After I started this article, it sat languishing unfinished for quite awhile as other priorities came along. I decided to revisit it and finally hit the Submit button after reading the recent article in praise of the 2000 Chevy Suburban. I’m a little late for this to be a “new vehicle” review since the Yukon was updated for the 2015 model year.
About a year ago now, in the spring of 2014, I had the opportunity to drive a 2014 GMC Yukon for three weeks. It’s not often that I drive a vehicle that doesn’t personally belong to me or my wife, much less for such a long term. I decided to write a review of it compared to our other vehicles.
I was renting the Yukon because my 1994 Dodge RAM2500 with Cummins turbo-diesel (CC here) was in the bodyshop. We had a major ice storm in the winter of 2013-14, and a fallen tree branch caused some minor damage to the roof, hood and windshield. I was hopeful to get a new RAM1500 pickup as a rental, but unfortunately there were none available.
The 2014 Yukon was the last model year of a 7-year design cycle. I found this Yukon looks extremely nondescript; the metallic beige paint doesn’t help either. I much prefer the looks of the previous 2000-06 iteration Yukon, or the next generation Yukon that followed this, or even our 2006 Honda CR-V.
The driver’s seat in the Yukon is quite possibly the most comfortable vehicle seat I’ve ever sat in. Some living room furniture isn’t this good. The seats in our CR-V could possibly feel this comfortable IF they were wider. The armrest in the door and the center console are also at the right height and distance to rest my elbows on comfortably. Initially I felt that the steering wheel was too far away, and was disappointed that the column does not telescope (it only tilts). I got used to it after a few days and found a comfortable way to hold the wheel.
Even when the driver’s seat is adjusted for me, there is still adequate room for another adult to sit behind me in the second row. The middle bench seat has child seat LATCH anchors provided for two seats, the middle and passenger positions. I found the lack of LATCH anchors behind the driver’s seat cumbersome. We installed my daughter’s carseat in the middle location. I have to climb right in to buckle her into the seat.
My son is of booster-seat age. I figured he would enjoy the novelty of riding in the third row, and I was right. The first time he rode in the Yukon, he announced, “When I grow up, I’m buying one of these!” The third row only seems suitable for kids, as it is awkward to climb into and the seat is located right on the floor, with no footwell.
After a trip to Costco, we also found that there was barely room to put our purchases behind the back seat. We flipped one half of the seat down to make room, and our son was surrounded by groceries. If you need three rows of seats AND cargo room at the same time, you’d be better served by the longer Yukon XL/Suburban instead. We like to go on tent camping vacations, and I think I would’ve been disappointed trying to pack all of our gear into this truck.
New SUVs all seem to be designed with a back door that lifts like a minivan. I much prefer barn doors like my old fullsize van had, or a single door that swings to the side like our 2006 CR-V. The large lift-door strikes me as the worst option if one ever needs to carry something oversize that hangs out the back and the door doesn’t fully close. Also, eventually the gas shocks in a lift-door will fail and need to be replaced, like the cap on my pickup, except the big door would be heavy to hold up. I’ll admit that I’m also biased against lift-doors because, when I was a kid, I accidentally slammed my little brother’s hand in the back door of our parents’ Aerostar.
Visibility from the drivers seat is comparable to my pickup and the CR-V. There are no unexpected blind spots and piloting the Yukon feels fairly natural to me. The factory stereo is nice, and I briefly longed for the steering wheel mounted radio station and volume controls after getting back into my own truck. However the Yukon’s HVAC controls are located down low on the center stack, and the center armrest gets in the way when trying to adjust them.
The armrest is quite long because there are three cupholders in the end of it. In addition to those three cupholders, there is also another cupholder built into the door panel, and lots more cupholders for the passengers in the rear as well. The Yukon handily beats all of our vehicles in cupholder availability.
While it’s easy to mock new vehicles for having so many cupholders, the cupholders in our own vehicles are frankly not very good. The two cupholders in my Dodge pickup pull out of the dashboard, and do not support a cup very well. More than once has my travel mug gone sailing out and into the passenger-side footwell where I couldn’t reach it. The CR-V has two cupholders for front seat occupants, placed by your inboard elbow where they are both difficult to use and making shifting the manual transmission awkward. My big old Chryslers don’t have cupholders, but drinking or eating in those cars is verboten anyhow, so it’s a moot point.
This Yukon is equipped with a V8 with cylinder deactivation, mated to a 6-speed automatic. The engine seems competent and switches seamlessly between V4 and V8 modes. The truck moves out briskly when flogged, but when you’re pushing it hard there’s sometimes a disturbing amount of preignition rattle from the engine just before it upshifts. Other than that, I found the engine disconcertingly quiet compared to my noisy Cummins, my Chryslers and even the CR-V. Most of the time, I can barely hear the engine in this truck even with the windows open. I like to hear a little exhaust rumble when there’s a V8 connected to my right foot.
Coming off idle from a stop, I never could get used to the tip-in of the (drive by wire) throttle: nothing… nothing… nothing… GO! I believe this is a common complaint among modern vehicles with electronic throttle control. Our CR-V also has electronic throttle however, and I’ve never had cause to complain about it. Perhaps it’s programmed to respond differently because the CR-V has a manual transmission; or else Honda simply did drive-by-wire better than GM.
Once underway, the electronically controlled 6-speed transmission really kills the driving experience. It’s always trying to upshift as soon as possible to get the revs down and improve fuel economy. While it is very comfortable driving on the highway, in any other driving condition the transmission is disappointing. Acceleration is glacial until you press the pedal far enough for a downshift, and there is no engine braking whatsoever when coasting.
I experimented by putting the shifter into manual mode and limiting the top gear to 5th. The notable drawback is that manual mode disables cylinder deactivation, so the engine never goes into the fuel-saving 4-cylinder operating state. And unlike some sportier GM products (and the new 8-speed in the RAM1500), the manual gear up/down buttons can’t be used to force a temporarily downshift when the shifter isn’t in manual mode. Ultimately I found that engaging tow/haul mode when driving around town was the best compromise.
I had an opportunity to drive a familiar road with many short hills, with the cruise control set at about 90km/h (55MPH). On many of the hills, the truck slowed down noticeably as it ascended, then dropped a gear and rocketed up over the crest of the hill, blasting through the speed setpoint before coasting back to the desired speed, only to repeat the cycle moments later on the next hill. It was bad enough in one section that my wife commented, “Are you doing that or is the truck doing it by itself? It’s going to make me carsick.”
There is something wrong when a V8-powered truck can’t take minor hills without better composure. They described a similar problem road-testing the Corvette in the book “All Corvettes Are Red”, which the engineers corrected through software tweaking. Wish those engineers had taken this truck for a drive too!
My average fuel mileage was 14.8L/100km (15.9 MPG-US) according to the trip computer. The reported average fuel usage was 14.7L/100km when I initially drove off the rental company lot, so I’d presume that my results are fairly typical, despite my experimentation and occasional jackrabbit starts. Most of my driving was commuting to work, which is a mix of stop-and-go with highway sections having a 50MPH speed limit.
It’s not too surprising that the suspension is tuned to give a car-like ride, given the typical use of these SUVs. It takes train tracks, potholes, rough roads and sudden steering input with aplomb closer to my big old Chryslers than the stiff ride of my pickup truck. The steering is completely numb but precise, and easy to get used to. Considering what I normally drive, I have no cause to complain about the steering at all. Being able to steer with two fingers on the wheel is a win in my books.
I didn’t get an opportunity to play with the four wheel drive system. I’m not a 4WD fanatic, and if I bought something like this for myself, I think I’d prefer if it was strictly rear wheel drive. Unfortunately, I also didn’t have cause to tow anything with the Yukon. I presume that the fuel mileage would take a significant hit, a definite advantage of my diesel pickup. My brother drove a similar truck to this and said that simply towing an empty car dolly on the highway adds enough resistance that the engine never enters cylinder deactivation mode. (He also had other choice words about the cylinder deactivation system; the reason he had the truck was to repair it.)
The Yukon had some good points and some bad points. While it was fun trying something new, I was mostly relieved to get my own truck back. There was a growing number of things on my to-do list which warranted a pickup truck. I probably wouldn’t migrate to an SUV for a future vehicle purchase, but when I eventually buy another pickup however, it will be a crew cab.