2002 GMC Yukon Denali Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D AWD

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2002 GMC Yukon Denali
Dan Carney

Introduction
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. Model Lineup
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). Walkaround
These are conservatively styled trucks. They look like shortened versions of the GMC Yukon XL, which looks like a fancy Suburban, which is what it is. An arched roofline provides extra headroom for the second and third rows.

The most visible difference between the SLE and Denali is the Denali's aftermarket-inspired chrome grille, in place of the SLE's blacked out grille.

An important choice to make here is whether you want a contemporary hatch rear door that lifts up or old-fashioned side-by-side cargo doors. Cargo doors are more useful for towing trailers, while the hatch style is usually more convenient for families partly because the window can be opened separately for quick loading or unloading of smaller items. Denali buyers are limited to a hatch with flip-up window. Utility-minded shoppers looking for cargo doors will have to limit themselves to an SLE. Interior
GMC's Yukon models are comfortable and convenient. GMC has gone to great lengths to make them more comfortable, easier to operate and more attractive for families. Getting inside is easy thanks to pull-handle style door handles that replace the old lift-up style openers. Step-in height is lower than previous-generation models, making it easier to climb into the driver's seat. Seat-mounted shoulder harnesses on the front and rear seats make the Yukon's belts easy to wear.

All controls are mounted close to the driver's seat. Visibility out of the Yukon is very good, thanks to new larger windows. The combination of good visibility and confident handling give the Yukon an air of nimbleness.

GMC's Yukon Denali tops the current Lincoln Navigator in the usefulness of its third-row seat. While the Lincoln's third seat is a children-only compression chamber, the Yukon's third seat provides space for adults' feet. It isn't a lot of space, but it is there. The third seat also folds, flips, slides and removes easily. Whichever way you choose to stow the third-row seat, it is easy to do; it even has wheels to help it roll into the garage for storage.

Still, getting into and out of that third row isn't easy for adults. If you're going to put people back there on a regular basis, we recommend considering the longer GMC Yukon XL or Chevy Suburban.

The Denali offers optional second-row bucket seats that give passengers better support and let them adjust their seats individually to suit each person. The Denali's leather upholstery is very nice looking and feels comfortable.

Music lovers will enjoy the available Bose Acoustimass 11-speaker stereo with a subwoofer. It uses a spiral-wrapped radio antenna to cut wind noise. GMC says it chose to use a conventional mast rather than embedding the antenna in a window for better performance. Driving Impressions
GMC Yukon offers a nice ride, whether on asphalt or dirt. On bumpy rural byways that make some SUVs feel like pogo sticks, the Yukon rides with impressive, sedan-like smoothness. On smooth highways, the Yukon cruises effortlessly. Handling is impressive and surefooted for a full-size SUV. It's stable at high speed. It's much easier to park then the Yukon XL, but it's still a full-size truck and not as maneuverable as a mid-size SUV such as the GMC Envoy or Ford Explorer.

Yukon SLE and Denali share the same hydroformed frame and five-link coil-spring live-axle rear suspension, which gives them a smooth ride and surprisingly responsive handling. Car-based SUVs such as the Lexus RX300 use independent rear suspension to provide the ride and handling customers expect, but GMC has managed to give the Yukon those benefits without compromising its cargo-carrying utility. The front suspension is conventional in design, except for the springs. To save space, the Yukon uses torsion bars instead of coil springs in the front. Its conventional ladder frame is fully boxed in the mid-section for maximum rigidity, while the front and rear portions are shaped by the same hydro-forming technique used to make Corvette frames. This rigid design is a key to the Yukon's excellent ride and handling. At the very front of the frame is a section that is designed to crush and absorb impacts in a crash.

The Denali's AutoRide computer-controlled suspension helps keep it level over bumps. This effect is especially pronounced when towing; a trailer tends to cause the towing vehicle to rock back and forth when driving over bumps, but the AutoRide system keeps the Denali amazingly smooth.

The steering on both models provides good control and feedback. It's a recirculating-ball system, which doesn't offer the response of the rack-and-pinion steering found on the Ford Explorer and the new 2003 Ford Expedition, however.

A tighter 38.3-foot turning diameter makes the Yukon much easier to park than a Yukon XL, which takes another 4 feet of space to turn around. That makes a huge difference in the grocery store parking lot. The Yukon's turning diameter represents a big improvement over previous-generation Yukon and Tahoe models.

The brakes perform well. Dual-piston brake calipers for the disc brakes are designed to provide shorter stopping distances. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum braking without activating the ABS. To check this out, we towed a heavily laden horse trailer without trailer brakes connected and were impressed with the braking ability.

Under the hood, the Yukons employ the latest version of Chevy's small-block V8 engine family. These Generation III overhead-valve engines are the best yet and rival competitors' overhead-cam engines for smoothness and efficiency. As mentioned, they come in three sizes: 4.8-liter, 5.3-liter, and 6.0-liter.

The big 6.0-liter V8 that comes with the Denali cranks out 320 horsepower. Fuel economy suffers, however, earning the Denali a mediocre EPA gas mileage rating of 12 mpg city and 16 mpg highway; but that is similar to ratings for some vehicles with much less horsepower and lower towing capacities. At least the 6.0-liter V8 burns regular unleaded fuel, making pit stops a little more affordable.

The 275-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 gets much better fuel economy, earning 20 mpg on the EPA's highway mileage test on a 2WD Yukon.

The more popular 5.3-liter V8 is rated at 285 horsepower and its acceleration performance is impressive. Like the 4.8-liter engine, the 5.3-liter burns regular unleaded fuel.

Standard Yukons come with a choice of two-wheel-drive with optional traction control or a traditional four-wheel-drive system. Two-wheel-drive models offer a limited-slip rear differential to give drivers better traction in slippery conditions. Optional traction control cuts engine power as needed to help maintain traction to the rear tires. A second-gear winter start feature in the automatic transmission helps get the vehicle rolling without wheel spin under slippery conditions. Traction control and the limited-slip help make the 4x2 Yukon sufficient for many people.

However, it's a shame to pass on the four-wheel-drive system, especially where winter brings snow. Press the 4HI button when standard four-wheel drive is needed for driving off road or on roads covered with snow and ice. The 4LO setting is used for creeping through deep sand, deep mud, deep snow or up or down steep grades.

The Denali's all-wheel-drive system features a fluid coupled transfer case that sends 38 percent of the available torque to the front wheels and 62 percent to the rear. That helps it maintaining good traction in changing conditions. It's a good system for snow, ice, heavy rain, dirt, gravel, and other inconsistent conditions.

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 yanking a boat up a water-slicked landing. Denalis also have a new heavy-duty version of the four-speed automatic transmission that is made with hardened parts to withstand the extra power of the 6.0-liter engine. For drivers' peace of mind while towing, the Denali features a transmission fluid temperature gauge, so they can be confident they are not cooking the transmission when pulling a trailer up hills. All Yukons come equipped to accept a lighting plug for trailer towing, and have provisions for connecting a trailer brake controller very easily. Summary
The GMC Yukon is among the best of the full-size SUVs. It's large enough to carry a crowd in comfort or haul a lot of cargo, yet doesn't require a new garage and a flagger to park.

The Yukon Denali gives full-size SUV shoppers an alternative to their Cadillac dealer when shopping for a luxury SUV from General Motors. The Denali is styled more conventionally than the Escalade, so some buyers may be more comfortable with its traditional appearance. Both are comfortable, roomy SUVs that get surprisingly good gas mileage. Lots of power, comfortable accommodations, and safety features such as side-impact air bags place the Yukon Denali among the best of the full-size luxury SUVs.

Model as tested
Denali ($46,550)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Janesville, Wisconsin
Destination charge
730
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
33252
Price as tested
47280
Options as tested

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Yukon SLE ($33,252); Yukon Denali ($46,550)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front air bags, front side-impact air bags, four-wheel ABS
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
6.0-liter V8; 5.3-liter V8; 4.8-liter V8
Transmissions
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
electronic climate control, cruise control, rear defogger, power door locks, leather seating surfaces, eleven-speaker stereo system with subwoofer, second-row audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt, power windows, fog lamps, heated outside mirrors, remote keyless entry, 17-inch polished aluminum wheels

Engine & Transmission
Engine
6.0-liter V8; 5.3-liter V8; 4.8-liter V8
Drivetrain type
all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
320 @ 5000
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
12/16
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Independent short-long arm with torsion arms
Tires
P265/70R-17
Suspension, rear
five-link live axle with coil springs

Accomodations
Seating capacity
6
Head/hip/leg room, middle
39.4/61.3/38.6
Head/hip/leg room, front
40.7/61.4/41.3
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.4/49.0/27.3

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
108.2
Wheelbase
116.0
Length/width/height
198.9/78.9/74.2
Turning circle
39.3
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
8500
Track, front/rear
65.0/66.0
Ground clearance
8.4
Curb weight
4828


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