2009 Yukon New Car Test Drive
Faced with rising gas prices and eco-protests, the market for full-size SUVs has seen better times. GMC answered the call for better fuel economy with the 2008 Yukon Hybrid and XFE models. These deliver among the best in class city and highway EPA ratings respectively.
The entire GMC Yukon lineup was completely redesigned for 2007 and added the Hybrid and XFE in 2008, with 2009 seeing more extensive applications of the six-speed automatic transmission, and integrated trailer brake controller, and minor packaging, cosmetic and electronic updates. The Yukon shares the same basic platform used for Chevy Avalanche, Suburban and Silverado 1500, and Tahoe. Yukon offers power, space, and towing capacity. It can haul large loads of gear, it can survive repeated pounding over rugged terrain, it can pull trailers, all while transporting four in luxurious comfort.
Inside, the Yukon features a simple, elegant dash that hints at aspirations for entry-luxury status. The Yukon has three-row seating standard and can be configured for two to nine occupants. Seating in the first and second rows has plenty of room, but the third row is best left for kids and has to be removed for maximum cargo space.
Engine choices are all V8s. The popular 5.3-liter V8 engines (310-320 hp) provide plenty of power and have a system that shuts down half the cylinders under light loads to improve fuel economy. The Denali model's 6.2-liter V8 generates 403 horsepower, making it one of the more powerful offerings in the class.
The Hybrid powertrain features a 6.0-liter V8 boosted by two electric motors for truck performance and respectable fuel economy.
Maximum tow capacity ranges from 8500 pounds (Denali 2WD) to 6000 (Hybrid Yukon 4WD); subtract roughly 1500 pounds for passengers and cargo.
Ride and handling characteristics are typical of large SUVs. The Yukon leans in turns and is not agile. The ride quality, on the other hand, is commendable, even with the Denali's available 20-inch polished wheels that add a touch of high fashion trendiness.
4WD models use Autotrac, a system that can be engaged on dry pavement and also includes low-range gearing. It comes in handy for rugged terrain, launch ramps, and winter weather but does not repeal the laws of physics as some owners believe.
For those who need a real four-wheel drive with cargo space and towing capacity the Yukon is a competitive choice. Those who don't tow might be better served by a larger crossover like the GMC Acadia.
In addition to the Tahoe, the Yukon is in the same class as the Chrysler Aspen, Dodge Durango, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Nissan Armada, and Toyota Sequoia. Those in need of mileage should put the Hybrid on their shopping list alongside the Aspen/Durango Hybrid, Lexus RX hybrid, and the diesel versions of the BMW X5, Jeep Grand Cherokee, VW Touareg and Mercedes ML and GL that provide hybrid-like city economy and superior highway economy.
The 2009 GMC Yukon lineup offers a choice of four V8 engine sizes and four trim levels: SLE, SLT (split into SLT1 and SLT2), Denali, and the Hybrid. All are offered with 2WD or 4WD, except the Denali, which is 2WD or all-wheel drive that lacks low-range gearing. SLE and SLT models are available with an XFE package for eXtra Fuel Economy.
The GMC Yukon SLE 2WD ($37,705) comes with a 295-hp 4.8-liter V8 and a four-speed automatic transmission. The SLE 4WD ($41,765) comes with a 320-hp 5.3-liter V8 with Active Fuel Management and a six-speed automatic; an E85-capable flex-fuel 5.3 is available. Upgrading the base 2WD to a 5.3 costs $1000 and adds both power and highway economy.
The SLE1 comes with cloth upholstery; dual-zone manual climate control with rear controls; split front bench seat; six-way power driver's seat; 60/40 split-folding second-row bench seat; 50/50 split-fold third row; tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls; cruise control; intermittent wipers front/rear; power locks, windows and heated mirrors; remote keyless entry; side assist steps; AM/FM/CD stereo with eight speakers; XM satellite radio; Bluetooth; automatic headlights; theft-deterrent system; roof rails; front recovery hooks; trailer hitch platform with seven-wire harness; one year of OnStar service; and P265/70R17 tires on alloy wheels.
SLE 2 ($39,970 2WD/$42,825 4WD) adds a 5.3-liter V8 and six-speed automatic to 2WD; rear headphone jacks and audio controls; power front bucket seats with console; fog lamps; color-matched door handles; 5 power outlets; 18-inch wheels and tires; and roof rail cross bars.
Going to an SLT1 ($43,145/$46,000) adds leather upholstery; three-zone automatic climate control; Bose six-disc audio system; adjustable pedals; rear park assist; remote start; auto-dimming inside mirror; and universal garage door opener.
Atop the standard Yukon trims is SLT2 ($43,930/46,785) which adds further luxuries such as 10-way power front seats, driver memory system, and heated front and second-row seats.
An XFE economy package is available on 2WD SLE and SLT Yukon 310-hp 5.3-liters and adds 1 EPA mile per gallon for about $200 with no loss in rated tow capacity. The package includes a 3.08:1 axle ratio, light alloy wheels with low-rolling resistance high-pressure tires, lowered suspension, aluminum front control arms and spare wheel, locking differential, and trailering package.
Top-line Denali models ($50,135 2WD/$53,130 AWD) are the best-equipped Yukons. Standards include a 403-hp 6.2-liter engine, 12-way power front seats; heated front and second-row seats; driver memory system; power tilt, heated, wood-and-leather steering wheel; Autoride suspension; power liftgate; power-folding reverse-tilt mirrors; auto-dimming inside and driver's side mirrors; chrome trim and unique grilles; Bose Centerpoint audio system; rain-sensing front wipers; and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels with 275/55 tires. Available only on Denali is a Side Blind Zone Alert system ($500).
Hybrid models ($50,920 2WD/$53,730 4WD) are well-equipped, slotting between SLT2 and Denali for features and amenities. However, the Hybrid does come standard with a 6-liter V8 gas engine and electric drive system contained within the transmission that rate 332 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque, navigation system with rearview camera, locking rear differential, and P265/65R18 low-rolling resistance tires on alloy wheels. It does not have roof rails, fog lamps, tow hooks, or a separately-opening glass on the liftgate. Hybrid mechanicals are warranted for 8 years or 100,000 miles.
Options are myriad, dependent on model and other equipment, and frequently cheaper by the package. For 2009 navigation ($2500) is available on SLT1 and it always adds a rearview camera; some models offer a rearview camera with the display in the mirror for Yukons without navigation. Other common upgrades include polished aluminum 20-inch wheels ($1795-1995); three-zone climate control upgrade ($195); and audio system upgrades ($295-500).
More choices include a moonroof ($995); retractable side steps ($1095); trailer brake controller ($200); rear DVD entertainment ($1295); Z71 Off-Road package ($1830); second-row bucket seats ($490 plus $425 for power release) and engine block heater ($75). Yukons that come with second-row buckets may often be ordered with a 60/40 second-row bench at no charge, and larger wheels can often be downsized to standard 17-inch at no cost for rough roads, tire chain clearance, and so on.
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual-stage front airbags; three-row, head-protecting curtain side airbags with rollover sensors; four-wheel antilock brakes with dynamic rear proportioning that balances braking front to rear for optimum stopping force; StabiliTrak stability control system with rollover mitigation; LATCH child safety seat anchors; and a tire pressure monitor. Optional are rearview cameras, rear park assist, and on Denali, Side Blind Zone Alert.