By Don Fuller, Contributing Editor
KBB Expert Rating: 9.0
Among full-size SUVs nothing stands above the GMC Yukon, not in its combination of size, power, luxury, capabilities and commanding presence. Available in Yukon and the longer Yukon XL, and in trim levels of SLE, fully-outfitted SLT and range-topping Denali, the Yukon gets its top billing the old-fashioned way: It earned it. If you need any more convincing, consider the Denali. It retains its unmatched 6.2-liter 420-horsepower V8 and adds an astonishing level of comfort, convenience, luxury and technology features; there has never been a full-size SUV quite like this. And the customers agree, with about 60 percent of Yukon buyers being seduced by the Denali’s undeniable charms. If you’re looking for the top of the SUV category, this is it.
Forget all the undeniable attributes, of which there are many; very few people actually need something as all-conquering and capable as the 2016 Yukon. But, for those who like to minimize compromises, the Yukon, Yukon XL and Denali models are as close to compromise exterminators as it gets.
GMC’s Yukon is really big, not for the budget-minded, difficult to maneuver in tight spots and uses gas. It should be pretty clear if this vehicle is a good choice for you – or not.
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With such a complete makeover last year, GMC sends the Yukon into 2016 with only minimal additions. There’s an enhanced GMC IntelliLink system with Apple CarPlay capability, an updated Driver Alert Package, an enhanced Security Package, a hands-free liftgate (standard on the SLT), and there are some new colors.
Considering the Yukon XL weighs in the neighborhood of three tons, the driving experience is not at all “truck-like” but feels more like a luxury car that...
... just happens to be really big. The engineers have shown that science works, and the Yukon delivers a quiet, even posh ride quality along with steering feel and handling response that are way beyond expectations. In SLE and SLT trim levels the Yukon is the mechanical twin of the Chevrolet Suburban, with a 5.3-liter V8 of 355 horsepower. But the Denali makes a huge jump with the 6.2-liter V8 of 420 horsepower, and Magnetic Ride Control, with shock absorbers that continually monitor road conditions and adjust themselves accordingly. Inside, it’s all luxury, all the time. Added up, the 2016 Yukon is a great ride, whether winding through the mountains to that weekend cabin or pulling a big trailer from sunrise to sunset.
Okay, so all upper-end SUVs have nice interiors and offer acres of leather. But the new Yukon Denali’s sumptuous inside takes a back seat to nobody. It’s stylish, pleasing, accommodating, comfortable and versatile, and tells the occupants they should feel glad to be here.
Standard in the Yukon Denali is GM’s prodigious 6.2-liter V8. With 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, it takes no guff from any road or load. Sure, it’s not easy on gas, but there may not be a more capable, proven powerplant in any SUV on the market.
Stepping inside the 2016 GMC Yukon, particularly the Denali, will quickly inform the owner that this purchase was money well spent. The artful and flowing shapes are enticing, materials are first-rate, the control layout is easily accommodating and detailing is impeccable. The seats look invitingly comfortable and are, and the second row offers space for full-size adults. In the Yukon the third row is best for the kids but, in the longer XL, there’s room for grown-ups. Those 3rd-row seats fold flat into the floor, for more cargo space. The Ford, Nissan and Toyota competitors are arguing over second place.
For years GMC SUVs have been styled as if they were passenger-carrying versions of the brand’s Sierra pickups. No more. Thankfully, the Yukon gets its own face, and a bold one it is. The non-Denali and Denali models share the same sheetmetal, but Denali versions have an upscale chrome mesh grille. For all Yukons, it’s an in-your-face look that will not be mistaken in the corporate officers’ parking lot, and a good dose of chrome adds the scent of money.
The base 2016 GMC Yukon SLE offers more standard features than the Chevy Tahoe LS, but it’s also more expensive. The standard-equipment list on all Yukons includes front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, and IntelliLink, with an 8-inch-diagonal touch screen, AM/FM/SiriusXM, Bluetooth streaming audio and a host of other features. The SLT adds leather seats, power-folding 2nd- and 3rd-row seats, the Enhanced Security Package, a hands-free liftgate and numerous convenience items. The Denali adds the 6.2-liter V8, an upgraded interior and exterior trim, Magnetic Ride Control and no small amount of on-road respect.
The new Yukon is one of the few vehicles still available with a front bench seat, giving nine seating positions. Yukon XL models are available with the Open Road Package, at $3,355, which includes navigation, rear-seat entertainment, a power sunroof and additional SiriusXM service; the sunroof by itself is $995. For $3,165 the Denali offers a Premium Package, which includes a Head Up Display, illuminated power-retractable assist steps and Adaptive Cruise Control with front automatic braking. The rear-seat DVD entertainment system as a stand-alone option is $2,095. There is also a wide selection of wheels, up to 22 inches.
As standard equipment 2016 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL models have a 5.3-liter V8 of 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The highly appealing Denali has a take-no-prisoners 6.2-liter V8 of 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Both engines feature the efficiency benefits of direct gasoline injection and Active Cylinder Management, which seamlessly shuts off half the cylinders during steady cruising. Even with these efficiency-enhancing technologies, all Yukons are big vehicles and, therefore, are decidedly not gas-savers. Still, the engines are strong, capable and well-proven, and will get the jobs done. All Yukons and Denalis can be 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive (2WD, 4WD), the latter with an off-road-appropriate low range.
355 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
383 lb-ft of torque @ 4,100 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/23 mpg (2WD), 15/22 mpg (4WD)
420 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
460 lb-ft of torque @ 4,100 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 15/21 mpg (2WD), 14/21 mpg (4WD), 14/20 mpg (4WD XL)
The base SLE 2016 Yukon starts with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) around $49,000, the comprehensively equipped SLT is over $57,000 and the Denali is near $66,000. For XL models the SLE starts just under $52,000, the SLT is slightly over $60,000 and the Denali is over $68,000. Four-wheel drive (4WD) is $3,000. In all cases, options can push final prices way up there. These prices are above those for competitors from Ford, Nissan and Toyota but, the truth is, those alternatives are only marginal competition for the Yukon. In any case, before signing the deal, check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for the 2016 GMC Yukon. In resale value the Yukon has historically been on par with the Ford Expedition and Nissan Armada and slightly below the Toyota Sequoia, but the 2016 Yukon just might change that.