Because no one else makes anything like either.
Oh, nominally, there’s the Lincoln Navigator. Which is similarly big on the outside. But it is very small under the hood: V6-only since last year. The Cadillac comes standard with (and the GMC offers) a colossal 6.2 liter V8 that makes 420 hp Corvette-sourced horsepower vs. the in-need-of-the-little-blue-pill Lincoln’s 3.5 liters and 365 hp.
But why buy the GMC over the Cadillac?
The GMC is also less of a polarizing presence.
The Climate Change Crowd will still hate you for owning a Yukon, but having an Escalade in your driveway is like inviting Trump to your dinner party.
Both are a little hard to ignore.
WHAT IT IS
The Yukon is the GMC version of GM’s plus-sized SUV. It’s more luxurious (and more expensive) than the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban on which it’s based – but not quite as luxurious (or nearly as expensive) as the Cadillac Escalade (which is also based on the Tahoe/Suburban).
It comes in big and really big (XL, literally) sizes – like the Cadillac (ESV). The standard wheelbase model being based on the Tahoe and the extended wheelbase version being based on the Suburban.
One of the chief differences between the Yukon and the Tahoe/Suburban – and a commonality it shares with the Cadillac – is that you can get it with that mondo 6.2 liter, 420 hp V8 paired with an eight-speed transmission. This combo is not available in the mere Chevy (it’s standard equipment in the Cadillac).
Starting price is $48,165 for the standard wheelbase Yukon with the smaller 5.3 liter V8 and RWD. A top-of-the-line Denali trim with the 6.2 V8/eight-speed automatic and 4WD lists for $68,045.
Its ritzier sister ship – the Escalade – starts at $72,979 for the regular wheelbase version and from there ascends to $94,950 for an ESV Platinum trim.
The only non-GM model that’s somewhat similar (and also comes in standard and long-wheelbase versions) is the Lincoln Navigator, which starts at $63,090 for the regular wheelbase Select.
A long-wheelbase L Reserve trim starts at $76,540.
AppleCarPlay capability has been added to the IntelliLink smartphone integration system and the optional Driver Alert Package now includes Lane Keep Assist and automatic high-beam control. A power (and hands-free) liftgate is standard on SLT and higher trims and all Yukons get capless fuel fill.
Also, the third row now folds flat – power actuated on Denalis.
Denali trims are Cadillacs in all but name … and price.
Available in two lengths (unlike the import-brand large SUVs).
Available with either of two V8s (vs. the Navigator’s one V6).
Large (eight inch) and easy to use touchscreen in Denali, with secondary knobs and buttons that are superior, in terms of function, to the Caddy’s slick-looking but slippery to use “haptic” tap/slide microwave oven-style controls.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Yukon Denali – with the 6.2 V8 – tows 200 pounds less than a less-fancy Yukon (no Denali) without the 6.2 V8.
Both tow less (8,300 and 8,100 lbs.. max, respectively) than the V6-only Lincoln Navigator (8,600 lbs.)
The base 5.3 V8 comes paired with a less-efficient six-speed automatic.
To get the 6.2 V8 (and with it, the more efficient eight-speed automatic) you have to get the Denali trim (starting price, $65,045 for a 2WD/regular wheelbase version) which is a $16,880 jump from the base SLE trim’s MSRP.
The Yukon being midway between a Tahoe and an Escalade, it offers both engines. The one that comes standard in the Chevy – and the one that’s standard in the Cadillac (and not available in the Chevy).
Both are aluminum block/head engines with direct (rather than port fuel) injection and variable valve timing, as well as cylinder deactivation technology – but they’re still fundamentally the same tried-and-true overhead valve/pushrod designs that GM has been massaging since 1955.
This is a good thing.
Others (Ford) have gone with overhead cam designs or turbos – or both – which involve more parts, more complexity and (at least potentially) more expensive repairs when something needs fixing. Despite all that, none of them can match the power – or the fuel efficiency – of GM’s “simpler” V8s.
Base trims come with the same 5.3 liter V8 used in the Tahoe, making the same (rated) 355 hp and 383 ft.-lbs. of torque. The 5.3 engine is paired with a six-speed automatic and your pick of RWD or 4WD (electric-select).
This combo will get a Yukon to 60 in about 7.2-7.3 seconds, a quick time for a huge SUV that weighs 5,536 lbs. (and that’s the regular wheelbase model). Indeed, the 5.3 V8 is strong enough that it’s also standard in the longer wheelbase (XL) version of the Yukon. GMC does not make you buy the optional 6.2 V8 because it’s not necessary to buy it.
That engine makes 420 hp and 460 ft.-lbs. of torque, strongest in class. It also knocks a second off the zero to 60 time.
The 6.2 is standard equipment in the Denali, both wheelbases.
Notably, the 6.2 V8’s superior performance doesn’t cost much in the way of dramatically higher fuel bills. EPA rates the 2WD Denali (with the 6.2) as capable of delivering 15 city, 22 highway. The 5.3 equipped Yukon (also w/2WD) rates 16 city, 23 highway – a negligible difference.
Probably, this is because the 6.2 V8 is paired with GM’s new eight-speed automatic, which is more efficient than the six-speed box used behind the 5.3 V8.
The downside – already mentioned – is that to get the eight-speed, you have to buy the 6.2 V8, and to get the 6.2 V8 you have to buy the Denali.
Interesting – and despite its (by far) class-leading horsepower (with the 6.2 V8) the Yukon is not the big Kahuna when it comes to towing. That honor goes to the Lincoln Navigator – despite the fact that it doesn’t come with a V8 or offer one, either. The Lincoln comes only with Ford’s twin-turbo’d “EcoBoost” 3.5 liter V6, which makes 365 hp and 420 ft.-lbs. of torque. It’s not as much torque as the GMC 6.2 V8 makes, but the Lincoln’s twice-turbo’d six develops its peak output at just 2,500 RPM vs. 4,100 RPM for the GMC. This probably accounts for the Lincoln’s class-best maximum tow rating of 8,600 lbs.
The GMC maxes out at 8,300 lbs.
However, the Lincoln’s not nearly as quick as the 6.2-equipped GMC and notwithstanding that it’s only got six rather than eight cylinders and about half the displacement, the V6 Lincoln’s gas mileage is still just 16 city, 22 highway, virtually the same as the 6.2 Yukon Denali and slightly worse than the 5.3 equipped Yukon (16 city, 23 highway). It’s a head-scratcher why Ford decided to go with that elaborate – and potentially big bucks to fix – twice-turbo’d V6 given there’s virtually no fuel efficiency advantage vs. a V8.
It should also be kept in mind that the Lincoln’s base price ($63,090) is nearly what you’d pay to get into a Yukon Denali with the 6.2 V8 and considerably more than you’d spend on a regular Yukon with the 5.3 V8 (which is already stronger than the Lincoln’s turbo V6 and slightly more fuel-efficient).
This is a big rig – but not unmanageably so.
In part because it’s really not that big.
At least, not by “in The Woods” (rural country) standards. My friend has a 1500 series Ram truck, crew cab, long bed. That thing is actually slightly longer overall than the Denali XL I test drove (which is 224.3 inches long, bumper to bumper – vs. 203.9 inches for the regular wheelbase model). Her rig is also taller, which enhances the feeling of being bigger.
The GMC is 74.4 inches off the pavement. For some sense of that, a Ram 1500 pick-up like my friend’s stands about three inches higher.
The GMC’s lower profile also helps high-speed handling. It is more aerodynamically slippery than the Navigator and – in the curves – less prone to feeling tipsy because its center of mass is hunkered down closer to the earth.
Also – and this is kind of surprising – the Denali’s turning circle (43 feet) is only slightly more Queen Mary-like than the much smaller Chevy Equinox’s (40 feet) I test drove a few weeks ago.
The Navigator’s is even tighter – just 39 feet (less than the Equinox’s).
But it’s the explosive acceleration of the Yukon (especially when ordered in Denali trim, with the 6.2 V8) that puts distance between it and the Navigator. And which also makes you feel good about what you spent vs. both the Tahoe and the Escalade.
The 5.3 Tahoe will run with the Navigator – which ought to make Lincoln feel ashamed (given what they charge for the thing). But the 6.2 Yukon runs with the 6.2 Escalade – which maybe ought to make Cadillac feel bad about what they charge for the thing. I I’d expect my $72k Cadillac to be able to outrun my neighbor’s $65k GMC.
But it won’t. They are exactly matched, engine-wise.
And having driven both, I will tell you that the GMC version rides better – because it’s not shod with those trendy but functionally stupid 20-inch ree-ums that the base trim Cadillac comes with. Even with the fancy magnetic ride control system, there’s going to be a trade-off when you have wheels that tall mounting tires with hardly any sidewalls at all.
Rap Star Rims. It’s an idea that deserves to be thrown in the woods.
GMC is the last of the Mohicans – so to speak.
Ford dropped Mercury. No one else still has a not-quite luxury line that’s a step up from their bread-and-butter-line.
That’s GMC’s role. You want something that’s nicer than a Chevy? But doesn’t cost as much as a Caddy? Well, here you go.
But it goes deeper than price – and appearance. There are some significant functional differences between the GMC and its flashier Caddy cousin. One of the most notable of these is the wheel/tire packages that come with each. The Yukon comes standard with eighteen-inch wheels and tires while the Escalade comes with those god-awful twennies … gnomesayin’?
The former is what you want if you want to use the truck for things that trucks are generally useful for, like bullying through mud or up a washed out gravel road, as out here in The Woods. The latter is what you want if, primarily, you are interested in “bling” – and how the thing looks.
If you think such looks good.
You can get those twennies on the Denali if you want ’em (and don’t mind the reduced capability and the harsher ride) that go with but it’s interesting that they’re not standard Yukon equipment while the Caddy comes only with them – and offers even larger (22 inch) ree-ums.
Another major point of departure is the GMC’s gauge cluster and secondary controls. Instead of the Caddy’s microwave oven-style flat panel (and swipe/tap “haptic” controls) there are mostly conventional knobs and buttons for accessories such as the AC. These are much more straightforward, much easier to use, than the Caddy’s controls.
The Yukon is still a very nice rig, however – and the Denali version has almost everything, features and amenities-wise, that you’d find in the Cadillac – including the same magnetic ride auto-adjusting suspension, 10 speaker Bose surround-sound audio rig, Xenon HID headlights and a configurable instrument cluster plus the eight-inch LCD gauge display in the center stack (which opens and closes electrically to reveal a hidden storage cubby).
You can add a sunroof and heads-up display – just like the Escalade’s. One of the few notable differences is the GMC’s rearseat DVD entertainment system has two drop-down screens hanging from the headliner vs. the individual monitors built into the seatbacks you get in the Caddy.
Also, the Escalade offers power-folding running boards (Navigator does, too).
Is it worth another $16k? You tell me!
All trims come with GM’s 4G in-car WiFi – a neat feature that eliminates the need to search out a Starbucks to get online. Heavy-duty trailer packages are available that include a load-leveling system and electronic trailer brake, as well as HD cooling and different final drive ratios.
By adding the flat-folding third row, GMC (and Cadillac) sacrificed about 16 cubic feet of total cargo capacity, but the interior space is still Hindenburgian: The XL has almost 40 cubic feet (38.9) of cargo capacity behind the third row (or about three times the space you’d have available in a typical mid-sized sedan) and 121.1 cubic feet with the first and second rows folded.
You want a cross-country bus? This is the one. Lay the first and second rows flat, throw a queen sized mattress back there (yes, it’ll fit) and then take turns driving and sleeping, stopping only to pee and fill up. Which – another surprise – you will do less often than you might expect. The XL has a 31 gallon fuel bunker (“tank” hardly seems adequate) and it’ll go 713 miles before it’s empty. That’s farther than a Prius hybrid will travel on a full tank and – trust me – a 6.2 Denali is a lot more fun to drive. No sad sounds when you floor it. And if you hit anything, you will win.
With gas holding at around $2 a gallon, it doesn’t even cost that much to fill the thing up, either.
Enjoy while you still can.
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