Smaller than the largest SUVs, yet still indisputably full-sized, Yukon is the right size for families that have something to tow. Its cabin is roomy, friendly and functional. It can carry a load of people and a mountain of cargo. It can pull heavy trailers, up to 7700 pounds, or 8100 in the case of the more powerful Denali model. Third-row seats are available to increase Yukon's capacity to seven passengers, or up to nine if you order bench seats throughout. Yet Yukon will fit into a garage more easily than a Suburban or even an Expedition, both of which are longer.
The Yukon offers a nice ride and a choice of V8 engines, the largest of them with plenty of power for acceleration or towing. Yukon is smooth and stable on the road. Its advanced braking system works well. Turn off the highway and it handles gravel, rugged two-tracks, mud and snow. In any kind of driving, it's a great choice for someone who needs real carrying capacity.
Safety is enhanced by a tire-pressure monitor and sophisticated Hydroboost brakes. StabiliTrak electronic stability control is now available on all models, as is OnStar, upgraded for 2005 with enhanced hands-free capabilities. A new DVD-based touch-screen navigation system is also available.
The Yukon Denali is a luxury version that adds a sumptuous interior, a bigger engine (with even more power for 2005), and full-time all-wheel drive. It is a unique and desirable vehicle, offering power, luxury, and prestige that is not available in a Chevrolet Tahoe, but without the ostentatious flash of a Cadillac Escalade.
Yukon SLE ($35,635) and SLE 4WD ($38,160) come loaded with manual tri-zone air conditioning, a split-bench front seat with power adjustment for the driver, anti-lock brakes (ABS), self-leveling suspension, CD stereo with eight speakers, power windows, power door locks, fog lights, tinted glass, heated outside mirrors, leather wrapped steering wheel, and alarm. A 285-horsepower 4.8-liter V8 is standard; a 295-horsepower 5.3-liter V8 is optional ($700).
Yukon SLT ($38,165) and SLT 4WD ($41,865) add automatic tri-zone air conditioning, a premium Bose stereo with nine speakers and rear seat audio controls, high-back bucket seats with leather inserts, a floor console, and assist steps.
SLT Plus ($41,990) and SLT Plus 4WD ($44,690) upgrade the quality of the leather and add heat, memory, and more power adjustments to the front bucket seats. SLT Plus also features outside mirrors with ground illumination and turn signals (and electrochromic dimming on the driver's side), power-adjustable pedals, XM Satellite Radio, and more. The 5.3-liter V8 comes standard on SLT Plus.
Denali ($50,035) is the most upscale Yukon, and comes with a big 6.0-liter V8 engine, full-time all-wheel drive, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, side-impact airbags, and a computer-controlled AutoRide suspension. In fact, nearly every desirable feature is standard on Denali, including virtually all the luxuries of the SLT Plus.
A sunroof ($1,000) and an engine block heater ($35) are optional. The Trailering Group ($330) includes a seven-to-four-pin adapter and electric brake wiring harness, in addition to a hitch platform, transmission oil cooler, and high-capacity air cleaner. Six-spoke, 17-inch aluminum wheels ($295) are an option for all Yukons for 2005.
Yukon is conservatively styled. It looks like a shortened version of the Yukon XL, which looks like a fancy Suburban, which is what it is. Yukon's arched roofline provides extra headroom for the second- and third-row seats.
Denali is distinguished from other Yukons by its aftermarket-inspired chrome grille, projector-beam headlamps, body-color bumpers, round fog lights, unique side cladding, 17-inch chromed wheels, and chromed exhaust tips.
For 2005, all Yukons come with a station wagon-style rear hatch that lifts up to open. The rear window can be opened separately for quick loading or unloading of smaller items.
Less noticeable changes for 2005 include an extended front air dam with fewer unneeded openings, and more aerodynamically friendly running boards.
The Denali's leather upholstery looks and feels nice, and the shoulder harnesses fit well and are easy to wear because they are mounted on the seats. We sometimes had trouble getting comfortable in the big, cushy bucket seats, but owners seem to like them. Visibility out of the Yukon is very good, thanks to large windows.
Second-row seating is roomy and comfortable. Second-row bucket seats are an option ($490) in SLT and Denali, and we recommend them for buyers willing to give up a seating position. The bucket seats offer excellent support and can be adjusted individually. They almost feel more comfortable than the front seats.
Yukon's optional third-row seat provides space for adults' feet. It isn't a lot of space, but it is there. The third row folds, flips, slides and removes easily. In fact, whichever way you choose to stow the third row, it's easy to do; it even has wheels to help roll it into the garage for storage. Like most third rows, it's best for kids or occasional use. Getting into and out of that third-row seat isn't easy for adults. If you're going to put big people back there on a regular basis, we recommend the longer GMC Yukon XL or a minivan.
Up front, all of the switchgear and ancillary controls are mounted close to the driver. Climate controls and audio controls are easy to use yet are quite sophisticated in their operation. We enjoyed the Denali's Bose nine-speaker stereo with subwoofer. Rather than embedding the antenna in a window for fashion reasons, the Yukon uses an external antenna for improved radio reception.
The Panasonic DVD Passenger Entertainment System ($1,295) includes a seven-inch flip-down screen for second-seat passengers, plus two sets of wireless (infrared) headphones with independent volume control, a wireless remote control and three sets of auxiliary video and audio inputs. The wireless headphones are light and comfortable, and the display offers a crisp picture. Yukon buyers can choose to have both overhead DVD entertainment and a sunroof, which is not always the case in competitive vehicles, the Lexus LX 470 among them; in fact, Denali bundles the sunroof, DVD entertainment, and satellite navigation together as the Sun, Entertainment, and Destination Package ($3,290).
The DVD-based touch-screen navigation system, also available as a stand-alone option ($1,995), generates two and three-dimensional color maps on a 6.5-inch screen; it also provides audio commands.
Buttons for Homelink, which can open garage doors and gates, and turn on house lights; and for the new Gen 6 OnStar telematics system, are nicely integrated. GM's OnStar security and information service works well as a navigation system because there's nothing to program. Press the button and a human operator responds, to provide directions and other assistance. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. They will notify authorities of your location if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls. Or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. They can unlock your doors if you lock the keys inside. They can direct you to the nearest gas station or help find a good restaurant or motel. If your vehicle is stolen, OnStar can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend and recover. The latest Gen 6 version provides enhanced hands-free, voice-recognition capabilities, and more intuitive continuous digit dialing.
Safety starts with seat belts and is enhanced by dual-stage frontal airbags. Side-impact airbags are optional ($350) on SLE and SLT, standard on Denali. A tire-pressure monitoring system continuously checks inflation pressures in each of the four tires and flashes a graphic on the instrument cluster should air pressure in one of them drop below a specified level.
The Yukon is definitely a truck. It comes with a live rear axle supported by coil springs and located by five control links, an arrangement which provides a good compromise between ride/handling and cargo-carrying utility. Its front suspension is conventional in design, but uses torsion bars instead of coil springs to save space. Yukon's truck-like ladder frame is fully boxed in the mid-section for maximum rigidity, while the front and rear portions are shaped by hydroforming that allows for more design freedom and a more rigid frame. This rigid design is a key to the Yukon's excellent ride and handling. At the front of the frame is a section designed to crush and absorb impact in a crash.
Yukon Denali's AutoRide computer-controlled suspension helps keep it level over bumps. This benefit 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 combination of good visibility and confident handling give the Yukon an air of nimbleness in spite of its massive size and weight. The steering on all Yukons provides good control and feedback. It's a recirculating-ball system, however, which doesn't offer the response of the rack-and- pinion steering found on the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. On the other hand, recirculating-ball steering can provide better isolation than rack-and-pinion when driving on rough, unpaved roads.
Yukon's relatively tight 38.3-foot turning diameter makes it much easier to park than a Yukon XL, which takes another 4.7 feet of space to turn around. That makes a huge difference in the grocery store parking lot.
The brakes perform well. A dynamic proportioning system continuously balances the front and rear brakes for maximum effectiveness without activating the ABS. As a test, we towed a heavily laden horse trailer without trailer brakes and were impressed with the Yukon's braking ability. To reduce braking effort, GM's Hydroboost technology uses hydraulic pressure rather than engine vacuum; Hydroboost provides more power for high-deceleration stops, and improves ABS performance.
Under the hood, Yukons employ the latest heirs to Chevy's small-block V8 engine family. These Generation-3 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. All burn regular unleaded.
The popular 5.3-liter V8 offers impressive acceleration performance. Called the Vortec 5300, it's rated 295 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. GMC says fuel economy has been improved for 2005, thanks in part to the new dual, 200-watt electric cooling fans that replace the engine-driven fan used previously. The electric fans are quieter, too, and the radiator is now more efficient, and GMC says we should also expect improved air conditioning performance while stuck in traffic. Fuel economy estimates for the 2005 Yukon were not available at press time, but in the Chevrolet Tahoe this same engine managed 14/18 city/highway mpg with 2WD, 13/17 with 4WD. The smaller, 4.8-liter V8 develops 285 horsepower but considerably less torque: 295 pound-feet. And it uses nearly as much fuel, rating 14/18 mpg with two- or four-wheel drive.
For 2005, the big 6.0-liter V8 that comes with the Denali cranks out 335 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque, thanks to better-breathing cylinder heads and refinements to the fuel injection and spark-timing calibrations. GMC says fuel economy is also improved.
Two-wheel-drive Yukons come standard with electronic traction control, and the optional limited-slip rear differential further improves traction in slippery conditions. Using the winter start feature on the automatic transmission helps get the Yukon rolling without wheel spin on snow or ice by starting it off in second gear.
StabiliTrak, which is what GM calls its electronic stability control system, offers greater safety and handling stability on slippery surfaces. It comes standard on Denali but is also available on Yukons, both 2WD ($555) and 4WD ($750). StabiliTrak measures where the driver is steering against where the truck is actually heading and, when necessary, reduces engine torque or selectively applies the brakes to one or more wheels to correct the Yukon's path. In short, StabiliTrak can help keep you from going off the road if you remember to steer where you want to go. The combination of StabiliTrak, its traction control function, and the limited-slip rear differential greatly improve the capability of 2WD models in slippery conditions; the limited-slip is standard with Stabilitrak on 2005 models.
It seems a shame to pass on the four-wheel-drive system, however, especially where winter brings snow. Four-wheel-drive Yukons rely on a traditional part-time 4WD system, but with somewhat sophisticated electronic control called Autotrac. Press the 4HI button when standard four-wheel drive is needed for driving off-road or on roads covered with snow and ice. You may never need the 4LO setting, but it's invaluable when creeping through deep sand, deep mud, deep snow, or up and down steep grades.
More typical are those wintry days when conditions are fluctuating and the roads are a mixture of ice, snow and wet pavement. When this happens, hit the Auto 4WD button, and the Autotrac all-wheel-drive system automatically transfers power from a slipping wheel to the wheels with the best traction. Autotrac also works well in pouring rain and on gravel roads.
Yukon Denali comes with full-time all-wheel drive, relying on an open center differential and a front/rear torque split of 40/60 for yaw stability. StabiliTrak is standard on Denali, and combined with Denali's full-time all-wheel drive helps maintain good traction in changing conditions. It's also a good system for snow, ice, heavy rain, dirt, and gravel.
All Yukons come equipped to accept a lighting plug for trailer towing, and have provisions for easily connecting a trailer brake controller. All have a Tow/Haul mode for the automatic transmission that reduces wear when pulling a trailer through hilly terrain. Pressing the Tow/Haul switch on the end of the shifter reduces the tendency of the transmission to hunt back and forth between third and fourth gears. When the transmission does shift, it shifts more quickly, reducing heat buildup for improved durability and reliability. Even when not towing, we sometimes like to use the Tow/Haul mode for crisper shifting on mountainous roads.
The Denali works particularly well for towing. The bigger engine helps pull trailers up long grades, while the all-wheel-drive system is just the ticket for pulling a boat trailer up a slippery boat ramp. For drivers' peace of mind while towing, the Denali features a transmission temperature gauge, so you can be confident that you are not cooking the gearbox while pulling a trailer up a hill. Denali's heavy-duty M32 automatic transmission is made with hardened parts to withstand the extra power of the 6.0-liter engine.
The Denali is very luxurious, yet a little more affordable and a lot more subtly styled than the Cadillac Escalade. The Yukon Denali's styling is traditional and understated. 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
GMC Yukon Denali ($50,035)
3 years/36,000 miles
Janesville, Wisconsin; Arlington, Texas
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
Model Line Overview
GMC Yukon 2WD SLE ($35,635); 2WD SLT ($38,165); 2WD SLT Plus ($41,990); 4WD SLE ($38,160); 4WD SLT ($41,865); 4WD SLT Plus ($44,690); Denali AWD ($50,035)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual-stage front air bags, four-wheel ABS with dynamic brake proportioning, traction control (2WD only)
Safety equipment (optional)
6.0-liter ohv V8
Specifications as Tested
tri-zone electronic climate control, cruise control, rear defogger, power door locks, leather seating surfaces, nine-speaker Bose 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
6.0-liter ohv V8
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
335 @ 5200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
live axle, upper and lower trailing links, Panhard rod, coil springs, automatic load leveling
independent, upper and lower control arms, torsion bars, anti-roll bar
live axle, upper and lower trailing links, Panhard rod, coil springs, automatic load leveling
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear
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