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The GMC Yukon XL is a great choice for towing cars, boats, horses, and travel trailers when enclosed space is needed for passengers or cargo. Yukon XL is offered in 1500 and 2500 versions.
Maximum towing capacity ranges from 7800-8100 pounds for a Yukon XL 1500 model, and about 9500 pounds on a Yukon XL 2500. (Subtract 1500-2500 pounds if the Yukon is fully loaded with people and cargo.) With its long wheelbase and full-size truck construction, the Yukon XL is a stable platform for towing while offering the interior cargo advantages and three-row seating of a full-size SUV.
Yukon XL is GMC's version of the Chevrolet Suburban. As the XL suggests, the Yukon XL is extra-long, 20 inches longer than the standard-length Yukon. Like the Suburban, the Yukon XL seats seven to nine people, depending on configuration. While many vehicles will seat seven, few have so much room left over for cargo (three sedan trunks of space).
Yukon XL Denali is a luxurious model that compares well to the Cadillac Escalade ESV. Denali comes equipped with a larger engine and automatic rear load-leveling (both shared with the Escalade).
Inside is a comfortable cabin. We found the optional leather seats comfortable. The driver sits way up high for a commanding view of the road, and the pedals power-adjust to fit short and tall drivers. The instruments and gauges are among best in class, elegantly clean yet very functional. Interior small items storage is intelligently designed and all over, including a huge center console.
Second-row passengers will find a lot of leg room in the Yukon XL. Heated bucket seats with a center console between them are available for the second row, turning them into first-class accommodations; and there is a power folding option, making it easier for third-row passengers to climb by. There's even decent legroom and headroom in the third row.
Yukon offers a choice of V8 engines, all with flex-fuel capability, variable cam timing and active fuel management to shut off cylinders when not needed. GM's 5.3-liter Vortec V8 is the standard choice and makes 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. We enjoyed its smooth power. The 5.3-liter gets an EPA-estimated 15/21 miles per gallon City/Highway, with 2WD or 4WD. Flex-fuel versions of the 5.3-liter V8 are available that can run on E85 ethanol, though use of less-efficient ethanol drops fuel economy significantly.
Yukon XL Denali boasts a 403-hp 6.2-liter V8. Denali is offered with two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the latter an excellent aid for inclement weather but not designed for serious off-road use. Denali comes standard with the AutoRide active electronic suspension, which is optional on the regular Yukon XL. Denali models get an EPA-rated 14/18 mpg with 2WD and 13/18 with AWD. Note that EPA ratings vary considerably, see www.fueleconomy.gov for comparison shopping.
Yukon XL 2500 models come with a 6.0-liter iron-block V8 rated at 352 hp, 382 lb-ft of torque, EPA 10/16 and 10/15 mpg, with 2WD and 4WD, respectively. Yukon XL 2500 is designed for heavy use, as are all of its mechanical components.
Yukon XL and Denali models use a 6-speed automatic transmission. They all have a Tow/Haul mode that reduces upshifting and downshifting, and also shifts quicker, so the transmission doesn't work so hard when pulling a big load. Transmission oil temperature is part of the instrumentation on most models.
Convenience features include a power rear liftgate, a new 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system, a navigation system, and a DVD rear-seat entertainment system. Rearview cameras are standard with navigation and available for others with display in inside mirror.
The current-generation GMC Yukon XL dates from 2007, but it has been improved and refined since then. A Champagne paint and automatic grade braking are new for 2013.
Yukon XL competes with Ford Expedition EL, Suburban, and, if cargo space isn't as critical, Toyota Sequoia and Infiniti QX56. Yukon XL Denali alternatives include the Lincoln Navigator L, Cadillac Escalade ESV, and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.
The GMC Yukon XL is the extra-long version, about 20 inches longer than a Yukon. It's the twin to the Chevy Suburban, where the Yukon plays twin to the Tahoe.
The Suburban and Yukon XL share sheetmetal body panels but differ in details such as the grille, bumpers and lamps. These are big boxes but quite smooth, rather like an ocean liner's long flat sides and tapered ends. The Denali XL adds some of the upscale cues found on the Cadillac Escalade ESV, which shares the same platform.
The running board/side steps are integrated and unobtrusive, extending no farther than necessary, with a black grippy coating; powered retractable steps are available on some models. The tinted glass behind the C-pillar is expansive, and adds to both appearance and function. The front end has a clean appearance, with block-like headlamps over a front bumper fascia. Doors close with a reassuring thud.
Wheels change visual perceptions of the Yukon XL. The standard aluminum wheel is a nice piece for look and function. You can add 20-inch wheels, some polished aluminum and others chrome-clad that merely add a chrome-plated plastic cover to an existing wheel and could fall off or pack snow and muck depending on how you treat your truck. Dealers offer a host of dress-up items, including wheels up to 22-inches. The standard 17-inch wheels offer the best ride quality due to tires with tall sidewalls. Ride quality gets harsher as wheel diameters increase.
The rear window opens separately, which is convenient for loading lighter bags and cargo. The larger liftgate is aluminum and balanced, upgradeable to power for those accustomed to a push-button world. Roof racks can carry unwieldy items that aren't too heavy, but be sure to load with the hatch open or after the cargo area is filled so the roof load doesn't interfere with the open hatch.
The Yukon XL is comfortable for long tows or major outings. It's a carefree feeling to drive down the highway in one of these, riding high with all the comforts, including the optional Bose sound system. The seats are comfortable and easy to adjust; in some cases the seat cushion is electrically adjusted and the backrest is manual. Like most large SUVs, the front row has plenty of head and leg room.
The instrument panel and center stack are worthy of a higher-end vehicle. The Denali model is richer still, with a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, Nuance leather and darker wood trim than the other models. On all models the steering wheel is not perfectly ahead of the driver, something to consider if you frequent a chiropractor.
We found the touch-screen radio/navigation system easy to use, far easier to operate than some Mercedes and BMW systems. We set the radio stations we liked and could quickly switch from favorite XM to AM to FM stations with the push of a single button; many vehicles require switching bands, then switching stations. The system has five groups of favorite stations for user assignment. While heading up the Interstate, the system warned of traffic incidents 19 miles ahead in our direction of travel.
The switchgear is simple, and the instrumentation is clean. The console is huge, with a deep storage box and a tray on top. The glovebox is large. Two cupholders are provided in a removable tray forward of the console and they work very well. There's another cupholder in each door pocket. A slot in the dash just left of the turn signal is perfect for coins or toll-road tickets. The pedals are adjustable, to accommodate short and tall drivers with the press of a button.
For reversing into tight confines, avoiding backing over a person, pet or play-toy, or easier trailer hitching, two rearview camera systems are offered. One is integral with the navigation system and the image appears on the navigation screen; the other shows the image on the inside-rearview mirror, so you get side-by-side near and far views to the rear.
The Yukon XL can seat seven, eight or nine passengers, depending on the seats selected. Our SLT had the second-row bucket seats, with room for seven, in a two/two/three layout.
The second row offers good room, nearly matching the front. Second-row passengers in bucket seats have their own console, with an elbow tray, two cupholders each, audio controls and if equipped, the DVD screen overhead; the bench-seat second-row may be ordered with power releases to fold. With the touch of a button on the instrument panel or C-pillar, the seatbacks fold flat against the lower cushions, and then the seats flip up against the backs of the front seats.
The third row 50/50 seat has three seatbelts, two headrests, and, if you order the DVD entertainment system, its own separate screen. If you want to carry long items down one side the rear row becomes a one person seat; most vehicles with a three-person third-row seat split it 60/40 so you can carry six people plus long pieces. The third-row seats fold easily but not flat into the floor like most of the competition; for a longer flat cargo floor the third row must be taken out (and these aren't light like baby seats) and left behind.
Head room in the third row is good, and leg room is okay (34.9 inches); the Expedition EL and Navigator L have a distinct advantage here because of their independent rear suspension. There is a great view through the wraparound glass, so it doesn't feel cramped or claustrophobic back there. Third-row climate control vents are inconveniently located in the headliner over the heads of the second-row passengers, but they can be aimed rearward toward the third-row passengers' knees. The second-row passengers have their own vents in the headliner, too, over their laps.
Cargo space is where the Yukon XL excels. There's 137.4 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats, with the second row folded and third row removed. Even with all seats in place, there's still 45.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. However, it's a nuisance to remove the third row for optimal storage space. The lift-over height at the rear bumper is relatively high, about the same as a pickup, so it's not easy to climb up into the cargo compartment to reach things, especially since there are no grab handles.
The GMC Yukon XL is perfect for outdoor sportsmen or owners of race cars, boats, horses, or travel trailers who need the people room or lockable cargo capacity of a full-size SUV instead of the open bed of a pickup truck.
GM's proven 5.3-liter Vortec V8 is the standard engine, making 320 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque; smooth and not too raucous, though not as torquey as the Expedition's 5.4 or Sequoia's 5.7-liter V8 which nearly matches the Denali 6.2's output.
The 6-speed automatic transmission does its job well, completely in the background until you choose manual control or engage the tow/haul mode designed for heavy loads. We would choose the no-charge 3.42:1 axle ratio if we planned on anything more than lightly-loaded flat-terrain highway cruising.
If you need more power for towing the Denali's 403-hp 6.2-liter V8 boasts 417 pound-feet of torque, but the extra power comes with a dent in fuel economy. However, Denali's tow ratings are the lowest of the XL and it has no 4WD low-range gearing. Any thoughts of economy with a big, heavy truck should be put aside; we've seen 7 mpg pulling a big boat with a 2500.
If you have a trailer of 6500-7000 pounds or more and plan on towing with the Yukon full of gear and people, best to consider the 2500 XL. It has a heavy-duty 6.0-liter V8 with less horsepower and torque than the 6.2-liter but adds stronger axles and transmission, stouter steering, suspension and brake systems and truck-service wheels and tires. It is for all intents and purposes a three-quarter-ton pickup with a nine-seat body on top. Also noteworthy to travelers, the 2500-series has much larger fuel capacity (39 gallons versus 31.5 gallons in the standard Yukon XL 1500) so its effective range matches or betters the 1500.
Active fuel management is standard on most engines. AFM shuts down four of the eight cylinders when they're not needed to save fuel. But at this size and weight all the cylinders are needed most of the time so the fuel saved is limited. A Yukon/Tahoe Hybrid or BMW X5, Audi Q7 or Mercedes GL350 diesel are the only three-row SUVs with decent fuel economy, and none of those is size XL though the GL's third row is competitive.
Ride quality in the Yukon XL is excellent, overall; nearly eleven feet between front and rear wheels pays dividends. Even when the optional 20-inch wheels are chosen, the suspension deals deftly with road imperfections and potholes but you feel them more. We prefer taller tires on our trucks, however, for ride comfort, impact resistance and in some respects, better performance.
The Yukon XL is very stable at highway speeds, though it wallows a bit on undulating freeways. Autoride, the rear self-leveling and active suspension, electronically adjusts to the road as read by sensors. It reduces body lean in corners, enhances stability on rough roads, and reduces nose-dive under hard braking. Autoride is optional on Yukon XL, standard on Denali.
The rack-and-pinion steering on the 1500 models feels fairly direct, though as in other big SUVs it is a bit slow. The 2500 steers like a new pickup, a bit heavier but confidence-inspiring. Like all large SUVs, the Yukon XL is prone to body lean in turns and doesn't respond well to quick changes of direction. It's a full-size truck (plus or minus three tons, higher center of gravity) and needs to be driven accordingly and with respect for others, not like it's a sports car.
Hard crosswinds tend to blow big SUVs around and the Yukon XL is no exception. Driving in a 25-mph crosswind on the freeway at 75 miles per hour, our Yukon XL swayed considerably because of its billboard-like profile. Tire choice affects this behavior. Autoride helps reduce the effect of crosswinds. And 2500 models better withstand crosswinds.
The brakes are all vented discs with ABS. An integrated trailer brake controller that gives excellent control and eliminates any installation hassles is available, and we view it as a must-have option. After all, if you're not towing anything you probably don't need a Yukon XL.
The GMC Yukon XL is a fine choice for use as a family tow vehicle or camper. The engines and transmissions work well and the rugged chassis gives the XL ability to travel beyond where the pavement ends. The interior ambiance is inviting, there is plenty of room inside and enough features to please any class of buyer.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles, with Sam Moses in Portland, Kirk Bell in Chicago.
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