, delivering 403 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque. And if you opt for the three-quarter-ton Yukon XL you'll find 6.0 liters of V8 under the hood, providing 352 hp and 382 lb-ft of torque. Despite three tons of mass and barn-door-like aerodynamics, the Yukon family delivers reasonable but not stellar fuel economy figures. The thirstiest is the four-wheel-drive Yukon XL, delivering 10 mpg city/15 mpg highway. The most efficient is, of course, the Yukon Hybrid drivetrain, delivering an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. The 5.3 liter in the 1500 and 6.2 liter in the Denali split the difference, with city ratings in the mid-teens and highway ratings in the high teens/low 20s.
When confronted with a collision scenario, size does matter; the Yukon will be bigger than most things it collides with. If an accident does happen, however, your survivability in that collision is helped immeasurably by standard head curtain side air bags with rollover protection for all seating rows, standard seat-mounted side impact air bags for driver and right front passenger and pretensioners, which minimize passenger movement during a collision.
Helping to avoid collisions or off-road excursions are StabiliTrak with rollover mitigation technology, standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and the safety of responsive, albeit relatively thirsty, V8 powertrains.
Within the context of a 20th-century design, GM's engineering team has done a remarkable job of keeping the Yukon driver connected to the pavement. However, with 6,000 pounds of mass and a fairly conventional front suspension combined with a live rear axle, there's only so much a design team can do without scrapping all of the hardware. In the next-gen Yukon, though, we're fairly confident they'll be scrapping all of the hardware.
We found the Yukon to deliver what you'd expect from a big two-box design intended for people hauling and trailer towing. The ride is comfortable, the handling fairly remote and the power delivery seamless. In these times, and at these price points, it would be difficult to ask for more.
Other Trucks to Consider
If shopping for a GMC Yukon we'd also consider the Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Land Cruiser, Lexus LX470, Mercedes-Benz GL and Infiniti QX56. The Lincoln reflects the same (old) school of thought, while the LX470 is a bloated reinterpretation of today's Land Cruiser. The GL Mercedes is certainly more contemporary, and with the available Bluetec diesel it's significantly more efficient. With either gas or diesel powertrains, a Mercedes is more expensive. Infiniti's QX56 is an upscale derivative of Nissan's well-respected Patrol. Despite somewhat swollen proportions, it benefits from a unit body, aKing Kong powertrain and a (generally) more responsive suspension.
When shopping for a Yukon XL, especially in 2500, three-quarter-ton guise, we'd buy a Yukon XL. It's difficult - if not impossible - to identify a direct competitor.
We'd spec a 2012 Yukon XL 2500 with four-wheel drive, the SLE appearance package and all-weather floor mats. With a topped-up tank of gas, we could drive happily ever after with a transaction price of under $50,000. So equipped, the Yukon would deliver almost 10,000 pounds of towing capability, all-season safety and room for seven of our closest friends.