2004 GMC Yukon Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The right size for active families.
The GMC Yukon is sized right for large families. Its cabin is roomy, it can carry a load of people and a mountain of cargo, and it can pull heavy trailers. Yet it'll fit into a garage more easily than a Suburban or even an Expedition.
The Yukon offers a nice ride and a choice of V8 engines. The Yukon Denali is a luxury version that adds a sumptuous interior, a bigger engine, and full-time all-wheel drive.
For 2004, Yukon comes standard with a tire-pressure monitor and sophisticated Hydroboost brakes.
Three trim levels are available for the GMC Yukon: SLE, SLT, and Denali.
Yukon SLE ($34,910) and SLE 4WD ($37,610) come loaded with manual dual-zone air conditioning, a split-bench front seat with power adjustment for the driver, 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. A 285-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 is standard; a 295-horsepower 5.3-liter V8 is optional ($700).
Yukon SLT ($37,440) and SLT 4WD ($40,140) adds automatic tri-zone air conditioning, a premium Bose stereo with nine speakers, high-back bucket seats with leather inserts, rear seat audio controls, and assist steps. New SLT options for 2004 include 17-inch, six-spoke premium aluminum wheels ($295), which can be shod with either all-season blackwalls or whitewalls, or on/off-road blackwalls. The SLT Plus Equipment Group ($40,895 or $43,595 with 4WD) upgrades the quality of the leather and adds more power adjustments and a memory function to the seats. SLT Plus also features side-impact airbags, outside mirrors with ground illumination and turn signals (and electrochromic dimming on the driver's side), power-adjustable pedals, third-row seating, and more. The 5.3-liter V8 comes standard on SLT Plus.
Yukon Denali ($49,310) is the most upscale model, and comes with a big 6.0-liter V8 engine, full-time all-wheel drive, StabiliTrak stability control, and a computer-controlled AutoRide suspension. In fact, nearly every desirable feature is standard on Denali, including heated leather 10-way power seats, On-Star driver assistance, nine-speaker Bose stereo with XM Satellite Radio capability and in-dash six-disc CD changer, and 17-inch alloy wheels. A sunroof ($1,000) and an engine block heater ($35) are optional.
For 2004, the Trailering Group ($330) now includes a seven-to-four-pin adapter and electric brake wiring harness, in addition to a hitch platform, transmission oil cooler, and high-capacity air cleaner.
Built on GM's excellent full-size truck platform, the Yukon is the same size and has much in common with the Chevrolet Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade. Yukon is 20 inches shorter than the Chevrolet Suburban and 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 is wider and shorter than the Envoy XL, giving it better stability in cornering and more comfortable accommodations for third-row occupants.
Yukon is conservatively styled. It looks like a shortened version of the Yukon XL, which looks like a fancy Suburban, which is what it is. Its arched roofline provides extra headroom for the second and third-row seats.
The Denali is distinguished from the other Yukons by its aftermarket-inspired chrome grille. For 2004, the Denali also sports a chromed exhaust tip.
Most Yukons come with a rear hatch, which lifts up to open. The rear window can be opened separately for quick loading or unloading of smaller items. However, Yukon SLE and SLT models offer old-fashioned side-by-side cargo doors as a delete option. Cargo doors are sometimes more useful, particularly when towing trailers.
The Yukon is comfortable and convenient. Getting inside is easy, thanks to pull-out style door handles that replace the old lift-up style openers. Step-in height is lower than in previous-generation models, making it easier to climb into the driver's seat.
The front seats were redesigned for 2003, but we have trouble getting comfortable at times. The Denali's leather upholstery looks and feels nice, however. Also, the shoulder harnesses fit well and are easy to wear because they are mounted on the seats. Visibility out of the Yukon is very good, thanks to large windows.
Second-row seating is roomy and comfortable. Second-row bucket seats are optional ($490) in SLT and Denali, but not SLE. They offer excellent support and can be adjusted individually. We sometimes think they're more comfortable than the front seats.
Yukon's optional third-row seat ($360-$760, depending on upholstery) provides space for adults' feet. It isn't a lot of space, but it is there. The third row folds, flips, slides and removes easily. In fact, whichever way you choose to stow the third row, it's easy to do; it has wheels to help roll it into the garage for storage. Like most third rows, it's best for kids or occasional use. Getting into and out of that third-row seat isn't easy for adults. If you're going to put big people back there on a regular basis, we recommend the longer GMC Yukon XL.
Up front, all of the switchgear and ancillary controls are mounted close to the driver. Climate controls and audio controls are easy to use yet are quite sophisticated in their operation. We enjoyed the Bose nine-speaker stereo with subwoofer. Rather than embedding the antenna in a window for fashion reasons, the Yukon uses an external antenna for improved radio reception. For 2004, OnStar and XM satellite radio share a single, low-profile exterior antenna.
The Panasonic DVD Passenger Entertainment System ($1295) includes a seven-inch flip-down screen for second-seat passengers; plus two sets of wireless (infrared) headphones with independent volume control, a wireless remote control and three sets of auxiliary video and audio inputs. The wireless headphones are light and comfortable, and the display offers a crisp picture. For 2004, the DVD player and sunroof are packaged together in the Sun, Sound & Entertainment package.
Safety is enhanced by dual-stage front airbags. Side-impact airbags are optional ($350) on SLE and SLT, standard on SLT Plus and Denali. New for 2004 is a tire-pressure monitoring system, which continuously checks inflation pressures in each of the four tires and flashes a graphic on the instrument cluster should air pressure in one of them drop below a specified level.
GMC Yukon offers a nice ride on asphalt and on dirt. On bumpy rural byways that make some SUVs feel like pogo sticks, the Yukon rides with impressive smoothness. On smooth highways, the Yukon cruises effortlessly. Handling is impressive and surefooted for a full-size SUV. Yukon is stable at high speed. It's much easier to park then the longer 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.
The Yukon is a truck. It comes with a live rear axle mounted on coil springs and located by five control links, an arrangement which provides a good compromise between ride/handling and cargo-carrying utility. Its front suspension is conventional in design, but uses torsion bars instead of coil springs to save space. Yukon's conventional ladder frame is fully boxed in the mid-section for maximum rigidity, while the front and rear portions are shaped by the same hydroforming 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 designed to crush and absorb impacts in a crash.
Yukon Denali's AutoRide computer-controlled suspension helps keep it level over bumps. This benefit 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 combination of good visibility and confident handling give the Yukon an air of nimbleness. The steering on all Yukons provides good control and feedback. It's a recirculating-ball system, however, which doesn't offer the response of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer and Expedition. Its relatively tight 38.3-foot turning diameter makes the Yukon much easier to park than a standard Yukon XL, which takes another 4.7 feet of space to turn around. That makes a huge difference in the grocery store parking lot. The current Yukon's turning diameter represents a big improvement over previous-generation Yukon and Tahoe models.
The brakes perform well. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum effectiveness without activating the ABS. To check this out, we towed a heavily laden horse trailer without trailer brakes connected and were impressed with the Yukon's braking ability. All 2004 Yukons now come with Hydroboost brakes, which rely on hydraulic pressure rather than engine vacuum to reduce braking pressure. This upgraded system provides more power for high-deceleration stops, and improves ABS performance. Hyrdoboost brakes also require less pedal force during high-deceleration stops and improve pedal effort and feel during normal operation.
Under the hood, Yukons employ the latest heirs to Chevy's small-block V8 engine family. These Generation-3 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. All burn regular unleaded.
The popular 5.3-liter V8 offers impressive acceleration performance. Called the 5300 Vortec, it's rated at 295 horsepower and 330 pounds-feet of torque. It earns an EPA City/Highway rating of 14/19 mpg with 2WD, 14/18 mpg with 4WD. The 4.8-liter V8 develops 285 horsepower but considerably less torque: 295 pounds-feet. And it uses just as much fuel, in the EPA tests at least. The big 6.0-liter V8 that comes with the Denali cranks out 325 horsepower and rates about the same fuel economy as the standard 4WD Yukons.
Two-wheel-drive Yukons come standard with electronic traction control. The optional limited-slip rear differential improves traction in slippery conditions. Using the winter start feature on the automatic transmission helps get the Yukon rolling without wheel spin on snow or ice by starting it off in second gear.
GMC Yukon is large enough to carry a crowd in comfort and it can haul a lot of cargo yet it's small enough to fit in the garage.
The Yukon Denali is very luxurious yet more affordable than the Cadillac Escalade. Its styling is traditional and understated. 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.
GMC Yukon 2WD SLE ($34,910); 2WD SLT ($37,440); 4WD SLE ($37,610); 4WD SLT ($40,104); Denali AWD ($49,310).
Janesville, Wisconsin; Arlington, Texas.
Options As Tested
GMC Yukon Denali ($49,310).
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