For moving people and cargo, you can't beat the GMC Yukon XL and Chevrolet Suburban. They are the leaders when it comes to seating and cargo capacity (discounting the Ford Excursion, which is being discontinued). Big inside, the Yukon XL is very roomy and, for the most part, comfortable.
The exception is the seats. GM's bucket seats are big and cushy, but I don't always find them comfortable. The seat bottoms lack support, especially on the sides, and the seat bottoms don't seem long enough. Owners often disagree with this assessment, however. Bucket seats are standard on SLT and Denali models an optional on the SLE. The standard front seat setup in Yukon XL is a three-passenger, manually reclining 40/20/40 split bench with dual manual lumbar support and six-way power for the driver. They are similar in terms of comfort. Yukon XL comes standard with nice custom cloth upholstery. The optional Ultrasoft leather makes this big truck look and feel like a luxury vehicle.
The bucket seats are separated by a deep center console that holds lots of stuff. The top of the console lid features a nice rubber-lined indention, handy for sunglasses and other items. It would be even better if the rubber was an insert that could be removed for cleaning. It would be better still if the top of the console wasn't angled forward: Lay a clipboard there and it'll slide off.
Ergonomics are otherwise excellent. The cup holders are superb, a good feature for people who live and work in their vehicles. Above are well-designed map lights that can be aimed. A covered power outlet is conveniently located for cell phones and radar detectors, in addition to the cigar lighter inside the ashtray compartment.
The Driver Information Center was redesigned last year, and is now located immediately in front of the driver, below the speedometer. It's handy and easy to use, allowing the driver to program automatic locking and other features, as well as providing trip mileage, fuel economy and other data. Hate the way the doors lock every time you shift out of Park? Annoyed that the horn blows when you lock the doors? Don't want the daytime running lamps on? Turn those features off, turn them on, or deploy them partially. Everything is programmable.
Audio and climate control systems are well designed and easy to operate. The heating and air conditioning systems were redesigned for 2003 to deliver faster warm-ups and cool-downs than before. The manual heating controls that come on the base model (SLE) are nicely designed and work well. Much better, however, are the digital three-zone climate controls that come on the other models. They are sophisticated yet easy to operate, and permit separate adjustments for driver and passenger. The rear heating/air conditioning controls are mounted overhead and help improve comfort for pets as well as people.
A new tire-pressure monitoring system added for 2004 continuously checks inflation pressures and flashes a warning on the instrument cluster should any tire lose air pressure. The entire electrical system was modernized for 2003, eliminating thick bundles of wires and hundreds of connections for improved reliability, increased sophistication, and easier repair.
XM Satellite Radio is a great option to have when traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country. You still get ads, but fewer and less obnoxious than what you hear on FM. Audio controls on the steering wheel make it easy to switch among station presets and modes, among other things. Program the AM, FM1, FM2, XM1, and XM2 bands and you can quickly zip to your favorite stations without taking your hands off the wheel. XM Satellite Radio is nice to have around town for listening to the 24-hour news broadcasts (FoxNews, CNN) and sports broadcasts (ESPN, NASCAR) or for staying tuned into your favorite types of music (classical, jazz, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s).
Buttons for Homelink, which can open garage doors and gates and turn on house lights, and for the OnStar telematics system, are nicely integrated. GM's OnStar security and information service works well as a navigation system because there's nothing to program. Press the button and a human operator responds, to provide directions and other assistance. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. They will notify authorities of your location if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls. Or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. They can unlock your doors if you lock the keys inside. They can direct you to the nearest gas station or help find a good restaurant or motel. If your vehicle is stolen, OnStar can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend and recover.
The second-row bucket seats ($490) are supremely comfortable. They recline and somehow seem more supportive and more comfortable than the front seats. If four adults plus two children is the maximum you'll ever need to carry, then we'd recommend the second-row bucket seats. If you want room for three in the second row, however, the standard second-row bench seat gives you more versatility.
A pair of ceiling vents is provided on each side of the second row that can be aimed effectively. The driver controls the rear passengers' temperature and fan speeds and can direct the air to upper or lower vents or both. Most models come with a great pair of second-row cup holders that flip out of the back of the center console. Immediately above those are separate audio controls for the rear-seat passengers (if so equipped). The available wireless headphones are comfortable and sound good. The optional Panasonic DVD system ($1,295) is impressive, featuring a crisp monitor that allows second- and third-row occupants to watch movies and other programming while underway or parked.
The third-row bench seat is fine for kids or short trips, but not that comfortable for adults on longer trips. Knee room is tight. There's little hip room, and the center of the bench lacks support, causing occupants to lean toward the center. Still, it's far better than the third-row seats in the Yukon, Tahoe, and other SUVs. Third-row seating doesn't get much better than this, in other words. Cup holders are provided and overhead vents can be aimed for heating and air conditioning, important because the rear side windows cannot be opened. Three-point seat belts are provided and are nicely designed and easy to use. As with the other rows, the seat belts are integrated into the seats. There is a lap belt in the center of the third row, but putting three people back there is optimistic, as the third row is considerably narrower than the first two rows. Getting into the third row is a bit challenging. Third-row passengers will require assistance to get in or out as someone will have to move the second-row seats out of the way for them.
Cargo space abounds in the Yukon XL. There's 45.7 cubic feet behind the third row, which is a lot. By comparison, a standard-length Yukon or Tahoe provides just 16.3 cubic feet, while a Ford Expedition offers 20.6 cubic feet behind the third row. Fold the Yukon XL's third-row seatback down, then tumble the seat forward and you'll have a lot more storage capacity, and you can still carry four to six people, depending on the seating package. Remove the third row and put it in the garage for 90 cubic feet of cargo room. Finally, flip up the second-row seat bottoms, fold the seatback down, then flip the folding carpeted platform backward, and you're looking at a flat floor with 131.6 cubic feet of space, great for runs to the home-improvement center or big outdoor outings. This is one of the few vehicles that offers comfortable sleeping accommodations, a benefit when fatigue takes over on that long drive home after a day afield.