In the General Motors corporate family, GMC serves as an upscale complement to the Chevrolet truck line, offering its own better-dressed versions of the hot-selling Bowtie-branded pickups and SUVs. In terms of full-size sport/utility vehicles, The Yukon is the middle ground between the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and the Cadillac Escalade range, providing size, power, and generous amenities.
The Yukon and Yukon XL provide transport for families and businesses that have serious demands for comfort, cargo capacity, towing, and even off-roading. Five basic configurations serve diverse needs, starting with the relatively affordable base Yukon. Two setups are offered for the nearly 18-foot XL version, a 1/2-ton light-duty and 3/4-ton heavier-duty best suited for arduous use. Both 116-inch and 130-inch wheelbase Yukons are available in premium Denali trim, with unique exterior and interior treatments to create a more pampering truck experience.
The current-generation Yukon was introduced in the 2000 model year, and in the face of newer competitors, is showing signs of age in its refinement and detail execution. Although a completely new Yukon is due for the 2006 calendar year, the outgoing model range still offers a good combination of capability, features, performance, and versatility in a desirable package.
It may be huge, but you won't need to annex an airplane hangar to house a Yukon. With the vertical reach of the rear-drive Yukon measuring 76.7 inches including a luggage rack, the sport/ute will squeeze into a standard 78-inch-tall garage. Total length of the Yukon XL is 219.3 inches--the shorter-wheelbase Yukon is 20 inches shorter, making it more manageable.
The exterior styling was considered tasteful and restrained when the Yukon debuted in 2000, and it hasn't gotten any more exciting over the years. The sheetmetal rounded the edges on the then-familiar two-box Yukon shape, giving the once hard-lined truck a more suburban appearance. Tasteful in any form, the exterior is quite handsome in Denali guise, which employs a modern headlamp layout and a signature perforated chrome grille to move the appearance upmarket. The Denali's front clip also gets help from a cleaner-looking airdam with integrated round foglamps. From the side, the Denali version can be spotted by its unique body molding and a set of blinged-out 20-inch wheels. The standard Yukon wears less-flashy 17-inch wheels. Other changes for the model year include tweaks for improved aerodynamic efficiency: tow hook covers, sealed front air-deflector hole and lip extension, and smoothed running boards. Two new colors were added for 2005: Sand Beige Metallic and Blue-Green Crystal.
The standard-wheelbase GMC Yukon provides enough interior space for up to nine people, along with all their miscellaneous travel and adventure gear. Actual seating capacity varies based on which of the three trim levels is chosen. The base SLE trim has a 40/20/40-split front bench with cloth upholstery. The mid-level SLT package upgrades to supportive, leather-trimmed bucket seats up front and tri-zone climate control, among other features. The top-of-the-line Denali is loaded with almost everything--the only options are a moonroof, second-row bucket seats (dropping total seats to seven), and an upgraded entertainment system. A flip-down DVD player with A/V inputs and touch-screen navigation are included in the entertainment upgrade.
The vast interior of the Yukon boasts generous cargo space. With the third row removed and the second row folded away, more than 100 cubic feet of cargo volume is revealed in the standard-wheelbase Yukon. The larger XL increases that spec to 130 cubic feet. Even with the third-row installed, the XL supplies greater than 45 cubic feet of room. Unfortunately, all that space is lined with sub-par materials. Along with the switchgear, stereo and climate controls are the General's standard issues from the corporate parts bin. Aside from materials and fit, the operation of the controls is simple. The Denali trim level attempts to help by covering some of the Chevrolet-shared plastic with faux wood trim, but the improvement is marginal and looks tacked on, which it is. Shame is, the interior has all the right elements, with ample storage nooks, appreciated convenience items, and controls that are readily operated while wearing gloves, but the execution feels a generation behind that of the Nissan Armada and even the aging Toyota Sequoia.
GM made StabiliTrak electronic stability control standard equipment on all Yukons for 2005. Through an array of sensors, the system monitors the difference between the vehicle's actual path and the driver's desired path. If the difference is sufficient enough, the system will apply brake force to the appropriate wheel, returning the SUV to its intended course. StabiliTrak works with the four-wheel ABS to help keep the truck under control in any road condition--a big improvement in safety. Other safety features include standard tire-pressure monitoring and optional side-impact airbags for the driver and front passenger to complement the standard front airbags. Also standard on all models, OnStar receives upgraded hardware for 2005, improving coverage area and voice-recognition technology.
Four different gasoline V-8s are available to power the Yukon. The base engine for rear-wheel drive is a 4.8-liter unit, making 285 horsepower. Upgrade to four-wheel drive and a 5.3-liter engine comes standard. The improvement in horsepower is modest, up by 10, but torque production grows to 335 lb-ft, up 40 lb-ft over the base engine. Denali models get a 6.0-liter V-8 with even more power and torque, supplying markedly better acceleration. The half-ton Yukon XL gets the Vortec 5300 (except pricey Denali XLs), so requiring a step up to the 3/4-ton to get the 6.0-liter unit.
If that's not enough, an 8.1-liter V-8 makes a whopping 440 lb-ft of torque and can tow up to 12,000 pounds. No matter the engine choice, the Yukon provides excellent towing capability--even the base Yukon can haul up to 7,700 pounds. Each V-8 is hooked up to a four-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode. QuadraSteer, a revolutionary four-wheel steering system formerly available on the Yukon, is no longer offered for lack of customer interest.
There's no disguising the fact that the Yukon is a big truck. Its body-on-frame structure, borrowed from GM's full-size pickups, provides lots of tough, pull-anything ability, but it has ride-quality limitations. At least the softly sprung Yukon rides better than a pickup when soaking up choppy pavement, and it behaves well at highway speeds with less float than expected for a vehicle that weighs anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 pounds. Off-road, the Yukon has enough capability to handle whatever most users will throw at it, but it falls short in sheer mountain-climbing ability to competitors like Toyota's full-size Land Cruiser--the Yukon is just too massive to keep up. The brakes provide merely adequate stopping power, and the transmission delivers smooth but slow shifts. A five-speed auto, which is unavailable, would improve both acceleration and fuel economy.
The Yukon is best purchased by drivers who have concrete need for its extreme abilities --nine-place seating, ox-like tow ability, off-road skills--and will put them to task in combination. For solely suburban family-commuter duties, there are more refined, affordable, and efficient vehicles available. The price for indulging a Napoleon complex in purchasing more SUV than needed will inevitably be paid at the pump and through inconvenience when parking. That said, the Yukon and Yukon XL both fulfill their missions well. The feature-rich interior will appeal to buyers looking to step up from a more mainstream vehicle, or even making the transition from a well-appointed car.
The large cabin works well for large family members, with power-adjustable pedals and running boards to accommodate those of more modest stature. Fuel economy climbs one notch for 2005, though the thirst with any full-size SUV is inescapable. The appeal of a GMC over a Chevrolet is in tangible feature benefits, as well as the prestige halo, though bargain shoppers would do well to compare vehicles between the brands. IntelliChoice's data show that the Tahoe, Suburban, and Yukon offer Excellent values across their model ranges, with limited exceptions.
The handsomely appointed GMC Yukon and Yukon XL offer feature-rich alternatives to mainstream-branded SUVs, matching their seating capacity, tow ability, and performance, but doing so with an extra measure of style.
Ride/handling/power Tow up to 12,000 pounds Combination of lux, toughness
Enormity limits drivability Interior materials, design, fit Transmission needs another gear
Fuel economy has improved by one mpg thanks to subtle aerodynamics changes and move to an all-electric cooling system. Once optional, StabiliTrak is standard at all trim levels. A touch-screen, DVD-based navigation system is now available.
The Yukon offers numerous a la cart options, though the best buys are those bundled in option packages. For the ultimate towing power, the 3/4-ton Yukon can pull up to 12,000 pounds. Kids will love the available DVD player with a flip-down monitor and inputs for a video game system.