Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
If you wanted to be a fly on a wall (and hey, who wouldn't these days?), one of the more interesting places to be the last few years would be General Motors' headquarters. For years, GM had the end-all, be-all, mack-daddy supreme of hauling brood/toys/stuff. Yes, that would be the Suburban. But in 1997, a pesky little thing called the Ford Expedition came along. Bigger than the popular Ford Explorer, the Expedition went head-to-head with the Suburban. And what was surely causing major ants-in-the-pants for GM execs, the Expedition began selling quite well.
As of July '99, the Expedition had reached a 34 percent segment share. While this number is still below GM's total segment share (at that same July '99 point, GM's full-sized 'utes combined to over 50 percent) we're sure there is welcome relief about having a redesigned 2000 full-sized SUV to bring to the market.
GMC gets two versions of the full-sized 'ute: the Yukon, and the larger Yukon XL. The Yukon XL also comes in two variations, the 1500 (half-ton) and the 2500 (three-quarter ton). The 2500 is the heavy-duty version, with increased towing and hauling capacities. One thing to note is that the Yukon XL name is new. Previously, there was the Yukon and the larger Suburban. But the Suburban tag is now reserved exclusively for Chevrolet, so GMC will use Yukon XL to signify the longer-wheelbase version.
The 2000 Yukon and Yukon XL are based off the Sierra full-sized pickup-truck platform that debuted in 1999. Many of the improvements found on the Sierra can be found on the new full-sized 'ute. GMC has wisely avoided a "We've got the biggest sport-ute!" arms race against Ford and its 2000 Excursion. Instead, GMC has added capability and size where needed.
Like the Sierra update, the 2000 Yukon's looks are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The overall shape still looks like a Yukon, and the swept-up headlight and front turn-signal assemblies are the most noticeable sign of the pickup truck's lineage. But it looks more muscular than it did before; the hood, fenders, and bumpers are more aggressively styled. GMC's sheetmetal is also different compared to Chevrolet's 2000 Tahoe and Suburban. The Yukon checks in at 76.7 inches in height, 78.9 inches in width, and 198.9 inches in length. The Yukon XL is slightly smaller in height, but 20 inches longer in length. The XL's wheelbase is 130 inches and the Yukon's is 116. All of these numbers are very similar to the '99 models with the exception of height, as both models are now about 4 inches taller.
GMC claims that both Yukons will fit into standard garages. In what was a mildly amusing moment at press introduction, GMC officials trotted out a replica of a garage-door frame and drove a Yukon through it to prove their point. We'll take their word for it until we get our own paws on one, but make no mistake--the Yukon XL ain't no Metro.
Then again, a Metro wouldn't exactly be up to the task of hauling family, cargo, and gear for a week-long vacation. This is something that GM's full-sized 'utes have always excelled at, and things only get better for 2000. The increase in height has positively affected the interior. There is more headroom, legroom, and hip room at almost every position. GMC also says that all of the seats are more comfortable than before. Both the Yukon and the Yukon XL have a maximum carrying capacity of nine people. New for the 2000 Yukon is an optional third-row 50/50 split folding bench seat. Either of the third-row seat's halves can be flipped and folded to increase cargo space. The seat halves can either be stowed inside the vehicle or removed. With the second- and third-row seats removed, the Yukon provides up to 104.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Doing the same to the XL provides 131.6 cubic feet of space.
GMC has also done a good job of adding content to the interior. Its general feel and layout is considerably better than before. Yukons and XLs equipped with front bucket seats receive a new center console that includes a large lockable storage compartment and four cupholders. The new audio system sounds very impressive. Standard on all Yukons and XLs, the system comes with a CD player and nine speakers (complete with an 8-inch rear-mounted subwoofer!). Other new items that made our "this is cool" list include a more comprehensive gauge cluster, optional rear-seat audio controls, and rear heater ducts on Yukon XLs (optional on Yukons). The luxury package includes heated seats, automatic climate control, and GM's OnStar system. GMC says the new frame has been considerably improved for occupant safety. Side airbags are standard.
While the interior is noticeably improved, driving dynamics are where the Yukon and XL truly shine. Thanks to a body structure that is 23 percent stiffer than '99 models, GMC engineers have been able to better dial in the suspension. All models now have a torsion-bar independent front suspension (from the Sierra pickup) and a five-link coil-spring rear suspension (except for 2500-series XLs, which still use a leaf-spring rear suspension). Simply put, the Yukon and XL don't act their size. On the road, they feel much smaller and lighter than the actual specs would indicate. Wider front and rear tracks enhance stability, and all models feature tighter turning circles than before. During our brief evaluation period at the press intro, the steering seemed to be quicker and more responsive than the versions found on the previous model. A variable-effort power steering system is standard on 4x4 Yukons and 4x4 XL 1500s.
The brakes have also been improved. All four wheels use disc brakes, and the brake components themselves are considerably larger than before. GMC says the 2000 Yukon's brakes should provide shorter stopping distances and better brake-pad life. There are also a couple of electronic braking systems to improve braking traction at the rear of the vehicle.
Four-wheel drive is optional on all Yukons and XLs. Models so equipped also get GMC's AutoTrac as standard. This active transfer case normally diverts all power to the rear wheels until slippage is detected. At that point, AutoTrac automatically switches power between the rear and front wheels until the vehicle regains traction. Two-wheel-drive Yukons and XLs offer a new traction control system for more controlled acceleration and stability on slippery surfaces.
One more interesting aspect of the 2000 Yukon platform is the optional Autoride suspension. The Autoride suspension uses special shocks that are automatically adjusting for proper damping. The truck's computer monitors road and vehicle conditions, and can change the shock damping on a continual, 20-millisecond basis, if needed. This system also includes a compressed-air, rear-leveling feature that automatically maintains the vehicle's proper height under all load conditions. As a simple test of the Autoride suspension, we drove a Yukon XL with two total adults and then with six total adults. The Autoride suspension did seem to keep the extra weight in check, though using both extra passengers and a fully loaded trailer would be a truer test.
The 2000 Yukon platform features improved towing ability, thanks to a new selection of V8 engines. The 4.8-liter is the Yukon's standard engine. It provides 275 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. The 5.3-liter V8 (optional on the Yukon and standard on the XL 1500) generates 285 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. The top-line 6.0-liter V8 found on the XL 2500 makes 300 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 355 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. All three engines are mated to four-speed automatic transmissions. Maximum trailering capacity for the Yukon 4x4 is 8,800 pounds. The 4x2 XL 2500 has a maximum trailering capacity of 10,500 pounds.
There has never been a doubt that GM's full-sized SUVs were the kings of hauling. In our 1999 full-size SUV comparison test, a Chevrolet Suburban K2500 and a GMC Yukon Denali (which, incidentally, takes a one-year hiatus) both beat out a Ford Expedition, but lost to a Toyota Land Cruiser. The Toyota, despite its cost, was superior in interior luxury, highway performance, off-road prowess, and all-around livability. Given that the 2000 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL are improved in many of these areas, it looks like GMC has a solid full-sized SUV on its hands.
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