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The imminent arrival of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids might lead you to believe that full-size SUVs are a thing of the past. Not true: GM builds many of the big profit-making machines, and with the GMC Yukon / XL / Denali lineup, it sells one of the best full-size utes on the market. Similar to the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, as well as the Cadillac Escalade, the Yukon range gets distinctive styling inside and out, a luxurious Denali trim, and a Yukon Hybrid model covered separately. With a base price of $38,000 that rises to more than $56,000, the Yukon competes with the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the Cadillac Escalade, the Ford Expedition, the Lincoln Navigator, the Infiniti QX56, and the Toyota Sequoia.
The Yukon lineup hasn't changed much since the revamped versions arrived in the 2007 model year. They're handsome machines, with good proportions and a minimum of unnecessary detailing. A big GMC grille is framed simply by tall headlamps, and big windows are in good proportion to the Yukon's tall side metal. Yukon XL are 20 inches longer than standard Yukons, and the extra length goes right into the rear windows and metal, which takes the shape out of balance, but it's still nicely drawn. The Yukon's interior has slight differences depending on seating configuration; six-seat versions have a high dash without a center console, while five-seat versions get a wide center storage console. Either shows off a quantum leap in interior quality and styling for the big SUV. There's a wide swath of wood grain trim on some versions, softly rounded corners with tight-fitting, tightly grained plastics, with options for fine leather seats. Denali versions add more luxury touches, like a honeycomb grille up front and Nuance leather and chrome details to the cabin.
With two body styles, three trim levels, and three basic engine variants, the Yukon's performance envelope could be unmanageable-but all versions have good acceleration and ride quality, light steering, and little if any handling feedback (they're huge trucks, after all), as well as pretty dismal fuel economy. Standard-issue 2010 GMC Yukons offer a standard 5.3-liter V-8 with 320 hp in the shorter Yukon and 310 hp in the longer Yukon XL. Both of the smaller V-8s have plenty of torque to move the Yukon with authority, even with a full load, and fuel economy is quite respectable for such a huge vehicle, with ratings of 14/20 mpg from the EPA. A special Yukon XFE edition has the same power output as the smaller base SUV, but with a taller transmission final-drive ratio for better fuel economy, at 15/21 mpg. The Yukon XL and both Denali editions offer a 403-hp, 6.2-liter V-8, as an option on the XL and standard on either the Yukon Denali or the Denali XL. It's the pick for the toughest towing demands and accelerates smartly with a rich engine note, but mileage will only reach 12/19 mpg at most, even with new cylinder-deactivation technology applied. There's plenty of reserve power for hills, quick passing maneuvers, and full loads.
A single six-speed automatic transmission is offered across the Yukon lineup. In all applications, the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly but responsively. All Yukon SUVs can be ordered with available four-wheel drive. A single-speed transfer case system is standard on Yukons; a two-speed transfer case is an option on Yukon and Yukon XL; and Denali editions come with on-demand four-wheel drive. On all versions, the steering feels light but not communicative, and bumps are positively smothered by the massive curb weight and big coil-spring suspension. The GMC Yukon Denali models all get GM's Autoride electronically controlled damping system, which does a great job bringing good ride comfort and decent steering response through the big 20-inch wheels. Overall, the Denali isn't tremendously maneuverable, but it handles surprisingly well on back roads; you'll quickly forget that you're piloting a 6,000-pound vehicle that can tow up to 8,600 pounds.
Two different body styles both have plenty of room for five or six passengers in the 2010 Yukon-and the stretched Yukon XL can carry an astounding amount of stuff. The standard 2010 GMC Yukon rides on a 116-inch wheelbase, with an overall length of 202 inches. The extended-wheelbase 2010 Yukon XL Denali model adds about 20 inches of overall length and 14 inches of wheelbase, which goes to a more accessible third row and larger cargo capacity in back. That brings its total length up to 222 inches (more than 18 feet), which many city dwellers or even those who frequent shopping malls might find too large to fit easily into conventional parking spaces. Several seating configurations are offered on the 2010 GMC Yukon; in front, the seats are very generously sized and supportive, with a good view of the road ahead. The first two rows can be equipped with bench seats or buckets (called captain's chairs here); a third-row bench seat is standard on Yukon XL models and available on the Yukon. The Denali comes with captain's chairs in the first and second row, with a second-row bench seat offered as a no-charge option. A third-row bench seat has seating for up to three more in back, but in any Yukon, the third-row seat is a bit difficult to clamber into. With the third row removed and the second row folded, the Yukon XL has a huge 137.2 cubic feet of cargo space, and there's still respectable room for cargo with people in all three rows. Keep in mind that in the standard-length version, there's very little space behind the last row; it has 108.9 cubic feet with the second and third rows down, but just 16.9 cubic feet with the third-row seat raised.
Safety features and good crash-test scores are a highlight of the 2010 Yukon lineup. The Yukon gets five-star ratings from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) in both front and side-impact crash tests, though it earns only a three-star rollover rating. To help make up for that, its StabiliTrak stability control system includes rollover mitigation. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has not yet tested the big GM utes. Standard safety equipment includes dual front, side, and curtain airbags; traction and stability control; OnStar; and tire pressure monitors. A blind-spot warning system is available on all Yukons; also optional on the base Yukon and Yukon XL are a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and power-adjustable pedals, all of which are standard on Denali editions.
Workhorse editions of the 2010 GMC Yukon can be ordered fairly stripped-which still includes power features, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary and a USB port-but Denali versions approach Cadillac levels of luxury features. Other standard features on the Yukon include XM satellite radio; Bluetooth; steering-wheel audio controls; cruise control; and 17-inch wheels. Options include a rear air conditioner; a DVD navigation system with voice controls; a DVD rear-seat entertainment system; leather upholstery; a Bose premium sound system; real-time traffic; remote starting; 115-volt power outlets; power heated front seats; ventilated front seats; and a sunroof. Denali editions come absolutely loaded with luxury and convenience features, including tri-zone automatic climate control, a power-folding second-row seat, parking sensors, and remote starting. The Denali also gets a standard Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system with 10 speakers and XM Satellite Radio, as well as ventilated seats up front and a heated second-row seat. Denali options include the DVD navigation and entertainment systems, a sunroof, and power-retractable assist steps.
- Upscale looks
- Refined interior
- Powerful acceleration
- Hefty towing ability
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- Poor fuel economy
- XL's big turning circle
- Third-row seats are tight, tough to reach
- Third-row seat doesn't fold flat