2011 GMC Yukon Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 25, 2011

The 2011 GMC Yukon Denali is evidence that big, capable body-on-frame sport-utility vehicles can be supremely comfortable and luxurious.

The 2011 GMC Yukon isn't selling at anywhere close to the levels it was a number of years ago, but it's premature to call its very useful, luxurious design a thing of the past. Especially in top Yukon Denali guise, the GMC Yukon makes a compelling luxury vehicle and is one of the best full-size sport-utility vehicles on the market. And for those who have issue with that models fuel economy in the teens, the GMC Yukon Hybrid can be had in lavish Denali trim and returns up to 23 mpg.

Though it looks from the front much like GM's full-size sport-utility vehicles on which it's based (including the GMC Sierra), the 2011 GMC Yukon is a very handsome vehicle, with good proportions and a minimum of unnecessary detailing. The interior of the GMC Yukon is also very straightforward, too, and has a more rounded, simple style instead of the upright, macho, machine-shop look that some other models sport. Denali versions add more luxury touches, like a honeycomb grille up front and Nuance leather and chrome details to the cabin.

While the Yukon spans a wide range of focused models, all of them have good acceleration and ride quality, and rather light steering, with little if any handling feedback (they're huge trucks, after all). Standard-issue 2011 GMC Yukon models offer a standard 5.3-liter V-8 with 320 hp, but a larger 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 is offered in the longer Yukon XL and luxurious Yukon Denali model. The latter is the pick for the toughest towing demands and accelerates smartly with a rich engine note, but even with the included cylinder deactivation system, it's a very thirsty engine. 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 (or 5,000 in the case of the Hybrid).

Review continues below

In Hybrid models, a big 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 is augmented with electric motors and battery power, using a version of the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed by GM with BMW, Daimler and Chrysler. With this system, the Yukon can accelerate (lightly) on battery power alone or with a mix of engine and motor power.

The 2011 GMC Yukon has plenty of interior space, provided you don't plan to use the third row. Both the standard-length Yukon and the stretched Yukon XL come with three rows of seating, but in the standard XL it's only good for kids, and with the combination of a high step-up and a narrow opening to wedge through, it's hard to access.

Ride quality in the Yukon is quite good throughout the model line, with most trims having a nicely damped, almost carlike ride—only cornering on choppy surfaces, or railroad crossings, will remind you that it's actually a body-on-frame truck. Fit and finish inside is generally top-notch, the interior is pleasantly free of wind and road noise. And in keeping with that secure impression, the Yukon's roster of safety equipment and occupant protection ratings are among the best.

With a starting price close to $40,000 and a long set of standard convenience features even in its base SLE trim, the days of work-truck versions of the Yukon are gone. The Yukon SLE comes with power features, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary and a USB port; Bluetooth hands-free calling is newly standard on all models, too. 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.

It doesn't come cheap, though. Both a loaded Yukon Denali 4WD or a Yukon Hybrid Denali can top the $60k mark.

7

2011 GMC Yukon

Styling

The 2011 GMC Yukon doesn't push any styling or design boundaries inside or out, but its design is handsome and upscale.

Though it looks from the front much like GM's full-size sport-utility vehicles on which it's based (including the GMC Sierra), the 2011 GMC Yukon is a very handsome vehicle, with good proportions and a minimum of unnecessary detailing. Framed simply by tall headlamps, the big GMC grille looks very businesslike, and with big windows and relatively tall sheetmetal that avoids the overwrought, ripped and rippled look worn by some full-size utes, the Yukon looks understated but serious.

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 interior of the GMC Yukon is also very straightforward, and has a more rounded, simple style instead of the upright, macho, machine-shop look that some other models sport. The Yukon's interior has slight differences depending on seating configuration, but they all get the same nicely styled interior, with wood grain trim, tightly grained plastics, and soft, upscale-looking upholstery on offer. Denali versions add more luxury touches, like a honeycomb grille up front and Nuance leather and chrome details to the cabin.

7

2011 GMC Yukon

Performance

For such a large, massive vehicle, the 2011 GMC Yukon XL drives well.

While the Yukon spans a wide range of focused models, all of them have good acceleration and ride quality, and rather light steering, with little if any handling feedback (they're huge trucks, after all). Standard-issue 2011 GMC Yukon models offer a standard 5.3-liter V-8 with 320 hp, but a larger 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 is offered in the longer Yukon XL and luxurious Yukon Denali model. The latter is the pick for the toughest towing demands and accelerates smartly with a rich engine note, but even with the included cylinder deactivation system, it's a very thirsty engine.

With the standard engine the 2011 Yukon can move quite quickly, and its six-speed automatic transmission provides rapid acceleration and good responsiveness. 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.

8

2011 GMC Yukon

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 GMC Yukon offers a spacious interior and refined ride—though the third row can be disappointing.

The 2011 GMC Yukon has plenty of interior space, provided you don't plan to use the third row. Both the standard-length Yukon and the stretched Yukon XL come with three rows of seating, but in the standard XL it's only good for kids, and with the combination of a high step-up and a narrow opening to wedge through, it's hard to access. 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—plus a wider opening to that third row.

In either version, the third-row seat doesn't actually fold into the floor when not in use; it needs to be lifted out of the vehicle, which is really a job for two people. 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.

Another problem with the Yukon XL's length is that many city dwellers or even those who frequent shopping malls might find it simply too large to fit easily into conventional parking spaces—or maneuver through tight city streets.

Ride quality in the Yukon is quite good throughout the model line, with most trims having a nicely damped, almost carlike ride—only cornering on choppy surfaces, or railroad crossings, will remind you that it's actually a body-on-frame truck. Fit and finish inside is generally top-notch, the interior is pleasantly free of wind and road noise.

8

2011 GMC Yukon

Safety

Excellent crash-test results confirm the Yukon's reputation for safety.

The 2011 GMC Yukon is a big, stout vehicle, and it lives up to its initial impressions of security with excellent occupant protection and a good set of safety equipment.

Safety equipment on all Yukon models includes dual front, side, and curtain airbags that cover all rows of seats; traction and stability control; OnStar; and tire pressure monitors.

And while the Yukon hasn't yet been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the federal government has given it top five star scores in both frontal and side impact in its new, more stringent test program—with an overall score of four only because it's such a tall vehicle and thus more rollover-prone. In the new NHTSA side pole test, which isn't yet figured into the overall score, the Yukon also gets a top five-star score.

The Yukon's tall stance, though, might be an issue for some shorter drivers as they park or change lanes. However for that there are large side side mirrors, as well as an available blind-spot warning system, parking sensors, and a rearview camera system.

8

2011 GMC Yukon

Features

The Yukon Denali and Yukon Hybrid Denali are full-fledged luxury vehicles with feature lists that are competitive with Mercedes-Benz or Land Rover.

With a starting price close to $40,000 and a long set of standard convenience features even in its base SLE trim, the days of work-truck versions of the Yukon are gone. The Yukon SLE comes with power features, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary and a USB port; Bluetooth hands-free calling is newly standard on all models, too.

Next up, SLT models get fog lamps, an upgraded Bose audio system, remote starting, tri-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, rear parking assist, an in-mirror rearview camera system, and additional power ports.

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 ten 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.

The Tahoe Hybrid comes equipped about as well as the Yukon SLT, but a Yukon Hybrid Denali model adds the works—including the Denali's additional acoustical insulation.

It doesn't come cheap, though. Both a loaded Yukon Denali 4WD or a Yukon Hybrid Denali can top the $60k mark.

5

2011 GMC Yukon

Fuel Economy

The 2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid is one of the greenest large SUVs, while the rest of the Yukon line is a bit more efficient than most in this class.

The 2011 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL models get better fuel economy, generally, than most other models in this class, with EPA numbers at 15 mpg city, 21 highway for the 5.3-liter engine.

The exception is the 6.2-liter engine that's optional on the XL and included in the Denali. It returns just 14/18.

But the Yukon lineup redeems itself with the Hybrid model. With an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 23 highway, the Yukon Hybrid gets nearly 50 percent more miles out of every gallon, compared to most other full-size SUVs, and it has most of their towing ability (5,000 pounds).

All standard Yukon models are also E85 (85-percent ethanol) compatible; but when you fuel up with ethanol you'll get an EPA-estimated 11 mpg city, 16 highway.

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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
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