Ranging from gas-powered short-wheelbase SUVs to luxury hybrid utes, the 2012 GMC Yukon lineup has a unified theme: strong acceleration, good ride quality, with light steering feel that doesn't yield much driving feedback, mostly due to the Yukon's vast size.
The standard engine is a 5.3-liter V-8 making 320 horsepower, coupled to a six-speed automatic. This Yukon, even as an XL, has surprising acceleration and fuel economy that bests some notable vehicles in the class. It's responsive, too--a well-tuned combination of a torquey engine and a transmission with a good mix of small and tall gears.
There's a larger engine for those who tow all the time, and can live without extra cash in their pockets. It's a 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8, and it's optional in the longer Yukon XL, and standard in the luxurious Yukon Denali. It steps off the line with gusto, and with a deep exhaust note, but fuel economy takes a big hit, even with the engine's cylinder-deactivation technology.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. Denali Yukons 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 lineup has some of the best handling in its class, with ride 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. 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. On all versions, the steering's pretty light, but doesn't share much road information with the driver.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.
One essential issue to tackle before you buy a Yukon XL is its length. Even those who frequent urban Home Depots may find it's just too big to fit easily into conventional parking spaces.