As long as there are big families, big crews and big loads, there’s room in the market for big SUVs.
Rigs like GMC’s Yukon ($48,185, including destination), a 5,500-pound body-on-frame SUV with seating for up to nine and an 8,500-pound towing capacity.
The 2015 Yukon is fully redesigned, with a bold, clean look; stronger and more efficient engines; and a dramatically upgraded cabin.
An integrated, fold-flat third-row seat replaces the old removable unit and a new touchscreen interface expands smartphone integration. The ’15 Yukon also receives GM’s latest safety systems, including lane-departure warning, a blind-spot monitor and frontal collision warning and mitigation.
Truck-based SUVs have lost ground in recent years to car-based crossovers, which are more efficient, roomier and better-handling than SUVs. Their unibody platforms aren’t strong enough for serious loads, though. The Yukon boasts a fully boxed frame comprising 75 percent high-strength steel, while new “shear-style” body mounts boost stiffness and enhance ride quality.
Nevertheless, the Yukon is a large truck that handles like one. Fast corners elicit body lean and rough surfaces can overwhelm suspension dampers and provoke the jiggles. GM’s available magnetic ride system brings unwanted body motions under control.
The Yukon is available in SLE, SLT ($56,670) and high-luxe Denali ($64,765) trims. A long-wheelbase version, the Yukon XL, is sold as a separate model.
A 5.3-liter V-8 engine making 355 horsepower (a 35-hp bump over last year's 320) and 383 pound-feet of torque powers SLE and SLT trims. The Denali gets a 6.2-liter V-8 good for 420 hp (up from 403) and 460 lb-ft of torque.
Equipped with the eight, the Yukon earns 18 mpg combined (16 city/23 highway with 2WD; 22 highway with 4WD). The EPA rates the Denali’s engine at 17 mpg combined (15/21) in 2WD trim, 16 mpg combined (14/21) with 4WD.
Its larger engine and luxurious interior marks the Denali as the family flagship, but the other trims offer slightly greater towing capacity. Rear-drive SLEs and SLTs can tow up to 8,500 pounds; 4x4s are good for 8,300 lbs. The Denali maxes out at 8,100/8,300.
Every Yukon is prepped for towing and includes a 2-inch receiver and seven-pin harness. Optional on SLE and SLT and standard on Denali is an HD Trailering package that includes tow-specific gearing, a trailer-brake controller and a load-leveling, capacity-increasing air suspension.
The base 4WD system is a single-speed, part-time setup, but a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing is optional on SLE and SLT and standard on 4WD Denalis.
Interior materials are significantly improved this year, and include soft-touch instrument panel, console and door panels with French seam stitching. Seat quality is very good and all models include Bose audio.
Along with other measures, new flush-fitting doors cut cabin noise, underscoring Yukon’s new refinement. The Denali goes a step further, with active noise-cancellation technology.
The SLE gets a tilt-only steering column; otherwise, ergonomics are excellent. The 8-inch infotainment display works intuitively, but can be slow to respond.
The U.S. consumer’s tendency to super-size it notwithstanding, big is not necessarily best. When big is necessary, though, the Yukon is a fine place to start.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 GMC Yukon SLT 4WD
Vehicle base price: $43,701
Trim level base price: $57,735
As tested: $64,520
Optional equipment included sunroof; navigation; rear-seat entertainment system; 20-inch polished wheels; heavy-duty trailering package; second-row bucket seats; theft-deterrent system.
Tow capacity: 8,300 pounds
EPA ratings: 18 combined/16 city/22 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified