2002 Yukon New Car Test Drive
GMC's Yukon offers a roomy cabin, impressive cargo-carrying capability, a nice ride, and a choice of modern V8 engines that deliver strong power for towing or tackling steep grades. The Yukon Denali is a luxury version that adds a more luxurious interior, a bigger engine, and all-wheel drive.
Either way, the Yukon is a good size for large families. Built on GM's superb full-size truck platform, the Yukon is the same size and, in many ways, the same vehicle as the Chevy Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade. Yukon is 20 inches shorter than the Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon XL, making it much easier to park and garage. It is slightly smaller than the Ford Expedition, but longer and wider than the GMC Envoy, Chevy TrailBlazer, and Ford Explorer.
Yukon SLE was completely redesigned for 2000, and the luxurious Yukon Denali was introduced for 2001. For 2002, GMC focused on fine-tuning to enhance safety, reduce emissions, and improve durability and reliability. GMC upgraded the automatic transmissions, designed a more efficient starter, built a more durable steering gear housing, installed new child safety seat anchors, and achieved an ultra-low emissions (ULEV) rating for the Vortec 5300 V8 engine. If you need three rows of seats on a regular basis and a minivan doesn't offer enough cargo room, then this is one of the best vehicles available for the job. And the only reason we say 'one of' is because the Chevrolet Suburban is the other one. Each delivers the same great ability to carry six to nine people and/or a boatload of cargo. And they do it in comfort.
Based on GM's excellent full-size truck platform, the GMC Yukon XL and the Chevy Suburban are in many respects identical, but there are some key differences that go well beyond styling cues. GMC is GM's upscale truck division, so the Yukon XL is available with more luxury, more power, and better handling in adverse conditions than what's available from Chevrolet. At the top of the GMC model line is the Yukon XL Denali, an upscale version of the Yukon XL that comes with a powerful 6.0-liter V8 and all-wheel drive.
Completely re-engineered for the 2000 model year, the Yukon XL was further refined for 2001 and the Denali model was added. For 2002, the transmissions, the steering system, starter motors, child seat anchors, and other parts have been upgraded or redesigned for improved durability or better operation. More low-emissions models are also available. But, for the most part, the Yukon XL is unchanged over last year.
Essentially, two models are available: SLE and Denali.
Yukon SLE ($33,252 with two-wheel drive and $35,835 with four-wheel drive) 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 alarm. A 275-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 is standard; a 325- horsepower 5.3-liter V8 is optional.
Yukon Denali ($46,550) is the upscale model that comes with a big 6.0-liter V8 engine, all-wheel drive, and a computer-controlled AutoRide suspension. The Denali comes equipped with nearly every desirable feature as standard equipment, including: heated, leather, 10-way power seats, On-Star driver assistance, 11-speaker Bose stereo with in-dash six-disc CD changer, thermostatically controlled climate control with rear heat and air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, power windows and power door locks. The Denali is the luxury version of GM's full-size SUVs; only the Cadillac Escalade is more luxurious. Neither the powerful 6.0-liter V8 nor the full-time all-wheel-drive system is available on the Yukon SLE models, nor does Chevrolet offer anything comparable to the Denali in its Tahoe line. Denali options are limited to a sunroof ($1,000) and engine block heater ($35). The GMC Yukon XL is a long-wheelbase version of the Yukon, just as the Chevrolet Suburban is a long wheelbase version of the Tahoe. 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 NewCarTestDrive.com review of the standard-wheelbase GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali.)
GMC offers the Yukon XL with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. It comes 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 heavy-duty 2500 is rated to pull trailers up to 12,000 pounds in 2WD or 4WD. (Unless you're pulling heavy trailers, you'll want the 1500 model for its smoother ride quality.)
Each of these variations is available in two trim levels, the already well-equipped SLE and even better-equipped SLT.
Yukon XL Denali adds a bigger engine and a sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system to the Yukon XL. Denali also comes standard with nearly every option offered on the regular Yukon XL models. A distinctive grille, wheels, body cladding, and interior trim distinguish the Denali from the rest of the Yukon XL line.
All Yukon XL 1500 models 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. 2500 models offer a choice of the 6.0-liter V8, or a monster 340-horsepower 8.1-liter big-block Vortec V8.
All models come with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.
Yukon XL 4WD models 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. A locking rear differential is optional.
Denali comes with a more sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system 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 the standard 4WD system. Aluminum front and rear prop shafts save even more weight and minimize vibration. A locking rear differential is standard on the Denali.
Prices start at $36,157 for the 1500 and $37,529 for the 2500. Add about $2600 for 4WD. Two different SLT packages are offered, one adding $2105, and the other $3273, to the cost of an SLE. Denali is priced at $48,050, but includes every possible option except an engine-block heater ($35), power sunroof ($1000), and second-row bucket seats ($490).