GM dropped off its latest Yukon SLT in our garage earlier today, and I managed to squeeze the huge SUV out of its parking spot for a first impressions ride around town. Did I mention that the Yukon is huge? It is huge. More than 200 inches long (that's around 17 feet in metric) and over six feet tall, the Yukon provides a commanding driving position and plenty of interior space for five people.
Around town the Yukon feels more utilitarian than sporty. Our 5.3-liter V-8 test model is two-wheel drive, which means that we won't be taking it on the kind of off-road trails you see on all the GM television commercials (a four-wheel-drive option is available for an extra $2,800). Despite the fact that the 16-valve four-speed automatic Vortec engine can conjure up 320 horsepower at 5,200rpm, the Yukon is about as responsive as a battleship when called into action to change lanes or merge with traffic. GM deserves tech kudos, however, for the engine's active fuel management system, which enables the engine to operate on only half of its cylinders (that is, four) when full power is not needed. According to the General, this can improve efficiency by as much as 12 percent in some vehicles, and while 12 percent of 16mpg (the Yukon's city EPA rating) is not a lot, it's a start. Also in the Vortec's ecofavor is its ability to run on flex fuel, a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
The Yukon's nautical experience continues when turning corners or pulling to a stop as excessive body roll and dive made us feel like we were on a fishing trawler at high tide. Ride softness on the Yukon is due to its premium smooth ride-suspension package (which comes as standard), and while it has a tendency to induce seasickness when handling, the upside is a very smooth ride over potholes and highway expansion joints.
All fishing-boat analogies end, however, in the cabin. The SLT is the middle of the Yukon range with the SLE below and the high-end Denali above, and our test car included an impressive range of onboard confort and tech, including leather appointments, trizone climate control, rear-parking assist, and an MP3-compatible six-disc CD changer. Our car had the optional DVD-based navigation and MP3-compatible CD/DVD player package, which adds an LCD information screen, through which the driver can also control the audio system. The nav/audio interface was the same as the one we liked so much in the 2007 Cadillac Escalade and gave us a number of options to configure maps and music information. Touch-screen functionality means that the navigation system is relatively straightforward to program, although, for some reason, our car's default was for entry of addresses by cross street rather than by street number, which took some time to remedy. The navigation system provides turn-by-turn voice commands and was moderately quick to recalibrate (with a whir of the in-dash DVD) when we went astray.
In addition to the upgraded navigation system, our Yukon included the Bose luxury speaker system ($495), complete with a subwoofer in the center console. Sound quality from through the upgraded system was clear and robust at all ranges, and we liked the EQ schematic screen on the LCD that allowed us to configure the speakers to localize sound for optimum acoustics. Also to our liking is the fact that the display provides full MP3 ID3-tag information (folder, artist, track) and an auxiliary input jack in the front of the head unit, which allowed us to plug in our Creative Zen MP3 player. Interestingly, the LCD touch-screen interface would not allow us to switch the audio source to auxiliary when the vehicle was in motion, presumably due to the fiddling required to plug in an external device. In addition to the touch screen and the hard buttons in the head unit, the stereo can be operated with buttons--including source, track, and volume--mounted on the steering wheel.
Our test model did not come with satellite radio, but XM is available as an option on the SLT. For those in the backseats, a separate interface mounted in the rear console, complete with auxiliary-input jack and video-in ports, allows rear passengers to control their own media. The other main tech option on our test model was a ceiling-mounted rear-seat DVD entertainment system, which can be had for an additional $1,295 and which comes with two sets of wireless headphones.
With options, our test car rings in at just under $44,000, which looks competitive when set against the 2007 Escalade, which comes with most of the same features and costs 50 percent more.