2017 GMC Yukon Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz
June 15, 2017

If you've got a lot to haul, the GMC Yukon range is one of the best ways to do it. But if not, consider a crossover that will use much less fuel and be better to drive.

Its spec sheet may read like an SUV from a different era, but the 2017 GMC Yukon range is a highly refined passenger, cargo, and trailer-hauler that makes a compelling choice to those who need to carry around more than just the family. 

Only a few changes mark 2017 for the Yukon, which is available in SLE, SLT, and Denali models, and is offered in standard and extended-length Yukon XL configurations in either rear- or four-wheel drive. 

We rate the 2017 GMC Yukon a 6.5 out of 10 overall, based on its refinement, its towing capability, and its interior and exterior styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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The GMC Yukon and Yukon XL are functionally identical to the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, but they do offer a few more standard features, their own styling, and a range-topping Denali trim level. 

2017 GMC Yukon styling and performance 

The Yukon doesn't share body panels with the automaker's Sierra pickup, but the two are clearly siblings. And both utilize the same triple-sealed door strategy, ladder-type frame, and V-8 powerplants. The Yukon is boxy in both standard length and long-wheelbase Yukon XL configurations, a traditional SUV that's modernized with some sharp lines that create a tailored look. Denali models add a distinctive grille and HID headlamps, as well as upsized wheels; they're a little much for our eyes, though. 

The standard Yukon's wheelbase is 116 inches, while the Yukon XL's stretches 130 inches, with that space going toward more rear seat leg room and more cargo room.

Inside, you'll find a dashboard that diverges from the Sierra and a choice of seating configurations. SLEs offer seating for nine passengers thanks to their standard (and exceptionally rare these days) front bench seat, but most models you'll find on dealer lots will have bucket seats and a wide center console. Both Yukons and Yukon XLs come standard with a three-piece second row bench and seating for three more in a folding third row, although second row captain's chairs are optional. That third row is best for children regardless of trim, although the Yukon XLs are roomier than you might expect back there. The third row folds flat into the cargo floor, but because of the truck's solid rear axle and conventional frame, the load floor is very high. 

Powertrains are shared with the full-size Sierra pickup as well as the other GM SUVs and include a choice between two V-8s. A standard 5.3-liter V-8 comes in at 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque, while Denalis feature a 6.2-liter V-8 rated at 420 hp and 460 lb-ft. The 5.3 is mated to a 6-speed automatic, while the 6.2 comes with an 8-speed. Both engines are thriftier than you might think thanks to direct injection and cylinder-deactivation technology, the latter of which lets them run on four cylinders during lower load situations.  

Regardless of engine, there's a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, although with its dimensions, the Yukon isn't exactly an off-roader meant for much more than a wide dirt trail. A beefy steel frame with a rear live axle mated to coil springs sits underneath, which delivers a maximum of 8,500 pounds towing capacity. Curiously, the Denali tops out at 8,400 despite its stronger engine. 

2017 GMC Yukon comfort, safety, and features

A tale of three classes, the Yukon delivers first class accommodations in front, decent room in the second row, and rather tight space all the way back in steerage. Consider the Yukon XL if you're likely to haul adults in the second and third row with any regularity, as they offer more stretch-out space. An optional power-folding system for the second and third row makes cargo access easier, too. 

Noise damping has been a special focus. In addition to the inset, triple-sealed doors, the windshield and front glass are laminated for less sound intrusion and active noise cancellation is available.

For the most part, feature availability between the Yukon and Yukon XL is identical. On both, SLEs are well-equipped with the expected power amenities, but SLTs add leather seats that are heated for the front two rows and cooled for driver and passenger, as well as a host of safety tech and a proximity key. If that's not quite enough, the Denali has its own appearance plus the 6.2-liter V-8, but its price can easily top $75,000 with a few options. 

The Yukon merits some of GM's latest safety technology, including new-for-2017 automatic emergency braking standard on SLT and Denali models and optional on SLEs.

Along with the usual airbags and stability control, the Yukon gets a front-center airbag when it's equipped with front bucket seats. Adaptive cruise control is an option, as are a lane-departure warning system with seat-mounted haptic alerts, blind-spot monitors, forward collision alerts, and front parking sensors.

The most efficient version of the Yukon is the base 5.3-liter V-8 engine in a short-wheelbase rear-drive model; it is rated at 16 mpg city, 23  highway, 18 combined. At the other end of the spectrum, the four-wheel-drive Yukon Denali XL with the 6.2-liter V-8 engine rates 14/20/16 mpg combined. The rest of the variations variations fit between these two bookends.

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2017 GMC Yukon

Styling

A well above average interior and clean, boxy proportions make the Yukon an especially stylish SUV.

Bold and boxy, the GMC Yukon is like an offensive lineman wearing a crisp Hugo Boss suit. This truck is tall and full of macho cues, with its squared-off corners and commanding presence.

Dressed up in Denali guise, the Yukon looks a little too garish for us, but we rate the overall lineup an 8 out of 10 and consider it to be the cleanest design among full-size SUVs currently on the road. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

GM is proud that that Yukon and Sierra share no body panels, something that hasn't always been true, but the two are clearly siblings from the same design studio. All Yukons are built alongside the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, as well as the Cadillac Escalade, in Arlington, Texas. And they're as bold and brash as the Texas landscape where so many roam.

Inside, the Yukon is far more car-like than ever before, with few of the truckish cues seen in its predecessors. But everything's oversized here, with a big and broad center console that can store as big a belt buckle as you may see fit. That said, the console isn't included with bench seat models, as you might expect, and while we applaud GM for still offering room for three up front, you'll probably have to special order a Yukon or Yukon XL SLE if you want one so-equipped.

Denalis are, as you might expect, a little swankier inside with their own trim, but the basic look is the same.  

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2017 GMC Yukon

Performance

Exceptionally well-controlled for a body-on-frame SUV, the Yukon range masks its girth surprisingly well.

If you're shopping for a three-row family-hauler, you've got three choices: a minivan, a crossover, or a traditional SUV. For most drivers, the first two will suffice. But if you're inclined to tow heavier loads, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL range is as good as it gets.

We score these big SUVs a 7 out of 10 thanks to their strong towing ability and their refined ride quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The standard Yukon and Yukon XL models are motivated by GM's 5.3-liter V-8, which churns out 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque mated to a 6-speed automatic. Yukon Denali models get an upgrade to the 6.2-liter V-8, which produces a prodigious 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque and comes exclusively with a high-tech 8-speed automatic transmission.  All variants are offered with rear- or extra-cost four-wheel drive.

The Yukon employs two technologies to improve power and performance, making these V-8s both capable and surprisingly fuel efficient, all things considered. Direct injection improves engine responsiveness and allows for more precise fuel metering, while cylinder deactivation can shut down half of the cylinders under low-load situations.

The cylinder deactivation process is seamless, notably only for the V-4 and V-8 indicators on the instrument panel.

Both models move along well with passengers and cargo aboard, with the Denali offering the expected boost in grunt. Opt for a two-wheel drive Yukon (not Denali) and you'll be capable of towing up to 8,500 pounds, while the rest of the lineup comes in a couple hundred less. But what's more important than that is just how confident these trucks feel with a trailer behind and tow mode engaged on the transmission.

Keep your handling expectations in check and the Yukon range is actually quite balanced. Steering is direct and accurate, and there's not all that much body lean into corners when pressed hard. The Yukon SLE and SLT ride nicely with their taller sidewalls, but the Denali offsets its more rubber band-esque tires with parent company GM's Magnetic Ride Control suspension as standard. This remarkably effective setup, derived from the Chevrolet Corvette, filters out any flintiness while stiffening up when needed for hard cornering. 

Four-wheel drive models come standard with a single-speed transfer case, but a low range is available that may help some owners tug their boats on a slippery ramp. There's decent ground clearance on all Yukons, but given their proportions and their street-oriented tires, they're not really meant for more serious off roading than driving across a field or on an unpaved road. 

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2017 GMC Yukon

Comfort & Quality

Luxurious even in base form, the Yukon is comfortable—but its second and third rows aren't as roomy as some crossovers.

The 2017 GMC Yukon's cabin makes a luxurious space for a family of up to nine, a higher capacity than you'll find in any other consumer-oriented vehicle.

That's not to say that everyone is riding in first class, but overall this truck lineup is roomy enough to score a 7 out of 10 for its comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

A great deal of effort went into quieting the cabin of the latest Yukon, from special exterior design concerns like door seals to available active noise cancellation like that you'll find on Bose headphones. Even without the electronic aids, however, the cabin of the Yukon is quiet, allowing easy conversations at normal indoor volumes, something we certainly didn't say of its predecessor. 

Front seat passengers are treated to a car-like dashboard with controls logically arrayed and an 8.0-inch infotainment system running GM's nice Intellilink software. Most Yukons and Yukon XLs will have bucket seats and a broad center console with five USB ports scattered about, but SLEs can be ordered with a bench that, logically, deletes the center console (and three of its USBs). That screen itself cleverly rises out of the dashboard to reveal a cubby big enough for a mobile phone—and there's a hidden USB in there to allow for incognito charging. A separate LCD is situated in the center console for most trip computer functions. 

Row two is better in the longer Yukon XL than the standard model, but there's excellent access on both thanks to wide door openings. SLT and Denali models feature power-folding second row seats that allow for push-of-a-button access to the tight third row. While steerage class is better than most SUVs and many crossovers, the Yukon and Yukon XL have some inherent design challenges thanks to a solid axle rear suspension that sits below the third row of seats. That means that leg room is tight and that the seat sits high off the floor, limiting head room. 

That third row also folds at the press of a button on SLT and Denali models (or manually in SLEs), creating a flat—but very high off of the ground—cargo area. Yukon XL models offer a huge rear cargo bay with 38.9 cubic feet behind the third row, 76.7 cubic feet behind the second row, and 121.1 cubic feet with the second- and third-rows folded. The standard-wheelbase Yukon still offers plenty of space, however, with 15.3 cubic feet behind third row, 57.6 cubic feet behind second row, and up to 94.7 cubic feet behind the front row. 

All models are decked out with copious soft-touch materials and lots of French stitching, although cloth seats at this price point on the SLE may raise some eyebrows.

The Denali model is surprisingly similar inside to the SLT, aside from some slightly better leather and different tinting to the fake wood accents. 

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2017 GMC Yukon

Safety

There's not a lot of crash test data for the Yukon, but it does now offer important collision avoidance tech.

While we don't have a full picture of the GMC Yukon's crash test performances, it has performed fairly well in federal evaluations and it offers some important safety tech as standard on most models and optional on the SLE.

We'll keep looking to see if the IIHS tests the Yukon, or its Chevrolet Tahoe sibling, but based on the ratings from federal testers the highest we can go is a 4 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

In crash tests conducted by federal regulators, the Yukon earned the top five-star ratings for frontal and side impacts, a three-star rollover rating (due to its high center of gravity), and a four-star overall score. 

Standard safety gear includes a rearview camera, six airbags, plus a class-exclusive front center airbag for models with front bucket seats. A head-up display is also available, relaying key information into the driver's line of sight, thereby reducing distraction.

All SLT and Denali models include vibrating driver's seat to alert the driver of the location of certain crash threats, sensors that detect crash threats from all sides of the vehicle, and lane departure warning, as well as low speed automatic emergency braking. That tech is all available on the SLE as part of the Enhanced Driver Alert Package.

Denalis and SLTs also offer adaptive cruise control, which includes full automatic emergency braking. 

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2017 GMC Yukon

Features

A wide range of Yukon trims are on offer, including two wheelbases.

For 2017, GMC offers the Yukon lineup with two body configurations, each available in one of three trim level flavors.

While there's not a huge degree of individual option customization available, the wide level of base configurations means that you're not likely to find too many identical Yukons on a dealer lot. For that, and for a substantial degree of standard and optional equipment, we rate the Yukon an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Yukons and Yukon XLs are largely identical aside from their wheelbases, and both are available in SLE, SLT, and Denali trims.

Let's start with the SLE, which is the only Yukon to offer cloth seats and the choice of a three-person bench front seat or two individual seats and a wide center console. SLEs come standard with the expected power features, three rows of seats, a backup camera, 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay compatibility, a Bose audio system, automatic climate control with separate rear controls, automatic windshield wipers, and tinted windows. 

It's hard to imagine wanting that much more in a family SUV, but various option packages can add a power liftgate, automatic dimming mirrors, navigation, and, on XLs, a trailer brake controller. The Enhanced Driver Alert Package has been upgraded for 2017 and now includes forward collision warning, automatic high-beam headlamps, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. It also features GM's vaunted Safety Alert seat that buzzes the bottom cushion to let drivers know if they're drifting out of their lane or if there's an impending collision. 

The SLT comes standard with all those options, plus it adds heated seats for the front two rows, ventilated front seats up front, and leather upholstery. It also features power-folding second and third rows, a proximity key, and a heated steering wheel that's power-adjustable. Big options include a rear-seat entertainment system, navigation, and a sunroof.  

A pricey Premium Edition package runs just shy of $4,000 and adds 22-inch alloy wheels and a bunch of chrome bits on the outside, but at that level you might as well just go for the Denali. 

Denali models upgrade to a higher base specification, including all of the driver alert technologies (although adaptive cruise control is still an optional extra), a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround sound system, active noise cancellation, and GM's third-generation Magnetic Ride Control suspension.

Due to the long standard equipment list, Denalis offer fewer options. These include a head-up display, a variety of unique 22-inch wheels, retractable side steps, a roof rack, a sunroof, rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment, and a heated split-folding second row bench seat.

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2017 GMC Yukon

Fuel Economy

At 18 mpg combined for the typical Yukon, this SUV is a lot more efficient than it used to be.

Just a few years ago, the GMC Yukon lineup was among the least fuel-efficient found in any new car.

You'll still stop at a lot of gas stations, but at up to 19 mpg combined, the 2017 Yukon is surprisingly efficient for what it is, and it rates a 5 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

GM does what it can to maximize the fuel economy of the Yukon, but simple physics wins out in the end. Both engines feature direct injection and cylinder deactivation, but you will still pay at the pump for all the passenger, cargo, and towing capacity of this 6,000-pound SUV.

Let's start with the thriftiest: The rear-wheel drive Yukon and Yukon XL, which come in at 16 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. Add four-wheel drive and you're at 15/22/18 mpg regardless of wheelbase.

With its bigger engine, the Denali comes in at 15/22/17 mpg for the short-wheelbase rear-wheel drive, and 15/20/17 mpg with four-wheel drive. The Denali XL, meanwhile, is at the same 15/22/17 mpg with rear-wheel drive but just 14/16/20 mpg with four-wheel drive. 

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