GMC Yukon / Yukon XL
GMC Yukon / Yukon XL
2017 GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD 8-Speed Automatic
Big as a house and nearly as costly, but at least it’s more capable.
2017 GMC Yukon / Yukon XL GMC Yukon / Yukon XL 2017 3.5 1.0 5.0
General Motors pretty much owns the full-size SUV segment with its entries from Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac. Sales of the General’s six regular- and extended-length full-size SUVs totaled 255,907 through November; in the same period, Ford found just 63,887 buyers for its four total variants of the competing Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. It can’t hurt that GM covers all the pricing bases from the $48,410 entry-level Chevy Tahoe to the $98,790 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum 4×4. As those hefty MSRPs suggest, these trucks produce lots of profits, especially luxury variants like the one we’ve tested here, the GMC Yukon XL Denali.
Big and Capable
More than a people hauler, the extended-wheelbase Yukon XL can tow and haul heavy cargo, too. Nearly 19 feet long from stem to stern and riding on a massive 130-inch wheelbase, the big GMC has room for up to eight people (our Denali test truck’s second-row captain’s chairs limited it to a maximum of seven) and can carry 39 cubic feet of their belongings behind the third row. Tow ratings range from 7900 to 8100 pounds, depending on equipment.
Paying the $8650 premium for the Denali upgrade over the next-lowest trim, the SLT 4×4, brings magnetic-ride-control dampers, HID headlamps, active noise cancellation, a larger alternator (to handle these electrical upgrades), a customizable driver’s display, a glitzy grille, and sparkling body-side trim. A more functional Denali upgrade is its 6.2-liter V-8, which supplants lesser versions’ 5.3-liter V-8. The 6.2 is a detuned version of the Corvette Stingray engine and produces 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque here, output we made ample use of during a 40,000-mile long-term test of a 2015 Yukon XL Denali. So why test the same GMC again? Since our long-termer was built, GM replaced the 6.2’s former six-speed automatic transmission with a new eight-speed unit.
The new powertrain pairing propelled this 2017 model from rest to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds at 98 mph. Compared with the best results we got from our 2015 long-termer, those are improvements of 0.1 and 0.2 second—essentially a wash. The eight-speed proved somewhat more useful in terms of fuel economy, if not in our combined average—16 mpg, just like the long-termer—then over our 200-mile, 75-mph highway cruising test. During that exercise, this Yukon XL returned 21 mpg, or 1 mpg higher than its EPA highway rating.
The Yukon’s interior is nearly identical to that of its mechanical twin, the Chevrolet Suburban, setting aside the upgraded materials and features that come with the Denali trim level. This isn’t a bad thing in terms of comfort, ergonomics, and first- and second-row room, but some of the same plastics that disappoint in that base $48K Chevy are still prominent in this rig, and the third row is uncomfortable, tough to clamber into, and set very low to the floor. The central infotainment touchscreen is crisp and clear, responds quickly to inputs, and has redundant buttons and knobs beneath it. There’s even a small space behind the screen—which motors up and out of the way—to store or charge a phone and to hide other small items you’d like to conceal. There are so many storage cubbies of various sizes scattered throughout the cabin that it’s hard to imagine anyone needing to leave something behind.
In its element while cruising the interstates, the Yukon XL wafts along quietly and generally isolates occupants from the outside world, while also feeling planted and stable. However, when traversing Michigan’s most broken pavement, some tire slap and suspension noise invades the cabin, and the ride can get flinty on the Denali edition’s 22-inch wheels (our long-termer’s 22s weighed 88 pounds per corner with the tires installed).
Big, Not Best
The Yukon XL yields to the Ford Expedition EL /Lincoln Navigator L when it comes to cargo capacity, giving up four cubic feet with all seats raised and ten with the second and third rows stowed. Those aren’t insignificant, but you can still fit a studio apartment’s worth of stuff in here. Indeed, choosing the long-wheelbase XL model means 24 cubic feet more space behind the third row than in the standard Yukon and as much as 26 additional cubes with the seats folded. In the latest redesign for 2015, GM achieved a nearly flat load floor by adding a platform with storage beneath, but this is a work-around for the inefficient packaging of the live-axle rear suspension, a carryover from the full-size-pickup platform on which GM’s full-size SUVs are based. In contrast, Ford’s Expedition employs an independent rear suspension that both enables more efficient packaging and a more compliant ride over washboard sections of gravel roads. In addition, GM’s platform raises the load height by about three inches, which may not seem like much until you’re trying to stuff a heavy refrigerator through the hatch.
Parking or maneuvering a vehicle that is seven feet wide (including big mirrors) and 224 inches long can be a challenge. Indeed, while testing the GMC, a tight parking lot put the SUV’s safety features through their paces. Proximity sensors were buzzing front and back, cross-path detection chimed as others navigated around the monster SUV, and the transmission and shifter (and the driver) got a workout while making something like a six-point turn to slot the beast into a narrow space. Our test vehicle also came equipped with a high-resolution backup camera as well as GM’s haptic alert system, which vibrates the driver’s seat when the vehicle closes in on an obstruction. These haptic alerts also deliver warnings from the lane-keeping-assist system.
While the Yukon XL Denali is a hugely capable and pleasant enough vehicle, there are plenty of other options that ring in under its massive $81,000 MSRP. For instance, all the space, a large portion of the capability, and most of the comforts can be had for $10,000 less in the Chevy Suburban Premier. The bow-tie version’s only concession is that it can’t be ordered with the 6.2-liter V-8, but the 355-hp 5.3-liter V-8 is no slouch, delivering a zero-to-60-mph run of 7.1 seconds in our testing. Those considering the Yukon more for its trimmings than its hauling capabilities might consider the Mercedes-Benz GLS450. which starts at less than $70,000 and has a far more luxurious interior. It also offers a more satisfying driving experience and a lot more brand cachet. While the GMC resides in a perfect middle ground between Chevy and Cadillac when viewed from a GM-centric perspective, the Yukon XL Denali’s price elevates it to a level where ultra-luxurious appointments, stellar road handling, and—in many cases—better off-road prowess come from more prestigious brand names that design their big SUVs on dedicated platforms.
It’s a competent, strong, and luxurious SUV, but the Yukon XL Denali isn’t the best bang for your buck, unless, perhaps, you’re pricing it like real estate, by the square foot. Building these vehicles on existing pickup-truck mechanical elements may enhance GM’s profit margins, but challenging the most luxurious seven- or eight-seat SUVs would take more effort to deliver a deluxe driving experience that goes beyond embellishing a work truck with a bunch of features and trim.
Highs and Lows
Born for the interstates, room for your extended family and their stuff.