Today's sport utility vehicles are not exactly what they used to be. Instead, most of what people call SUVs these days are more accurately referred to as a "crossovers" because they are a compromise between the utility of a traditional SUV and the driving characteristics of the cars they often share underpinnings with. On the other hand, the 2018 GMC Yukon (along with its cheaper Chevrolet Tahoe brother) remains a traditional truck-based sport utility vehicle with a body-on-frame construction and a choice of either big or huge V8 engines. It may not tout impressive fuel economy ratings or driving characteristics compared to today's crossovers, but the Yukon is one of only SUVs left that can haul a boat with ease over long distances while carrying a family of four with enough room in the back for everything they need for a week long vacation.

Best Value

The best value for the 2018 Yukon is with the mid-range SLT trim. The bottom rung SLE trim doesn't offer much more than a base level Chevy Tahoe, which is almost $2,000 less than the Yukon. The nearly $10,000 jump to the Denali trim is also pretty hard to justify unless you want the larger 6.2-liter engine or desire a less conspicuous alternative to the Cadillac Escalade.

Therefore, the SLT is just right with standard leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, and a power-folding third row. It also comes standard with some driver assistance features, like low-speed automatic braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear-cross traffic alert. We'd forgo the $3,000 four-wheel drive option, as the Yukon is more of a road-trip hauler rather than an off-roader. Fitting with this theme, we'd spring for the Open Road Package for the rear-seat Blu-Ray entertainment system and satellite radio. We'd also make sure our Yukon came with the Heavy Duty Trailering Package to make towing a breeze with auto-leveling suspension, trailer brake control, and an up-rated towing capability of 8,500 pounds. Finally, we'd go for the adaptive cruise control to make highway driving an absolute breeze.

Here's how our GMC Yukon SLT would add up:

  • Model: 2018 GMC Yukon SLT
  • Engine: 5.3-liter, naturally-aspirated V8
  • Output: 355 hp/ 383 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • MPG: 16 City / 23 Hwy
  • Options: Open Road Package ($2,930, sunroof, rear-seat Blu-Ray entertainment system, satellite radio), Heavy Duty Trailering Package ($580, air-leveling suspension, trailer brake controller, 3.42 axle ratio), Adaptive Cruise Control with Forward Automatic Braking ($895).
  • Base Price:$58,495 (including a $1,295 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$62,900

Performance

GMC Yukon

The GMC Yukon can be equipped with one of two engines and is available with either rear- or four-wheel drive. The SLE and SLT models receive the 5.3-liter V8 with an output of 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, alongside a six-speed automatic transmission. Denali trims receive a larger 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, which makes the huge Yukon appreciably faster in a straight line. Surprisingly though, the standard engine option allows for the highest rated towing capacity across the Yukon line in rear-wheel drive models, with the Denali's engine suffering a tow-rating deficit of a couple hundred pounds despite the increased power.

The Yukon weighs about 7,000 pounds once fully loaded with passengers, cargo and fuel, so you can't expect it to handle like a sports car. That said, it does acquit itself better than you'd expect in the corners with communicative steering and reduced body roll. The Yukon does focus heavily on ride comfort, especially when equipped with the auto-leveling suspension or the Denali's magnetic shocks.

While fuel economy is certainly not at the forefront of many Yukon purchasers, the big SUV does surprisingly well. The standard engine returns a combined rating of 19 mpg in rear-drive models and 18 mpg in four-wheel-drive examples, while Denali models have a combined rating of 17 mpg for either drivetrain option. This is due in part to both engine's cylinder deactivation feature as well as aerodynamic enhancements that allow the Yukon to cut through the air better.

Style

The exterior styling of the Yukon is very well done. It manages to look more upscale than the Chevrolet Tahoe, which helps justify the increased cost but it also avoids looking too ostentatious or flashy. This holds true even in the top-level Denali trim, which adds a considerable amount of chrome and unique wheels. While it's an expensive vehicle, the Yukon doesn't advertise the owner's wealth like a Cadillac Escalade. It maintains a blue-collar feel despite its price, which is something many similarly priced-vehicles lack.

Inside, the interior is very well styled and optioned at all trims with high-end materials, befitting that of a luxury vehicle. While the SLE receives cloth seats, the SLT and the Denali receive standard leather upholstery that feels great. The seats are comfortable and supportive, although you may want to consider upgrading to the larger Yukon XL if you'd like the third row to be comfortable for adults. Uniquely, the Yukon is one of the last vehicles left on the market that offer a front bench seat, available on the SLE trim only. There are also a huge amount of interior storage options in the Yukon, perfect for families.

The Best and Worst Things

The Yukon's best and worst attribute is its size. On one hand, it's capable of tasks that you can only otherwise manage in pickup trucks, while also providing a spacious, comfortable, and upscale interior for the whole family. The Yukon's size is completely necessary for a portion of the population who need a vehicle that can provide those characteristics.

On the other hand, the Yukon's size can be a detriment as well. Parking can be a pain, and the fuel economy is just not practical for daily kid-hauling duties. For people who don't need to tow large loads, a luxury crossover would probably be a much better all-around option.

Right For? Wrong For?

GMC Yukon

The GMC Yukon is perfect for two types of people. The first is families who need the ability to tow, whether that is a boat, horse trailer, or a larger camper trailer, but still want to have a luxurious and comfortable interior for all passengers. Blue-collar professionals should also take note. The GMC Yukon is a luxurious vehicle, especially in Denali trim, but it remains a vehicle of the working man. It would be far better to show up at a construction site in a Yukon Denali over a Mercedes GLS-class.

The Yukon is not a great vehicle for your average family man or woman, though. It's far bigger than necessary for hauling kids around, and there are many more fuel efficient options as well. Unless you need the towing capabilities of the Yukon, you'd probably better off with a standard crossover.

The Bottom Line

The Yukon is one of the last unapologetically large SUVs. It's great at towing, it can people and stuff in borderline obnoxious quantities, and it's well equipped enough to earn the moniker of "luxury SUV." It also manages to feel more down-to-earth than many other similarly priced vehicles. However, the Yukon is large and thirsty, and it can be a pain to deal with in day to day driving.