Despite the numerous choices in the expanding midsize crossover SUV field, there will always be strong demand for a full-size vehicle such as the 2015 GMC Yukon. For sheer passenger space (it can seat up to nine), cargo volume and towing ability, many Americans simply can't forgo what the Yukon and the stretched Yukon XL are serving up. Sure, these beasts don't fit easily into narrow, compact-car parking slots, nor are they going to win any awards for sports-car-like handling or ease of maneuverability. As far as full-size SUVs go, however, GMC has perfected the formula better than anyone, creating a modern family caravan that is safe, comfortable, and unlike the station wagons of yore, capable of tackling the worst winter weather.
For those seeking a bit more luxury in their Professional Grade Yukon, GMC offers its Denali treatment on both the Yukon and Yukon XL. The Denali raises the Yukon's status a few steps above its Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban cousins while stopping just shy of crossing into Cadillac Escalade territory. While the Chevy, GMC and Cadillac SUVs all share the same platform, only the Denali shares the same engine and suspension with the Cadillac. In reality, the big difference between the Chevy duo and the GMC Yukon is that the latter delivers a more upscale interior in a vehicle that won't be viewed as too elite when showing up to go camping, fishing or road-tripping.
What's New for 2015?
The GMC Yukon and GMC Yukon XL are all new for 2015.
What We Like
What We Don't
Third-row seats fold flat but not flush into the floor, creating a higher loading platform; not easy to maneuver in confined spaces; max tow rating less than the Ford Expedition or Nissan Armada; surprisingly expensive
The standard engine for the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL is a 5.3-liter V8, good for 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. Coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission, this engine achieves 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Opt for the all-wheel-drive (AWD) version and the mileage is nearly identical at 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy.
The pricier Denali trim is powered by a 6.2-liter V8, producing 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. The Environmental Protection Agency rates this engine at 15 mpg city/21 mpg hwy for the 2-wheel-drive model, and 14 mpg city/21 mpg hwy when equipped with AWD.
Standard Features & Options
The GMC Yukon comes in two models: Yukon and Yukon XL. There are three trims for the Yukon: SLE, SLT and Denali. As trim levels are consistent among the models, the only real difference between the Yukon and the Yukon XL is the added length and additional cost.
The Yukon SLE ($47,330 for the Yukon; $50,030 for the Yukon XL) features a 5.3-liter V8, 18-inch wheels, a rear-vision camera, rain-sensing wipers, front fog lights, a roof rack with cross bars, heated outside mirrors, Bose premium audio with five USB ports, front and rear park assists, a 110-volt power outlet, cloth seating, remote start, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel and tri-zone automatic climate control. Front bucket seating can be replaced with a 40/20/40 split bench, increasing the overall passenger capacity from eight to nine people.
Moving up to the Yukon SLT ($55,730 for the Yukon; $58,430 for the Yukon XL) adds leather seats, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, second- and third-row power-folding seats, a programmable power rear lift gate, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and push-button start, lane-departure warning, power-adjustable pedals and the Driver Alert package that includes the safety alert seat, side blind-zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert and forward-collision alert.
The premium Yukon Denali ($63,665 for the Yukon; $66,375 for the Yukon XL) brings a larger 6.2-liter V8, an 8-in color touchscreen radio with navigation and Bluetooth streaming, a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system, active noise cancellation, magnetic ride control and a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel.
AWD adds about $3,000 to any Yukon or Yukon XL model.
The SLE can be equipped with power-adjustable pedals and a power rear lift gate (part of the Convenience package), as well as the Driver Alert package, a towing package and larger wheels and tires. The SLT offers the Sun, Entertainment and Destination package that brings navigation, a rear-seat entertainment system, a power sunroof and an additional 9-month subscription to SiriusXM Radio and NavTraffic. The SLT can also be equipped with adaptive cruise control.
The Denali offers a Touring package that brings a head-up display, a power sunroof, a rear-seat entertainment package and 20-in chrome wheels. Adaptive cruise control is also optional for the Denali.
The Yukon includes a full complement of airbags, including front-seat side-impact and full-length side-curtain airbags. Also standard is the segment's only front-seat center-mounted airbag (models with bucket seats only) that provides greater protection to the driver and passenger in the event of a side-impact collision. Additional safety equipment includes electronic monitors to warn of items in front and behind the vehicle and of approaching cross traffic when backing up, and a radar-based forward-collision warning system.
To date, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the 2015 GMC Yukon.
Behind the Wheel
If you're holding your breath anticipating that we'll tell you that the Yukon has precise handling and sporty moves, you should exhale now because no such review is coming. Considering the Yukon's weight of 5,500 pounds, tall ride height and massive length, however, GMC has done a remarkable job getting its body-on-frame behemoth to behave. So long as the Yukon is not confined like a large bear in a small cage, it's able to run quite comfortably, negotiating winding roads, delivering acceptable levels of steering feedback and braking and returning highway fuel economy numbers that break the 20-mpg barrier.
If you're all about performance and handling and you want the maximum that can be squeezed from a full-size SUV, we have to recommend that you go with the Denali trim. Its larger engine boasts more power and torque, yet its fuel economy only drops by one or two digits. The Denali's standard magnetic-ride-control suspension (the same technology used in the Corvette) is what makes this Yukon the best-handling, best-riding of the bunch. Magnetic ride control can change the shock absorbers' dampening in milliseconds, responding to changing road conditions and helping to keep the Yukon's ride stable and controlled at all times.
An army of electronic assists -- such as StabiliTrak stability control and electronic traction control -- help keep the Yukon on its intended heading, while a number of features inside help keep the driver alert. One of the more intriguing is an available driver's seat that vibrates on either side to warn of objects nearing the vehicle's side. As for high tech, the Yukon can be equipped with the MyLink infotainment system that includes a fantastic 8-in viewing screen with some of the most intuitive and user-friendly graphics around. Unfortunately, some of MyLink's voice commands were not as user-friendly.
For those who need to tow, the Yukon is rated up to 8,500 pounds with 2WD and 8,200 with 4WD; Denali models are rated at 8,400 and 8,100 pounds, respectively.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban -- The Chevrolet duo is mechanically identical to the Yukon and Yukon XL, with the Chevy models costing a bit less. Also, magnetic ride control is standard on Chevy's LTZ trim, which costs less than the Denali.
Nissan Armada -- Nissan's full-size family hauler has a much lower entry-level price and has a 9,000-lb max tow rating. On the flip side, the Armada's engine isn't as powerful as the Yukon's, and its fuel economy is much worse.
Ford Expedition -- The Expedition and Expedition EL can match the Yukon for size and interior room but have a better tow rating, a lower base price and a flush-folding rear seat for improved cargo room and easy loading.
To us, the clear choice here is the SLT. It offers all the upscale features buyers expect from a GMC while still holding the bottom line well below $60,000. If you need basic family transportation with minimal frills, the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban pair costs a bit less than the duo's Yukon counterparts. If you're looking for the ultimate in luxury, the Denali will save you some bucks over a comparably equipped Escalade.