Those of us who prefer smaller, more efficient cars typically fail to grasp the attraction of big SUVs. Sometimes, we seem to be grossly outnumbered by folks who simply adore and covet gargantuan, three-row machines with hefty V8 engines, like the Yukon and its Chevrolet Tahoe counterpart.

Pricing and Equipment

Yukon comes in SLE, SLT, and extravagant Denali trim, starting at $48,165 for a rear-drive SLE. The price jumps sharply between trim levels, topping (gasp!) $65,000 for the Denali. Amazing as it sounds, more than half of Yukons sold are Denalis. Four-wheel drive adds $3,000.

Even the SLE is abundantly equipped, while the Denali overflows with features to pamper its occupants. To get the pavement-smoothing benefits of Magnetic Ride Control, for instance, you have to “go Denali.” First and second rows may have either two buckets or a bench seat, for seven- to nine-passenger capacity.

We drove both a regular Yukon with the 5.3-liter V8, and a Denali with the 6.2-liter brute. The 5.3-liter V8 generates 355 horsepower, versus 420 for the 6.2-liter.

Performance Pros

  • Quiet refinement. We like the quiet cabin and elegant interior touches, but Yukon performance also qualifies as intensely refined. What a difference from Yukons of the past.
  • Towing/hauling. Not many SUVs can haul up to 8,500 pounds.
  • Acceleration. Both engines deliver impressive, strong response. So, there’s no particular need to spring for the Denali’s brawny 6.2-liter V8.

Performance Cons

  • Fuel economy. Sure, it’s better nowadays, not bad for this vehicle class; but still nothing to boast about. The EPA estimates no more than 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway. Without direct injection and cylinder-deactivation technology, which shuts off half the engine periodically, that V8 would be even thirstier.
  • Maneuverability. Size and weight inevitably conspire to make handling more cumbersome than we prefer. Handsome it may be, but Yukon is still truck-based: closer to a pickup than a sedan.

Interior Pros

  • Passenger space. Naturally, not everyone carries seven or more passengers. If you’re one of them, you actually need those three rows of seats.
  • Modern technology. Centered on its oversize (8-inch) touchscreen, the cockpit almost seems to belong in a luxury sedan, not a big SUV.
  • Upscale aura. Considering that Yukon wears a badge long known to identify workaday trucks, the Denali registers as Escalade-level luxurious; and SLT isn’t so far behind. We applaud Yukon’s fit-and-finish, augmented by plenty of soft-touch materials.

Interior Cons

  • Third-row space. Broad body dimensions don’t translate into sufficient legroom for riders who are consigned to the back row, unless you spring for the bigger-yet Yukon XL. Headroom is tight, too.
  • Entry/exit. Wide back doors help, but some of us can’t even think about climbing aboard without feeling tired.
  • Options. No matter which model you choose, a few more extras (including valuable safety features) are likely to be tempting, adding to the total price.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Civilized, urbane, tasteful, polished. Supremely quiet, too. Those aren’t words that defined big, traditional-type SUVs a few years back, but the Yukon exudes refinement in just about every way.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Despite all the fancy features and luxuriant amenities, you can never really forget that you're driving a truck. An expensive truck, to be sure, with most rough spots smoothed over; but not quite all.

The Bottom Line

Since Yukon is still a traditional-type SUV, a broad-shouldered, boxy profile is the price of admission. GMC and Chevrolet have gone about as far as they can to ease the angular forms, adopting more contemporary lines. We suspect that big SUVs can’t get much more refined without a radical makeover.