Still at the Top of Its Game
Formerly known as the well accomplished and firmly established GMC Suburban, Yukon XL slots itself nicely between Ford's two large SUVs, the Expedition and the Excursion. Available in either half-ton (1500) or the heavy-duty three-quarter ton (2500) configuration, with either two- or four-wheel drive, this full-size SUV offers versatility and utility in a slightly more refined package than the Ford utes. We at Edmunds.com generally believe GM's full-size utilities to be among the best available, and our test of the Yukon XL did little to dissuade us of that notion.
All 5,219 pounds of the four-wheel-drive, half-ton XL is pulled along admirably by GM's Vortec 5.3-liter V8, which is also the upgrade engine available on the regular-sized Yukon. It makes a more than adequate 285 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 325 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm and comes mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Getting up to and maintaining cruising speed is accomplished with ease 0 to 60 was accomplished in a swift 8.7 seconds and the engine is impressively quiet, at highway speeds as well as idle.
The half-ton, four-wheel-drive Yukon XL we tested is capable of towing 8,600 pounds; that's less than the larger Ford Excursion, but 500 pounds more than the Expedition. The three-quarter-ton GMC can tow a class-leading 12,000 pounds when equipped with the 8.1-liter V8. Payload capacity in the four-wheel-drive half-ton XL is 1,981 pounds (2,804 in the XL K2500). Yukon XL's gross vehicle weight ratings are 7,200 for the four-wheel-drive half-ton and 8,600 for the four-wheel-drive three-quarter-ton.
When GMC Suburban was rechristened Yukon XL in an effort to distinguish separate brand identities between Chevrolet and GMC for model year 2000, the big truck also got some significant ride and handling improvements. Among these was a revised suspension, with a brand-new torsion bar setup in the front and a five-link, self-leveling coil spring arrangement at the rear, at least on the half-ton model. The heavy-duty Yukon XL 2500 uses multileaf springs and a semifloating axle in the rear to facilitate its whopping towing capacity.
The half-ton XL's redesigned suspension and stiffer chassis pay off beautifully in terms of ride quality, soaking up most road irregularities and keeping occupants just isolated enough without sacrificing too much driver feedback. Last year's redesign also shortened the former Suburban's wheelbase (from 131.5 inches to 130) and widened its track (2.5 inches in the rear and 1 inch in the front on four-wheel-drive models) for better stability. And while body roll was by no means excessive for a vehicle of this size, we were encouraged to take corners at a conservative pace, a precaution well worth taking in any vehicle with a high center of gravity.
While many deemed Yukon XL's variable effort power steering system to be well executed at the time of the renamed model's introduction, we weren't unduly impressed this time around. One driver lamented that XL's steering wasn't as heavy or quick to respond as that of the Sequoia that we tested around the same time, with a sizable center dead spot. In fact, the steering felt light even at highway speeds, and the tail end of our unloaded tester wagged excessively through the slalom, even with a full tank of gas. Furthermore, the steering wheel rim felt too thin in our hands we think a vehicle this brutish deserves a meatier, grippier wheel.
One area in which the XL did indeed excel was braking performance. The four-wheel discs with Dynamic Brake Proportioning and unobtrusive ABS boasted impressive 60 to zero results (137 feet) and inspired confidence on the road. Stopping action wasn't as progressive as we prefer, but this leviathan was always reined in with authority, even under slippery, wet conditions. While commuting home in a downpour one night, one reviewer took advantage of the four-wheel-drive auto mode and was pleased to maintain traction through the stop-and-go traffic.
While our brief offroad stint in the Yukon XL was decidedly tame, we were sufficiently wooed by the truck's capabilities. Our path was wide and unobstructed, so XL's size wasn't an issue, as it could easily be on narrow trails. Yukon's tight and solid demeanor impressed us we heard little to no rattling as we traversed the rock-strewn path. Neither did the ute wallow excessively or bottom out here is a vehicle that isn't easily ruffled.
Yukon XL can seat up to nine passengers (when equipped with the front bench seat our tester seated eight), which may deem it a necessary vehicle for large families who simply refuse to buy a van. XL can transport the whole brood in relative comfort, even during their awkward, gangly phase. Even the "way back" boasts 27.3 inches of legroom, 64.4 inches of shoulder room and 49.2 inches of hip room. While the regular Yukon offers the same amount of passenger room, XL provides 45.7 cubic feet of cargo volume with the second and third-row seats in place (131.6 cubic feet with both rows folded flat) so it can transport not only the entire fam, but their belongings, as well.
Yukon XL's capacious interior is pretty darn comfy, too. One might even call it homey. One editor was particularly impressed by its commodious nature during one bitterly cold morning of track testing. Having been wrestled into going to the track unexpectedly, she was inappropriately dressed in a skirt and heels. Fortunately, Yukon XL provided the privacy and space she needed to slip into the warmer gym clothes that she happened to have on hand. Try doing that in a Civic.
The biggest, baddest GMC features six-way power-adjustable front seats and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel to make finding the perfect driving position a painless process, and even the third-row seats offer decent thigh support, thanks to a low floor. Options on our test vehicle classed up the already well-appointed cabin with leather seating, an AM/FM stereo with CD and cassette players, an electric sunroof and the OnStar Communications system. Standard rear heat controls and the option of getting automatic climate control along with the sunroof (they used to be mutually exclusive) are all new for 2001 models.
We were particularly won over by amenities such as extendable sun visors, front seat heaters and an enormous center console bin. Seat-mounted seatbelts were another delight, and didn't even impede visibility in the roomy XL (we've found that they make it difficult to check the driver's blind spot in smaller vehicles). We discovered a cubby hidden underneath the tape deck (which is located at the bottom of the center stack), thoughtfully slotted to hold four CDs. Generous side bins in the third row are CD-slotted, as well. The second and third rows each get two cupholders, and middle bench passengers get audio controls, too.
Stereo and climate controls in the Yukon XL are functional and fall within easy reach of the driver (with the exception of the tiny rear defrost button, which is on the passenger side of the center stack). We do think the truck would benefit from some satellite steering wheel controls for the stereo; they make it much easier to keep your attention on the road at all times, which is all the more important when piloting a vehicle of such Olympian proportions.
Even though the Yukon's interior appointments are functional and were apparently well screwed together in our test vehicle, experience with our long-term GMC Sierra (built on the same platform) has made us wary of GM products' long-term durability. Leather seats and sunroof notwithstanding, this ain't no Toyota Land Cruiser; some of our editors said they would recommend purchasing an extended warranty, just in case.
As stated before, the Yukon XL/Chevy Suburban is hard to beat at its own game. However, for those people who need a large SUV, but don't need to tow or haul heavy loads, there are other vehicles to consider. And when you're thinking of dropping upwards of $40K, it certainly doesn't hurt to take a gander at the competition. Toyota Sequoia, for example, meets ULEV standards and offers superior ground clearance. And, like Ford's Expedition (as well as GMC's own Yukon), Sequoia is about 15 inches shorter than the Yukon XL, and therefore much easier to maneuver around town and through parking lots. Then again, Sequoia can only seat a maximum of eight passengers. And then there's the Excursion, a bigger, heavier vehicle that can't tow as much weight as a properly equipped Yukon XL or Suburban. We're still trying to figure that one out. As we said before, the Yukon XL (when properly equipped) is at the top of its class when it comes to severe hauling/towing duty, but for buyers who are just looking for a roomy commuter SUV, one of the smaller models might be a more practical choice.