July 16, 2004 at 3:32 PM EST - Updated July 30 at 4:20 AM
2004 GMC Yukon XL By:Mitch McCullough (c)New Car Test Drive, Inc.
Base Price:$37,960.00 As Tested:$53,800.00
Pull trailers, move crowds, haul gear.
The Yukon XL is GMC's version of the Chevy Suburban. It's a well-equipped vehicle and a good choice for families of six or more. The Yukon XL offers comfortable seating for six people and can be equipped to seat up to nine. It's a good choice for families who find themselves needing three rows of seats on a daily basis. Even when fully loaded with people, there's space left over for large amounts of gear.
Where the Yukon XL really comes into its own, however, is when heavy-duty towing is needed. A standard Yukon XL 2WD 1500 model is rated to tow trailers of up to 8,400 pounds. A Yukon XL 2500, the heavy-duty model, is rated to pull a 12,000-pound trailer. This makes the Yukon XL an excellent choice for families with boats or horses.
Though identical in many respects, there are differences between the Suburban and the Yukon XL. The GMC is generally more upscale in its appointments than the Chevrolet; the Yukon XL offers a higher level of comfort and convenience features than the Suburban. The Yukon XL Denali is an upscale model that combines a big 6.0-liter V8 with an all-wheel-drive system, a combination not available at your Chevy dealer. Styling cues distinguish the GMC from the Chevrolet.
Revisions for 2003 brought improved brakes, smarter airbags, a modernized electrical system, and improved interior features. For 2004, the Yukon XL is better and safer still. It comes with a tire-pressure monitor and a seatbelt reminder for the driver and front-seat passenger. New Hydroboost brakes promise improved stopping power, even if the engine stalls.
GMC Yukon XL is available with two-wheel drive ($37,960) or four-wheel drive ($40,660) or, in the case of the Denali, all-wheel drive.
Yukon XL comes in two load ratings: Most popular is the 1500, the standard light-duty model, rated to tow trailers up to 8400 pounds. The heavy-duty 2500 2WD ($39,460) and 2500 4WD ($42,160) are rated to pull trailers up to 12,000 pounds. Unless you plan to pull that much trailer, however, we recommend the 1500 model for its lower cost, better fuel economy, and smoother ride quality.
A 5.3-liter V8 powers Yukon XL 1500 models (SLE, SLT, and SLT Plus trim). A 6.0-liter V8 comes standard on Denali and 2500 models. An 8.1-liter V8 ($850) is optional for 2500 models, and delivers 440 pounds-feet of torque for maximum towing capability. All Yukon XLs come with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
Both the 1500 and 2500 models are available in basic SLE or more deluxe SLT or SLT Plus trim. The top of the line is the Yukon XL Denali, which is a 1500.
The base SLE model is a well-equipped vehicle. It comes with cloth upholstery, manual dual-zone air conditioning, anti-lock brakes (ABS), self-leveling suspension, CD stereo with eight speakers, power windows, power door locks, fog lights, tinted glass, heated outside mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and alarm. Three rows of seats are standard. The front seat is a 40/20/40 split bench with six-way power adjustments for the driver.
SLT is technically a package ($3,290) that adds bucket seats with leather inserts, tri-zone automatic climate control, a nine-speaker Bose premium stereo, rear-seat audio controls, and assist steps (running boards).
SLT Plus ($5,415) adds to that Ultrasoft leather seating surfaces; full-function power (including power lumbar support) for the front bucket seats with seat heaters and a two-position memory function; outside mirrors with turn indicators and ground illumination (puddle lamps); auto-dimming for the driver's side outside mirror; Driver Information Center (including a trip computer); power-adjustable pedals; OnStar; a Homelink universal transmitter (for garage doors); six-disc in-dash CD changer; XM Satellite Radio; steering wheel controls for the audio system; and the Cargo Package with cargo shade, cargo net, cargo mat, luggage rack center rails.
Yukon XL Denali ($50,960) is loaded with luxury features, along with the bigger engine, a sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system, StabiliTrak stability control, and AutoRide suspension with self-leveling and two-position dampening. Denali is distinguished by unique exterior design cues.
The GMC Yukon XL is a long-wheelbase version of the Yukon, just as the Suburban is a long-wheelbase version of the Chevy Tahoe. XL means extra long: Yukon XL is based on the same platform as the Yukon, but it's stretched 14 inches in wheelbase and about 20 inches overall. While the Yukon can carry a lot of people or a lot of cargo, the Yukon XL can do both at the same time. The Yukon XL also offers a bigger towing capacity.
Yukon XL is conservatively styled. GMC takes a more sophisticated, more understated approach to design than Chevrolet. Still, the Yukon XL shares the unmistakable profile of the 'Burb.
Denali trades the standard Yukon XL's black grille for a bright mask of fine-metal mesh, but then swaps the base model's chrome bumpers for body-color bumpers, keeping the overall flash level about equal. Round fog lights are neatly tunneled into the lower part of Denali's unique front bumper. Cladding adorns the lower body, running down the sides and incorporating the front and rear stone guards; the Denali's cladding is oddly shaped, but blends nicely into the color-keyed running boards.
Quadrasteer does not improve the appearance of the Yukon XL, as ungainly fender flares are added to the rear quarters to accommodate the significantly wider track (the distance between the rear wheels).
Yukon XL offers a choice of liftgate or split cargo doors for the rear. The liftgate comes standard and features a glass section that opens independently. Made of lightweight aluminum, the liftgate is convenient for quickly adding and removing cargo and offers better rearward visibility than the cargo doors, which block the view in the center where the doors meet. Cargo doors work better for work vehicles as they open wide and allow a closer working position to the vehicle's storage area. Cargo doors are also useful when pulling trailers because they will usually clear the trailer tongue jack. The hinges can be released, allowing the doors to open fully when loading large items. Most people find the liftgate preferable, however. Yukon XL Denali comes only with the lift-up hatch.
For moving people and cargo, you can't beat the GMC Yukon XL and Chevrolet Suburban. They are the leaders when it comes to seating and cargo capacity (discounting the Ford Excursion, which is being discontinued). Big inside, the Yukon XL is very roomy and, for the most part, comfortable.
The exception is the seats. GM's bucket seats are big and cushy, but I don't always find them comfortable. The seat bottoms lack support, especially on the sides, and the seat bottoms don't seem long enough. Owners often disagree with this assessment, however. Bucket seats are standard on SLT and Denali models an optional on the SLE. The standard front seat setup in Yukon XL is a three-passenger, manually reclining 40/20/40 split bench with dual manual lumbar support and six-way power for the driver. They are similar in terms of comfort. Yukon XL comes standard with nice custom cloth upholstery. The optional Ultrasoft leather makes this big truck look and feel like a luxury vehicle.
The bucket seats are separated by a deep center console that holds lots of stuff. The top of the console lid features a nice rubber-lined indention, handy for sunglasses and other items. It would be even better if the rubber was an insert that could be removed for cleaning. It would be better still if the top of the console wasn't angled forward: Lay a clipboard there and it'll slide off.
Ergonomics are otherwise excellent. The cup holders are superb, a good feature for people who live and work in their vehicles. Above are well-designed map lights that can be aimed. A covered power outlet is conveniently located for cell phones and radar detectors, in addition to the cigar lighter inside the ashtray compartment.
The Driver Information Center was redesigned last year, and is now located immediately in front of the driver, below the speedometer. It's handy and easy to use, allowing the driver to program automatic locking and other features, as well as providing trip mileage, fuel economy and other data. Hate the way the doors lock every time you shift out of Park? Annoyed that the horn blows when you lock the doors? Don't want the daytime running lamps on? Turn those features off, turn them on, or deploy them partially. Everything is programmable.
Audio and climate control systems are well designed and easy to operate. The heating and air conditioning systems were redesigned for 2003 to deliver faster warm-ups and cool-downs than before. The manual heating controls that come on the base model (SLE) are nicely designed and work well. Much better, however, are the digital three-zone climate controls that come on the other models. They are sophisticated yet easy to operate, and permit separate adjustments for driver and passenger. The rear heating/air conditioning controls are mounted overhead and help improve comfort for pets as well as people.
A new tire-pressure monitoring system added for 2004 continuously checks inflation pressures and flashes a warning on the instrument cluster should any tire lose air pressure. The entire electrical system was modernized for 2003, eliminating thick bundles of wires and hundreds of connections for improved reliability, increased sophistication, and easier repair.
XM Satellite Radio is a great option to have when traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country. You still get ads, but fewer and less obnoxious than what you hear on FM. Audio controls on the steering wheel make it easy to switch among station presets and modes, among other things. Program the AM, FM1, FM2, XM1, and XM2 bands and you can quickly zip to your favorite stations without taking your hands off the wheel. XM Satellite Radio is nice to have around town for listening to the 24-hour news broadcasts (FoxNews, CNN) and sports broadcasts (ESPN, NASCAR) or for staying tuned into your favorite types of music (classical, jazz, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s).
Buttons for Homelink, which can open garage doors and gates and turn on house lights, and for the OnStar telematics system, are nicely integrated. GM's OnStar security and information service works well as a navigation system because there's nothing to program. Press the button and a human operator responds, to provide directions and other assistance. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. They will notify authorities of your location if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls. Or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. They can unlock your doors if you lock the keys inside. They can direct you to the nearest gas station or help find a good restaurant or motel. If your vehicle is stolen, OnStar can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend and recover.
The second-row bucket seats ($490) are supremely comfortable. They recline and somehow seem more supportive and more comfortable than the front seats. If four adults plus two children is the maximum you'll ever need to carry, then we'd recommend the second-row bucket seats. If you want room for three in the second row, however, the standard second-row bench seat gives you more versatility.
A pair of ceiling vents is provided on each side of the second row that can be aimed effectively. The driver controls the rear passengers' temperature and fan speeds and can direct the air to upper or lower vents or both. Most models come with a great pair of second-row cup holders that flip out of the back of the center console. Immediately above those are separate audio controls for the rear-seat passengers (if so equipped). The available wireless headphones are comfortable and sound good. The optional Panasonic DVD system ($1,295) is impressive, featuring a crisp monitor that allows second- and third-row occupants to watch movies and other programming while underway or parked.
The third-row bench seat is fine for kids or short trips, but not that comfortable for adults on longer trips. Knee room is tight. There's little hip room, and the center of the bench lacks support, causing occupants to lean toward the center. Still, it's far better than the third-row seats in the Yukon, Tahoe, and other SUVs. Third-row seating doesn't get much better than this, in other words. Cup holders are provided and overhead vents can be aimed for heating and air conditioning, important because the rear side windows cannot be opened. Three-point seat belts are provided and are nicely designed and easy to use. As with the other rows, the seat belts are integrated into the seats. There is a lap belt in the center of the third row, but putting three people back there is optimistic, as the third row is considerably narrower than the first two rows. Getting into the third row is a bit challenging. Third-row passengers will require assistance to get in or out as someone will have to move the second-row seats out of the way for them.
Cargo space abounds in the Yukon XL. There's 45.7 cubic feet behind the third row, which is a lot. By comparison, a standard-length Yukon or Tahoe provides just 16.3 cubic feet, while a Ford Expedition offers 20.6 cubic feet behind the third row. Fold the Yukon XL's third-row seatback down, then tumble the seat forward and you'll have a lot more storage capacity, and you can still carry four to six people, depending on the seating package. Remove the third row and put it in the garage for 90 cubic feet of cargo room. Finally, flip up the second-row seat bottoms, fold the seatback down, then flip the folding carpeted platform backward, and you're looking at a flat floor with 131.6 cubic feet of space, great for runs to the home-improvement center or big outdoor outings. This is one of the few vehicles that offers comfortable sleeping accommodations, a benefit when fatigue takes over on that long drive home after a day afield.
Yukon XL 1500 offers a smooth, comfortable ride. It's built on a rigid platform, which plays a key role in the Yukon XL's ride and handling.
The standard Premium Smooth Ride suspension in the 1500 models soaks up large potholes and rough terrain. The independent front suspension flattens the most rugged terrain, so passengers feel coddled, while the solid rear axle allows impressive towing capability. Yukon XL boasts an impressive turning radius given its mammoth proportions, useful for crowded parking lots, U-turns, and off-road driving.
AutoRide is an optional suspension package that automatically varies shock damping according to driving conditions. Whether riding empty, carrying a full load of people, or towing a horse trailer, AutoRide continually adjusts the suspension for optimum ride and handling. This technology also helps reduce dive on braking (so that the nose of the vehicle doesn't dip down unduly) and body roll (lean) during cornering.
Quadrasteer muddies this pleasant picture. A Yukon XL 2500 with Quadrasteer delivered a rough ride on I-405, a rippled, bumpy highway in Los Angeles. Quadrasteer requires heavier suspension components to support all of the extra equipment on the rear axle. Also, 2500 models come with light-truck tires, rather than passenger-car tires. Adding some heavy cargo would likely improve the ride, but we don't think we'd want to put up with the jounciness of the heavy-duty suspension on a daily basis unless we needed to tow heavy trailers. (Conversely, we enjoyed a much more pleasant ride from a GMC Sierra Denali pickup with Quadrasteer.)
Responsiveness from each of the three available V8 engines is excellent. Most people will find the standard 5.3-liter V8 a great companion. The 6.0-liter that comes on the Denali and heavy-duty 2500 models feels and sounds powerful when accelerating onto the freeway.
The transmission features a Tow/Haul mode that improves performance while towing through mountainous terrain. Pressing a switch on the end of the gearshift lever changes the shift points of the automatic transmission. The Tow/Haul mode also lessens wear on the transmission by reducing heat buildup. It does this by holding the transmission in each gear longer before up-shifting, and then shifting up more abruptly to reduce heat buildup.
The brakes work very well, with easy modulation, good pedal feel, and good stopping power, even on heavy-duty 2500 models. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum effectiveness. The brake system was upgraded for 2003 for improved performance and pedal feel. For 2004, the system was further upgraded for improved performance in high-deceleration stops, and improved anti-lock performance; this new Hydroboost system relies on hydraulic pressure rather than engine vacuum to reduce braking pressure. Hyrdoboost brakes also require less pedal force during high-deceleration stops and improve pedal effort and feel during normal operation.
StabiliTrak is a valuable option that could save your life someday, or at least reduce your chance of stuffing your big Yukon XL into a ditch. StabiliTrak is an electronic anti-skid system that compares the driver's intended path with the vehicle's actual path, and adjusts engine torque and applies the brakes to any of the four individual wheels to help bring the vehicle back under control. Sophisticated sensors monitor the suspension, steering, antilock brake and traction control systems, constantly measuring steering angle, wheel speeds, brake pressure, lateral and longitudinal acceleration and yaw rate (the vehicle rotation rate, such as when cornering).
Yukon XL 4WD models use a part-time four-wheel-drive system GM calls Autotrac. Shift Autotrac into 4WD Hi, and it locks the front and rear axle speeds together, for the traditional kind of four-wheel drive that is considered best for serious off-road driving. However, pressing a button switches the system to an Auto 4WD mode that automatically shifts torque between the front and rear wheels as conditions demand, an arrangement that's good for wet pavement, gravel roads, or inconsistent conditions. A 4WD Lo setting provides an ultra-low gear for creeping through deep sand, deep mud, deep snow or up or down steep grades. Autotrac was revised for 2003 for more fuel-efficient operation in 2WD mode, and for improved feel in the Auto mode when turning corners at low speeds. Shifting among the four-wheel-drive modes is as easy as turning on the radio, and is accomplished with four buttons mounted on the left side of the instrument panel.
A locking rear differential is optional, and a good idea for heavy snow or serious off-road driving.
Denali's full-time all-wheel-drive system requires no input from the driver. It's a great system in inconsistent conditions (patches of snow and ice, gravel and pavement) because it transfers power to the wheels with the best traction.
Towing a really heavy trailer? A 1500 model is plenty for pulling a car trailer or a light boat trailer, but you may want to look at the 2500 models if you have a heavy load to pull and you pull it often. On the other hand, the 1500 model comes with torsion bars up front and coil springs in the rear, which filter road vibration much better than leaf springs in the rear of the 2500 model.
Quadrasteer ($1,995) gives the Yukon XL 2500 vastly improved maneuverability in tight quarters. By turning the rear wheels opposite the direction of the front wheels, this four-wheel-steering system reduces the curb-to-curb turning diameter from the standard 44.3 feet to 36.5 feet, an improvement of about 20 percent. That's a huge difference when maneuvering in crowded parking lots and public garages, and it allows a U-turn in places that previously required backing up. Quadrasteer becomes even more important when towing trailers. It greatly improves control when backing, eliminating trial and error runs. It also allows you to move a trailer into spots where you could not physically do so without it. It's well worth considering by anyone who frequently pulls trailers.
GMC Yukon XL moves people and gear like nothing else and has no peers among sport-utilities when it comes to towing. If you have lots of cargo or pull heavy trailers you'll appreciate the Yukon XL.
But this is a big truck based on a full-size pickup platform. If you simply need to carry four kids around, you'd be better served by a minivan.