- Luxurious interior
- Strong acceleration
- High tow ratings
- Inconvenient third-row seating
- Poor fuel economy (non-Hybrid)
- The price of a luxury brand...but it's not
The 2012 GMC Yukon–in Hybrid Denali form especially–makes a strong argument that there's still very much a place in today's market for big, capable, and supremely comfortable body-on-frame SUVs.
Like GM's other full-size trucks, including the Cadillac Escalade, and the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the 2012 GMC Yukon isn't the hot seller it was a few years ago. Many families have moved on to more space-efficient and fuel-efficient crossover designs, yet it would be premature to call the Yukon out as obsolete. Especially when outfitted with some of its many upgrades (or in Yukon Denali guise), the GMC Yukon makes a compelling luxury that's also good for towing, trekking, and getting dirty. And with the GMC Yukon Hybrid getting ratings of up to 23 mpg, gas mileage no longer has to be a sore point.
From a styling standpoint, the GMC Yukon is a handsome vehicle with a rather timeless design; the down side of that is that those not in the know might not be aware that you have a 2012 versus a previous model year though, and it's changed little in recent years. Inside, the Yukon is also very straightforward, with a somewhat more contoured look instead of the upright, macho, machine-shop look that has become the norm for pickup and SUV interiors. With their honeycomb grille up front, flashier wheels, and Nuance leather and chrome cabin details, top-of-the-like Yukon Denali models are at the top of the GMC luxury ladder (nearly on par with the Cadillac Escalade), and they're easy to spot.
While the Yukon spans a wide range of focused models, all of them have good acceleration and ride quality, but rather light steering, with little if any handling feedback (they're huge trucks, after all) is the down side. The base engine on the Yukon remains a 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).
Yukon Hybrid models perform about the same as a base-engine Yukon, yet they manage up to 23 mpg. In them, 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.
If you've driven a full-size pickup or full-size SUV before, you'll recognize the driving position; front seats are comfortable, with a great view outward. The 2012 Yukon offers interior space aplenty, but its cabin simply isn't as well-designed for passengers as more modern crossover designs, like the GMC Acadia. Yukon XL models add precious inches of third-row legroom, making it manageable for adults going short distances, but standard Yukon third rows are only for kids. In either version, second-row occupants will have to wedge their feet and knees around large center door pillars when getting in.
Also, while there's no easy way to tap into that interior space and turn it into cargo space in a pinch. The rear bench seats don't fold into the floor or fold flat, as they do in many other utility vehicles, and they can be a chore to remove.
Across the model line, you'll find ride quality to be quite good; most versions have a nicely damped, almost carlike ride, though cornering over choppy road surfaces or railroad crossings will remind you that it's a body-on-frame truck. And while the look doesn't match that of newer GM and GMC products so much, fit and finish remains top-notch, with the interior free of road and wind noise. And the Yukon backs up that impression of security with five-star ratings from the federal government for frontal and side impact and a solid roster of safety equipment.
The GMC Yukon is definitely not cheap; the base, two-wheel-drive Yukon SL tops $40,000 for 2012. But even in that SLE trim, the days of work-truck versions of the Yukon are gone; it includes power features, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary and a USB port; Bluetooth hands-free calling is included in all models as well, and for 2012 heated leather seats are added to the standard-equipment list. Also, a heated steering wheel is now available on the SLT. Also newly available through the lineup is a touch-screen-based navigation radio with SiriusXM Weather and Time Shift recording capability.
Denali editions are essentially on par with the Cadillac Escalade and come absolutely loaded with luxury and convenience features, including tri-zone automatic climate control, a power-folding second-row seat, parking sensors, side blind alert, and remote starting. But for that you'll pay; either the Yukon Denali 4WD or a Yukon Hybrid Denali can top the $60k mark.