Driving Impressions – May 2014

Not for Everyone, Perfect for Some: 2015 GMC Yukon & Yukon XL SLE

By Greg Cavanaugh

Gallup Journey 2015 Yukon

There’s no doubt that these twin vehicles represent an important part of GM’s sales portfolio.  And while SUVs often are not actually used for the capabilities they have, fortunately, GM didn’t use that as an excuse to water down the new Yukon and its longer version, the Yukon XL.

As the corporate cousin of the new GMC Sierra pickup, the Yukon twins follow the same mantra of incremental improvement versus dramatic change – so no turbos, diesels or 8/9-speed transmissions here.   Don’t take this as a bad thing, however; like an aged wine, the Yukon is a well-sorted and excellent ride.

Clearly the most obvious of changes is the styling, both in and out.  Exterior styling can be a bit of a subjective argument but I’ll summarize:  1. It’s clean and fresh.  No one will confuse it with the old model, although it still bares resemblance.  2. The front end looks very good, especially the detailing in the headlights.  (There are even little GMC logos hidden in there.)  3.  There is a TON of sheet metal here, making the slab-sided styling all the more pronounced.  4. The crazy low front air dam aids fuel economy but hinders approach angle, even on less-than-perfect driveways. Fortunately, the lowest portion is rubber and is likely meant to move when going off-road.

On the inside, the Yukon has become classier.  Using a combination of wood and metal accents, contrasting stitching, detailed gauges and smart lighting in combination with a well-sorted ride and thoroughly quiet interior, the new Yukon exudes a sense of refinement.   I sampled both the bucket seat option as well as the bench seat.  My vote goes to the bench seat as a smarter choice for storage and versatility, allowing 9-passenger capacity when needed and good storage in the armrest and under the seat. Using a nicely shaped center console, the buckets lose quite a bit of space in the middle but are more luxurious and attractive.   GM’s Intellilink is a great infotainment system with no shortage of options for connecting to various media (An SD card is even included!) and an easy-to-use menu and touch screen.  The backup camera is an absolute must and a real help.

In terms of powertrain I’ll be brief: it’s good.   While no dramatic powertrain changes have taken place, the 5.3 V8’s use of direct injection, variable valve timing and seamless cylinder deactivation provides good power and class-competitive fuel economy.  Rated at 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque and mated to a 6-speed automatic, the V8 pulls around the Yukon without fuss.  While not quite the beast of a motor that is the Sequoia’s 5.7-liter V8, the Yukon’s 5.3 is more than adequate for all but the most demanding of situations.   GM’s continued improvements and technology to their small blocks pays off as the Yukon ekes out 16 city/22 hwy/18 combined mpg.  The Yukon XL suffers only slightly by one mpg in the city at 15 city/22 hwy/18 combined mpg, and both will tow about 8,000lbs. My only complaint is the lack of a diesel option.  GM’s shelved 4.5-liter diesel V8 would be the perfect candidate for fuel economy and range!  Are you listening GM?

Ultimately, however, these land yachts are desired for their space.  Being able to test-drive both the standard Yukon and the Yukon XL, I was able to make a fair comparison of their roles as people and cargo carriers.   Clearly the Yukon XL out carries any other SUV on the market (save for maybe the long in tooth Expedition XL), and you pay little in terms of price and fuel economy compared to the standard Yukon.  If you need a useable 3rd row AND useable cargo space at the same time, the Yukon XL is the clear winner as it’s just massive.  The cargo space of the standard Yukon is just too small if you plan to use the 3rd row regularly. If however, the 3rd row will be used occasionally when needed, the standard Yukon provides plenty of cargo hauling space when used as a 2-row vehicle.   The 2015 Yukon uses a new cargo shelf at the rear to make for a flat load floor when folding the third row seats.  While it actually lowers the overall cargo capacity in terms of cubic feet, it makes for a more usable space.  The Yukon XL with both the 2nd and 3rd row folded flat is absolutely huge and can easily double as sleeping quarters for two on a road trip . . . no hotel needed!

The Yukon and Yukon XL are not bargains and their prices seem to be increasing at a rather dramatic rate.   At a starting price of just under $50K (with a relatively small $3k premium for the XL)  and as-tested prices just a bit over $50K, these large SUVs are not for everyone, as well they shouldn’t be.  If you simply need space for people, there are better options on the market . . . like a minivan.  If you need to move and tow stuff, a truck will likely serve you better (although for not that much less money).  However, the reality is that if you need to do both of those things, the Yukon and Yukon XL are two of the finest and best choices on the road today and if it were my money, the Yukon XL takes the win.

*A big thanks to Rico Auto Complex, and especially Kevin for helping me test drive all manner and flavors of Yukons!

**Please, Please jump over to my YouTube channel “Gallup Journey Test Drives” and help support what I do.  –Greg

SPECIFICATIONS

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear- or 4-wheel-drive, 6-9-passenger, 5-door wagon
BASE PRICE:  Yukon SLE,  $49,335;  Yukon XL SLE, $ 52,035  AS TESTED: Yukon SLE, $50,080;  Yukon XL SLE, $54,175
ENGINE TYPE: pushrod 16-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 325 cu in, 5328 cc
Power: 355 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 383 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
DIMENSIONS:
Yukon:
Wheelbase: 116.0 in
Length: 204.0 in
Width: 80.5 in Height: 74.4 in
Curb weight: 5750-5950 lb

Yukon XL:
Wheelbase: 130.0 in
Length: 224.4 in
Width: 80.5 in Height: 74.4 in
Curb weight: 5550-5750 lb
FUEL ECONOMY: 
EPA city/highway/combined driving:  16 mpg/22 mpg/18 mpg  (Yukon XL 15mpg city)

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