Used 2016 GMC Yukon XL Review

Edmunds expert review

If you need an SUV that can simultaneously haul plenty of people and stuff and perhaps tow something as well, the 2016 GMC Yukon XL will certainly get the job done. But it also has some notable drawbacks.




What's new for 2016

For 2016, the GMC Yukon XL gets a number of technology and hardware upgrades. The IntelliLink touchscreen interface gets a welcome increase in processing speed, along with Apple CarPlay. Newly available features include lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams, along with a standard hands-free power liftgate on SLT models and a capless fuel filler.

Vehicle overview

Need a big family vehicle? Well, dealerships are overflowing with big, three-row crossovers well suited for carrying the kids and all your stuff while providing a more civilized driving experience than the big truck-based behemoths of old. But what if you want to kick it old school? Well, the 2016 GMC Yukon XL is a survivor of that endangered species.

This large SUV retains the classic combination of rugged body-on-frame construction and V8 power. As such, it boasts substantially more towing capability than crossovers, while also delivering a higher degree of burliness and solidity. It also provides the availability of seating for nine and is one of only a few vehicles with copious cargo space behind its third row. Plus, unlike the smaller Yukon, the XL's third row seat is far more comfortable for adults and bigger kids.

In comparison, though, the third-row seat in the 2016 Ford Expedition EL is roomier still and it folds more completely into the cargo area. It's true that the Yukon's aft-most row folds flat, but the cargo floor is higher than in the Expedition, which results in reduced cargo space and greater challenges for loading and lifting up bulky items. The Yukon XL's rear suspension also transmits more shivers and shakes from the road into the cabin than rivals like the Expedition and Toyota Sequoia do. But with so few choices for a do-it-all machine, though, we can comfortably say the 2016 GMC Yukon XL remains a must-drive for those shopping among the biggest and most capable SUVs.




Trim levels & features

The 2016 GMC Yukon XL is a body-on-frame SUV available in three trim levels: SLE, SLT and Denali. Seating for eight is standard, but there are two optional seating arrangements: Second-row captain's chairs drop the count to seven and an available 40/20/40-split front bench increases seating capacity to nine (SLE only). There is also a shorter version known as the Yukon, which is covered in a separate review.

The entry-level Yukon XL SLE comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, a driver integrated blind-spot mirror, rear privacy glass, roof rails, side assist steps, a rearview camera, a locking rear differential, remote ignition, keyless entry, cruise control, tri-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, power front seats (eight-way driver seat and four-way passenger seat, both with two-way power lumbar), a 60/40-split folding second-row bench seat and a 60/40-split folding third-row seat.

Standard technology features include Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, OnStar (with a 4G LTE connection and WiFi hotspot), a 110-volt household-style power outlet, the 8-inch IntelliLink touchscreen interface (which includes voice controls, smartphone app integration and Apple CarPlay capability) and a nine-speaker Bose sound system with HD and satellite radio, a CD player, five USB ports (two with front bench seat), Pandora Internet radio, a media player interface, an auxiliary audio jack and an SD card slot.

SLE buyers can also opt for an Enhanced Driver Alert package that includes forward collision alert, automatic high-beam control, lane-departure warning, a vibrating safety alert seat and lane-keeping assist. The SLE's Convenience option package adds a power liftgate, auto-dimming rearview mirror and power-adjustable pedals.

The SLT model includes both the Enhanced Driver Alert and Convenience packages and adds rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot warning system, power-folding mirrors (auto-dimming on driver side), keyless ignition and entry, a hands-free power liftgate, perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats (with four-way lumbar), heated second-row seats (a power fold-and-tumble 60/40 bench), power-folding third-row seats, driver memory functions, a heated power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, ambient interior lighting and wireless phone charging.

All Yukon XLs are prepped for towing and feature a 2-inch receiver and seven-pin wiring harness. An HD Trailering package also available on both SLE and SLT includes specific gearing, a trailer-brake controller, an air suspension with increased capacity and leveling, and low-range gearing when combined with four-wheel-drive models.

Options include second-row captain's chairs (heated and power fold-and-tumble), an enhanced alarm system and adaptive cruise control with crash-imminent braking. An Open Road package combines a sunroof, navigation, a rear entertainment system with a DVD/Blu-ray player and an additional nine months of satellite radio and real-time traffic info service.

The Yukon Denali adds to the SLT's standard features plus a unique grille, a more powerful V8 engine, 20-inch alloy wheels, a magnetically controlled adaptive suspension, xenon headlights, a reconfigurable digital instrument panel, a trailer-brake controller, a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system, active noise cancellation, the navigation system and second-row captain's chairs (heated and power fold-and-tumble).

Optional for the Denali are 22-inch wheels, power-retractable assist steps, a sunroof, a heated second-row bench, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control (includes automatic emergency braking), and single or dual-screen rear entertainment systems (both include a DVD/Blu-ray player).



Performance & mpg

The 2016 GMC Yukon XL is offered with two different engines. SLE and SLT models come with a 5.3-liter V8 engine that generates 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. The Denali comes with a 6.2-liter V8 engine that generates 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing. A locking rear differential is standard across the lineup.

During Edmunds testing, the mechanically identical Chevrolet Suburban went from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds with both rear- and four-wheel drive. This is acceptable performance, but the Expedition EL is quicker. A four-wheel-drive GMC Yukon Denali XL, though, went from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. That performance is very quick and should match up favorably with the Expedition.

Properly equipped, the maximum tow rating for the two-wheel-drive Yukon XL is 8,300 pounds, while four-wheel-drive models are rated at 8,000 pounds. Counterintuitively, the more powerful Denali models actually max out at 8,100 and 7,900 pounds, respectively.

With the standard 5.3-liter V8 engine, the EPA's estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg combined regardless of drivetrain (16 city/23 highway for two-wheel-drive models and 15/22 for four-wheel drive). The Yukon XL Denali, with its larger 6.2-liter V8 and two-wheel drive gets 17 mpg combined (15/22), while four-wheel-drive versions get 16 (14/20). On Edmunds' 116-mile mixed-driving evaluation route, a four-wheel-drive Yukon XL Denali was able to achieve 15.9 mpg.

Safety

Standard safety equipment on the 2016 GMC Yukon XL includes antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A center airbag located between the front bucket seats (when so equipped) aids in side-impact crashes. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation. Front and rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are standard on every Yukon.

Available safety equipment includes forward collision alert with auto-braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, a vibrating safety alert seat, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.

During Edmunds brake testing, both a two-wheel-drive Suburban and four-wheel-drive Yukon Denali XL came to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet. That distance is longer than average, even considering their hefty weight.

In government crash tests, the Yukon XL earned a four- (out of five) star rating for overall performance, with four stars for total frontal-impact protection and five stars for side-impact protection.

Driving

On the road, the 2016 GMC Yukon XL's standard 5.3-liter V8 is smooth and quiet, yet still has the oomph to move a mess of people or cargo between Points A and B without breaking a sweat. Contrary to what you might expect, Yukon XLs with this powertrain also have higher tow ratings than Denali models despite the latter's larger, more powerful engine and its increased pulling power.

One of the Yukon XL's weak points is the engine's delayed response to throttle inputs. Step on the gas and there's a noticeable hesitation, especially when trying to accelerate at highway speeds or from a standing stop. The goal (to improve fuel economy) was a worthy one, but in this case it's possible the engineers went a bit too far.

The Yukon feels confident in everyday driving, especially with the Denali model's adaptive suspension. Ride quality with the base suspension leaves much to be desired, though. It cushions sharp impacts well and is resistant to large float and bouncy motions, but even small imperfections send shivers and shakes into the cabin due to the old-school solid rear axle. It doesn't do anything for handling, either. The Yukon XL is a big vehicle, and you're reminded of it in every crowded parking lot or on narrow roads.

Interior

The cabin of the 2016 GMC Yukon XL is both attractive and of high quality. Gauges and controls are easy to read and access, while the large touchscreen display operates intuitively and, for 2016, quicker than before. The Yukon XL also benefits from a range of sound-deadening measures that give it a hushed ambience usually reserved for luxury cars.

Up front, seats are comfortable and supportive, though it bears noting that the SLE model's lack of a telescoping steering wheel may make it hard for some drivers to find an optimal seating position. The choice of bucket seats or a 40/20/40-split bench up front and the standard second-row bench or captain's chairs offer a seating flexibility that's downright uncommon these days. The power-releasing second-row seats make getting in and out of the third-row seat a good bit easier.

This is where the Yukon XL falls short, however. That third row may offer more room than the regular Yukon's, but the seat bottom is still mounted close to the floor, reducing comfort. There's more room to be found in Ford's Expedition (regular or extended-length EL version). Having the third row fold into the floor is certainly a marked improvement over the previous-generation Yukon that required owners to wrestle those seats in and out when maximum cargo capacity was needed. But the vehicle's high load floor height makes it difficult for many people to lift and reach bulky cargo. It also equates to less overall cargo capacity; the Expedition EL offers nearly 10 cubic feet more and has a lower load floor.

Still, 121.1 cubic feet of maximum space is a whole heck of a lot, and most importantly, there are 38.9 cubic feet of space behind the third row. No other vehicle besides the Expedition EL as well as the Yukon XL's siblings, the Cadillac Escalade ESV and Chevy Suburban, comes close to that ability to simultaneous carry three rows of people and their stuff.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.