2001 Yukon New Car Test Drive
GMC completely redesigned its Yukon full-size SUV for 2000, but the luxurious Denali version had to wait until 2001. Now it's here. Yukon Denali sits at the top of GMC's SUV lineup, just one rung below GM's 2001 Cadillac Escalade luxury sport-utility.
The most visible difference between the Yukon Denali and the regular Yukon is the Denali's aftermarket-inspired chrome grille, in place of the Yukon's blacked out grille.
Behind that facade, however, is some hardware that sets the Denali apart from the rest of the Yukon line: a more powerful 6.0-liter V8 and a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Neither the engine nor the AWD system is available on the other Yukon models. Nor does Chevrolet offer anything comparable in its Tahoe line.
GMC's 2001 Yukon Denali rides on the same hydroformed frame and five-link coil spring rear suspension that gives the standard Yukon a smooth ride and surprisingly responsive handling. Denali's luxury touches don't overlook the fact that GMC customers will want to tow their boat to the lake or pull their daughter's horse trailer to the show, so it is loaded with features for towing and moving cargo. The bigger engine will help pull any load, while the all-wheel-drive system is just the ticket for pulling a boat up a water-slicked landing. (Denali shares its basic architecture with the GMC Yukon, Yukon XL and Yukon Denali XL, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, and Cadillac Escalade. It is arguably the best full-size SUV and pickup platform on the market.). Folks who truly need a size extra-large sport-utility will find the Yukon XL hard to beat. All-new and tremendously improved for the 2000 model year, the Yukon XL has been refined even further for 2001.
Because it's available in two different load ratings, the Yukon XL 1500 and 2500 models can offer a more people-friendly alternative to Ford's brutishly heavy-duty Excursion. And now you can even buy the Yukon XL with the same luxurious Denali equipment reserved previously for the shorter-wheelbase Yukon.
Experienced SUV shoppers will recognize the Yukon XL as the direct descendant of the old GMC Suburban. For several decades, Chevrolet and GMC shared the Suburban label for their essentially similar, full-size, pickup truck-based station wagons. But after last year's complete overhaul, Chevrolet retained custody of the Suburban badge, and the corresponding GMC became the Yukon XL.
The name change made a lot of sense, because GMC has sold a shorter version of the Suburban called the Yukon since 1997. (Chevy has one of these, too, and calls it the Tahoe.) Now all of GMC's full-size SUVs are Yukons. In keeping with GMC's rank as the premium truck division for General Motors, Yukons are priced higher than Tahoes and Suburbans, but come with more standard equipment.
GMC Yukon Denali comes equipped with nearly every desirable feature as standard equipment, leaving only a couple items that are matters of personal preference as optional. Standard equipment includes: heated, leather, 10-way power seats, 6.0-liter V8, all-wheel drive, AutoRide computer-controlled suspension, On-Star driver assistance, 11-speaker Bose stereo with in-dash six-disc CD changer, thermostatically controlled climate control, rear heat and air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, power windows and power door locks.
Only a sunroof ($900), second-row bucket seats ($290) and engine block heater ($35) are optional.
While the Denali is getting the headlines for 2001, GMC launched its standard Yukon on this all-new platform last year. And this year, the price of Yukons has dropped slightly: Yukon SLE ($32,200) comes loaded with air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, self-leveling suspension, CD stereo, power windows, power door locks, fog lights, tinted glass, heated outside mirrors, leather wrapped steering wheel, and vehicle alarm. SLE 4x4 retails for $35,078. Both come with a 4.8-liter V8. Upgrade to the 5.3-liter V8 for another $700. An optional SLT package for the Yukon comes in two levels. You can get an SLT that adds front and center-row leather seats, a nine-speaker CD stereo, floor console, better bucket seats and aluminum wheels for an additional $1,400. Or, you can order an SLT package power seats, seat heaters, premium ride suspension, OnStar driver assistance, automatic climate control and other features for $2,818. The XL in GMC Yukon XL means extra long; the 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. (Look for a separate nctd.com review of the standard-wheelbase GMC Yukon.)
GMC offers the Yukon XL with rear or four-wheel drive, and in two load ratings. The popular 1500 model is rated to tow trailers up to 8800 pounds with 2WD, or 8600 pounds with 4WD. The heavier-duty 2500 is rated to pull trailers up to 12,000 pounds in 2WD or 4WD. Each of these variations is available in two trim levels, the already well-equipped SLE and even better equipped SLT.
New for 2001 is the luxurious Yukon XL Denali. (GMC has offered a Denali version of the shorter Yukon since 1998.) Based on the 4WD Yukon XL 1500, the Yukon XL Denali packs a bigger engine and more sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive, and makes standard nearly every option offered on the regular Yukon XL models. Distinctive grille, wheels, body cladding, and interior trim distinguish the Denali from the rest of the Yukon XL line.
All Yukon XL 1500s in SLE or SLT trim come with a 285-horsepower 5.3-liter Vortec V8. Yukon XL Denali comes only with a 320-horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec V8. 2500s offer a choice of the 6.0-liter V8, or a new-for-2001 340-horsepower 8.1-liter Vortec big-bock V8.
Regardless of engine, all XL models come with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
SLE/SLT Yukon XLs with 4WD use a fairly conventional part-time system GM calls Autotrac; it uses a two-speed transfer case that locks front and rear axle speeds together in four-wheel-drive mode. This is the traditional kind of four-wheel drive that is considered best for serious off-road driving. Pressing a button switches the system to an Auto 4WD mode that automatically shifts torque between the front and rear wheels as conditions demand.
Denali comes with a more sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system from supplier New Venture Gear that uses a planetary center differential set for a 38/62 front/rear torque split; a silicone viscous coupling unit progressively locks up if one axle or the other starts to slip. This is all contained in a cast-magnesium housing that saves 15 pounds compared to Autotrac. Aluminum front and rear prop shafts save even more weight and minimize vibration. A locking rear differential, optional on other Yukon XLs, is standard on Denali.
Prices start at $35,552 for the 1500 and $36,924 for the 2500; add $2400-$2500 for 4WD. Two different SLT packages are offered, one adding $2050, and the other $2968, to the cost of an SLE. Denali is priced at $47,450, but that figure includes every possible option except an engine-block heater, power sunroof, and second-row bucket seats.