2015 GMC Yukon XL

By March 25, 2015

The GMC Yukon XL is for the active group who wants full-size utility: adult-passenger room in three rows of seats, generous cargo capacity, towing ability. Four-wheel drive is available for rugged terrain and wintry conditions. Denali models are luxuriously equipped.

Yukon XL is a longer version of the GMC Yukon, a relationship it shares with the Chevrolet Suburban, Cadillac ESV, Ford Expedition EL, and Lincoln Navigator L. Yukon XL doesn’t tow any more than a regular Yukon but third-row room and cargo space improve notably and the longer wheelbase doesn’t hurt in terms of towing stability.

15-yukonxlFor 2015, Yukon XL is all-new. Some bits look familiar but everything has been redesigned, re-engineered or re-imagined. Both 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter engines are new, more powerful and more efficient, the latter paired to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. All Yukon XL models are available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

Interiors have moved further upscale, and the new Yukon XL is very quiet, with less emphasis on four-wheel-drive utility than the original Yukons. New features include a head-up display, lane departure and forward-collision warnings, a vibrating seat alert, seven airbags in the front row, and wi-fi hotspot. Denali versions have a unique suspension and a hands-free power liftgate.

Yukon XL has seats for 7-9 people and cargo space behind them equal to three sedan trunks. It can carry 1400-1650 pounds of people, gear and trailer-ball weight, and tow a three-ton trailer behind all that. Denali tow ratings are slightly lower but they have more power.

The 5.3-liter V8 makes 355 horsepower smoothly, more than sufficient to move truck and moderate trailer down the road with ease. EPA ratings for a 4WD model are 15/22 mpg City/Highway, but who drives a Yukon XL empty? Denali’s 6.2-liter V8 delivers 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft of torque and rates 14/20 with four-wheel drive. Two-wheel-drive versions get one mile per gallon better.

Denali bridges the gap between Yukon and Cadillac Escalade but shop carefully. Escalade ESV’s greater feature content can push it near $100,000, while a Denali XL is nicely equipped at $80,000. And some options that appear identical cost more on the Denali XL than they did on the Yukon XL.

Yukon XL’s primary competitors are the roomier Ford Expedition EL, the Suburban, and the Toyota Sequoia. Yukon Denali XL better matches up against Lincoln Navigator L, Cadillac Escalade ESV, Lexus LX 570, Infiniti QX80, and Mercedes GL-Class.

If you have no trailer to pull or don’t need four-wheel drive and rugged chassis, then you might be better served by a luxury van or, if cargo room isn’t paramount, a crossover such as the GMC Acadia.

However, we think if you need any one or all of those attributes beyond rocky trails, we recommend the Yukon XL over the regular Yukon. Yes, it’s 19 inches longer but still well less than a 20-foot garage, it requires only four feet more roadway to make a U-turn and offers adult third-row room, more than twice the luggage capacity behind it and more cruising range. For one mile per gallon and $3,000 we’d consider that a worthwhile tradeoff.

Model Lineup

The 2015 Yukon XL comes with a 355-hp 5.3-liter V8, 6-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Autotrac all-wheel drive adds $3000; four-wheel drive with low-range is part of a $650 HD trailering package. (The 2500-series version is no longer available.)

Yukon XL SLE ($49,630) comes with cloth upholstery, three-zone climate control, front bucket seats, 60/40 folding second/third row bench seats, leather wrapped tilt steering wheel, locking differential, Class IV tow hitch and 7-pin plug, 18-inch alloy wheels (full-size 17-inch spare), side steps, fog lamps, heated power mirrors, remote entry and start, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers, front/rear park sensors, AM/FM/CD/HD/SiriusXM/Pandora Bose audio system, Bluetooth, IntelliLink and OnStar with 4G LTE, 5xUSB and aux inputs, 4.2-inch color driver display, 110VAC outlet (150-w) and 2-year/24,000-mile scheduled maintenance plan. SLE upgrades include a driver alert package ($445); HD trailering pack with integrated trailer brake controller, 2-speed transfer case, rear air suspension leveling and 3.42:1 axle ratio, $450 on 2WD, $650 on 4WD), six types of 20 or 22-inch wheels; convenience package (power-adjust pedals and liftgate, universal remote, auto-dim inside mirror, $730); cargo cover; 40/20/40 bench front seat (-250); roof rails ($210); block heater and recovery hooks.

Yukon XL SLT models ($58,175) add to SLE with leather upholstery, heated and cooled front bucket seats, heated 60/40 second-row seats with power release, power-folding third-row seats, pushbutton start and entry, driver alert pack, convenience pack, power-folding mirrors, heated power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, driver memory, wireless charging for compatible device, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning. Optional on SLT are an enhanced security package ($395), which deletes overhead sunglasses holder and conversation mirror; moonroof ($995); 20- or 22-inch wheels; adaptive cruise with collision mitigation braking ($995); navigation ($495); heated second-row bucket seats ($590); rear Blu-ray entertainment ($1,645); and an Open Road package ($3,035) with navigation, rear Blu-ray entertainment, moonroof, and an additional nine months’ SiriusXM radio and NavTraffic.

Yukon Denali ($66,470) uses a 420-hp 6.2-liter V8, 8-speed automatic. Denali adds or improves on SLT with unique exterior and interior trim, active noise cancellation, magnetic ride control, rear air leveling suspension, 8-inch customizable instrument display, trailer brake controller, hands-free power liftgate, HID headlamps and 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint sound system. Denali 4WD ($69,470) comes with Autotrac with low-range. Denali options include a head-up display, recovery hooks, block heater, 22-inch wheels, power-retracting side steps, enhanced security package, Open Road package, moonroof, and adaptive cruise control with auto-braking.

Safety features on all models include dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags for the front row, a between-seat center front airbag on bucket-seat models, three-row side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control system, OnStar, LATCH child safety seat anchors, tire pressure monitors, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers and front/rear park sensors. Blind-spot, lane departure and cross-traffic warnings are optional as is adaptive cruise control with automatic braking.


Aptly named, the Yukon XL is the extra-long version with an additional 14 inches between the wheels and 20 inches longer overall than the standard Yukon. Besides better access through rectangular rear side doors, we find this more elegant than the standard length because the extra length in back visually moves the weight rearward. It works the same here as on big rear-wheel drive luxury sedans and Range Rovers.

Yukon’s classic utility two-box body is clean, crisp and never mistaken for a jelly-bean crossover. Geometric lines work well on so many levels for vehicles designed to carry cargo or venture beyond paved roadways, and GMC makes it work well enough to take it where you might also take a limousine.

Painted surfaces surround GMC’s triple-bar grille and massive red logo; lighting modules are completely separated and fair into the fender tops. Both the lower lip and bumper run full-width, with fog lights low and outboard where they work best. The deep air dam helps highway fuel economy but consider removing it before you hit the backcountry. Denali models are distinguished by amply chromed mesh grille work and, when on, their HID headlamps.

Strong horizontal lines define the profile, with wheel openings only minimally less square than GMC’s Sierra pickup. Wheels better fill those openings; though we prefer the standard 18-inch wheel for ride quality and think they fit the truck’s proportions better, 20 and 22-inch wheels in multiple finishes are offered. Denali comes with 20-inch wheels.

15-yukonxl-walkDark door and rear pillars give the roof a cantilevered look, anchored at the windshield and balancing on the wide painted pillar above the rear wheels. Side steps are no wider than the bodywork so they’re less vunerable, and power-retracting steps are available.

Deep window tint wraps rear side and tailgate windows into one piece and the wiper’s hidden under the gate-top spoiler. C-shaped taillights echo the ruby-red logo letters and the center brake light in the spoiler never casts light in the rear view. The covered receiver hitch keeps it clean and the top of the bumper has scuff protection.

The liftgate is manually operated on SLE, with the SLT’s power liftgate available; opening height is programmable for vertical clearance limitations or to open just high enough for you to walk beneath. On Denali you can wave a foot beneath the bumper (as long as the key is with you) to open or close the tailgate with your hands full.

Interior Features

A van may have more accommodation space and cargo room but a Yukon XL is appointed more like a luxury car, particularly in Denali trim. You can comfortably transport a crew of eight for the boat you’re towing.

Finishes and materials are mission appropriate, with leather-wrapped steering wheel, soft-touch panels and armrests up high, long-wearing easy-clean surfaces near the floor. Denali interiors do an excellent job mimicking Cadillac cabins; we’re hard pressed to find a difference worth tens of thousands.

Front-bench models excepted, the dash sweeps down and aft into a center console more akin a large sedan than a truck. While component parts like the instruments, IntelliLink screen and controls and switchgear are shared with Sierra pickup, you never feel you’re in a pickup.

Everything ahead of the center armrest, console, central control panel, instruments, is offset slightly to the right. This adds driver knee room and shortens the passenger reach but draws some eyes to the right side of the road. It permits space for most switchgear left of the wheel: Safety systems, pedal adjustment, 2/4WD, lighting and trailer brakes and various size drivers found some of those obstructed by the wheel. For many, there is an auto setting and they’ll never be used.

Analog gauges are standard and best-in-class, save maybe the Denali’s customizable 8-inch display that does things like swap the voltmeter for transmission fluid temperature automatically when tow/haul mode is engaged.

Top center is GMC IntelliLink’s infotainment screen with hidden storage behind. Knobs and hard keys below and touch-screen icons at top speed you to common tasks. Alongside the usual apps and features (Pandora, Bluetooth, weather, traffic, etc.) it has text message alerts, Siri eyes free and OnStar with 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot and a 3gb/3month trial period. It did what we wanted…faster than some, slower than others, and the display never washed out in bright sunlight. With the variety of inputs and suuport for seven wi-fi devices, you could skip the rear-seat entertainment and spend it on data so everyone watches what they want.

Below that are better-than-average rear climate controls, and front seat heat/cooling switches; these switch indicators do occasionally disappear in daylight. Cabin storage includes a decent glovebox, multiple door cubbies, third-row bin, five distinct places on the console, and the center armrest lid depression offers compatible-device wireless charging on Denali.

Standard bucket seats proved comfortable for long or short hauls, cloth seats now offer seat heating and dimensions are generous: Legroom approaches four feet. There’s also a center airbag to keep front seat occupants from hitting each other in a severe side impact collision. You have to nit-pick to find anything wrong with the seats, and that would be a cooling unit you can hear because the truck is so quiet inside. Yukon XL does offer a 40/20/40 front bench for nine seats, but it’s very rare to find one and a full-size van would make a better bus.

The second-row offers a choice of two buckets or a 60/40-split three-person bench, the latter far more practical and not significantly less comfortable. Buckets do give the choice of clambering around for third-row access but middle-row seats move easily and the wide door aperture simplifies third-row. Regardless of seat, climate controls and inputs/ports are an easy reach.

Third-row seats are split 60/40 as well, so you could still carry six people and long items like skis or wakeboards inside. Outer headrests extend well but there is no center headrest, and the center shoulder belt is conveniently out of sight in the roof when not needed. Dimensions are typical with Sequoia similar and Expedition/Navigator having the edge.

As a truck, XL’s cargo floor is considerably higher than a van’s, about three feet handy for walking up to, less so for lifting heavy items nine or so inches inward from the bumper. A power liftgate is available where not standard, and on Denali just wave your foot under the bumper with the key in the vicinity and the gate opens or closes itself.

Seat release and fold switches drop third and second rows and a cargo cover is optional. The floor lifts for small-item storage beneath, a slightly deeper well in the forward section. With both rear benches folded the floor is flat and slopes rearward; second-row buckets leave a well behind the console like any other captain’s chairs arrangements.

Maximum cargo volume is down from the last model by 16 cubic feet…a good-size sedan trunk, because the third-row folds into the floor. Yukon XL carries 121, 77 and 39 cubic feet behind the first, second and third rows respectively. That’s usable space aft, behind only the Expedition EL/Navigator L (131/85.5/43) and all-folded just ahead of the 19-inch shorter Sequoia (120/67/19).

Driving Impressions

The GMC Yukon XL is ideal for sportsmen, remote adventurers, or those who need a trailer puller with lockable cargo area for the weekends and three-row wagon during the week. The first thing you’ll notice is how it calms most outside irritants like marginal roads and noise.

GM’s 5.3-liter V8 is the standard engine, making 355 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. It’s smooth and usually silent in the background, though not as stout as the Expedition’s 3.5 turbo V6 or Sequoia’s 5.7-liter V8. It is clearly programmed for fuel economy; when power is called for you’ll have to press on the gas.

15-yukonxl-drivingThe 5.3 comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission that performs well, completely in the background until you choose manual control or engage the tow/haul mode designed for heavy loads. Unless you travel empty with cruise at 70, we’d get the HD trailer pack for it’s numerically-higher axle ratio for better response.

Denali comes with 6.2-liter V8 of 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, the same torque the Navigator L makes at much lower engine speeds and more horses. However, the Denali has an eight-speed automatic so it feels livelier in many conditions and the EPA rating drops by just one mile per gallon. The 6.2 recommends but does not require premium unleaded, the Navigator runs on regular unleaded.

Both engines will shut off half the cylinders when power or smoothness, like idling or very low speeds, isn’t needed. This feature works most on the highway, but if you use any XL as designed and attain EPA ratings, consider yourself blessed.

Denali models also get unique shocks. Dubbed magnetic ride control this adjusts the shocks in milliseconds so you get all the control that’s needed and none of the firmness you don’t. On smooth road you won’t notice much difference, and the standard 18-inch wheels’ taller sidewalls deliver a great ride, but on washboard surfaces or towing the MRC system proves itself.

And with 130 inches between the front and rear wheels ride comfort is quite good. With some cargo on board XL splits the weight almost equally among the wheels, so none does more work than needed. It is a stable highway cruiser and easily controlled on winding roads, but remember this is three tons of mass well off the ground and changing directions like a sedan isn’t in the cards. Many versions have or offer air-leveling rear suspension so it stays level and headlights aimed properly with weight on board, but this not a substitute for a weight-distributing trailer hitch when called for.

Rack-and-pinion steering is now electric assist and feels as good as the predecessor’s hydraulic assist system. Even better, the assist remains consistent during heavy maneuvering as in backing a trailer between the trees or the mall parking garage. Despite its size the XL needs only 43-feet of roadway for a U-turn, just a few feet more than some sports cars or mid-size crossovers.

Yukon XL models are available with Autotrac all-wheel drive which can drive rear wheels, all wheels, or vary between them automatically and transparent to the driver. If you need low-range gearing for rougher off-highway use or towing behind your motorcoach, the HD trailer package on 4WD includes Autotrac with low-range; it’s standard on the 4WD Denali.

Brakes work as expected and while both powertrains allow some engine braking, the 8-speeds extra gears let us control descent speed on 5-8% grades using only the transmission, saving brakes for when needed. We also recommend the integrated trailer brake controller for any electric-brake trailer, or potential resale value. After all, if you’re not towing anything or using 4WD you didn’t need a Yukon XL.

Outward visibility is about par. Forward and rearward are quite good thanks to not-to-thick windshield pillars and angular bodywork. Side pillars are substantial, the mirrors are no good for towing anything tall and wide (like an express cruiser or RV) and the tapered rear flanks beyond the back door pillar aren’t visible in the mirrors. Fortunately a rearview camera and proximity sensors at both ends are standard.

The head-up display optional on Denali projects information on the windshield ahead of the driver. Data varies by page selected but could include speed, engine revs, signals, warnings, navigation instructions and so forth. Even at full bright it was often illegible on sunny days with sunglasses on, a situation not unique to Denali.

Summary, Prices, Specs

15-yukonxl-finalThe GMC Yukon XL is a fine choice for use as a family tow vehicle or luxury road-tripping 4WD. It offers good accommodations, cargo capacity and towing ability all at the same time rather than choosing one or another. We would readily spend the extra money to get the XL over the regular Yukon.

G.R. Whale filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Los Angeles.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:GMC Yukon XL 2WD SLE ($49,630), AWD ($52,630); 2WD SLT ($58,175), AWD SLT ($61,175); Yukon XL Denali 2WD ($66,470), Denali 4WD ($69,470)
Engines:355-hp 5.3-liter V8; 420-hp 6.2-liter V8
Transmissions:6-speed automatic, 8-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual-stage front airbags, front side-impact airbags, a between-seat center front airbag on bucket-seat models, three-row side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control system, OnStar, LATCH child safety seat anchors, tire pressure monitors, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers and front/rear park sensors
Safety equipment (optional):blind-spot, lane departure and rear cross-traffic warning, adaptive cruise control with automatic braking
Basic warranty:3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:Arlington, Texas
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):GMC Yukon XL Denali 4WD ($69,470)
Standard equipment:leather upholstery, three-zone climate control, 6.2-liter V8, 8-speed automatic, heated and cooled front bucket seats, heated 60/40 second-row seats with power release, power-folding third-row seats, pushbutton start and entry, driver alert pack, convenience pack, power-folding mirrors, heated power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, driver memory, wireless charging for compatible device, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, active noise cancellation, 20-inch wheels, magnetic ride control, rear air leveling suspension, 8-inch customizable instrument display, trailer brake controller, hands-free power liftgate, HID headlamps, navigation, AM/FM/CD/HD/SiriusXM/Pandora Bose 10-speaker Centerpoint audio system, Bluetooth, IntelliLink and OnStar with 4G LTE, 5xUSB and aux inputs, 110VAC outlet (150-w) and 2-year/24,000-mile scheduled maintenance plan
Options as tested (MSPR):22-inch wheels ($2995), white diamond paint ($995), Premium pack ($3165), enhanced security package ($395), Open Road pack ($2810), roof rails ($210)
Destination charge:$1195
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$80,735
Layout:four-wheel drive
Engine:6.2-liter V8
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):420 @ 5600
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):460 @ 4100
Transmission:6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:14/20 mpg
Wheelbase:130.0 in.
Length/width/height:224.3/80.5/74.4 in.
Track, f/r:68.7/68.7 in.
Turning circle:43.0 ft.
Seating Capacity:7
Head/hip/leg room, f:42.8/60.8/45.3 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:39.1/60.3/39.7 in.
Head/hip/leg room, r:38.5/49.3/34.5 in.
Cargo volume:121.1 cu. ft.
Towing capacity:7900 Lbs.
Suspension, f:independent, coil springs, antiroll bar, MRC shocks
Suspension, r:solid axle, five-link, coil springs, antiroll bar, MRC shocks
Ground clearance:8.0 in.
Curb weigth:6009 lbs.
Brakes, f/r:vented disc/vented disc with ABS
Fuel capacity:31.0 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of March 25, 2015.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 888-988-7267 - www.gmc.com

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