New & Used GMC Yukon: In Depth
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The GMC Yukon is a full-size SUV that’s based on its cohort GMC Sierra pickup truck. It takes many of its components from the Cadillac Escalade and the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe.
Like those sport-utes, the Yukon was extensively updated for the 2015 model year, its fullest reworking since 2007.
MORE: Read our 2015 GMC Yukon review
In 1992 GM introduced the first Yukon, a two-door version of the old "GMT400" family of trucks and utes. In 1995, the first four-door body style emerged, though the Yukon still sported the basic V-8 and automatic powertrain. Rear- and four-wheel-drive versions were offered; in its lifetime, this generation of Yukons added Onstar, all-wheel drive and Denali trim to the basic package.
For the second-generation Yukon, GM moved to the GMT800 architecture, and introduced new engines and transmissions, including a 4.8-liter V-8 and a 5.3-liter V-8. The eight-cylinders produced between 275 and 295 horsepower. Underneath, this Yukon range pulled its weight with either rear- or four-wheel drive; the Denali kept the on-demand all-wheel-drive system as an exclusive. This Yukon was sold through the 2006 model year, over the years 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, like Trailer Sway Control (2012) and Powertrain Grade Braking (2013). The Hybrid edition was dropped in 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 in 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.
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 will come online part-way through the 2015 model year; it's likely to move to all engine combinations once GM ramps up production of the transmission.