2006 GMC Yukon XL 1500
2006 GMC Yukon XL 1500 Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Extra luxury in size extra large.
GMC Yukon XL is a maximum-size SUV for maximum-size projects: big trailers to pull, heavy loads to haul, crowds of friends or family (and all their luggage) heading off for a long vacation. Yukon XL is more SUV than most people need. But for those who truly need it, you can't beat it.
Yukon XL is an upscale version of the Chevy Suburban. It's a well-equipped vehicle and a good choice for families of six or more. It offers comfortable seating for six people and can be equipped to seat up to nine, with nearly enough room to carry that many on a daily basis. Even when fully loaded with people, there's space left over for large amounts of gear.
Where the Yukon XL really comes into its own, however, is when heavy-duty towing is needed. Otherwise, why not get a lighter, more fuel-efficient minivan? A standard Yukon XL 2WD 1500 model is rated to pull trailers up to 8,400 pounds. A Yukon XL 2500, the heavy-duty model, is rated to tow 12,000 pounds. This makes the Yukon XL an excellent choice for families with boats or horses.
Though identical in many respects, there are differences between the Suburban and the Yukon XL. The GMC is generally more upscale in its appointments than the Chevrolet; it offers a higher level of comfort and convenience. GMC offers the Yukon XL Denali, an ultra-luxury model that combines a big 6.0-liter V8 with full-time all-wheel-drive, a combination not available at your Chevy dealer. Styling cues distinguish the GMC from the Chevrolet.
Safety features abound. Four-wheel discs with ABS and dynamic brake proportioning promise good braking performance under all conditions and regardless of load. Hydroboost brakes provide power assist even if the engine stalls. Dual-stage frontal airbags are standard, of course, and side-impact airbags are available. Yukon XL comes with a tire-pressure monitor. Traction control comes standard on 2WD models. StabiliTrak stability control is available on all 2005 Yukon XL models and comes standard on Denali.
GMC Yukon XL is available with two-wheel drive ($38,685) or four-wheel drive ($41,385), and in two load ratings. Most popular is the 1500, the standard light-duty model, rated to tow trailers up to 8400 pounds. The heavy-duty 2500 2WD ($40,185) and 2500 4WD ($42,885) are rated to pull trailers up to 12,000 pounds. Unless you plan to pull that much trailer, however, we recommend the 1500 for its lower cost, better fuel economy, and smoother ride.
A 5.3-liter V8 powers Yukon XL 1500 models. A 6.0-liter V8 comes standard on Denali and 2500 models. An 8.1-liter V8 is optional ($950) for 2500 models, and delivers 440 pound-feet of torque for maximum towing capability. All Yukon XL models come with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
Both the 1500 and 2500 models are available in basic SLE, or more deluxe SLT or SLT Plus trim.
The base SLE model comes well-equipped with cloth upholstery, manual tri-zone air conditioning, anti-lock brakes (ABS), self-leveling suspension, CD stereo with eight speakers, power windows, power door locks, fog lights, tinted glass, heated outside mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and alarm. Three rows of seats are standard. The front seat is a 40/20/40 split bench with six-way power adjustments for the driver.
SLT is technically a package ($3,290) that adds bucket seats with leather inserts, a floor console, tri-zone automatic climate control, a nine-speaker Bose premium stereo, rear-seat audio controls, and assist steps (running boards).
SLT Plus ($5,175) adds to that Ultrasoft leather seating surfaces; full-function power (including power lumbar support) for the front bucket seats with seat heaters and a two-position memory function; outside mirrors with turn indicators and ground illumination (puddle lamps); auto-dimming for the driver's side outside mirror; Driver Information Center (including a trip computer); power-adjustable pedals; OnStar; a Homelink universal transmitter (for garage doors); six-disc in-dash CD changer; XM Satellite Radio; steering wheel controls for the audio system; and the Cargo Package with cargo shade, cargo net, cargo mat, luggage rack center rails.
Yukon XL Denali ($51,685) is loaded with luxury features, along with the bigger engine, a sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system, StabiliTrak stability control, and AutoRide suspension with self-leveling and two-position dampening. Denali is distinguished by unique exterior design cues. It is essentially a 1500 however, and is not available in the heavy-duty 2500 load rating.
The GMC Yukon XL is a long-wheelbase version of the Yukon, just as the Suburban is a long-wheelbase version of the Chevy Tahoe. XL means eXtra Long: Yukon XL is based on the same platform as the Yukon, but it's stretched 14 inches in wheelbase and about 20 inches overall. While the Yukon can carry a lot of people or a lot of cargo, the Yukon XL can do both at the same time. The Yukon XL also offers the bigger towing capacity.
Yukon XL is conservatively styled. GMC takes a more sophisticated, more understated approach to design than Chevrolet. Still, the Yukon XL shares the unmistakable profile of the 'burb.
Denali trades the standard Yukon XL's black grille for a bright mask of fine-metal mesh, but then swaps the base model's chrome bumpers for body-color units, keeping the overall flash level about equal. Round fog lights are neatly tunneled into the lower part of Denali's unique front bumper. Cladding adorns the lower body, running down the sides and incorporating the front and rear stone guards; the Denali's cladding is oddly shaped, but blends nicely into the color-keyed running boards.
For 2005, all Yukon XL models come with a station wagon-style liftgate at the rear, with a glass window that opens independently. Made of lightweight aluminum, the liftgate is convenient for quickly adding and removing cargo. Side-by-side cargo doors are no longer available. Less noticeable changes for 2005 include an extended front air dam with fewer unneeded openings, and more aerodynamically friendly running boards.
Yukon XL 2500 is available with Quadrasteer, an electronically controlled four-wheel steering system that improves maneuverability somewhat at the expense of appearance, as it requires ungainly rear fender flares to accommodate a significantly wider track (the distance between the rear wheels).
For moving people and cargo, you can't beat the Yukon XL and Suburban. They are the leaders when it comes to seating and cargo capacity, rivaled only by the Ford Excursion, which can't quite match the towing grunt of the Yukon XL 2500. Big inside, the Yukon XL is very roomy and, for the most part, comfortable.
The exception is the seats. GM's bucket seats are big and cushy, but we don't always find them comfortable. The seat bottoms lack support, especially on the sides, and they don't seem long enough. Owners, however, particularly long-term GM loyalists, often disagree with this assessment. Bucket seats are standard on SLT and Denali models, and an optional on the SLE. The standard front seat in Yukon XL is a three-passenger, manually reclining 40/20/40 split bench with dual manual lumbar support and six-way power for the driver; we found this setup similar to the buckets in terms of comfort. Yukon XL comes standard with nice cloth upholstery. The optional Ultrasoft leather makes this big truck look and feel like a luxury vehicle.
The bucket seats are separated by a deep center console that holds lots of stuff. The top of the console lid features a nice rubber-lined indention, handy for sunglasses and other items. It would be even better if the rubber was an insert that could be removed for cleaning. It would be better still if the top of the console wasn't angled forward: Lay a clipboard there and it'll slide off.
Ergonomics are otherwise excellent. The cup holders are superb, a good feature for people who live and work in their vehicles. Above are well-designed map lights that can be aimed. A covered power outlet for cell phones and radar detectors is conveniently located inside the ashtray compartment, in addition to the cigar lighter.
The Driver Information Center is located immediately in front of the driver, below the speedometer. It's handy and easy to use, allowing the driver to program automatic locking and other features, as well as providing trip mileage, fuel economy and other data. Hate the way the doors lock every time you shift out of Park? Annoyed that the horn blows when you lock the doors? Don't want the daytime running lamps on? Turn those features off, turn them on, or deploy them partially. Everything is programmable. A tire-pressure monitoring system continuously checks inflation pressures and flashes a warning on the instrument cluster should any tire lose air pressure.
Audio and climate control systems are well designed and easy to operate. The manual heating controls that come on the base model (SLE) are nicely designed and work well. Much better, however, are the digital three-zone automatic climate controls that come on the other models. They are sophisticated yet easy to operate, and permit separate adjustments for driver and passenger. The rear heating/air conditioning controls are mounted overhead and help improve comfort for pets as well as people.
XM Satellite Radio is a great option to have when traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country. You still get ads, but fewer and less obnoxious ones than you hear on FM. Audio controls on the steering wheel make it easy to switch among station presets and modes, among other things. Program the AM, FM1, FM2, XM1, and XM2 bands and you can quickly zip to your favorite stations without taking your hands off the wheel. XM Satellite Radio is nice to have around town for listening to the 24-hour news (CNN, NPR) and sports broadcasts (ESPN, NASCAR), or for staying tuned into your favorite types of music (classical, jazz, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s).
New for 2005, a DVD-based touch-screen navigation system ($1,995) generates two- and three-dimensional color maps on a 6.5-inch screen; it also provides audio commands.
Buttons for Homelink, which can open garage doors and gates, and turn on house lights; and for the new Gen 6 OnStar telematics system, are.
The standard Yukon XL 1500 provides a smooth, comfortable ride. It's built on a rigid frame, which plays a key role in the Yukon XL's ride and handling.
The standard Premium Smooth Ride suspension in the 1500 soaks up large potholes and rough surfaces. The independent front suspension flattens the most rugged terrain, so passengers feel coddled, while the solid rear axle maximizes towing capability. Yukon XL boasts an impressive turning radius given its mammoth proportions, useful for crowded parking lots, U-turns, and off-road driving.
AutoRide is an optional suspension package that automatically varies shock damping according to driving conditions. Whether riding empty, carrying a full load of people, or towing a horse trailer, AutoRide continually adjusts the suspension for optimum ride and handling. This technology also helps reduce dive on braking (so that the nose of the vehicle doesn't dip down unduly) and body roll (lean) during cornering.
Towing a heavy trailer? A 1500 model is plenty for pulling a car trailer or a light boat trailer, but you may want to look at the 2500 models if you have a heavy load to pull and you pull it often. But the 2500 doesn't ride as well as the 1500. The rear suspension on the standard 1500-series models uses coil springs, while the heavy-duty 2500 models use leaf springs; coil springs filter road vibration much better and allow more precise suspension movements for better handling.
Quadrasteer ($1,995) gives the Yukon XL 2500 dramatically improved maneuverability in tight quarters. By turning the rear wheels opposite the direction of the front wheels, this four-wheel-steering system reduces the curb-to-curb turning diameter from the standard 44.3 feet to 36.5 feet. That's a huge difference when maneuvering in crowded parking lots and public garages, and it allows a U-turn in places that previously required backing up. Quadrasteer becomes even more important when towing trailers. It greatly improves control when backing, reducing trial and error. It also allows you to move a trailer into spots where you could not physically do so without it. It makes mere mortals look like professional semi drivers. Quadrasteer is well worth considering by anyone who frequently pulls trailers.
A 2500 with Quadrasteer isn't the smoothest vehicle on the road, however. We found its ride rough on I-405, a busy L.A. freeway with ripples that can set a stiff suspension to bouncing. Quadrasteer comes with heavier suspension components to support all of the extra equipment on the rear axle. Also, 2500 models come with light-truck tires, rather than passenger-car tires. Adding some heavy cargo would likely improve the ride, but we don't think we'd want to put up with the jounciness of the heavy-duty suspension on a daily basis unless we were towing at least once a month.
Responsiveness from each of the three available V8 engines is excellent. Most people will find the standard 5.3-liter V8 a great companion. The 6.0-liter V8 produces 325 horsepower in the 2500 and (with different cylinder heads) 335 horsepower in the Denali. Either way, it feels and sounds powerful when accelerating onto the freeway.
EPA fuel economy figures for 2005 weren't available at press time, but we'd expect the 5.3-liter Yukon XL to rate about 14/21 mpg with 2WD, 14/18 with 4WD. GMC said Yukon XL's 2005 fuel economy should be better than 2004's, thanks in part to new dual, 200-watt electric cooling fans that replace the engine-driven fan used previously. The electric fans are quieter, and a new radiator is more efficient, so GMC says we should also expect improved air conditioning performance when traffic comes to a standstill.
Yukon's transmission features a Tow/Haul mode that improves performance while towing through mountainous terrain. Pressing the Tow/Haul switch on the end of the gearshift lever changes the shift points of the automatic transmission. The Tow/H.
GMC Yukon XL moves people and gear like nothing else, and has no peers among sport utilities when it comes to towing. If you have lots of cargo or pull heavy trailers you'll appreciate the Yukon XL.
GMC Yukon XL 1500 2WD ($38,510); 1500 4WD ($41,210); Denali AWD ($51,510); 2500 2WD ($40,010); 2500 4WD ($42,710).
Janesville, Wisconsin; Silao, Mexico.
Options As Tested
SLT Plus decor ($5,175) includes Ultrasoft front leather seating surfaces, full-function front bucket seats, Bose premium nine-speaker system, rear-seat audio controls, in-dash 6-CD player, XM Satellite Radio, steering wheel controls, OnStar, Homelink universal garage door opener, Quadrasteer ($1,995); rear seat entertainment system ($1,295); second-row captain's chairs ($490).
GMC Yukon XL 2500 4WD ($42,885).
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