Consumers opting for a full-size SUV like the 2019 GMC Yukon are typically looking for a substantial vehicle to pull something. Its truck-based, body-on-frame design delivers a solid platform for towing. When properly equipped, Yukons with the 5.5-liter V8 can pull up to 8,500 pounds. This is beyond the capabilities of a car-based crossover. This big GMC is engineered for capability above comfort. Despite its handsome, well-made interior and bevy of tech features, it’s basically a workhorse.
At the core of the comfort and the convenience issue is the Yukon’s solid rear axle, causing a jiggly ride on all but the top-end Denali, which boasts a magnetically controlled suspension. Both rear-seat space and cargo space are also impacted by the solid rear axle setup. The suspension setup also results in a high cargo floor. Moving up to the XL, with its extra length, solves the third-row-seat-legroom issue, as well as opening up some additional cargo space.
Because of the rear-axle issues, it’s difficult not to recommend cross-shopping the 2019 Ford Expedition with its more modern independent rear suspension.
What’s New for 2019?
Changes are minimal. The SLT grade qualifies for two new packages: Graphite Edition and Graphite Performance Edition, which includes an upgrade to the Denali’s 6.2-liter V8 and 10-speed automatic transmission. A few new exterior colors are also available.
What We Like
Upscale interior; a user-friendly infotainment system; can seat up to nine people; Denali’s 6.2-liter V8 and 10-speed automatic are ideal for towing
What We Don’t
Third-row seats in the regular Yukon are barely usable; a sky-high load height; jiggly ride; not easy to maneuver in confined spaces; sluggish throttle response; surprisingly expensive
The standard engine for the GMC Yukon and the 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 and rear-wheel drive, this engine achieves 15 miles per gallon in the city, 22 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg in combined driving. Those figures are effectively reduced by one mpg in the 4-wheel-drive versions.
The pricier Denali trim is powered by a 6.2-liter V8, which produces 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. It comes with a 10-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 14 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/17 mpg combined with RWD and 14 mpg city/20 mpg hwy/16 mpg combined with 4WD.
For those who need to tow, the 5.3-liter Yukon is rated up to 8,500 pounds with RWD and 8,200 pounds with 4WD.
Standard Features & Options
The GMC Yukon comes in three trim levels: SLE, SLT and Denali. Two body styles, the regular-length Yukon and the larger Yukon XL, are also offered. 4WD is available on all versions. Prices include the $1,295 factory destination fee.
The Yukon SLE ($50,795 for the Yukon; $53,495 for the Yukon XL) features a 5.3-liter V8, 18-in wheels, a backup camera, automatic wipers, fog lights, remote ignition, a roof rack with cross bars, heated mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a power driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, an 8-in touchscreen, Bluetooth, OnStar, on-board Wi-Fi, five USB ports, satellite and HD Radios, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 9-speaker Bose sound system. Standard front bucket seats can be replaced with a 40/20/40-split bench, increasing the overall passenger capacity from eight to nine people.
The optional Enhanced Driver Alert package adds forward-collision warning with low-speed automatic braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist. The Convenience package adds a power lift gate, power-adjustable pedals and an auto-dimming mirror.
Moving up to the Yukon SLT ($57,995 for the Yukon; $58,695 for the Yukon XL) includes those extras along with a hands-free power rear lift gate, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic assist, keyless entry and push-button start, leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, second- and third-row power-folding seats, a heated power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory functions and a wireless smartphone charging pad.
Optional is the Graphite Edition Package with upgraded 22-in bright wheels, black assist steps, a black grille insert and fog light surrounds, as well as the Z85 suspension package. The Graphite Performance Edition includes the larger 6.2-liter V8 engine, the 10-speed automatic transmission, 22-in black wheels, an 8-in driver info center, a head-up display, an upgraded infotainment system with an 8-in touchscreen, Bose active noise cancellation, a trailer-brake controller and magnetic ride control among other goodies.
The premium Yukon Denali ($67,895 for the Yukon; $70,595 for the Yukon XL) brings a 6.2-liter V8, a 10-speed automatic, a magnetically controlled suspension, xenon headlights, a head-up display, second-row captain’s chairs, a navigation system and a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system.
Certain features on upper trim levels are available on lower ones. The SLT and the Denali can be equipped with a sunroof, a rear entertainment system and adaptive cruise control. The Denali Ultimate package includes all those items, plus 22-in wheels, power-retractable running boards and nine extra months of satellite radio.
The Yukon includes a full complement of airbags, including front-seat, side-impact and full-length side-curtain airbags. A segment-exclusive front-seat center-mounted airbag is also standard (only on models with bucket seats) and provides the driver and passenger with an extra level of protection in the event of a side-impact collision. Additional safety options include parking sensors, GM’s Safety Alert Seat, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning with low-speed automatic braking, blind spot monitoring, a rear cross-traffic assist system and automatic high beams.
The Yukon earned a 4-star overall score out of five possible stars in crash testing carried out by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The regular Yukon received 5-star ratings for frontal and side crash protection, but the XL oddly differed with a 4-star frontal score. Neither have been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
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 comment is coming. The SUV comes off as clumsy to drive. With its weight of 5,500 pounds, its tall height and its body-on-frame construction, the Yukon’s ponderous to drive. However, those elements are common to all full-size SUVs. The Yukon actually goes a few steps further with sluggish throttle response and a wiggly, jiggly ride courtesy of its solid rear suspension. Competitors like the Ford Expedition do not suffer from this.
The one model that does exorcise some of these demons is the Denali trim. Its larger engine boasts more power and torque, and importantly, the standard Magnetic Ride Control suspension improves the model’s ride quality considerably. Handling is also improved somewhat.
Inside, the 2019 GMC Yukon impresses with its class-leading design, materials quality and technology features. The standard touchscreen is easy to use, and these days, who can argue with five standard USB ports? Really, every trim level is a pleasant place to spend time in. Well, as long as you’re not in the third row of the regular-length Yukon. It’s shockingly cramped for a vehicle of its size, something that is rectified in the Yukon XL and another problem not shared by the Expedition. Again, this is the result of the rear suspension that also elevates the cargo area load floor to an uncomfortable height.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Ford Expedition — The Expedition was all-new for 2018. It has superior third-row space and cargo capacity, a far more civilized driving experience and interior quality to rival the Yukon. If you’re in the market for a capable full-size SUV, this is where your search should start.
2019 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban — The Chevrolet duo are mechanically identical to the Yukon and the Yukon XL, with Chevy’s models being the less expensive versions. Also, Magnetic Ride Control is standard on Chevy’s LTZ trim, which costs less than the Denali.
2019 Buick Enclave — Because the GMC Acadia shrank last year, your best large crossover alternative at a GMC–Buick dealership is the Enclave. It has a more spacious third-row seat than the regular Yukon, while being more maneuverable, comfortable, efficient and luxurious.
Used Cadillac Escalade — The Escalade touts more equipment, more standard power and more exuberant styling than the Yukon, along with a well-known brand name. Prices are steep, though, so you may want to consider a used model.
We think you’d be better off with a Ford Expedition. But, if you must, the SLT offers the upscale features buyers expect from a GMC, while still holding the bottom line well below $60,000. Ponying up extra for the XL may be a good idea, too, since its third row is actually usable.