The GMC Yukon is all-new for 2015. What hasn’t been obviously restyled or re-thought has been re-programmed, re-calibrated or re-engineered. The biggest news for the 2015 Yukon is more power and better fuel efficiency, third-row seats that fold to a flat floor, electronics that provide Siri eyes-free, text alerts, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a tailored new cabin that’s very quiet.
New safety systems feature prominently in the 2015 Yukon overhaul as well. A rearview camera and proximity sensors front and rear are standard on the 2015 Yukon, as is a center front-row airbag that works as a divider cushion in side-impact collisions. A head-up display, forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane departure, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings are available on 2015 Yukon models.
The GMC Yukon is a full-size sport utility with room for five adults and up to nine passengers total. Yukon is built like a truck to handle rough use. It offers enough towing capacity to handle a four-ton trailer and has the versatility for cargo hauling.
Yukon’s interior layout looks more luxury sedan than any other GMC product. Although it offers a front bench seat, most models have a pair of front bucket seats flanking a center console that arcs up to the dash in well integrated fashion. Middle-row seats are individual bucket or three-across bench. The third row is a 60/40-split arrangement good for children.
Yukon runs a 355-hp 5.3-liter V8 and 6-speed automatic transmission with EPA ratings of 16/23 mpg City/Highway. Automatic four-wheel drive is available, as is a similar system with low-range gearing for off-highway work that can be towed behind your motorhome.
Denali is the top luxury model, powered by a 420-hp 6.2-liter V8 and 8-speed automatic, with EPA numbers of 15/21 mpg. The Denali 4WD system includes low-range. Yukon Denali has a unique instrument display and trim inside and out and adds features such as wireless phone charging, hands-free tailgate and a more sophisticated suspension.
Towing capacity is 8100-8500 pounds depending on model. Every towing aid available on the Sierra pickup, except trailering mirrors, is offered on Yukon. Most Yukon models will carry 1500-1650 pounds of personnel and baggage.
Yukon rolls down the road with nary a care, we found it stable, quiet and confidence-inspiring in challenging conditions. It can cart kids to practice, co-workers to lunch or boat to the lake with equal ease. If you require the ultimate in luxury, expect the price to almost double for a loaded Denali.
GMC Yukon competition includes the less-advanced but roomier Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, Nissan Armada, Dodge Durango, as well as the related Chevrolet Tahoe. Yukon Denali competes with the Lincoln Navigator, Range Rover Sport, Infiniti QX80, Mercedes-Benz GL and Lexus GX.
If you do not need low-range 4WD or rugged truck construction, and have only a small lightweight trailer, a big crossover, such as the GMC Acadia, BMW X5 or Audi Q7 might be a better fit. If cargo volume and people space are paramount and ultimate luxury isn’t, a minivan will provide far greater third-row room, more cargo volume than the long XL version of Yukon, similar payload and better fuel economy in a smaller outside package.
On the other hand, if bigger is better, the Yukon XL bumps rear seat and aft cargo space considerably, is nearly as maneuverable, much easier entry/egress at the rear doors, at a premium of one EPA mile-per-gallon and $3,000. Skip a moonroof and rear-seat entertainment and you’re there.
Yukon’s classic utility two-box body is clean, crisp and never mistaken for a jelly-bean crossover. Geometric lines work well on so many levels for vehicles designed to carry cargo or venture beyond paved roadways, and GMC makes it work well enough to take it where you might also take a limousine.
Painted surfaces surround GMC’s triple-bar grille and massive red logo; lighting modules are completely separated and fair into the fender tops. Both the lower lip and bumper run full width, with fog lights low and outboard where they work best. The deep air dam helps highway fuel economy but consider removing it before you hit the backcountry. Denali models are distinguished by amply chromed mesh grille work and, when on, their HID headlamps.
Strong horizontal lines define the profile, with wheel openings only minimally less square than GMC’s Sierra pickup. Wheels better fill those openings; though we prefer the standard 18-inch wheel for ride quality and think they fit the truck’s proportions better, 20- and 22-inch wheels in multiple finishes are offered. Denali comes with 20-inch wheels.
Dark door and rear pillars give the roof a cantilevered look, anchored at the windshield and balancing on the wide painted pillar above the rear wheels. Side steps are no wider than the bodywork so they’re less vulnerable, and power-retracting steps are available. Short rear overhang is helpful for off-road travel and towing stability, but in some views the tail appears stubby or truncated.
Deep window tint wraps rear side and tailgate windows into one piece and the wiper’s hidden under the gate-top spoiler. C-shaped taillights echo the ruby-red logo letters and the center brake light in the spoiler never casts light in the rear view. The covered receiver hitch keeps it clean and the top of the bumper has scuff protection.
The liftgate is manually operated on SLE, with the SLT’s power liftgate available; opening height is programmable for vertical clearance limitations or to open just high enough for you to walk beneath. On Denali you can wave a foot beneath the bumper (as long as the key is with you) to open or close the tailgate with your hands full.
Most of the controls, instruments and displays are similar to other GMC full-size models. To driver’s left are drive mode, lighting, trailer brake, adjustable pedals and some safety system switches, and whether you have the standard tilt or uplevel tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, some of those switches will be obscured by it. Switchgear is illuminated red at night.
Excellent gauges are standard, and the Denali gets a configurable 8-inch display amidst them. Top center is the audio and GMC IntelliLink infotainment screen with hidden storage behind. Knobs and hard keys below and touch-screen icons at top help speed you to common tasks. Alongside the usual apps and features (Pandora, Bluetooth, weather, traffic) it has text message alerts, Siri eyes free and OnStar with 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot and a 3gb/3month trial period. It did what we wanted and was faster than some, slower than others. The display never washed out in bright sunlight.
Below that are better-than-average rear climate controls, and front seat heat/cooling switches; these switch indicators do occasionally disappear in daylight. Cabin storage includes a usable glovebox, multiple door cubbies, third-row bin, five distinct places on the console, and the center armrest lid depression offers compatible-device wireless charging on Denali.
Everything forward of the middle armrest is set slightly to the passenger’s side side, making an easier reach for them and more right knee room for the driver. But we can’t imagine anyone fleeing the least bit cramped with all the room up front.
Bucket seats come standard for the front row and we found them comfortable for long or short hauls. Cloth seats now offer seat heating, as do the leather seats. Seat coolers are also available. You have to nit-pick to find anything wrong with the seats, and that would be cooling unit you can hear because the truck is so quiet inside. A center front airbag keeps front occupants cushioned apart in severe side-impact collisions.
A front bench seat, divided 40/20/40, is available, though this credit-delete option is so rare we’ve never seen one and GMC has no pictures of it. You could get an idea looking at a special services/police Tahoe which has computers and radio where the middle seat would be. The bench seat comes with a different dash, which stops at the climate controls and moves power and input ports low and forward underneath.
Second-row seats offer a choice of two buckets or a 60/40-split three-person bench, the latter far more practical and not significantly less comfortable. Buckets do give the choice of clambering around for third-row access but the second-row bench moves easily. Regardless of seat, big outboard pillars keep heads nicely shaded, and the climate controls and inputs/ports are an easy reach.
Third-row seats are split 60/40 as well, so you could still carry six people and long items like skis or wakeboards inside. Outer headrests extend well but there is no center headrest, and the center shoulder belt is conveniently out of sight in the roof when not needed. Head and hiproom are typical but legroom here is limited, nearly 13 inches less than an Expedition or Navigator, and best for kids.
Cargo access is by large liftgate, powered on some and operable with a foot wave under the rear bumper on Denali. The load floor is two levels up from the bumper and close to a yard off the ground, inconvenient for big heavy items. Power-fold and release rear seat (both rows) switches are on the side.
Cargo space behind the third row is 15.3 cubic feet. Under the floor is a well for small items. Behind the second row is 51.7 cubic feet, and 94.7 behind the first row, on a flat but not level floor. Cargo capacity is down about 10% from the previous Yukon and trails the level-floor Expedition (18.6/55.0/108.3) Sequoia (18.9/66.6/120.1) and Armada (20.0/56.7/97.1).
The Yukon is pleasant to drive, with a quiet interior and suspension that isolate you from most outside world annoyances. It’s as easy to drive as any car, only bigger.
Either engine delivers plenty of power smoothly, with minimal fuss, but both develop peak power at more than 4000 rpm and are tuned to eke out fuel efficiency. Since they cruise at less than half that speed, it takes a solid shove of the gas pedal to effect the downshifts needed for strong acceleration.
Yukon’s 6-speed automatic sorts out gears well. It has a manual shift function managed by a rocker switch on the column shift lever that rev-matches downshifts, but unlike most competitors you must first move the lever to M to use the rocker.
Denali’s 8-speed has quicker, smoother shifts and changes aren’t as noticeable because engine speed doesn’t change as much. The added gears also allow easier engine braking on long grades.
The available brake controller for trailers with electric brakes is very effective. Even if we didn’t have a trailer with electric brakes we’d consider it for resale value and those friends’ electric-brake or future trailers.
Maximum tow ratings for the Yukon range from 8100 to 8500 pounds, behind Ford Expedition’s 9200 and Nissan Armada’s 8200-9000, but ahead of Toyota’s Sequoia and Dodge’s Durango. To find any particular truck’s towing capacity you need to subtract the door-jamb GVWR (maximum weight of truck, occupants, cargo and trailer tongue weight) from GCWR (gross combined weight rating). Very few sport-utility vehicles can carry full payload and tow maximum trailer weight at the same time.
Yukon 4WD models use a single-speed Autotrac system for automatic operation on highway. If you want 4WD with low-range gearing, as you might for backcountry access or even slippery boat ramps (or to tow the Yukon behind a motorhome), you have to get the HD tow package two-speed transfer case. Denali 4WD comes with it.
The GMC Yukon has a quiet, comfortable interior nice enough for a car, in a truck chassis that can cope with the worst roads and drivers. It combines plenty of smooth power and good towing capability with modern electronics and safety systems to make a squarely styled very well rounded full-size SUV.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report after test drives in Yukon models in Los Angeles and San Antonio.