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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Auto

Driving with the Big Boys

The redesigned GMC Yukon SUV is an XXL ride, but it affords limo-like interior room with exceptional towing and hauling abilities

Jim Gorzelany CTW Features
Whether it’s because American motorists have finally gotten accustomed to high gasoline prices or pent up demand stifled by the Great Recession is finally boiling over, sales of large SUVs are on a roll, swelling by an industry leading 15.6 percent through the first nine months of 2014, according to Autodata in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Few automakers are positioned to cash in on this seismic shift than General Motors, which released long overdue redesigned versions of its entire fleet of big truck-based SUVs earlier this year. We recently drove the reinvented GMC Yukon, which is mechanically identical to the Chevrolet Tahoe, and found it an amenable alternative to a smaller car-based crossover, provided one can fully exploit its exceptional abilities and withstand its inherent drawbacks. Riding on the same platform as The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, the Yukon is a truly large vehicle, with stately exterior styling that’s capped by a huge rectangular chrome grille and projector-style headlamps up front, with a wholly horizontal roofline that seems to reach into the next block. Even when equipped with side steps it’s a tall climb up into the Yukon, but once inside occupants are treated to a richly trimmed and acoustically quiet cabin that features well-executed gauges and controls; a nifty secured storage bin hides behind the infotainment system’s motorized display. Best of all, it can seat up to nine passengers, with the SLT version we tested approaching luxury-car status with perforated heated/cooled leather seats and upscale trim. For those who want to delve farther upscale, there’s an opulent Yukon Denali edition. Cargo volume is equally generous, and can swell to pickup truck proportions with the two rear rows of seatbacks folded flat. Those who might have the need for additional passenger and cargo room and can tolerate its sheer bulk can alternately choose the appropriately named extended-length Yukon XL, which is GMC’s version of the Chevrolet Suburban. The Yukon comes nicely powered by a 5.3-liter V8 engine that generates 355 horsepower and a muscular 383 pound-feet of torque that enables lively launches and brisk highway passing abilities. Mated to an efficient six-speed automatic transmission, the V8 affords a top towing rating of 8,500 pounds, which is sufficient for pulling a substantial boat or trailer to the lake or campsite. (The top Denali version, meanwhile, packs a 6.2-liter 420-horsepower V8 and a new eight-speed automatic.) The Yukon’s fuel economy is rated at 16/23-mpg city/highway with the 5.3-liter engine and rear-drive or 16/22 with four-wheel drive, which (while still far from being economically minded) is modestly increased for 2015 thanks to an infusion of engine technology including direct injection, continuously variable valve timing and automatic cylinder deactivation. Parallel parking remains a challenge in tight quarters, but the new Yukon otherwise remains well mannered in most situations and feels rock-solid on the highway. While its electric variable-assist power steering can feel just a bit heavy around town, it’s suspension soaks up urban bumps and potholes nicely, becoming only modestly unnerved over extended patches of rough pavement. Available options are plentiful, and include a power split-folding third-row seat and a hands-free liftgate that opens and closes by waving a foot beneath the rear bumper, provided the remote key fob is in one’s possession. A subscription-based 4G LTE Internet connectivity system can turn the Yukon into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot, with a handy wireless mobile phone charging station also offered. Importantly, the truck can be fitted with many of the latest accident avoidance systems - including a forward auto-braking system - with warnings given to the driver via subtle pulses in a “safety alert seat,” rather than chimes or beeps, though we might prefer the latter to create a heightened sense of urgency. Unfortunately, the 2015 GMC Yukon doesn’t come cheap, ranging from at $46,990 for the base SLE model, all the way to $66,770 and beyond for a fully loaded Denali. Still, those with a purposeful need for such a large and capable vehicle should find it to be money well spent.
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