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Buyers' tastes in large SUVs have changed over the years, and the GMC Yukon has changed with them. Introduced in the early '90s, the full-size Yukon sport-utility has gone from being a two-door 4x4 with a maximum passenger capacity of six to a four-door SUV with a choice of two- or four-wheel drive and seating for up to nine. Early Yukons were fairly basic on the inside, but later models offer numerous amenities, particularly the leather-lined Yukon Denali model. Road manners have improved greatly over the years, as it became apparent to GMC that Yukon buyers spend most of their time on pavement.
Some things haven't changed, though. The Yukon has always been a spacious vehicle that balances comfortable passenger accommodations with above-average cargo room. In addition, it has always used body-on-frame construction, providing it with a stout foundation for towing. A succession of strong V8s has resulted in impressive trailer ratings over the years, as well as ample acceleration in just about any situation. Now more refined than ever before, the GMC Yukon is one of the better full-size SUVs on the market for families who require a roomy, powerful vehicle that doesn't skimp on utility.
Current GMC Yukon
The GMC Yukon is a full-size SUV that rides on a stiff, fully boxed frame. The ride is smooth and quiet, while handling is reasonably secure for a 5,500-pound vehicle. Inside, the dash has a sleek, modern design, and materials are attractive and mostly of good quality. Numerous seating configurations can accommodate anywhere from five to nine passengers, depending on the trim level and options you select.
The basic trim structure includes SLE, SLT and Denali models, though numerous package options allow for considerable variation within the lower trim levels. Yukon SLE models come with all the essentials, including tri-zone air-conditioning, a CD player and full power accessories, while the SLT should be your pick if you're looking for extras like leather upholstery and automatic climate control. Buyers can choose either 2WD or 4WD on both the SLE and SLT, which come standard with a 320-horsepower 5.3-liter V8. The upper-crust Yukon Denali comes with a full load of amenities as well as a larger 6.2-liter V8 good for an impressive 403 hp -- same as the Cadillac Escalade.
In reviews, we've been impressed by the Yukon's combination of utility and comfort, especially given its humble pickup-truck underpinnings. However, its hefty curb weight takes a toll on fuel economy, acceleration, braking and handling, particularly under the burden of heavier passenger/cargo loads. Additionally, its third-row seat lacks a fold-flat feature and is difficult to remove -- as such, a Toyota Sequoia or big crossover like GMC's Acadia is better for carrying passengers. But if you need the Yukon's outsized towing and hauling capabilities, it's one of the best of its breed.
Used GMC Yukon Models
The current third-generation Yukon debuted for 2007. Initially, 2WD Yukons came standard with a 290-hp, 4.8-liter V8 (discontinued for 2010) and a four-speed automatic was mandatory for all but the 6.2-liter engine, which then made 380 hp and came with a six-speed transmission. For '09, the six-speed auto became standard on the 5.3-liter V8 and the 6.2-liter V8 reached its current output. There was also an XFE package that year, which increased fuel economy for the 5.3-liter by about 1 mpg. Prior to 2009, the third-row seat was not standard and Bluetooth was unavailable, while no Yukon came with front side airbags until 2010.
The second-generation GMC Yukon was sold from 2000-'06. For the Yukon Denali, it's 2001-'06, as the 2000 model year was a carryover of the previous design. This generation of the Yukon was notable for its potent V8s, cushy interior accommodations, and pleasant ride and handling dynamics. It was, in fact, one of our favorite full-size SUVs and earned an Editors' Most Wanted distinction on multiple occasions. Weak points included numb steering, low-grade interior materials and inconsistent build quality. Front-seat side airbags were available throughout this generation, while stability control was available from 2003 on up.
The first-generation GMC Yukon debuted in 1992 as a replacement for the full-size GMC Jimmy, which had been on sale since 1970. Two-door Yukons were sold from '92-'97 with four-wheel drive only. The four-door Yukon arrived to stay in 1995 and offered a choice of 2WD or 4WD; the original Denali was available in '99 and 2000 with 4WD only. If you're considering a first-gen Yukon purchase, 1996-'99 models are your best bet. The standard 5.7-liter V8 was heavily revised in '96, and the result was significantly more horsepower and torque. First-gen Denalis also had this engine. Yukons of this era were comfortable and reasonably powerful, but not especially refined. Weak brakes and cheap interior materials were the major downsides.
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