2013 GMC Yukon Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 6, 2012

Large, capable, body-on-frame SUVs still have a place--especially if you're honed in on the 23-mpg, 2013 GMC Yukon Hybrid Denali.

Full-size SUVs like the GMC Yukon--along with the closely related Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban--simply aren't the hot items that they were just a few years ago. With families moving on to more fuel-efficient and space-efficient crossovers, these are once again niche vehicles.

But they're definitely not the same sort of niche vehicles they were before SUVs boomed in the 'burbs. The Yukon has, especially with its last major redesign for 2007, moved up the luxury ladder without forgetting completely about those who need to carry ladders for work, or rely on the Yukon's towing capacity to drag boats or race rigs. 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 at 23 mpg, the GMC Yukon Hybrid shows that gas mileage doesn't need to be such a sore point for a vehicle of this size and capability.

With regard to styling, very little in the GMC Yukon has changed--in years--and there's some good and bad to that. On the plus side, it's a tasteful, timeless, handsome design on the outside--and a slightly contoured version of the classic two-box SUV look. But the down side is that inside the Yukon definitely shows its age. There's none of the modern machine-shop look of some of the Yukon's rivals, which is fine, but the look is rather dull compared to the interior designs of more recent models like the Terrain. Denali models are the ones to spot; they have a honeycomb grille up front, and flashier wheels, with a more dashing interior dressed in Nuance leather and chrome details.

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Across the model line, the Yukon offers strong, smooth acceleration and plenty of power, with ride quality that's surprisingly good, although the overly light steering is a disappointment. A 320-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 is the mainstay for the lineup, with a six-speed automatic transmission, but larger Yukon XL and Yukon Denali models get a brawny 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8. Even considering that engine's greater thirst (despite having cylinder deactivation), it's the pick for those who have the toughest towing tasks. 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).

The Yukon Hybrid models remain an interesting proposition; they perform about the same as a Yukon with the base engine, yet they manage up to 23 mpg thanks to a Two-Mode Hybrid system managing a big 332-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8, an electric motor system, and a substantial battery pack. Altogether, this full hybrid system can run at up to 27 mph on electric power alone yet tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Yukon models offer very comfortable (and quite wide) front seats, with a good driving position and view outward. It's quite comfortable in the second row, too, although passengers will have to wedge their feet and knees around the large door pillars when getting in, and squeezing back to the already-tight third row is, to put it best, an ordeal. Its cabin simply isn't as well-designed for passengers as more modern crossover designs, like the GMC Acadia. Also, while there's no easy way to tap into that interior space and turn it into cargo space in a pinch, as the rear bench seats don't entirely fold to the floor or into it; and removing them takes a lot of muscle and a storage space.

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.

GMC has positioned the Yukon in a delicate pricing space that's a slight step ahead of Chevrolet for most of the lineup (though not with much more equipment) yet in Denali versions, offering nearly the luxury and price (if not the prestige) of a Cadillac. Base work-truck versions of the Yukon are gone. Two-wheel-drive Yukon SLE models top $40,000; but they include power features, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary and a USB port; Bluetooth hands-free calling; and heated leather seats are added to the standard-equipment list. A heated steering wheel is now available even on the SLT, and a touch-screen-based navigation radio with SiriusXM Weather and Time Shift recording capability is optional.

Top-of-the-line Yukon Denali editions are a mixed bag, as they essentially wrap in all of the luxury features and premium appointments of the Cadillac Escalade (tri-zone automatic climate control, a power-folding second-row seat, parking sensors, side blind alert, and remote starting are just a few), albeit within a GMC exterior that has less cachet. But smart shoppers will note that these are priced just short of a base Escalade.

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2013 GMC Yukon

Styling

The 2013 GMC Yukon is handsome and low-key compared most other full-size SUVs, although its interior is looking dated.

Very little in the GMC Yukon has changed--in years--and there's some good and bad to that. On the plus side, it's a tasteful, timeless, handsome design on the outside--and a slightly contoured version of the classic two-box SUV look. But the down side is that inside the Yukon definitely shows its age. There's none of the modern machine-shop look of some of the Yukon's rivals, which is fine, but the look is rather dull compared to the interior designs of more recent models like the Terrain.

Denali models are the ones to spot; they have a honeycomb grille up front, and flashier wheels, with a more dashing interior dressed in Nuance leather and chrome details.

The look of the GMC Yukon is quite conservative, understated, and serious-looking. The Yukon's large windows and tall expanses of sheetmetal steer far clear of the overwrought cliches that drown out the Nissan Armada, for example. Yukon XL utes add about 20 inches in overall length, and the gain goes right into the rear windows and metal (as well as the longer rear doors and stretched third-row seats). Because of that, we tend to think the Yukon XL looks a bit less balanced.

Inside, the Yukon's interior design wins friends with its softer, simple style, which many might prefer to the upright, macho, machine-shop look that some other models sport. Depending on trim and seating configuration, the Yukon's interior trim and instrument-panel layout do vary somewhat, but in all models you do get well-coordinated trims, tightly grained plastics, and upscale-looking upholstery. Denali versions add more luxury touches, like a honeycomb grille up front and Nuance leather and chrome details to the cabin.
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2013 GMC Yukon

Performance

Strong, smooth powertrains are up for heavy loads, and a well-controlled ride helps build confidence.

The 2013 GMC Yukon lineup delivers strong acceleration and good ride quality no matter which model you get, although across the lineup the Yukon's vast size can get in the way of maneuverability and not everyone will appreciate the overly light steering.

A 320-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 coupled to a six-speed automatic is the powertrain combination for most of the Yukon lineup. As such, the Yukon and Yukon XL have strong acceleration, with a smooth, responsive transmission. A 403-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 is optional on the larger Yukon XL, and it's the choice for those who plan to tow frequently. It makes the Yukon even quicker and has a deep muscle-car exhaust note, but even with cylinder deactivation technology its fuel economy is unimpressive.

Rear-wheel drive is standard, but all Yukons are offered with some sort of four- or all-wheel drive. The basic system has a single-speed transfer case; a more rugged setup with a two-speed transfer case can be had on either body style. Yukon Denali models have electronically controlled on-demand four-wheel drive. The Yukon Hybrid, covered elsewhere, has its own complex two-mode hybrid system with four-wheel drive.

The Yukon family isn't tremendously maneuverable, but the Denali especially 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. Powertrain Gtade Braking, which is added to all non-Hybrid models for 2013, should help with stability when towing as well.

Ride quality is also superb, with motions absolutely smothered by the huge curb weight numbers and in most versions, by a big coil-spring suspension. Denali versions have Autoride, an electronically controlled set of shocks that flatten out the ride without inducing any roughness. Only cornering on choppy surfaces, or railroad crossings, will remind you that it's actually a body-on-frame truck. 

Keep in mind, if you get the Yukon XL, that you'll have one of the longest vehicles on the market, and fitting into conventional parking spaces might prove a challenge.
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2013 GMC Yukon

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Yukon has good passenger space, although its third-row layout lacks versatility for cargo.

The 2013 Yukon family offers a pretty strong package for passenger duty, although a small third-row seat in the standard-length Yukon--and one that won't fully fold in any of the models--proves an issue for versatility and comfort, making larger crossovers like the GMC Acadia a better pick for most family users who don't need the tough-truck toolkit.

Front seats in either of the Yukon body styles (standard or stretched XL) are fairly wide and flat, and taller drivers will find the windshield header sits fairly low--although they're supremely comfortable. Getting into the seats is more of a clamber than in, say, an Acadia crossover, however. Second-row seats in the standard Yukon have good leg room, but the stretched Yukon XL improves even on that space.

With about 20 inches added to the overall length, and about 14 inches of that devoted to wheelbase (and corresponding to a boost in third-row legroom), the Yukon XL is the way to go if you plan to have regular third-row passengers--provided you have the extra garage-space length. Still, the third row and its high load floor make headroom tight and cargo space more limited than you might think.

As for cargo, the disappointment in all of the models is that the third row doesn't completely fold or tuck into the floor--leaving you to completely remove the third-row seat (a two-person job) if you really need more space. 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. 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.

The cabin is tight and quiet, though, with fit and finish also top-notch.
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2013 GMC Yukon

Safety

The 2013 GMC Yukon looks safe--and crash tests verify that it is.

The GMC Yukon has a strong reputation for safety, and it's backed up with a solid set of features plus some excellent crash-test scores.

The Yukon has earned five stars for both frontal and side impact from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but because it's such a tall vehicle the mathematically derived rollover test pushes its overall score to four stars. Otherwise, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't tested the current Yukon.

Dual front, side, and curtain airbags that cover all rows of seats; traction and stability control; and the OnStar safety and concierge system are all standard in the Yukon.

Outward visibility is quite good for an SUV, although shorter drivers might have issue when parking or changing lanes. On the options list, there are blind-spot detectors, parking sensors, and a rearview camera.

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2013 GMC Yukon

Features

The 2013 Yukon is very much a luxury SUV--especially if you're talking about the Denali.

Over the years, the GMC Yukon has become closer to a luxury vehicle, and farther away from the old work-oriented SUV that it was in the past.

The base Yukon SLE tings in at more than $40k, but it does include a generous list of features such as power windows, locks and mirrors; climate control; Bluetooth; and an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary and a USB port. Yukon SLT trims add remote start; three-zone climate control; rear parking sensors and a rearview camera; power-adjustable pedals; and a Bose audio system.

The top-of-the-line Denali is a serious luxury model--albeit one with a price that in Hybrid versions exceeds $60k--and adds a power-folding second-row seat; a power liftgate; Bose surround sound; ventilated front seats; and heated second-row seats.

Options on the Denali include DVD navigation and entertainment systems; power side steps; and a sunroof. Yukon Hybrid models include most of this gear and also get the Denali's additional sound insulation.

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2013 GMC Yukon

Fuel Economy

Most versions of the 2013 Yukon are unremarkable for fuel economy, but the Yukon Hybrid is one of the most efficient big SUVs on the market.

Most of the 2013 GMC Yukon model line includes a 5.3-liter V-8; and the 15/21 mpg that these models achieve is unremarkable compared to other SUVs its size.

Yukon models with this engine 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.

Gas mileage drops to 14/18 mpg, or 13/18 mpg with all-wheel drive, when you upgrade to the 6.2-liter V-8 on XL versions and the Denali.

If those numbers give you pause, the Yukon Hybrid is likely to make you more satisfied; the Hybrid ekes out fuel economy ratings of 20/23 mpg, while it still can tow 5,000 pounds.

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7.6
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy 5.0
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