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Completely redesigned just two years ago, GMC Yukon XL comes loaded with major changes for 2003 that add convenience, refinement, and reliability.
Interiors have been redesigned with new seats, a new instrument panel, a new steering wheel with new controls, and new audio and climate control systems that are both more sophisticated and easier to use. The heating and air conditioning systems themselves have been improved for faster warm-ups and cool-downs. Brakes have been upgraded for improved performance and pedal feel. StabiliTrak and Quadrasteer, two great systems, are available on more models.
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. New Bose stereos, XM Satellite Radio, Panasonic DVD video, wireless headphones, independent controls, and auxiliary inputs galore should ensure everyone is happy for crying out loud. OnStar redirects you when you get lost or can help locate a good Italian restaurant.
Other changes for 2003 are invisible, but important. New air bag systems offer improved safety. An all-new electrical architecture eliminates thick bundles of wires and hundreds of connections for improved reliability and easier repair. Engine improvements result in quicker throttle response, better reliability and lower emissions levels.
Yukon XL remains an excellent choice for families who need three rows of seats on a regular basis. It can haul six to nine people and/or a boatload of cargo. Towing? You can pull a 12,000-pound trailer with a Yukon XL 2500, and you can tow that trailer quickly by opting for the Vortec 8100. That's right, 8.1-liters.
Based on GM's excellent full-size truck platform, GMC Yukon XL and Chevrolet Suburban have much in common, but there are some key differences that go well beyond styling. As GM's upscale truck division, the GMC is available with more luxury features, 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.
The base Yukon XL 1500 SLE is well-equipped and comes with the new automatic tri-zone climate control system. It also comes standard with power windows, three rows of seats, an eight-speaker stereo with CD player, cast-aluminum wheels and most other features associated with a premium vehicle. Upholstery is cloth. Front seats are a split bench with six-way power adjustments for the driver.
Several trim packages are available, along with many stand-alone options. SLT ($3090) adds bucket seats with leather inserts, Bose speakers, assist steps (running boards), and rear-seat audio controls. SLT Plus ($5566) adds ultrasoft leather seating surfaces; full-function leather heated bucket seats with 10-way power, two-position memory, power lumbar support; heated, auto-dimming outside mirrors with turn indicators, ground illumination (puddle lamps); Driver Information Center; power-adjustable pedals; Security Package, which includes OnStar's Safe and Sound package, a universal transmitter, dual front side-impact airbags, steering wheel controls for audio and DIC; Cargo Package with cargo shade, cargo net, cargo mat, luggage rack center rails.
Yukon XL Denali ($50,405) comes loaded with luxury features along with a more sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system and a bigger engine. A locking rear differential is standard on the Denali.
For moving people and cargo, you can't beat the GMC Yukon XL and Chevrolet Suburban and the GMC models tend to be more luxurious. Yukon XL 1500 models offer a smooth ride. It's built on a rigid platform, which plays a key role in the Yukon XL's ride and handling.
AutoRide is an optional 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. AutoRide is standard on Denali, optional on 1500 and 2500.
The suspension system in the 1500 models 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.
Autoride didn't seem to help our 2500 with Quadrasteer, however, which rode rough on I-405 in Los Angeles. Quadrasteer requires heavier components to sustain all of the extra equipment on the rear axle. Our 2500 also came with light-truck tires, rather than passenger-car tires. Weight 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 heavy trailers.
Brakes were revised for 2003 and we found they worked very well. The new brakes are easy to modulate, offered good pedal feel, and seemed to do a good job of stopping our 2003 Yukon XL 2500. They are a far cry from pre-2000 GM truck brakes.
StabiliTrak is a valuable option that could save your life someday or reduce the chance of stuffing your big Yukon XL into the ditch. StabiliTrak is an anti-skid system that compares the driver's intended path with the vehicle's actual path, and adjusts engine torque and any of the four brakes to help bring the vehicle back under control. Sophisticated sensors monitor the suspension, steering, antilock braking and traction control systems, constantly measuring steering angle, wheel speeds, brake pressure, lateral and longitudinal acceleration and yaw rate (the vehicle rotation rate, such as when cornering).
Shifting among the four-wheel-drive modes is easily accomplished with four switches mounted on the left side of the instrument panel. The top switch engages GMC's automatic four-wheel-drive system, 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, 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 Yukon XL 2500 came with the big 6.0-liter, which felt and sounded powerful when accelerating onto the freeway.
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
GMC Yukon XL is a highly capable vehicle when it comes to moving lots of people. But this is a big truck based on a full-size pickup platform. If you simply need a vehicle for carrying four kids around, you'd be better served by a minivan. If you have lots of cargo or pull heavy trailers, however, you'll be well served by the Yukon XL.
Ride quality of 2500-series models with Quadrasteer is rough on rippled highways, but Quadrasteer helps immensely when towing trailers or parking in tight confines.
We found the front seats lacking, but refinements for 2003 make this great vehicle better.