New & Used GMC Yukon: In Depth
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The GMC Yukon is a full-size SUV and the largest offering from the brand's SUV and crossover lineup. It is offered in two sizes: the standard-wheelbase Yukon model and the lengthened Yukon XL. They're based on the same architecture as the GMC Sierra pickup truck and share most of their components with the Cadillac Escalade and Chevy's Suburban and Tahoe.
The Yukon competes with those other GM SUVs, as well as the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Sequoia, Nissan Armada, and Infiniti QX80. The Mercedes-Benz GL-Class could now be considered a competitor as well, as the latest Yukon is more refined than before.
Like the other full-size GM sport-utes, the Yukon entered a new generation for the 2015 model year, its first major rework since 2007.
MORE: Read our 2015 GMC Yukon review
GM introduced the first Yukon for the 1992 model year. That original model was a two-door SUV version of the company's GMT400 family of trucks and utilities. The first four-door Yukon arrived in 1995, using the same basic V-8 engine and automatic transmission. Yukons of this generation were initially offered with either rear- or four-wheel drive. Changes over the early model's lifespan included the addition of OnStar, an all-wheel-drive option, and the fancier Denali trim level.
For the second-generation Yukon, GM moved its big trucks and SUVs to the GMT800 architecture, introducing new engines and transmissions along with them. A 275-hp, 4.8-liter V-8 was the base engine, while a 5.3-liter V-8 good for 295 hp was also available. Underneath, most versions of this Yukon pulled their weight with either rear- or four-wheel drive; the Denali kept the on-demand all-wheel-drive system as an exclusive. This second-generation Yukon was sold through the 2006 model year, over time gaining stability control, satellite radio, and rear-seat entertainment systems.
In 2007 GM began replacing all its full-size trucks and SUVs with new "GMT900" vehicles, and introduced new versions of the Yukon including a new four-door model--the Yukon XL, which replaced the former long-body GMC Suburban. The Denali returned, and the name was applied to the XL editions along with accompanying luxury trim. Engines included 4.8-liter V-8, the 5.3-liter V-8, and a 6.2-liter V-8 for Denali editions with up to 403 hp. A Hybrid model was added in the 2009 model year, to acclaim but to slow sales. A six-speed automatic became the standard transmission on all versions save for the 4.8-liter V-8 versions, which held fast with the four-speed automatic (with that engine and transmission discontinued after 2009), and the Hybrid, which applied a specially engineered two-mode automatic for better fuel economy.
In this generation, the Yukon family of SUVs had its own distinctive styling inside and out, with a vast and well-trimmed interior, and options for a third passenger seat in the front row. Fuel economy on the Hybrid versions was exceptional--as high as 20 mpg city, 23 highway--and the Denali editions were suitable Range Rover replacements for some.
This Yukon rolled on into 2014 essentially unchanged, although GM introduced some improvements in the later years of this generation, including Trailer Sway Control (2012) and Powertrain Grade Braking (2013). The Hybrid edition was dropped after the 2013 model year.
The new GMC Yukon
For its biggest change in eight years, the 2015 Yukon adopted a more squared-off body, updated powertrains, and new fold-flat rear seats. Available in two body styles as before, the current Yukon rides on two wheelbases: the standard version's wheelbase is 116 inches, while the Yukon XL's is 130 inches. The styling is still traditional, but despite the very angular look, GMC says it's much more aerodynamically favorable than on the outgoing utes. Compared to the previous-generation Yukon, materials and design have been updated throughout the cabin, making for a much more luxurious experience, particularly in Denali-trim examples.
To reduce weight and allow better design for crash safety, the new Yukon's frame uses a larger percentage of high-strength steel throughout. The suspension still depends on leaf springs and a live axle at the rear—with a standard locking differential—but the track is wider in back now, which improves stability and handling. Like the Sierra, the Yukon moves to electric power steering. Top-spec Denali models get standard magnetorheological adaptive shocks, which improve both ride and handling. Towing maxes out at 8,500 pounds with proper equipment.
Powertrains are shared with the full-size Sierra pickup as well as the other GM SUVs. The standard engine is the same 5.3-liter V-8 found in the Sierra; in the Yukon, it's rated at 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. The upgrade engine is GM's new 6.2-liter V-8, with 420 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque—it's similar to the engine used in the Corvette Stingray. Both powerplants were teamed with a six-speed automatic at launch, with a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. An eight-speed automatic for the bigger V-8 comes online part-way through the 2015 model year; it's likely to move to all engine combinations in future model years.