2011 Yukon New Car Test Drive
The GMC Yukon offers power, space, and towing capacity. It can haul loads of gear, it can survive repeated pounding over rugged terrain, it can pull trailers, all while transporting four or five adults in comfort.
For 2011, Yukon gets minor upgrades, including revised headrests and OnStar version 9.0. The GMC Yukon lineup was completely redesigned for 2007. The Hybrid and XFE models were added for 2008, while 2009 brought an integrated trailer brake controller and expanded use of the 6-speed automatic transmission. 2010 added the Hybrid version of the Denali.
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 320-hp 5.3-liter V8 and Denali's 403-hp 6.2-liter V8 both have a system that shuts down half the cylinders under light loads to improve fuel economy. For better economy in daily driving, look to the Hybrid model which pairs a 6-liter gasoline V8 that switches off completely when not needed, and battery pack with dual electric motors inside the transmission to increase rated urban fuel economy by up to 42 percent.
Maximum tow rating ranges from 8100-8500 pounds on standard Yukon models or to about 6000 pounds on Hybrid models. Most Yukons can carry 1000-1300 pounds of passengers and cargo, which must be subtracted from allowable trailer weight. The standard-size Yukon can carry more weight than the equivalent-trim, much longer and roomier Yukon XL due to the latter's higher curb weight.
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 fashion trendiness.
Two four-wheel-drive systems are available. All-wheel-drive models use Autotrac, a system that can be engaged on dry pavement but does not repeal the laws of physics as some owners believe. Four-wheel drive with low-range gearing is available for rugged terrain, boat ramps, severe traction conditions.
The Yukon is a good choice for those who need four-wheel drive, cargo space and towing capacity. Those who don't tow might be better served by a larger crossover, such as the GMC Acadia, or an all-wheel-drive minivan.
Yukon shares the same basic full-size truck platform used for the Yukon XL, Chevrolet Tahoe, Suburban, Silverado, Avalanche, Cadillac Escalade. Yukon is in the same class as the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Nissan Armada, and Toyota Sequoia. Those in need of mileage should put the Hybrid on their shopping list alongside the Lexus RX hybrid, and the diesel versions of the BMW X5, Audi Q7, VW Touareg and Mercedes ML and GL that provide hybrid-like city economy and good highway economy.
The 2011 Yukon SLE 2WD ($38,535) and AWD ($42,595) come with a 320-hp 5.3-liter flex-fuel V8 and 6-speed automatic transmission. SLE trim includes cloth upholstery; three-zone climate control with rear controls; power front bucket seats; 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; Bose AM/FM/CD/XM sound system; Bluetooth; automatic headlights; theft-deterrent system; roof rails; front recovery hooks; trailer hitch platform with seven-wire harness; six months of OnStar service; and P265/70R17 tires on alloy wheels.
Yukon SLT 2WD ($44,050) and AWD ($46,905) upgrade to leather upholstery; adjustable pedals; rear park assist; remote start; auto-dimming inside mirror; and universal garage door opener. SLT2 adds more adjustable heated front seats, driver memory system, heated second row seats with power seat release, power-operated liftgate and outside heated power-adjustable, power-folding mirrors.
Yukon Denali 2WD ($53,240) and AWD ($56,235) upgrades with 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 275/55R20 tires. Available only on Denali is a side blind zone alert system ($500).
Yukon Hybrid 2WD ($51,185) and 4WD ($58,500) are well-equipped, slotting between SLT2 and Denali for features and amenities. However, the Hybrid does come standard with a 6.0-liter V8 gas engine and electric drive system contained within the transmission that rate 332 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque. The Hybrid models come standard with 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 eight years or 100,000 miles. A spare tire for any Hybrid is extra ($995).
Yukon Denali Hybrid is available in 2WD ($53,995) or 4WD ($61,345). It gets Denali trim and appearance. Options are limited to a spare tire/wheel ($995), moonroof ($995), rear entertainment ($1295), and blind zone alert ($500).
Options for Yukon include 20-inch wheels ($1795); audio and entertainment system upgrades; white diamond paint ($995); moonroof ($995); retractable side steps ($1095); trailer brake controller ($200); rear DVD entertainment ($1295); Z71 Off-Road package ($1830); second-row bucket seats; 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 or tire chain clearance.
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; 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 Denali's side blind zone alert.