2002 GMC Yukon Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Updated and upgraded.They don't get much bigger, or much better, than this.
GMC's Yukon offers a roomy cabin, impressive cargo-carrying capability, a nice ride, and a choice of modern V8 engines that deliver strong power for towing or tackling steep grades. The Yukon Denali is a luxury version that adds a more luxurious interior, a bigger engine, and all-wheel drive.
Either way, the Yukon is a good size for large families. Built on GM's superb full-size truck platform, the Yukon is the same size and, in many ways, the same vehicle as the Chevy Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade. Yukon is 20 inches shorter than the Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon XL, making it much easier to park and garage. It is slightly smaller than the Ford Expedition, but longer and wider than the GMC Envoy, Chevy TrailBlazer, and Ford Explorer.
Yukon SLE was completely redesigned for 2000, and the luxurious Yukon Denali was introduced for 2001. For 2002, GMC focused on fine-tuning to enhance safety, reduce emissions, and improve durability and reliability. GMC upgraded the automatic transmissions, designed a more efficient starter, built a more durable steering gear housing, installed new child safety seat anchors, and achieved an ultra-low emissions (ULEV) rating for the Vortec 5300 V8 engine. If you need three rows of seats on a regular basis and a minivan doesn't offer enough cargo room, then this is one of the best vehicles available for the job. And the only reason we say 'one of' is because the Chevrolet Suburban is the other one. Each delivers the same great ability to carry six to nine people and/or a boatload of cargo. And they do it in comfort.
Based on GM's excellent full-size truck platform, the GMC Yukon XL and the Chevy Suburban are in many respects identical, but there are some key differences that go well beyond styling cues. GMC is GM's upscale truck division, so the Yukon XL is available with more luxury, more power, and better handling in adverse conditions than what's available from Chevrolet. At the top of the GMC model line is the Yukon XL Denali, an upscale version of the Yukon XL that comes with a powerful 6.0-liter V8 and all-wheel drive.
Completely re-engineered for the 2000 model year, the Yukon XL was further refined for 2001 and the Denali model was added. For 2002, the transmissions, the steering system, starter motors, child seat anchors, and other parts have been upgraded or redesigned for improved durability or better operation. More low-emissions models are also available. But, for the most part, the Yukon XL is unchanged over last year.
Essentially, two models are available: SLE and Denali.
Yukon SLE ($33,252 with two-wheel drive and $35,835 with four-wheel drive) comes loaded with air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, self-leveling suspension, CD stereo, power windows, power door locks, fog lights, tinted glass, heated outside mirrors, leather wrapped steering wheel, and alarm. A 275-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 is standard; a 325- horsepower 5.3-liter V8 is optional.
Yukon Denali ($46,550) is the upscale model that comes with a big 6.0-liter V8 engine, all-wheel drive, and a computer-controlled AutoRide suspension. The Denali comes equipped with nearly every desirable feature as standard equipment, including: heated, leather, 10-way power seats, On-Star driver assistance, 11-speaker Bose stereo with in-dash six-disc CD changer, thermostatically controlled climate control with rear heat and air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, power windows and power door locks. The Denali is the luxury version of GM's full-size SUVs; only the Cadillac Escalade is more luxurious. Neither the powerful 6.0-liter V8 nor the full-time all-wheel-drive system is available on the Yukon SLE models, nor does Chevrolet offer anything comparable to the Denali in its Tahoe line. Denali options are limited to a sunroof ($1,000) and engine block heater ($35). The GMC Yukon XL is a long-wheelbase version of the Yukon, just as the Chevrolet Suburban is a long wheelbase version of the Tahoe. XL means extra long; the 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 a bigger towing capacity. (Look for a separate NewCarTestDrive.com review of the standard-wheelbase GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali.)
GMC offers the Yukon XL with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. It comes in two load ratings: The popular 1500 model is rated to tow trailers up to 8800 pounds with 2WD, or 8600 pounds with 4WD. The heavy-duty 2500 is rated to pull trailers up to 12,000 pounds in 2WD or 4WD. (Unless you're pulling heavy trailers, you'll want the 1500 model for its smoother ride quality.)
Each of these variations is available in two trim levels, the already well-equipped SLE and even better-equipped SLT.
Yukon XL Denali adds a bigger engine and a sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system to the Yukon XL. Denali also comes standard with nearly every option offered on the regular Yukon XL models. A distinctive grille, wheels, body cladding, and interior trim distinguish the Denali from the rest of the Yukon XL line.
All Yukon XL 1500 models in SLE or SLT trim come with a 285-horsepower 5.3-liter Vortec V8. Yukon XL Denali comes only with a 320-horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec V8. 2500 models offer a choice of the 6.0-liter V8, or a monster 340-horsepower 8.1-liter big-block Vortec V8.
All models come with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
Yukon XL 4WD models use a fairly conventional part-time system GM calls Autotrac; it uses a two-speed transfer case that locks front and rear axle speeds together in four-wheel-drive mode. This is the traditional kind of four-wheel drive that is considered best for serious off-road driving. Pressing a button switches the system to an Auto 4WD mode that automatically shifts torque between the front and rear wheels as conditions demand. A locking rear differential is optional.
Denali comes with a more sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system that uses a planetary center differential set for a 38/62 front/rear torque split; a silicone viscous coupling unit progressively locks up if one axle or the other starts to slip. This is all contained in a cast-magnesium housing that saves 15 pounds compared to the standard 4WD system. Aluminum front and rear prop shafts save even more weight and minimize vibration. A locking rear differential is standard on the Denali.
Prices start at $36,157 for the 1500 and $37,529 for the 2500. Add about $2600 for 4WD. Two different SLT packages are offered, one adding $2105, and the other $3273, to the cost of an SLE. Denali is priced at $48,050, but includes every possible option except an engine-block heater ($35), power sunroof ($1000), and second-row bucket seats ($490).
These are conservatively styled trucks. They look like shortened versions of the GMC Yukon XL, which looks like a fancy Suburban, which is what it is. An arched roofline provides extra headroom for the second and third rows.
The most visible difference between the SLE and Denali is the Denali's aftermarket-inspired chrome grille, in place of the SLE's blacked out grille.
An important choice to make here is whether you want a contemporary hatch rear door that lifts up or old-fashioned side-by-side cargo doors. Cargo doors are more useful for towing trailers, while the hatch style is usually more convenient for families partly because the window can be opened separately for quick loading or unloading of smaller items. Denali buyers are limited to a hatch with flip-up window. Utility-minded shoppers looking for cargo doors will have to limit themselves to an SLE. Today's GMC Yukon XL is a completely redesigned and re-engineered version of the 1999 GMC Suburban. (GMC and Chevrolet shared the Suburban nameplate prior to 2000.) Compared to the old Suburbans, the Yukon XL is strikingly different, yet familiar at the same time. Its styling is more rounded, like the old one was put into a giant polisher.
The Denali trades the standard Yukon XL's black grille for a bright mask of fine-metal mesh, but swaps the chrome bumpers for body-color bumpers to keep the overall flash level about equal. Round fog lights are neatly tunneled into the lower part of the front bumper. (All Yukon XLs have fog lights, but they are less conspicuous on standard models.) Oddly shaped lower body cladding incorporates front and rear stone guards and blends nicely into the Denali's color-keyed running boards.
GMC's Yukon models are comfortable and convenient. GMC has gone to great lengths to make them more comfortable, easier to operate and more attractive for families. Getting inside is easy thanks to pull-handle style door handles that replace the old lift-up style openers. Step-in height is lower than previous-generation models, making it easier to climb into the driver's seat. Seat-mounted shoulder harnesses on the front and rear seats make the Yukon's belts easy to wear.
All controls are mounted close to the driver's seat. Visibility out of the Yukon is very good, thanks to new larger windows. The combination of good visibility and confident handling give the Yukon an air of nimbleness.
GMC's Yukon Denali tops the current Lincoln Navigator in the usefulness of its third-row seat. While the Lincoln's third seat is a children-only compression chamber, the Yukon's third seat provides space for adults' feet. It isn't a lot of space, but it is there. The third seat also folds, flips, slides and removes easily. Whichever way you choose to stow the third-row seat, it is easy to do; it even has wheels to help it roll into the garage for storage.
Still, getting into and out of that third row isn't easy for adults. If you're going to put people back there on a regular basis, we recommend considering the longer GMC Yukon XL or Chevy Suburban.
The Denali offers optional second-row bucket seats that give passengers better support and let them adjust their seats individually to suit each person. The Denali's leather upholstery is very nice looking and feels comfortable.
Music lovers will enjoy the available Bose Acoustimass 11-speaker stereo with a subwoofer. It uses a spiral-wrapped radio antenna to cut wind noise. GMC says it chose to use a conventional mast rather than embedding the antenna in a window for better performance. Seating and cargo carrying are key features of this giant SUV, so we'll start with that. In our view, other SUVs with three rows of seats offer a workable solution for people who only occasionally need the third row. Cramming six or eight people into a Tahoe, Yukon, Ford Expedition, or a smaller SUV on a daily basis, however, may be cruel though not unusual treatment for third-row passengers. Minivans can carry seven passengers in relative comfort, but there's not much room behind the third row for their luggage. And Ford's Excursion is just too much truck for anyone who's not pulling a big boat or a big horse trailer. That leaves the Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL. Short of driving a shuttle bus, you just can't beat these two behemoths of modern motoring for moving people and stuff.
The standard front seat setup in a Yukon XL is a three-passenger reclining 40/20/40 split bench with six-way power driver and passenger seat adjusters with dual manual lumbar support. Front bucket seats are available and we like them better when seven or fewer passengers need to be moved. Either way, the front seats in these vehicles are generally comfortable and supportive. Seat belts mount to the seat frame, and the side-impact airbags are incorporated into the seats. The basic GMC Yukon XL comes with nice custom cloth upholstery. Leather seating is available as part of an options package. Leather seating surfaces come standard on the Denali, and its tone-on-tone leather bucket seats suggest a luxury sedan more than a truck; 10-way power adjustments include side bolsters, lumbar support, and articulated headrests.
For the second row, the standard deal is a three-passenger 60/40 fold-down bench seat. Denali offers a choice of 50/50 split bench seat in the second row or a pair of heated bucket seats for $490. Because it seats three people, the bench seat offers more options for carrying passengers. If four adults plus two children is all you'll ever need to carry, then the second-row bucket seats are very comfortable. Second-row passengers in the Denali's optional bucket seats get a great pair of cup holders that flip out of the back of the center console. Just above are their comprehensive audio controls and headphone jacks. A pair of covered cigar-lighter style power outlets is available for running accessories. Besides the seat heaters, they get a pair of ceiling vents on each side that can be aimed. The driver controls the rear passengers' temperature and fan speeds and can direct the air to upper or lower vents or both.
The third row is a bench seat. It is surprisingly comfortable, unlike most third-row SUV seats. While many third-row seats put a fender under half your butt, leaning your body toward the inside, the Yukon XL provides a comfortable bench seat. Larger passengers may not love sitting back there, but most adults can tolerate the third row. There are cup holders for each person, great when heading to an event with a boatload of friends. Overhead vents can be aimed for heating and air conditioning, good because the rear side windows cannot be opened. A pair of three-point seat belts are nicely designed and easy to use. As with the other rows, the seat belts are integrated into the seats, which is the direction many manufacturers are taking now. There is a lap belt in the center of the third row, but putting three people back there is optimistic as the third row is considerably narrower than the first two rows to accommodate the rear wheels. Getting into the third row is a bit challenging, however. Third-row passengers will require assistance to get in or out as someone will have to move the second-row seats out of the way for them. Minivans tend to be much easier to deal with in this regard.
Need to haul some stuff? Yukon XL offers 45.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. That's a lot. By comparison, a regular Yukon or Tahoe provides just 16.3 cubic feet and a Ford Expedition offers 20.5 cubic feet. Fold thi.
GMC Yukon offers a nice ride, whether on asphalt or dirt. On bumpy rural byways that make some SUVs feel like pogo sticks, the Yukon rides with impressive, sedan-like smoothness. On smooth highways, the Yukon cruises effortlessly. Handling is impressive and surefooted for a full-size SUV. It's stable at high speed. It's much easier to park then the Yukon XL, but it's still a full-size truck and not as maneuverable as a mid-size SUV such as the GMC Envoy or Ford Explorer.
Yukon SLE and Denali share the same hydroformed frame and five-link coil-spring live-axle rear suspension, which gives them a smooth ride and surprisingly responsive handling. Car-based SUVs such as the Lexus RX300 use independent rear suspension to provide the ride and handling customers expect, but GMC has managed to give the Yukon those benefits without compromising its cargo-carrying utility. The front suspension is conventional in design, except for the springs. To save space, the Yukon uses torsion bars instead of coil springs in the front. Its conventional ladder frame is fully boxed in the mid-section for maximum rigidity, while the front and rear portions are shaped by the same hydro-forming technique used to make Corvette frames. This rigid design is a key to the Yukon's excellent ride and handling. At the very front of the frame is a section that is designed to crush and absorb impacts in a crash.
The Denali's AutoRide computer-controlled suspension helps keep it level over bumps. This effect is especially pronounced when towing; a trailer tends to cause the towing vehicle to rock back and forth when driving over bumps, but the AutoRide system keeps the Denali amazingly smooth.
The steering on both models provides good control and feedback. It's a recirculating-ball system, which doesn't offer the response of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer and the new 2003 Ford Expedition, however.
A tighter 38.3-foot turning diameter makes the Yukon much easier to park than a Yukon XL, which takes another 4 feet of space to turn around. That makes a huge difference in the grocery store parking lot. The Yukon's turning diameter represents a big improvement over previous-generation Yukon and Tahoe models.
The brakes perform well. Dual-piston brake calipers for the disc brakes are designed to provide shorter stopping distances. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS. To check this out, we towed a heavily laden horse trailer without trailer brakes connected and were impressed with the braking ability.
Under the hood, the Yukons employ the latest version of Chevy's small-block V8 engine family. These Generation III overhead-valve engines are the best yet and rival competitors' overhead-cam engines for smoothness and efficiency. As mentioned, they come in three sizes: 4.8-liter, 5.3-liter, and 6.0-liter.
The big 6.0-liter V8 that comes with the Denali cranks out 320 horsepower. Fuel economy suffers, however, earning the Denali a mediocre EPA gas mileage rating of 12 mpg city and 16 mpg highway; but that is similar to ratings for some vehicles with much less horsepower and lower towing capacities. At least the 6.0-liter V8 burns regular unleaded fuel, making pit stops a little more affordable.
The 275-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 gets much better fuel economy, earning 20 mpg on the EPA's highway mileage test on a 2WD Yukon.
The more popular 5.3-liter V8 is rated at 285 horsepower and its acceleration performance is impressive. Like the 4.8-liter engine, the 5.3-liter burns regular unleaded fuel.
Standard Yukons come with a choice of two-wheel-drive with optional traction control or a traditional four-wheel-drive system. Two-wheel-drive models offer a limited-slip rear differential to give drivers better traction in slippery conditions. Optional traction control cuts engine power as needed to help maintain traction to the rear tires. A. This is arguably the best full-size SUV on the market. First off, there's the smooth ride. GM completely re-engineered the chassis for 2000, making the frame stronger and lighter. It is a tremendously good platform, very rigid, with generous cross bracing and a hydroformed frame. This chassis is a key element to the greatness of the Yukon, Suburban, and Tahoe models as it allowed GM engineers to design a suspension that soaks up the jarring bumps and craters found on and off our roadways.
The optional AutoRide suspension system automatically varies the amount of shock damping according to the driving conditions. Whether towing a horse trailer or picking up the soccer team, 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 (or lean) during cornering. AutoRide is a $850 option on 1500s, $900 on 2500s, and standard on Denali.
The suspension system soaked up the large potholes and rough terrain we encountered. The independent front suspension flattens the most rugged terrain so that the Yukon XL's passengers feel coddled, while the solid rear axle allows impressive towing capability. The suspension also contributes to the Yukon XL's impressive turning radius when compared with pre-2000 models, useful for crowded parking lots, U-turns, and off-road driving.
Good brakes are important for a vehicle that weighs more than two tons and is sometimes asked to pull heavy trailers. With the Yukon XL's redesign came exceptionally good brakes, with 40 percent larger ventilated discs at the front wheels, and big 13.2-inch discs on the rear axle. While we equate fast emergency braking maneuvers with testing a vehicle's ability to stop, sometimes being able to stop straight and true at slow speeds is important, and the Yukon XL delivers on that front. The previous-generation Suburban had a mushy brake pedal, but that has been replaced with a much firmer pedal in this new Yukon XL for improved driver control.
More than once we were particularly glad for the quick manner in which the driver can shift the Yukon XL in and out of four-wheel drive. Four switches mounted on the left side of the instrument panel make it is easy to change modes. The top switch engages GMC's automatic four-wheel-drive system, Autotrac, which automatically transfers power from the slipping wheel to the wheels with traction. A switch controls two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and four-wheel drive low-range. This system makes shifting from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive and back as easy as turning on the radio.
By contrast, the Denali's full-time all-wheel-drive system requires no input from the driver. And it's the best setup in inconsistent conditions (patches of snow and ice, gravel and pavement) because it transfers power to the wheels with the best traction.
Responsiveness from each of the three available V8 engines is excellent. Most people will find the standard 5.3-liter V8 a great companion. Our Denali came with the big 6.0-liter with its 320 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque.
All Yukon XL models come with a tow/haul mode for the transmission. Pressing a switch on the end of the gearshift lever changes the shift points of the automatic transmission. The tow/haul mode improves performance while towing through mountainous terrain and lessens wear on the transmission. It does this by holding it in any given gear longer and by shifting more abruptly to reduce heat buildup.
Towing a really 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. Not surprisingly, the 1500 model, which comes with torsion bars up front and coil springs in the rear, smooths out road vibration much better than the 2500 model, which is fitted with rear leaf springs. That comes with th.
The GMC Yukon is among the best of the full-size SUVs. It's large enough to carry a crowd in comfort or haul a lot of cargo, yet doesn't require a new garage and a flagger to park.
The Yukon Denali gives full-size SUV shoppers an alternative to their Cadillac dealer when shopping for a luxury SUV from General Motors. The Denali is styled more conventionally than the Escalade, so some buyers may be more comfortable with its traditional appearance. Both are comfortable, roomy SUVs that get surprisingly good gas mileage. Lots of power, comfortable accommodations, and safety features such as side-impact air bags place the Yukon Denali among the best of the full-size luxury SUVs. If you have the need to move lots of people, loads of stuff, and/or a heavy trailer, all at the same time, then GMC's Yukon XL (or Chevy's Suburban) is the best choice. If you want to add luxury to that equation, take a look at the Denali.
Yukon SLE ($33,252); Yukon Denali ($46,550). 1500 2WD ($36,157), 4WD ($38,740); Denali AWD ($48,050)
2500 2WD ($37,529); 4WD ($40,196).
Janesville, Wisconsin. Janesville, Wisconsin; Silao, Mexico.
Options As Tested
Denali ($46,550). Yukon XL Denali ($48,050).
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