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Story and photos by Greg Wilson
Designed for towing
The best way of explaining what a GMC Yukon XL is is to say that it’s a ‘Suburban’. Almost everybody seems to know what a Suburban is – in fact, until the 2001 model year, both GMC and Chevrolet used the name ‘Suburban’ for their biggest SUV. Now, the GMC version is called the Yukon XL, an ‘Extra Large’ version of the GMC Yukon. Makes sense. But as before, the Yukon XL is virtually identical to the Chevrolet Suburban. So I just tell people it’s like a Suburban.
The 2003 Yukon XL is a big truck. With a length of 5570 mm (219.3 in.), width of 2001 mm (78.8 in.), and a wheelbase of 3302 mm (130.0 in.), the Yukon XL has room for up to nine people in three rows of seats plus their luggage.
And it’s heavy too. My 4WD test truck weighed in at 2758 kg (6082 lb.)! Understandably it needs a big, torquey V8 engine to get it rolling. A 285 horsepower 5.3 litre V8 engine is standard on half-ton (1500) Yukon XLs, and a 320 horsepower 6.0 litre V8 is standard on 3/4 ton (2500) trucks. A 340 horsepower 8.1 litre V8 is optional on 3/4 ton Yukon XLs. Don’t ask about fuel consumption.
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Equipped with a heavy duty frame, heavy duty leaf spring rear suspension, and a Tow/Haul mode on the 4 speed automatic transmission, 3/4 ton models are specifically designed for towing. The Yukon XL 2500 will tow up to 5443 kg (12,000 lb.), while the 1/2 ton Yukon XL 1500 can tow up to 3810 kg (8400 lb.). Maximum payload is a hefty 1265 kg (2788 lb.) on 2WD Yukon XL models, and about 140 kilograms less on 4WD models.
As it is big and heavy, and often used to tow trailers, the Yukon makes an ideal candidate for GM’s new Quadrasteer four wheel steering system. In a nutshell, Quadrasteer greatly improves manoeuverability by reducing the vehicle’s turning circle by 20%. As well, Quadrasteer significantly improves high-speed stability when pulling a trailer, particularly when lane-changing. Its benefits are numerous – if you can afford the $7,500 option price-tag.
My test truck, a 2003 Yukon XL SLT 2500 4X4, had a base price of $59,090, and options worth $11,755. These included Quadrasteer ($7,510), rear seat entertainment system ($1,560), 2nd row reclining bucket seats ($600), skid plate ($135), Light Truck 245/75R16 inch tires ($160), personal security package ($1,490), cargo package ($270), and smoker’s package ($30). With Freight and A/C tax, the as-tested price came to $71,970.
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For the 2003 model year, the Yukon and Yukon XL were given a number of important interior upgrades including dual stage front airbags, a new CD/cassette stereo and optional Bose stereo system, a Driver Information Centre, and new optional second row bucket seats, optional DVD rear entertainment system, and optional power adjustable brakes and accelerator pedals. As well, 2003 Yukons received electronic throttle control, a new Borg Warner transfer case, and an optional trailering package. My test truck was equipped with most of these new options.
For the 2004 model year, Yukons will also get a new tire-pressure monitoring system, new driver and right-front passenger safety-belt reminder, and new optional 17-inch, six-spoke premium aluminum wheels available on Yukon SLT and Yukon XL SLT models. Upgraded “Hydroboost” brakes will be offered on all Yukons, not just 2500 models.
It’s a big, comfortable interior with three rows of seats and various seating combinations available. My test truck was a seven passenger model with two front buckets, two centre buckets and a 3-person rear bench seat. I liked the fact you could walk between the two centre seats, and I know from experience that kids under 12 are best kept separated anyway. I’m 5’9″, and I found headroom and legroom in the first and second rows to be generous, but the third row seat is a bit tight for adults.
In the driver’s seat, the driver faces a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a bunch of round gauges including a tachometer and transmission oil temperature gauge – useful when towing. The big front bucket seats are very comfortable and feature power height and lumbar adjustments, inboard folding armrests, and seat heaters for the cushion and backrest. With a power driver’s seat, power pedals and tilt-wheel, the driver can easily find a comfortable seating position. The front seats have integrated seat belts which fit more comfortably over your shoulder than traditional shoulder belts.
My truck had the optional 6-disc in-dash CD player with a nine-speaker premium Bose system with a “ported bass-reflex subwoofer, dual-voice coil driver, and a high-powered six-channel amplifier in the centre console.” I don’t know what all that means, but it did sound good.
The automatic climate control with dual zone temperature adjustments in the front, and a separate second row rear fan/temperature control is quite capable of cooling down or heating up the interior in a matter of minutes. GM’s improved HVAC systems are some of the best in the business right now.
The second row buckets are also very comfy with folding armrests. The seat on the right side slides forward automatically when the backrest is folded down, enabling third row passengers to get in and out more easily. The 2nd row buckets also fold flat for cargo-carrying purposes – the seat cushions lift up allowing the backrests to fold down flat.
The third row bench seat is comfortable for people up to about 5′ 8″ tall, but because the wheelwells intrude on either side, the seat is a bit small for three persons abreast. The third row bench will tumble forwards to create more rear cargo room – it can also be removed from the truck, but it’s very heavy and requires two people to lift it out and in. If you do remove the third row bench and fold down the second row buckets, there’s an enormous storage area measuring four feet wide by eight feet long! Even with the third row bench in place, the rear cargo area is quite roomy – this is a long truck!
The optional DVD system includes a screen which folds down from the roof above the second row, and can be seen from the second and third rows, although my truck had only two wireless headphones. I watched part of a movie, and found the sound and picture quality to be excellent, although the screen could be bigger. Second row passenger can also listen to the radio, or play video games.
At the rear, the tailgate lifts up easily and the cargo opening is large – four feet by three feet. The liftover height – 32 inches – is high, but there is a step bumper.
Because it’s a 3/4 ton 4X4 truck, the Yukon’s step-in height of 21 inches is fairly high – but my truck had a step which made it easier to get in. The driver sits high, and visibility is good.
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I liked the arrangement of the controls and the numerous storage bins to put stuff, but the dash isn’t quite as sophisticated in appearance as rivals from Ford and Toyota.
The big 6.0 litre V8 in my test truck rumbles at idle but there are no vibrations, and its a responsive, powerful engine – given the Yukon XL’s three ton curb weight. Acceleration is brisk off the line, but the engine seems to strain a bit when passing. Still, with 325 horsepower @ 5200 rpm and a generous 365 lb-ft of torque @ 4000 rpm, the Yukon XL has lots of pulling power. As I mentioned, it can pull up to 12,000 lbs. Once you get up to speed, cruising on the freeway is a breeze with the engine doing just 2000 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2400 rpm at 120 km/h. It’s a very comfortable highway vehicle.
Transport Canada does not report fuel consumption figures for trucks over 8600 lb GVW – but if you look at the Yukon XL 1/2 ton with a 5.3 litre V8, which gets 20 litres/100 km (14 mpg) in the city and 16 litres/100 km (18 mpg) on the highway, you can make a pretty good guess that the 3/4 ton is likely to be worse. With a 142 litre fuel tank, you won’t run out of gas soon, but filling it up will cost over 100 dollars.
A four-speed automatic transmission with Tow/Haul mode is standard – it’s very smooth and responsive, and when towing a trailer, the push-button Tow/Haul mode adjusts shift points to account for the heavy weight.
The Yukon XL 3/4 ton has a slightly stiffer ride than the 1/2 ton model – in part because it has a heavy duty rear leaf spring suspension instead of coil springs. Rebound over bumps tends to be a little firmer than in the 1/2 ton model, but it’s not uncomfortable. The Bridgestone R1B 245/75R-16 inch Light Truck tires on my test truck offered were quiet on the highway, and offered good grip when cornering.
Brakes are power four-wheel discs, with four-wheel ABS, and dual piston calipers with Dynamic Rear Proportioning. These brakes were upgraded last year, and provide good pedal feel and excellent control for such a heavy truck.
My 4WD truck had the pushbutton Autotrack 4WD system which is very easy to operate. To the left of the steering wheel are buttons for Auto 4WD, 2WD, 4Hi, and 4Lo. Auto 4WD, a full-time 4WD system, apportions power to the front and rear wheels continously for instant traction should things get slippery – it’s best used on varying wet and dry surfaces or on gravel or packed snow. 2WD, which means rear-wheel-drive, can be used in the summer on dry, paved roads where 4WD is not necessary. 4Hi, is a 4WD system where front and rear wheels are locked in a 50/50 split – it’s best used on snow, ice or gravel, but not on dry roads. 4Lo is a Low Range gear for descending or ascending extremely steep, slippery slopes.
The optional Quadrasteer is equally easy to engage. A button on the centre console lets you choose 4WS or 4WS Tow, the latter with slightly more turn to enhance manoeuverability when towing. You can also choose 2WS if you like. The Yukon XL’s turning circle without quadrasteer is 13.5 metres (44.3 feet); with Quadrasteer it’s 11.1 metres (36.5 feet), about the same as a Honda Accord Coupe. This makes parallel parking much easier, and tight turns are possible where they weren’t before. As well, highway stability is improved, and when towing a trailer, there is much less weaving and steering adjustments needed to keep the trailer under control. I’ve tried Quadrasteer with and without a trailer, and there’s a big difference.
The Yukon XL 2500’s key competitors would be the Ford Excursion Limited ($59,265), Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer ($53,135) and Toyota Sequoia Limited 4X4 ($62,155), and possibly the Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade EST. The Ford Excursion is the most comparable truck on the market, but Ford has indicated it will be discontinued next year. The Expedition and and Toyota Sequoia trucks don’t offer the towing capacity or the interior roominess of the Yukon XL, but they do offer luxurious, refined interior designs and three rows of seats. Quadrasteer is only available only on GM vehicles.
A big, roomy family vehicle for people who need to tow a recreational trailer or carry lots of cargo up to the cabin, and don’t mind spending a lot of money on gas to do it.
Technical Data: 2003 GMC Yukon XL 2500 4WD SLT Quadrasteer
|Price as tested||$71,970|
|Type||4-door, 7 passenger, full-size SUV|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/4WD|
|Engine||6.0 litre V8, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder|
|Horsepower||325 @ 5200 rpm|
|Torque||365 @ 4000 rpm|
|Curb weight||2758 kg (6082 lb.)|
|Payload||3/4-ton, 4WD: 2487 / 1128|
|Trailer towing||3/4-ton, 2WD/4WD: 12000 / 5443|
|Wheelbase||3302 mm (130.0 in.)|
|Length||5570 mm (219.3 in.)|
|Width||2001 mm (78.8 in.)|
|Height||1890 mm (74.4 in.)|
|Min. ground clearance||180 mm (7.1 in.)|
|Cargo area||1294 litres (45.7 cu. ft.) behind 3rd seat|
|2548 litres (90.0 cu. ft.) behind 2nd seats|
|3919 litres (138.4 cu. ft.) behind 1st seats|
|Fuel type||Regular unleaded 87 octane|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|