Editor's note: This review was written in August 2012 about the 2012 GMC Yukon XL. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2012 GMC Yukon XL combines room and capability like few SUVs can, but unless you're getting the high-line Denali trim, it's hard to see why you wouldn't pick its cheaper twin, the Chevrolet Suburban.
The Yukon XL is GMC's version of the Suburban (compare them here) and it gets a few updates for 2012. As its name suggests, the Yukon XL is an extension of the shorter Yukon; it's also related to the Chevrolet Tahoe, as well as Cadillac's Escalade family. It's GMC's largest SUV, and it competes with the Ford Expedition EL and Toyota Sequoia.
Variants include the half-ton Yukon XL 1500 and the three-quarter-ton Yukon XL 2500. Trims are the base SLE, midlevel SLT and top-of-the-line Denali (1500 only). See all the versions here. We drove a four-wheel-drive Yukon XL 1500 SLT. I recently reviewed the Suburban, so I'll focus here on what differentiates the Yukon XL from the Suburban.
Why the Yukon?
Unique headlights and an undivided GMC grille differentiate the Yukon from its Suburban sibling, but its boxy profile gives their relationship away. The GMC throws in a few extra standard features, especially in the SLE and Denali trims, but you'll pay for them up front. Decide if it's worth it:
|Suburban 1500 (LS/LT/LTZ) vs. Yukon XL 1500 (SLE/SLT/Denali)|
|LS vs. SLE||LT vs. SLT||LTZ vs. Denali|
|What It Costs||$43,215 vs. $44,550||$46,975 vs. $48,785||$56,110 vs. $58,670|
|What You Get||Bose stereo
Tri-zone auto A/C
|Auto-dimming mirror||Larger V-8 (+26% hp, -6% mpg)
Faux-wood steering wheel
Available AWD (vs. 4WD in Suburban)
|Prices include destination charges. Source: Automaker information.|
Our test car's optional adaptive suspension made for excellent ride quality, but like the Suburban, the Yukon XL needs grooming. The steering lacks enough power assist at low speeds, then becomes jittery and tentative on the highway. The SUV changes direction as well as its boat-like dimensions suggest, with body roll aplenty. There's some nosedive upon braking, too. Our tester's 5,824 pounds overwhelmed its 320-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8, and the indecisive six-speed automatic hunted for gears even in cruise control, groping for pockets of higher-rev power that never existed in the first place. The Expedition EL feels more composed at high speeds, and the 5.7-liter Sequoia makes quicker work of the passing lane. The Yukon XL lumbers.
Of course, it can pull a lot of lumber too. Towing capacity is 8,100 pounds in the 1500 and 9,600 pounds in the 2500, which has a 352-hp, 6.0-liter V-8. Both figures beat the Sequoia; the Expedition EL tops out at 8,900 pounds.
The 1500 Denali gets a 403-hp, 6.2-liter V-8. We've driven that engine in the Escalade, where it's standard, and it matches the Sequoia's gusto. The Denali swaps the Yukon XL's four-wheel drive and selectable transfer case for all-wheel-drive with automatic power transfer. EPA gas mileage ranges from a dreadful 10/15 mpg city/highway for the four-wheel-drive Yukon XL 2500 to 15/21 mpg in the 5.3-liter Yukon XL 1500. Believe it or not, the latter figure actually beats the Sequoia and Expedition EL. Still, make sure you need the truck-based Chevy's towing capacity if you buy one. If not, car-based crossover SUVs and minivans are rated 2 to 6 mpg better in combined driving, with lower starting prices to boot.
Like the Suburban, the Yukon XL boasts plenty of cargo and passenger room, with the extra length making the three-position third row roomy enough for adults. Behind that row, the Yukon XL boasts nearly three times the Yukon's cargo room, with a minivan-like 137.4 cubic feet of maximum volume if you remove the third row and fold down the second.
Cabin quality becomes less competitive every year, but at least GMC updated the available navigation system for 2012. It combines decent graphics with GM's penchant for touch-screen usability. Denali versions have additional sound insulation.
Safety, Features & Pricing
The Yukon XL hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the 1500 Denali four out of five stars overall. The SUV earned top ratings in frontal and side impacts, but just a three-star rollover rating. (Three stars is the norm for truck-based SUV rollover resistance, but the Expedition and Sequoia buck the trend with four-star ratings.) The Yukon XL 2500 hasn't been crash-tested.
Standard features include head-protecting side airbags for all three rows, plus the required antilock brakes and electronic stability system. Denali editions get a blind spot warning system. Click here for a full list of safety features, or here to see our evaluation of child-seat provisions. GMC says the Yukon XL seats up to nine, but that requires an optional three-position bench seat up front. We recommend against that, as the center position lacks frontal airbag coverage and gets only a lap seat belt.
The Yukon XL 1500 starts around $44,500 (including a destination charge of $995), with the 2500 running roughly $1,500 more. Standard features in the 1500 include tri-zone automatic climate control, partial power front seats, a USB/iPod-friendly Bose stereo and Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, but not audio streaming. Heated and cooled leather seats, fully powered seat adjustments, a heated power-tilt steering wheel, rear DVD entertainment system and a navigation system are optional. A factory-loaded 2500 SLT tops out around $60,000, and the 1500 Denali can top $65,000.
Yukon XL in the Market
It's no mystery why GMC avoided the fate of Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Saab in GM's restructuring. Trucks are generally more profitable than cars, every GMC vehicle is based on a Chevrolet, and most of them carry a higher starting price. What's more, GMC buyers tend to add more options to their vehicles than do Chevy buyers. As cash cows go, GM's truck-and-SUV division was a choice bovine.
For consumers, the GMC appeal may be worth the added cost for models that sport enough styling differentiation — think the Acadia and Terrain SUVs. The Yukon XL doesn't follow that mold. Except for Denali trims, it's just a pricier Suburban — especially the midlevel SLT. The Denali's 6.2-liter V-8 offers a potent solution to the lumbering 5.3-liter, but short of that, if you need what the Yukon XL offers, visit your Chevy dealer.
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