- Excellent drivetrains
- Tows and hauls with authority
- Very good ride
- Third-row seat is tight
- ...and tough to reach
- Luxury price tag without the badge
Full-size SUVs still have a niche in the world, and the GMC Yukon is one of the best for towing and hauling it all.
It may not be one of GM's best-sellers anymore, but the GMC Yukon and its Denali and Yukon XL derivatives still work hard for the families and businesses that truly need them. Many drivers have migrated down to car-based crossovers--but for those that need plenty of towing and hauling capability and passenger space, a Yukon may be the only way to get it done.
MORE: See our 2015 GMC Yukon preview
The Yukon moved smartly up the sophistication scale when it was last redesigned in 2007, but it hasn't forgotten about those who need to carry for work, or pull trailers for pleasure. 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.
GMC Yukon 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.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.
GMC Yukon performance and gas mileage
The 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.
The 15/21-mpg rating earned by the standard Yukon 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. The Yukon Hybrid has been discontinued for the short 2014 model year, but it's unclear if it will return with the revamped 2015 edition.
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 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 Grade Braking helps 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.GMC Yukon comfort and utility
The 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.
GMC Yukon safety
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.
GMC Yukon features
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 checks in at more than $43,000, 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 $60,000 Denali is a serious luxury model, 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.