2001 GMC Yukon XL Road Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (1)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2001 GMC Yukon XL SUV

(5.3L V8 4x4 4-speed Automatic)

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.

Second Opinions:

Editor-in-Chief Christian Wardlaw says:
It's always nice to drive a brand-new, full-size GM truck, because they're still tight. Sure, there are problems with our $43,000 Yukon XL SLT 4WD test vehicle, like the squeak in the front suspension, the other squeak in the left rear cargo area, and the occasional thud from the rear seatbacks shuddering on bumps, but the steering column is shake-free, the front suspension rattle-free, the parts and pieces clipped into place as solidly as they'll ever be. Our truck impresses as reasonably well constructed, but there's nagging doubt that over time our thoughts on the subject would fail to remain favorable.

If you've got eight people and their overnight bags to shuttle around, there are other vehicles that can perform such duty, like GMC's own Savana van, which this year comes in a leather-trimmed, video-equipped, multi-captain's-chaired luxury version that is worth investigation. But when four-wheel drive is also a necessity, you're pretty much stuck selecting this GMC, Chevy's Suburban or Ford's gargantuan Excursion.

I prefer driving the GM products. They feel smaller from behind the wheel and more maneuverable. Also, I believe the Yukon XL and Suburban perform better, with faster acceleration and more responsive brakes. Ride quality in the GM product is vastly superior to the heavy-duty framed Ford.

Most families would be better off selecting the shorter-wheelbase Yukon, opting for the third-row seat and keeping it in the garage when not needed. But big broods don't have much choice, and the Yukon XL is likely the best maxi-SUV on the market. One caveat: Based on our experience with a long-term GMC Sierra SLT 4WD, we recommend buying a comprehensive extended warranty.

Contributing Editor Erin Riches says:
So this is the vehicle to buy if you simply can't squeeze your family and cargo into a Toyota Sequoia. Not that you have many other choices: if not the Yukon XL, then its twin, the Chevy Suburban — or a Ford Excursion or full-size van (both of which have significant disadvantages).

No one is going to question the potency of the 5.3-liter V8 and its capable automatic transmission — it has been a wonderful powertrain in our long-term Sierra, and horsepower and torque were boosted in 2000. It's smooth and vigorous — and perfect for the Yukon XL. Braking felt firm and strong, even in the wet. The pedal wasn't progressive, but dead travel was minimal.

Cheap plastic components and an apparent apathy for the process of "putting it all together" detracted from the overall luxury effect of an interior swathed in leather and loaded with nice features. The driver side door trim was already loose in the brand-new test vehicle, and it is not difficult to speculate about what else might break since a '99 Sierra (with many shared components) resides in the Edmunds.com garage. Our Sierra (same platform) has already had some disturbing repair issues, but it is possible that many of these no longer addle GM's trucks and SUVs by the 2001 model year and that the reliability outlook of a Yukon XL might not be bleak at all. And aside from my qualms about durability, the interior is spacious, comfortable and user-friendly.

The Yukon XL is not an undesirable vehicle — if it meets your wants exactly, then by all means, buy it — with an extended warranty. But the decision about whether it meets your needs ought not to be taken lightly. If a smaller, more agile vehicle will suffice, you'll probably be much happier with it.

Technical Editor Miles Cook says:
When it comes to big 'ol honkin American-made SUVs, the Chevy/GMC, Suburban/Yukon XL twins and the Ford Excursion are the only games in town. But one thing strikes me as interesting. People like to think that big SUVs like the Yukon are the latest red-hot trend. Hello? Did you realize that General Motors has made a vehicle using the Suburban nameplate since 1936? And that the International Harvester Travelall was a popular SUV in the '60s and '70s?

So there, giant SUVs aren't so now and wow, after all. But they're functional, no doubt. And if you need to carry upwards of nine people, tow more than 10,000 pounds and look trendy (or traditional, maybe?) in the process, the full-size GM utes are the way to go. Even with my bias toward Fords in recent years, I found it easy to realize the Yukon XL (or Suburban) is a better vehicle than the Excursion. Excursion's twin I-beam front suspension is more truck-like, and even though it's supposedly bigger and badder, a fully decked-out three-quarter-ton Yukon with the 6.0-liter V8 is actually rated to tow more than the Ford (10,300 pounds versus 10,000).

While, yes, there are some quality-control issues with full-size GM trucks and SUVs (read our '99 Sierra long-term updates) they do have arguably the best powertrains in the business and can handle just about anything you throw at them. And if it's decadent luxury you're after, there's always the Yukon XL Denali version. If that's not enough, then we can't help you much beyond the 2002 Cadillac Escalade — although it's not as big as the Yukon XL or its Denali stablemate. In the final analysis, if you want to go big, stick with a GMC Yukon XL (or a Chevy Suburban and be part of one of the longest-running nameplates in automotive history). That surely counts for something.

Consumer Commentary:

"After owning my 2000 Yukon XL since January and having put 14,000 miles on it, these are my likes and dislikes. Have had to replace rear window motors three times and am currently waiting on another. Don't like spare tire underneath, [as I] now have to handle a dirty tire — the space gained was wasted on a cheap subwoofer to go along with a cheap sounding stereo, and I now have a 10-gallon smaller fuel tank. GM went backwards on this one. Knee space in rear seating areas now seems smaller and more cramped. Excessive road noise and resonance at 20 mph, maybe caused by cheap Firestone tires. Most dealers will deny any knowledge of this complaint, but it has been discussed at length on this site. Vehicle is greatly affected by crosswinds (not a problem with my other three Suburbans). Handling is sporty and nimble around town, but feels too light on long trips. The 5.3-liter engine is okay for hauling groceries and kids but is underpowered for towing anything more than 3,000 pounds. GM has grossly overrated the power and towing capabilities. Good car engine, but not a truck engine. Fuel economy is 12-13 mpg in town and 14-15 mpg on the highway. Others are claiming much better. Good points: GM has finally got a fantastic air conditioner — the climate control is a must. It has been trouble-free except for the window motors. When I order another, it will be a three-quarter-ton (2500) with the 8.1-liter." — j2smell, "MY2000+ GMC Yukon XL," #224 of 265, Nov. 6, 2000

"I have a 2000 Yukon XL — got it last April. For the most part, we like it very much. Rides nice, looks great, easy to drive, plenty of room, yada, yada, yada. BUT, the one discouraging thing is that you spend $40K+ on a vehicle and you can't even roll down the rear windows!! Not only that, but there appears to be NO FIX yet. From what I hear from this board, many people are experiencing the same problem — waiting weeks for replacement motors only to have them fail as well. I mean, this isn't really rocket science, just a window motor. I know it's a little thing, but sometimes it's the little things that bug you the most. If you need the extra room, I don't think you can beat the Yukon/Suburban right now, just be prepared for those 'little things.'" — surfzup, "MY2000+ GMC Yukon XL," #205 of 265, Oct. 16, 2000

"[My Yukon XL] is a 2001. I find my 1500's Autoride suspension to be extremely smooth, especially at highway speeds of 55-80 mph over broken pavement. I see the bumps, but hardly feel them, if at all. At city speeds 30 mph or less, I do feel them, but they are very subdued, much better than my '93 Suburban, which actually is pretty good, due to size and weight. I have no complaints on the ride quality, and I am still using the Tombstones. I do have one small annoyance, though. In addition to the cold air draft from under the glove box (wife covers her legs while on long trips), I find that my front auto climate control has intermittent wide temperature swings while trying to maintain a set point. On a long trip, I find that the warm air from the dash vents, becomes very cool, then goes back to warm, almost every 10-15 minutes. The problem exists, regardless of the set temperature. It does actually help to keep me from getting drowsy though! Has anyone else had this problem? I will take it into the dealer soon, and am wondering if this is a common complaint or just my vehicle, what the cause might be, and if others have had this fixed on their YXL." — circutmann, "GMC Yukon XL/Chevy Suburban - II," #540 of 541, Feb. 8, 2001

"…I love the Yukon XL, and it is vastly superior to my '94 Suburban, especially in ride and handling. I have averaged 16.5 mpg on the freeway. I have not experienced any of the problems previously discussed such as road vibrations at 20 mph and have the Firestone tires. I highly recommend the liftgate rear door unless it is incompatible with your trailer. The increased rear visibility and ease of entrance are a huge improvement over the panel doors…." — texyukon, "MY2000+ GMC Yukon XL," #80 of 265, April 21, 2000

"I have enjoyed the many new features engineered into the new Yukon XL, except clearance. I'm sure if I drove it off-road or through flooded streets more often, I would not complain. But 99 percent of driving is highway for most users. The additional clearance height of the vehicle makes it more difficult to get in and out. Far worse, the Yukon XL is significantly impacted by wind. We have had several occasions going across bridges in high wind that literally moved the car 5-6 feet. That is very scary. The clearance is 8-9 inches, and the floor of the car is 21.5 inches above the ground. Almost two feet. Someone must be able to adjust the height of the suspension without destroying the agility and ride…." — great66, "MY2000+ GMC Yukon XL," #209 of 265, Oct. 22, 2000

"Got kids… haul a lot of stuff… tow anything?? If the answer is yes, then go for the Yukon XL. I have a '00 XL and it's great. Especially, [when] loaded with luggage and the 2 kids, there is still ample room. Mileage is about the same with the XL vs. the regular Yukon. Have 7,000 miles on mine and no problems, although the Firestone LE's do give me the willys." — chevydude2, "MY2000+ GMC Yukon XL," #256 of 265, Jan. 6, 2001

Edited by Erin Riches

Stereo Evaluation:

System Score: 7.25

Components. There's a nice speaker setup in this vehicle. It begins with a pair of 6-inch full-range speakers in the rear doors. The front doors contain the same size drivers, but these are rolled off electronically to perform in the mid-bass frequency range, while the highs are handled by a pair of 1-inch tweeters above. Last, but certainly not least, an 8-inch subwoofer thumps away in the passenger-side rear quarter panel. This adds some much-needed sound to this stereo and elevates it above run-of-the-mill.

The head unit includes six AM/12 FM presets, as well as a single-play CD player in-dash. One of the oddest touches in this system — we've seen it in other GM vehicles, and it's bizarre — is the location of the cassette player, which occupies a lower portion of the center stack, about as far south from the head unit as Argentina is from Mexico City. OK, not that far, but it's a pain. Why would our engineer friends at GM do such a thing?

Performance. It sounds better than it looks. This one has some weird design cues, but it sounds pretty damn good. The rear-mounted 8-inch sub gives it a nice kick in the pants, and the generous power amp makes the whole system get up and dance. As my notes say, "A great system for partying or just bumping down the road." As is typical with most GM truck systems, the sound is a little rough around the edges, meaning it lacks a certain refinement. But, hey, this is a big and bad truck — that Grey Poupon would just muck up the gun rack anyway.

Best Feature: 8-inch sub in the rear.

Worst Feature: Power amp distortion at higher gain levels.

Conclusion. Plays loud and proud, and isn't that what we want in a full-size SUV stereo?

— Scott Memmer

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